Il Dottore: Dr. John's Moto Guzzi 1000R

Alan Cathcart rides the race bike that led to the street-legal Moto Guzzi Daytona 1000R.

  • moto guzzi
    Straight out of the Eighties: Dr. John Wittner (left) and racer Doug Brauneck.
    Photo by Phil Masters

  • moto guzzi

Moto Guzzi 1000R 4-Valve
Engine: 999cc air-cooled SOHC transverse 90-degree V-twin, 4 valves per cylinder, 95.25mm x 70mm bore and stroke, 11.25:1 compression ratio, 115hp @ 9,300rpm
Top speed: 166mph (Daytona 1989)
Carburetion: Two 41.5mm flat-slide Mikuni
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
Electrics: 12v, Dyna S/Raceco electronic CDI
Frame/wheelbase: Chrome-moly square-section backbone frame with aluminum side plates/57.5in (1,460mm)
Suspension: Telescopic front forks with single centrally mounted fully adjustable Koni F1 shock, box-section steel cantilever monoshock rear with fully adjustable Koni F1 shock
Brakes: Dual 11.8in (300mm) Brembo floating cast iron discs front, single 9in (230mm) Brembo floating cast iron disc rear
Tires: 120/70 x 17in front, 170/55 x 17in rear
Weight: 347lb (158kg) with oil, no fuel

Thirty years ago in 1988, Moto Guzzi's hi-cam, 4-valve-per-cylinder engine made its public debut in the U.S. Battle of the Twins competition, finally reaching production for customer sale in 1992. The saga of American dentist Dr. John Wittner and his Moto Guzzi racers is a motorcycling fairy tale that put the mercurial Italo-Argentinian Alejandro De Tomaso, then owner of Moto Guzzi, in the unlikely role of a fairy godfather.

In his spare time from dentistry, Wittner had played with tuning Harley-Davidson engines, mainly for road racing around the northeast. But in 1983 he decided to buy a Moto Guzzi Le Mans, if for no other reason than he thought it looked neat, and also had a pushrod engine like the Harleys he was used to. Trained as a mechanical engineer before taking up dentistry, Wittner appreciated the Guzzi's rugged engineering and traditional looks. "I bought the bike with the sole intent of forming a team of friends to go endurance road racing with it," Wittner says today, still living in the same suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he ran his race team. "I knew they were extraordinarily reliable, the perfect weapon for Endurance competition."

Team Guzzi

In its first year of competition, Dr. John's team won the 1984 U.S. Endurance Championship's Middleweight class, with a 100 percent finishing record. The following season, in 1985, after Wittner sold his dental practice to concentrate on bike racing, Dr. John's Guzzi team won the overall 13-race U.S. Endurance title outright, beating a fleet of Japanese fours that were occasionally slower and always thirstier than the pushrod V-twin, a fatal combination in long-distance events.

The next year, Wittner's fortunes slumped as he looked further afield for new challenges. The lack of suitable races outside the U.S. where he could race the Moto Guzzi in 1986 meant he hardly raced at all, and his money was fast running out. Almost flat broke after two seasons, Wittner took a final, desperate gamble. Staking everything he had left on a one-way air ticket to Italy, he camped on the doorstep of Moto Guzzi boss Alejandro de Tomaso at his private hotel in Modena — and got lucky. "I went with the intent of staying two weeks, but got so involved that I didn't return home for two months," Wittner says. "One December morning, I woke up and remembered I'd left my car in the airport long-term parking lot. It cost me a fistful of dollars to extract it!"

The 4-valve

De Tomaso recognized in Wittner the man who could help rejuvenate Moto Guzzi's staid image, and when Wittner returned to the U.S. he had a box of business cards identifying him as Moto Guzzi's "Engineering Development Consultant, North America" — plus enough money to build the Stage 3 Guzzi racer he'd mapped out before his visit, complete with an all-new box-section spine frame and cantilever swingarm with floating shaft final drive. The rest is history: in 1987, in the hands of rider Doug Brauneck, Dr. John's Guzzi broke the six-year Ducati/Harley-Davidson domination of U.S. Pro Twins, winning the AMA Championship title and becoming the most successful Moto Guzzi racer since the factory had stopped Grand Prix racing in 1957. De Tomaso was so delighted he gave Wittner one of the two prototype 4-valve-per-cylinder V-twin engines Guzzi engineers had been working on for the past two years to build a race bike around, to help Guzzi ready a production version.

11/20/2018 9:58:30 PM

the thirstiness issue was well illustrate by my first tour on my first Moto Guzzi, an 850T, in 1977. my partner and i, two up with camping gear, and my buddy on his Honda CB550, headed up to Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He averaged 35 mprg and had to stop every 120 miles. i averaged 65 mprg and was good for 300 miles before hitting reserve.

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter