1981 Laverda Jota “Cico”

The old saying "racing improves the breed" holds for this small Breganze motorcycle manufacturer

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by Christian Smith

Racing improves the breed, goes the old saying. And though well overused, it certainly applied to a small motorcycle manufacturer from Breganze in the foothills of the Italian alps.

It was Massimo Laverda’s visit to the U.S. in 1964 that determined a change of direction for the eponymous company. Until then, Laverda had produced mostly commuter bikes of 100cc or less. Massimo’s father, Francesco, started offering motorcycles alongside the company’s line of agricultural machinery in 1949. But the arrival of the Fiat 500 in 1957 provided a cheap four-wheeled alternative. Commuter motorcycle sales tanked.

Massimo understood that, to survive, Laverda needed to embrace the U.S. market. And that meant bigger-engine bikes to meet those customers’ demands. Laverda’s first U.S. offering was a 650 SOHC twin, the engine of which borrowed its general layout and appearance from the contemporary 305 Superhawk. It’s said that Massimo did this deliberately to imbue the new twin with a perception of Honda quality.

Underneath, though, the powertrain — and indeed the whole motorcycle — was designed and constructed for strength and durability. In 1968 the 650 was introduced into the U.S. by Jack McCormack under the American Eagle brand. A 750cc version quickly replaced it.

closeup image of the Cico Jota's Marzocchi shocksMeanwhile, Massimo and designer Luciano Zen had produced a prototype 1000cc SOHC triple, which created much excitement at the 1969 Geneva and Milan shows. But the arrival of the Honda 750 in 1969 spurred the factory to leapfrog the 4-cylinder SOHC bike with a double-overhead cam layout. Massimo’s goal for the new machine was that it be both lighter and with a narrower engine than the new Honda 750’s 471 pounds and 22 inches. These were ambitious targets, which the 1000cc triple eventually achieved — at the expense of extra development time. It was not until the 1971 Milan show that the finished triple was revealed. It was the first big street bike to feature dual overhead camshafts.

Hits and misses

One factor made the Laverda triple unique in motorcycle practice. Early testing revealed vibration as a serious issue, traced to the “rocking couple” inherent in the use of three pistons with 120-degree crankshaft throws. While this had been a minor issue in smaller triples like the BSA-Triumph 750, it became a big deal in the Laverda, because of the extra moving mass and longer, built-up crankshaft. Zen feared the rocking would damage the crankshaft roller bearings causing them to fail. His solution was to space the crankshaft throws at 180-degrees, which eliminated the rocking couple while creating the 1000’s distinctive 1-2-3-miss exhaust note. (Even so, vibration was still present from the engine’s primary imbalance.)

Ironically, the lop-sided beat of the beast from Breganze became part of its unique character: no other production motorcycle has used this format before or since. Power output was essentially unaffected, and the 1000’s growl became its signature sound. The first 1000s were sold with Laverda’s own twin-leading-shoe drum front brake until dual front discs were introduced on the 3C model in 1974. By 1976, FLAM alloy wheels had replaced the wire spoke items, creating the 3CL.

The 1000 sold well in Europe, and it was British buyers who first clamored for more thrust, in spite of already having 80 horsepower on board. British importers Richard and Roger Slater re-tuned the engine and added a Healey exhaust system. They sold their modified bike as the 1000 3CE, “E” for England. To meet the demand for even more power, the Slaters requested a tuned version of the 3CL from the factory with high compression pistons and 4C racing cams, naming it “Jota.”

Where did the name come from? Though Massimo Laverda is often credited with the idea, Tim Parker, author of the respected Laverda “green book,” claims it was Roger Slater. As a serious music lover, writes Parker, Slater was looking through a musical dictionary and came across Jota, a Spanish gypsy dance in triple time. Either way, the name stuck. The Jota went on sale in in the U.K. in 1976.

The Jota was steadily improved over the next five years. The classic finish of silver frame and orange paint arrived in 1979, together with rear suspension geometry borrowed from the recently introduced 1200 Mirage. For 1981, the alternator was upgraded, requiring the ignition pickups to be installed in a new housing in the primary case. 1982 was the last year for the 180-degree crankshaft: the 1000 triple was re-purposed as a sport-tourer, fitted with a teardrop fairing and the 120-degree engine rubber mounted in a new chassis.

In the frame

Competition, and especially endurance racing, had always been an integral part of Laverda’s ethos, from its numerous 75cc and 100cc class wins in the Motogiro d’Italia and Milano-Taranto. In the 1970s, the 750 twin also enjoyed success in Europe’s long-distance events like the Barcelona 24-hour. In the U.K. and on the Slater Jota, Peter “PK” Davies won the Avon Production Championship title twice. Of course, the race bikes featured wind-cheating fairings to reduce drag and improve top speed. As well as Laverda’s own race shop, a number of other companies experimented with new or modified frames in an attempt to reduce the Jota’s considerable dry weight of over 500 pounds, while at the same time improving frame rigidity and incorporating aerodynamic improvements.

image of the right side of a red Laverta Jota on a paved sidewalk image of the left side of a red Laverta Jota on a paved sidewalk

Laverda and the Spaceframe 1000

Laverda intended that the 1000cc triple would quickly replace the 750cc twins in their endurance racing program. But results from the 1974 season were disappointing, with riders reporting a tendency for the bike to weave at high speeds. Designer Luciano Zen was tasked with solving the problem, which he did with a new chassis based on “space frame” triangulation principles. The fuel tank was enlarged to 6.3 gallons (24 liters) and ground clearance was increased. Power was quoted as 95 horsepower at 7,800rpm with a wet weight of around 460 pounds and a top speed of 150mph. The frame was clad in a distinctive oversize fairing offering superior weather protection for the rider — an important consideration in endurance racing.

closeup of the stock airbox feed

With Augusto Brettoni, Roberto Gallina, Marco “Lucky” Lucchinelli and Georges Fougeray as principal riders, best results for the 1975 season were fifth in the 24 horas de Catalunya and tenth in the 24-hour Liege race at Spa. Of five Laverda space frame machines built, only three are thought to still exist.

closeup of a gas tank with red cover and the Laverda logo

“Cico” (Simonato Pacifico) and the Cropredy Liberator

The Laverda Jota featured here, as sold by Classic Avenue wears bodywork by Simonato Pacifico, better known as “Cico” (say: Cheeko). Cico started as a mechanic at the Laverda factory in Breganze in 1967 before moving to the race shop where he worked on the factory 750 SFC endurance racers, the triples and the V6. He was also Marco Lucchinelli’s race mechanic during Lucky’s time racing triples with the Laverda scuderia.

After leaving Laverda, Cico turned his experience into producing fast and powerful tuned versions of the 1000 triple for himself and close friends. He also designed and had made fiberglass body work to fit his modified Laverdas. Using 40mm Dell’Ortos, Cico claimed as much as 110 horsepower from the 1000cc triple, which combined with significant reductions in mass in the engine and frame reduced dry weight to less than 400 pounds.

shape of the Laverda Jota from the top view

Although the bodywork was originally modeled in aluminum, Cico made fiberglass copies available to selected customers, including Eddie Griffiths and Gareth Jones of Cropredy Motorcycles in Cropredy, Oxfordshire, England. Based on either a 1000cc Jota or 1200cc Mirage engine with a gas-flowed cylinder head, 36mm Dell’Ortos, Brembo Goldline brakes and numerous other upgrades making about 100 horsepwer, the Cico-bodied Laverda was sold in England as the Cropredy Liberator. Sadly, Cico passed away on April 29, 2022.

The 1981 Laverda 1000cc Cico Jota featured here was part of a northern California collection before being listed on Classic Avenue in 2022. It sold for $20,800, including buyers premium.

Saxon/Motodd

Phil Todd of Motodd exhaust systems based in Croydon, England, became one of Slater Brothers’ U.K. Laverda dealers. Todd commissioned Saxon Engineering to produce a lighter and stiffer frame for the Jota suitable for racing. This became the Laverda Motodd Mark1 weighing in at 420 pounds — close to 100 pounds lighter than the stock Jota. Designed by Nigel Hill, the Saxon frame was bronze welded using Reynold T45 carbon manganese steel tubing and offered about two inches of extra ground clearance.

view of the Cico Jota highlighting the swingarm and rear caliper mount

Saxon also produced a Mark II version of their Laverda frame with rubber mounting for the engine, of which only around five were made. The Mark III introduced a rising-rate rear suspension, and the Mark IV featured Hill’s SaxTrak front suspension, which was similar to but pre-dated BMW’s Telelever. The Mark V was intended to suit vintage racing formulas that specified dual rear shocks and formed the basis of a street version called the Saxon Giaconda.

Just around 60 Saxon Motodd Laverdas were built over six marks between about 1979 and 1990.

Segoni Laverda

In 1972, Giuliano and Roberto Segoni entered a Laverda 750 special of their own design in the Imola 200 with long-time Laverda rider Augusto Brettoni at the controls. The racer used a large diameter steel tube as a spine from which the engine was suspended. But Segoni was perhaps best known for his monocoque frames fabricated from alloy sheet. Following more successes with the 750 in 1973-1974, Segoni started to produce street motorcycles with a variety of engines.

By 1978 Segoni was producing special frames for Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki and Laverda, in addition to a 750 MV Agusta Special, built in 1974 reportedly in collaboration with Arturo Magni. After Giuliano’s death in 1979, the company was dormant for many years. Giuliano’s son Lorenzo revived the company in 2015, offering a monocoque frame for various engines.

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Moto Martin

Moto Martin also produced frame kits and bodywork for Laverda triples. Georges Martin Founded his company in 1970 at Les Sables-d’Olonne on the French Atlantic coast. Moto Martin was known for its racing frame kits with frames designed to accept engines from all of the major Japanese firms along with BMW and Laverda. The company also manufactured its own wheels and body kits

Harris Magnum II

Steve and Lester Harris produced frame kits during the 1970s and 1980s to suit mainly Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki fours, as well as frames for GP bikes and endurance racers. But they also offered the Magnum II frame for the Laverda 1000 and 1200 triples. It’s believed only 10 of these dual cradle frames were ever made. MC


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