Motorcycle Classics

Italian Survivor: 1960 Moto Guzzi Lodola Gran Turismo

“It’s astounding how well it works,” says Dan Thorsen, who was the owner of this Italian single until his recent sale of the bike to a friend, Danny Aarons.

1960 Moto Guzzi Lodola Gran Turismo

Engine: 235cc air-cooled 4-stroke single, 68mm x 64mm bore and stroke, 7.5:1 compression ratio, 11hp at 6,000rpm (factory claim)
Top speed: 75mph (est.)
Carburetion: Single Dell’Orto UB 22mm BS 2A
Transmission: 4-speed, right foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: 6v battery and coil, Marelli generator
Frame/wheelbase: Dual “D” profile downtube cradle frame/51.75in (1,314mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front (with hydraulic dampening), dual shocks rear
Brakes: 7in (158mm) SLS drum brakes front and rear
Tires: 2.50 x 18in front, 3.00 x 17in rear
Weight (dry): 253lb (115kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3gal (11.5ltr)/50mpg (est.)
Price now: $3,000-$9,000

close up of the dash of a red moto guzzi lodola gran turismo motorcycle

Thorsen was a well known local racer in the Eighties and Nineties and understands good handling. “It has a neutral track and the slightest input changes direction. It’s good on twisty little roads. Downhill from the Stelvio pass through the Alps would be perfect.”

Mention Moto Guzzi in North America, and people think of big reliable touring bikes and fast sport tourers. But Moto Guzzi is an Italian company, and, like other Italian manufacturers in the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, Moto Guzzi concentrated on small reliable single-cylinder machines for the Italian home market, which demanded beautiful styling and excellent handling as well as economy. The Moto Guzzi Lodola (Italian for lark, as in bird), a stylish, peppy little machine, was built from 1956 to 1965. It was a popular machine in Italy, where, at the time, a 235cc motorcycle was a mid-sized bike. According to writer David Styles [in his book Moto Guzzi, published by MBI, 2000], about 27,000 were built. Although it is a rarity on this side of the Atlantic, a few may actually have been imported. According to the owner’s manual, there was a Moto Guzzi agency in a New York City suburb when this bike was in production.

Moto Guzzi, which celebrated its one hundredth anniversary in 2021, is one of the oldest motorcycle manufacturers still in existence. The three founders — Carlo Guzzi, Giovanni Ravelli and Giorgio Parodi — met in Italy’s fledgling air force during World War I and agreed to form a motorcycle company after the war. Ravelli was killed in a flying accident shortly after Armistice Day, but Parodi continued with the project and raised the startup money from his family, while Carlo Guzzi did much of the design work. The first bikes were rolled out March 15, 1921, and soon gained a following. Most of the early machines were singles, with the horizontal cylinder pointing forwards through the frame tubes. Moto Guzzisti came to expect that their favorite machine would have this engine configuration.

close up of the logo on the side of a red moto guzzi lodola gran turismo with white writing

After World War II

Italy sustained heavy damage during World War II. The transportation system was bombed out, and people had to survive any way they could. In this difficult environment, inexpensive personal transportation was important. Moto Guzzi’s factory escaped largely undamaged, and soon began producing reliable 65cc lightweights. With nothing else available, these were used by farmers to bring large loads of produce to market and by whole families to get where they needed to go.

The success of the little lightweight kept Moto Guzzi in business through Italy’s recovery from the war. The company got back into road racing and racked up victories, especially in the lightweight classes. A major boost to Moto Guzzi’s race team was the factory wind tunnel, which enabled the design of sophisticated fairings. There were also opportunities in commercial sales, and in 1950, the company introduced a three-wheeled truck, the Ercole, powered by a 500cc engine. The truck, which could fit through narrow streets while hauling huge loads, was an economic success. Urbanites flocked to the company’s Galletto motor scooter.

close up of the tail light of a lodola gran turismo with a black cover over the bulb

Moto Guzzi expanded its racing horizons by fielding a factory team for the Milano-Taranto, a long distance race. After Mondial shocked race fans by beating the 500cc competition in the Milano-Taranto with a 175cc machine, Carlo Guzzi designed an overhead cam motorcycle, the Lodola, with modern rear shocks, intended to take on the Mondial. Bore and stroke of the single-cylinder engine was 62mm x 57.8mm, producing 9 horsepower at 6,000rpm. It could run up to 68mph. There were some complaints from traditionalists that the cylinder, set upwards at a 45-degree diagonal, made the bike “not a real Guzzi.” Another problem was that the Lodola was more expensive to build than it should have been, due to few parts being interchangeable with other Guzzi models. Despite these issues, it sold well. Two years later, Moto Guzzi introduced a Sport version, with 9:1 compression and better brakes. The OHC Lodola proved itself a good mount for off-road competition, and won a major enduro in 1958 at Bergamo.

a view of the right side of a lodola gran turismo motorcycle showing the tail pipe running down the side

In 1959, the Lodola’s engine was revamped to 235cc, with pushrod valves, which was cheaper to make, more reliable and good for about 75mph. The pushrod version was even more popular than the overhead cam machine. The company continued to produce an overhead cam machine as a factory racer, and, later, as a limited production off-road competition model. A 247cc overhead valve version, the Regolarita, took gold at the 1961, 1962 and 1963 International Six Days Trials.

Like other Italian bikes of this period, Moto Guzzis were somewhat more sophisticated than many contemporary small machines from other countries. The engine of the 235cc OHV Lodola was aluminum alloy, with cast iron cylinder liners. The external flywheel was enclosed by an outer cover, unlike the Moto Guzzi 500cc Falcone, famous for its “bacon slicer” exposed flywheel. After 1959, the engine had an internal oil filter. The compression ratio was 7.5:1. The constant mesh 4-speed gearbox was operated through a wet multiplate clutch. Fuel was fed through a 22mm Dell’Orto carburetor, a plus for the present day owner. The Dell’Orto company is still in business, and continues to make parts for its vintage carburetors. Rear suspension was via conventional shocks, unlike the odd looking cantilever system used on earlier machines. The frame was double cradle, welded together. Charging is via a generator, and ignition is battery and coil.

view of the left side of a lodola gran turismo motorcycle with the original red paint

The Lodola was the last bike designed by Carlo Guzzi. He retired from the company in 1964 and died shortly afterwards. At the time, the Moto Guzzi company, like many other motorcycle manufacturers, was struggling. Italians were becoming more affluent. Many of the commuters who had bought small motorcycles were now buying small cars; and the commercial customers were now able to afford four-wheeled vans and small trucks. The last Lodolas were built in 1965, in a move to eliminate older models in order to concentrate on a limited line of newer designs. Moto Guzzi barely kept afloat until the introduction of the 704cc traverse twin V7, which became popular both with the Italian highway patrol and touring riders. The V-twin engine was refined, enlarged and developed, and has kept Moto Guzzi in the black to the present day.

close up of the right side of the lodola engine with the carburetor

close up of the left side of the lodola engine with the carburetor

Remembering the smaller ones

People did not stop riding the beautiful little bikes that preceded the big touring machines. Many continued to be used as commuters by enthusiasts. Some were exported to other countries, including the United States, as collectibles. The Moto Talbott Museum in Carmel Valley, California, [see sidebar] has several small Italian motorcycles from the Fifties and Sixties, including a green Lodola that may have been used by the Italian forest service. The provenance of this red Lodola (the stock color) is unknown. It was owned for some time by a man who had a large collection and rented some of his bikes to the movie industry. Eventually, he sold the Lodola to Dan Thorsen.

Thorsen rode bicycles as a child, but learned the happiness of going up hills without breaking a sweat at the tender age of 12, when his parents let him have a mini bike. Thorsen grew up, continued to ride, and became a well known local racer. Although he learned not to spend a dime on his race bikes unless the expense could improve his lap times, he developed an interest in, as he puts it, “old, purposeless motorcycles. Since the Eighties I have owned countless motorcycles. I buy and sell a lot. I do have an attraction to old Italian things, which is why I was attracted to this bike.”

Danny Aarons is a long time rider who enjoys vintage bikes from England and Europe. Some years ago, he sold a Triumph to the son of a friend a couple of states away. He went to visit the friend’s son, and saw a Moto Guzzi Stornello, a 125cc machine that looks much like a smaller version of the Lodola, in his motorcycle collection. Aarons was entranced, but realized that such a little machine would have a hard time hauling his six-foot-plus frame around. He started to look for a similar bike with a little more horsepower.

view of the front of a lodola gran turismo motorcycle

This Lodola was running when Thorsen bought it, but he got involved in other projects, and the bike sat for four or five years. Recently, Thorsen rebuilt the carburetor, got the little single running again and put about 400 miles on it. Danny Aarons came over to visit while Thorsen was working on the bike. “It was even prettier inside than outside.” He told Thorsen that if he ever wanted to sell the Lodola to give him a call. A year later, Thorsen once again got involved in other projects. He called Aarons and told him he was ready to sell. A deal was made and Thorsen delivered the bike. Aarons plans to ride the bike around the hills near his house once the bike is registered with the DMV, a process he is not looking forward to.

“It’s the cutest thing. The wiring harness is a piece of artwork. It’s not as elegant as the Stornello, but little bikes don’t work for me, and this certainly does. It’s a delight. It doesn’t have a tachometer, but you get a lot of good feedback from the engine. It is good at telling you where you need to shift.”

Aarons found a replica of the original rider’s manual in English on eBay Germany. The 67 page booklet includes a wiring diagram, an exploded diagram of the carburetor, a spec sheet, and a maintenance schedule (oil to be changed every 3,000 miles). In 1960, oil available in Italy left deposits on the valves and cylinders, and the owner is told to “decarbonize” every 6,000 miles — a miserable procedure involving dismantling the cylinder head and scraping out black deposits. At the same time, you are supposed to dismantle the carburetor and clean it. Both chores are now obsolete due to advances in petroleum technology. A third chore which is unfortunately not obsolete is regularly going over the bike with a grease gun. The Lodola has 22 Zerk fittings.

Unlike present day rider’s manuals, which insist that the owner bring the bike to the dealer for anything more complicated than greasing the chain, the Lodola manual assumes the owner will do most of the maintenance and repairs themselves. There are parts available on eBay, but some things may only be available from Europe. The manual ends with a list of dealers (“Concessionaires”). In addition to retailers all over Italy, the Lodola was sold in Algeria, Brazil, Ceylon, Cuba, Finland, Japan, Somalia, and Vietnam. Moto Guzzis were popular worldwide.

view of the rear of a lodola gran turismo motorcycle with an empty license plate slot

Getting going

The starting procedure is a little different than the routine for British and American machines. The key works by pushing it down and turning it until the red ignition light goes on. Make sure the bike is in neutral, open the petcock, engage the choke and kick — the kickstarter is on the left side, also standard Italian practice. Warm up the engine, shift the gearbox into first and take off. Thorsen adds that the best gas to use is premium. The choke is on the right handlebar grip. You turn it downwards (the counterintuitive way) to engage the choke.

As on many Italian bikes of this era, the shifter is a rocker. The brake is on the left side and the shifter is on the right. The shift pattern is one up and three down. To shift down with the rocker, you push on the back lever with your heel.

older man wearing a black jacket riding on a red moto guzzi lodola motorcycle

“He continues: “I have no idea of the miles per gallon, but think it would be in the 50s. It’s happy at 45mph. You design for the world you grew up in,” says Thorsen. “There were no freeways in postwar Italy.” New owner Danny Aarons is happy with his acquisition. “I fixed the odometer, but concluded the speedo is a write-off. I also fixed a minor air leak and checked the timing. It is now fully roadworthy. It is a delightful motorcycle.” “It reminds me of Italy,” says Thorsen. “Going to Italy, being there — it’s somehow more than the design. There’s an Italian sensibility about it — a foundational sense of timelessness.” MC


The Moto Talbott Museum

line of motorcycles inside a museum with two on shelves above and posters on the wall

The Moto Talbott came from a junction of two passions of its owner, Robb Talbott — wine and motorcycles. Robb grew up not too far from the Laguna Seca racetrack, near Monterey in central California, and developed a love for speed and noise early. He raced off-road while going to college. After he graduated, he developed an award winning winery, Talbott. The winery was sold in 2015, after which time Talbott devoted himself full time to motorcycles and the museum.
Robb started collecting about twenty years ago. He bought a new Triumph, read the book that resulted from the Guggenheim Art of the Motorcycle, and got excited about the idea of motorcycles as art. Given that many Italian motorcycles were designed with artistic impact in mind, a large percentage of the collection comes from Italy. Another large percentage of the collection is vintage off-road bikes. Several years after Robb started collecting, he decided to open his collection to the public.

The two floors of the museum, located several miles from Monterey, California, on the scenic and windy Carmel Valley Road, are crowded with lovingly restored Italian machinery from the Fifties and Sixties, including two Lodolas (one red, one green), a “jellybean tank” Ducati single, and vintage racers, including a spectacular Mondial GP racer with a dustbin fairing. British motorcycles are represented by several BSA single-cylinder machines, Greeves, Penton and Rickman off-roaders, a Rudge and a Scott, and the American contingent includes early Harley and Indian racers, as well as a World War II Harley WLA. The walls are decorated with vintage motorcycle ads, racing announcements and motorcycle-related art. There are files on each motorcycle, and people researching a bike that is similar to one in the collection should give the Talbott a call.

motorcycles inside a museum on pedestals with a green guzzi lodola on a rack in the back

As of the time of this writing, the Moto Talbott is open Thursday through Sunday, 11-5. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children. The website, mototalbott.com, includes suggestions for fun rides for visiting motorcyclists in the Monterey area. Moto Talbott likes to host events, but these have been suspended due to the pandemic. Events will resume when the coast is a little clearer. — Margie Siegal


Moto Guzzi: The Complete Story

This book charts the development of the stylish Moto Guzzis and the highs (and lows) of one of the oldest motorcycles marques still in existence. Topics covered include the origins of the Moto Guzzi factory at Mandello del Lario, the oldest motorcycle factory in the world; successes at the Isle of Man TT and races worldwide; the development of the V-twin engine; the De Tomaso years; and the introduction of the iconic Le Mans model. This title is available at store.MotorcycleClassics.com or by calling 800-880-7567. Mention promo code: MMCPALZ5. Item #7138.

black book cover with a picture of a yellow motorcycle and three smaller red motorcycles on it

  • Published on Dec 8, 2021
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