Breganze’s Best: 1988 Laverda SFC1000

Never a volume producer, Laverda survived by being able to command a premium price for street versions of its highly competitive endurance racers.

| March/April 2015

1986/1988 Laverda SFC1000
Claimed power: 95hp @ 8,000rpm (approx.)
Top speed: 140mph (est.)
Engine: 981cc air-cooled DOHC triple, 75mm x 74mm bore and stroke, 10.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 528lb (239.5kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 5.8gal (22ltr)/35-50mpg
Price then/now: $6,000-plus/$12,000-$16,000

Blessed with relative prosperity in recent years, the Italian motorcycle industry has taken its place among the world’s biggest and best. Small boutique builders soldier on, but Italian motorcycle production is today chiefly the province of two giants: Audi-backed Ducati and the sprawling Piaggio empire of Aprilia, Vespa, Moto Guzzi and the rest. It wasn’t always this way.

Back in the 1970s, the manufacturers that had survived the introduction of Fiat’s small and affordable car, the 500 (or Cinquecento) and the tsunami of Japanese imports were few — and forever financially strapped. Yet they persevered in a single-minded pursuit of style and performance above all else.

“To the outside world,” wrote Gary Johnstone in his 1994 book Classic Motorcycles, “the Italians have an approach to motorcycle design that defies comprehension … a flawed brilliance, the capacity to make a near-perfect motorcycle and turn it into a commercial disaster … They go for glory and court chaos fearlessly.”

So it was with family-owned Laverda, based in Breganze in the foothills of the Italian Alps. Never a volume producer, Laverda survived by being able to command a premium price for street versions of its highly competitive endurance racers. Through the 1970s, Laverda’s 750SFC twin and 1000 Jota triple were the weapons of choice in 24-hour racing in Europe. The company intended its new-for-1977 mid-size 500cc, double overhead camshaft, 6-speed Alpino (Zeta in the U.S.) to support the same business model of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” It even had its own race series, the Coppa Laverda.

But a perfect storm of factors — a slump in the European motorcycle market, crippling sales taxes at home, and a price premium over its competition of as much as 100 percent — conspired to stall sales of the innovative twin. It’s reported that Laverda lost money on every one it built, probably because they couldn’t achieve volume production.

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