Motorcycle Classics

Fast but Fragile: 1985-1987 Moto Guzzi V65 Lario

Learn about the fascinating history of the Moto Guzzi V65 Lario.

  • Power: 60hp @ 7,800rpm (claimed)
  •  Top speed: 119mph (period test)
  •  Engine: 650cc 8-valve air-cooled OHV L-twin
  •  Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
  •  Weight: 433lb (wet)
  •  Fuel Capacity/MPG: 4.7gal/39mpg (est.)
  •  Price then/now: n/a/$2,000-$5,000

By the mid-1970s, new  owner Alejandro de Tomaso had consolidated Moto Guzzi’s finances and market position with solid sales of 750cc/850cc street standard and sport bikes. But seeing opportunities in the mid-size market, he also planned a new motorcycle series starting with a tax-friendly 350cc bike for Italy, within a range that could be grown to 750cc.

deTomaso turned to designer Lino Tonti to create a lighter, more modern, and less expensive motorcycle while retaining the familiar longitudinal V-twin layout. Tonti responded with a new design that echoed existing full-size Guzzis, but was much better suited to mass-production. And with the Mandello plant already at full capacity, frames would be made at Maserati in Modena, powertrains at the old Innocenti plant in Milan, with final assembly at Benelli in Pesaro — all deTomaso owned.

Conceptually, the new Guzzi engine followed the existing “big block” twins, but was also new from the ground up. The crankcase split horizontally, unlike the big twins’ one-piece block. Drive to the camshaft was by chain, operating pushrods to the overhead valves. These ran side-by-side in the flat, Heron-type cylinder heads, with combustion chambers in the piston crowns. The clutch used a diaphragm spring and single plate, driving bevel primary reduction gears to a 5-speed gearbox. Crucially, the oil filter was now accessible without removing the sump.

The frame was essentially a downsized version of Tonti’s own V7 Sport chassis with removable lower rails, except that the alloy “cardan” swingarm pivoted in the gearcase, not the frame. This allowed the entire drivetrain including the back wheel to be dropped out of the chassis for major overhauls. Rear shocks were three-way adjustable while the 32mm front fork was not. The middleweight twins ran on 18-inch allow wheels (at first) with triple disc brakes. The result was a lightweight, compact motorcycle with moderate performance and excellent handling.

The V35 and 500cc V50 were revealed at the Cologne show in late 1976 and were well liked by the motorcycle press. They evolved through several styling and powertrain upgrades intended to boost sales; but despite this, the recession of 1981, design compromises and poor build quality meant modest sales and plenty of warranty returns.

Tonti’s drivetrain allowed for larger capacity, and a 650cc version was launched in 1982. The V65 engine was bored and stroked, and the bottom end strengthened. But output was limited to 50 horsepower by the use of the V50 cylinder head and valves. The Lario arrived in late 1984 with 4-valve cylinder heads adding an extra 10 horsepower. The pushrods operated forked rockers acting on each pair of valves, now set into a pent-roof combustion chamber fed by 30mm Dell’Orto carburetors.

Detail improvements included a longer swingarm, a stronger 35mm front fork, needle roller steering head bearings and bigger brake discs; and as was the fashion, the Lario ran on 16-inch wheels.

Cycle magazine took a Lario to the strip recording a standing quarter in 13.4 seconds at 98mph. With his riding impression for Motorcycle Enthusiast, Mick Walker “… was pleased with the safe handling and road holding … generally I was impressed enough that I would be quite happy to spend my own money buying a V65 Lario.”

But a lack of development compromised the integrity of the valvetrain. And while some Larios were relatively de Tomaso had consolidated trouble-free (In her book, The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is AboutMotorcycles, Melissa Holbrook Pierson claims to have put 35,000 miles on her Lario), there were plenty of warranty claims for dropped valves and excessive valvetrain wear. Guzzi produced an upgrade kit and eventually made changes at the factory, but buying a Lario with unknown history can be risky.

Undamaged replacement cylinder heads are scarce: an eBay search found a used Lario head with major damage from a dropped valve, asking nearly $300!

A shame, because the Lario could have been Guzzi’s Goldilocks bike: it was the right size for the time; it went well, handled and braked well; and but for the valve issue, was robust and durable.

Longevity is the proof of Tonti’s design, extrapolated into Guzzi’s modern V7 range. MC

Sporty alternatives to the V65 Lario

1988-1991 Honda NT650 Hawk GT

  • 58hp @ 5,000rpm (claimed)/110mph
  • 650cc liquid-cooled SOHC V-twin
  • 5-speed, chain final drive
  • 411lb (curb, full tank)
  • 2.9gal/46mpg (est.)
  • Price then/now: $3,995/$1,500-$3,000

As a midsize V-twin naked sport-standard, the Hawk anticipated Ducati’s M900 by five years and Suzuki’s SV650 by a decade. It incorporated race-bike features like the RC30-style Pro-Am singlesided swingarm, Pro-Link single rear shock, cast alloy twin-beam chassis, stout 41mm front fork and alloy triple trees.

Somewhat at odds with the Hawk’s otherwise racy spec was the engine, a bored-and-stroked version of the 1983 VT500 Ascot: a 52-degree, 3-valve, liquid-cooled twin with offset crankpins, a straight-cut gear primary and 6-speed transmission — though the Hawk used chain final drive instead of the Ascot’s shaft, and had just five gears. Also new for the Hawk was digital ignition and dual-plug cylinder heads.

Cycle World praised the Hawk’s handling, noting that “it responds immediately and positively to the rider’s every input. Cycle reported “… the torquey, flat power spread of this engine coupled with a slick-shifting gearbox and light clutch makes the Hawk a cinch to ride.” And its light weight helped it to a sub- 13-second standing quarter at almost 100mph. Cycle also liked the Hawk’s “… nimble neutral steering, unshakable stability, lots of corner clearance … balanced, responsive suspension and accessible power,” but did find the riding position a little cramped.

Back then, the Hawk seemed too expensive for its performance; now rising prices point to increasing collectibility.500

 1985-1987 Cagiva Alazzurra 650

  • 55hp @ 8,500rpm/107mph
  • 650cc air-cooled SOHC L-twin
  • 5-speed, chain final drive
  • 435lb (wet)
  • 5gal/41-47mpg
  • Price then/now: $3,750/$2,000-$5,000cc V50

If Alejandro deTomaso was Guzzi’s white knight, Ducati had two: Cagiva’s Castiglioni brothers. The biggest bikemaker in Italy at the time, Cagiva bought Ducati in 1985 to consolidate its engine supply. One of their first Ducati-engined models was the 1985 Alazzurra.

Developed from Ducati’s 1983 650 Pantah, the Alazzurra used the same SOHC Desmo L-twin engine and Dell’Orto PHF36 carbs, but with revised cams and a new dry clutch. Ignition was Bosch electronic. The power unit fitted into a similar Verlicchi fame with less radical bodywork, connected to a 35mm Marzocchi fork, adjustable rear shocks and 18-inch Oscam alloy wheels with triple 260mm disc brakes.

Rider magazine noted that “The new Cagiva 650 Alazzurra is better and less expensive than either of its Ducati predecessors.” Testers also liked the silky-shifting transmission, and “firm, but not harsh” suspension. Niggles included lean (and on 1987 models, over-rich) jetting, a seat that was “plank like,” and brakes that required too much lever effort. Said Rider, “Whereas the Pantah was an outrageous Italian flashbike … the Alazzurra is a sensuous rolling sculpture of tasteful and graceful proportions.”

  • Published on Feb 3, 2021
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