Jota’s Bigger Brother: 1978-82 Laverda 1200 Jota America/Mirage

Comparing the Laverda 1200 to the 4-cylinder alternatives in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Yamaha XS Eleven and Suzuki GS1100E.


Laverda 1200

Years produced:1978-1982
Power: 73hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed: 133mph (period test)
Engine: 1,116cc (80mm x 74mm) air-cooled, DOHC inline triple
Transmission: Triplex chain primary, 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight (wet)/MPG: 545lb (248kg)/38mpg (avg.)
Price then/now: $1,995 (1977)/$3,000-$8,000

Many bike makers produced standout models that became synonymous with the brand. BSA had the Gold Star; Triumph, the Bonneville; Moto Guzzi, the Le Mans. For Italian builder Laverda it was a 1,000cc DOHC triple that, at its launch in 1976, was the fastest production motorcycle then available and became a legend in its own time: the Jota.

Through the 1970s, increasingly stringent noise and pollution regulations (especially in the U.S.) meant Laverda’s raucous 1,000cc triple required more restrictive intake and exhaust as well as softer cams and lower compression. Laverda’s challenge was to maintain its performance edge — which it did in the time-honored fashion of increasing engine size. So the Laverda 1200 of 1978 was a made-in-Italy solution to a made-in-America problem. All Laverda triples up to 1982 used a built-up crankshaft running on four roller main bearings (ball bearings were tried but abandoned), with chain drive to two overhead camshafts operating six valves by shim-under-bucket followers. Three Dell’Orto PHB pumper carburetors fed fuel, while a triplex chain drove the 5-speed transmission. The dual cradle frame ran, at first, on wire-spoked alloy wheels with Laverda drum brakes, but these soon gave way to FLAM alloy wheels and triple Brembo discs. Suspension was by Ceriani and Corte e Cosso, or (later) Marzocchi. To sidestep concerns about Italian motorcycle electrics, Laverda chose components from Bosch and Nippon Denso.

For the 1200, bore was increased from 75mm to 80mm giving a swept volume of 1,116cc. It retained the Jota’s 180-degree crankshaft, meaning the two outer pistons rose together, while the center piston fell, and vice versa. So the 1200 had the same characteristic 1-2-3-miss exhaust beat. And though the 1,000cc engine was later produced with a 120-degree crankshaft, all Laverda 1200s used the 180-degree crank, meaning they echo the Jota’s “hammering, fast-paced booming exhaust racket,” Cycle Guide said.

The first 1200s were sold in the U.S. as the Jota America. The gas tank acquired a “coffin” shape; the patented adjustable handlebars were swapped out for conventional bars; and the final drive chain was beefed up to a 630 O-ring type. A modified frame changed the rear shock angle and relaxed the steering geometry. For 1980, the 1200TS and 1200TS Mirage featured a large handlebar fairing, fiberglass “lowers,” and a new tail section with a grab rail, making its sport-touring intent clear. While the Mirage was supposed to offer more performance than the stock TS, the differences in the engine were minor. U.S.-spec models used touring A12 cams and quieter, more restrictive mufflers. The final version of the 1200TS Mirage for 1981 included an uprated Nippon Denso alternator with ignition pickups moved to the primary case.

11/21/2019 10:21:30 AM

Kaiser - You OWNED it in 1984 - what year was the bike? 1000 or 1200?

g kaiser
8/10/2019 12:46:42 AM

I had indeed a Laverda like this, in 1984. It is without question the worst bike I have ever owned. It had a fuel consumption like a car (10 km/l) it was not particularly fast, about 190 km/h, and it improved without air filters. But what really concerned me was the bad handling, weaving at about 160 km/h, -and the vibrations! It vibrated so seriously that after a breakfast run of 300 km, your hands were almost useless. You lost all feeling in your finger tips, and later in the day the hands would swell and become itchy. It was a total destroyer of my dreams, and it is the only bike I have sold in anger! I tried a Suzuki Katana of my friend, and it felt like floating on a cloud, compared to the Laverda. ( I later bought a Katana, and still have it, but far prefer my Moto Guzzies and my Nortons) I was happy to see the Laverda go, and I have no idea why they now fetch high prices. They are handsome, but in my view absolutely useless.

7/26/2019 4:05:47 AM

"Above the TSCC (Twin Swirl Combustion Chamber) cylinder head were two overhead camshafts operating the 16 valves by locknut-adjustable rockers" My '82 GS1100E (original owner) valve adjustment is by replacing a shim of varying thicknesses above an inverted bucket sitting over the valve spring. Much better than having to remove the camshaft on Kaw KZ's where the shims were under the bucket. The thinking was that at high revs, the shim could be spit out by the cam lobe if above the bucket. Never happened.

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