Motorcycle Classics

Laverda 3CL: Big Noise From Breganze

1977 Laverda 1000 3CL
Claimed power:
80hp @ 7,250rpm
Top speed: 123mph (period test)
Engine: 981cc air-cooled DOHC inline triple, 75mm x 74mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 543lb (246kg) 
Fuel capacity/MPG: 4.1gal (15.5ltr)/35-40mpg
Price then/now: $3,900 (est.)/$3,000-$8,000

In 2008, the iconic
3-cylinder Italian was in an underground parking lot in Chicago
when the Windy City experienced its worst rain in 137
years, and the bike was submerged up to the filler cap. The insurance company
wanted to write it off, but Ackelson persuaded them it was worth more than the
restoration would cost and shipped it off to Scott Potter for rehab.    

Potter went through
the bike completely, right down to dismantling and pressing up the 3CL’s
built-up crankshaft, replacing all of the roller main and big-end bearings. In
the process the engine received Jota-spec pistons, a lightened clutch and
Axtell camshafts. Other than that, the 3CL is more or less stock, although it
does have improved charging and ignition systems by Australian Laverda expert
Red Cawte. It also received a full bodywork makeover, involving a lot of
painstaking detail work. “It cleaned up very nice,” Potter says matter of

Nice enough to take
first in class at the Harvest Classic European & Vintage Motorcycle Rally
in Luckenbach, Texas, in 2009. But that was only the first
rebuild. Riding the 3CL back to his Texas Hill Country shop at dark after the
rally, Potter hit a deer at around 60mph. “It hit the front wheel,” Potter
remembers. “The bike flipped over; I landed on my head and back, and slid along
the tarmac for 100 yards or so.”

Potter broke his
collarbone and tore a rotator cuff, but the 3CL looked relatively unscathed
apart from some road rash, the instruments having been ground away sliding on
the pavement, “so it was back to the shop for a cosmetic rebuild,” Potter says.

That was the second
restoration, so to speak, but after he got the bike back together Potter
noticed something wasn’t quite right. As it turned out, the frame was out of
alignment from his collision with the deer. “The headstock was twisted,” Potter
says, “so I sourced a new frame and put it back together — again.”

Laverda triples 

Ignoring very
limited production machines like the Munch Mammoth, in 1969 the biggest import
motorcycle you could buy was a 750. So when Massimo Laverda announced that his
little company in Breganze, Italy, would show a 1,000cc triple at that
year’s Milan
motorcycle show, it caused a sensation.

The prototype shown
at the 1969 show — essentially a single overhead cam Laverda 650cc twin with an
extra cylinder grafted on — bore little resemblance to the production Laverda
triple that finally followed it three years later in 1972. But Laverda had
given notice it was going up against the big boys, and when the Laverda 1000
finally did go into production it was the only dual overhead cam machine in its
class (until Kawasaki’s903cc Z1 came along in 1973) and the largest capacity standard motorcycle on
the market until Honda introduced the GL1000 in 1974.

Laverda lost its early lead in the big-bore category because of the time it
took to get the triple into production. Though the first prototype was lighter
and narrower than the CB750 Honda, it didn’t make sufficient power, so chief
designer Luciano Zen produced a second design with twin overhead cams driven by
belt. This version had plenty of power, but vibration from the 120-degree
crankshaft engine caused frame breakages during testing. A second belt-drive
prototype with 180-degree firing intervals came next and proved less
destructive, but the belt-drive design was rejected because the belt drive
housing on the right side of the engine spoiled the lines of the engine. This
was Italy
after all!

This led to the
final prototype, which was shown at the 1971 Milan show. The new engine featured a
single-row chain hidden between the second and third cylinders driving twin
camshafts. Included valve angle was a relatively shallow 40 degrees, in keeping
with modern thinking, with 38mm and 35mm intake and exhaust valves,
respectively. An iron “skull” was cast into the aluminum cylinder head to form
the combustion chambers, and the pistons ran in steel liners pressed into cast
aluminum cylinder barrels.

Ignition was Bosch
HKZ electronic, carried on the right side of the crank along with the
alternator. The 5-speed transmission took its drive from the left side through
a triplex chain and wet multi-plate clutch. A trio of 32mm Dell’Orto pumper
carbs provided fuel, and the three exhaust headers flowed into a single,
left-side muffler.

The production
specification was now coming together, with the engine sitting in a new
dual-downtube cradle frame with Ceriani forks, a Laverda twin-leading-shoe
front brake and Borrani alloy rims shod with Dunlop 18-inch tires. Most of the
electrics, including the starter, 100-watt alternator and 8-inch headlight came
from Bosch. The instruments came from Nippon Denso and the switchgear from

Market time 

It was with this
specification that the first Laverda 1000 was launched in late 1972, with
production getting up to speed around February 1973. Before long, the
fiberglass gas tank first used was replaced with steel, the exhaust became
3-into-2 via a single collector box, and conventional handlebars were replaced
by the trademark adjustable “Ace” bars.

Though only a few of
the early bikes made it to the U.S.,
they caught the attention of the motoring press. Cycle magazine called
Laverda’s new triple “brilliant,” praising especially its handling — “most of
the others aren’t in the same league.” — and its engine — “producing thunderous
horsepower over a broad range and without a trace of temperament.” The only
problem was the price, which was estimated to be around $3,000. To put that in
perspective, in 1973 the new and very sexy Kawasaki Z1 sold for $1,895.

For 1974, Laverda
introduced the 3C model. This updated iteration had dual Brembo disc brakes
instead of the previous Laverda twin-leading-shoe drum, though the spoked
wheels with Borrani rims and rear drum brake were retained. Other improvements
included 38mm Ceriani front forks and a 26-degree steering angle (down from 29
degrees) and a new throttle linkage using a single cable. An oil cooler was
added, sitting below the lower triple tree, together with some minor internal
engine changes.

Cycle magazine tested the 3C and liked the bike’s
“very impressive muscle,” finding it to be “a better 90mph cruiser than
anything this side of a Honda GL1000 or a BMW R90S.” On the downside, Cycle
also noted the 3C’s handling was less stable than the first 1000, speculating
this was down to the steering angle change. Again, though, the biggest concern
was price; the 3C carried a suggested list of $3,900. U.S.-bound 3Cs got a
left-side gear shifter to meet new U.S. regulations starting in 1975, and all
3Cs gained a more powerful 140-watt alternator and smaller 7-inch (down from
8-inch) headlight.

The 3CL 

The “L” designation
came in 1976, when Laverda replaced the 3C’s spoked Borrani rims with FLAM cast
alloy wheels produced in Laverda’s own aluminum foundry. The “L” stood for lega,
alloy in Italian. At the same time, a 280mm Brembo rear disc brake replaced the
drum. The 3CL became Laverda’s flagship model for the next three years, and in
1978 U.S.-destined 3CLs were renamed Jarama, for the racetrack outside Madrid.

Unfortunately, this
was a problematic era for Laverda’s triple. The cast iron ”skull” combustion
chamber insert in the cylinder head of the normally robust Laverda engine was
deleted during 1976, but then cracks started appearing around the valve seats.
The “skull” was re-introduced in 1978, but without hardened seat inserts. The
result was valve seat erosion, requiring frequent valve adjustment. The
situation wasn’t helped by the adjustment process, which requires camshaft
removal. Additionally, re-fitting the cam bearing caps called for careful
assembly, a process not always followed.

To make matters
worse, in 1979 the factory switched from rollers to balls for the inner main
crankshaft bearings. The intention was to reduce engine noise, but the result
was a spate of bearing failures leading to massive warranty claims. The rollers
were re-introduced by the end of 1979, but the episode was financially draining
for the small Italian firm.

Most of these
problems were overcome by 1980, and the 3CL specification included many of the
other upgrades fitted to the high performance Jota, a model developed by U.K. importers
the Slater Brothers and now part of Laverda’s regular product lineup. A new
210-watt Nippon Denso alternator was fitted, moving the ignition pickups to a
new location inside the re-shaped left-side primary cover. The last Laverda 3CLs
were produced in 1981.

By this time, the
rough and raw “character” inherent in the 180-degree crankshaft format was
feeling pretty agricultural compared with Japanese 4-cylinder bikes, and a new,
more refined approach was needed. In 1982, Laverda announced a new range of
120-degree crankshaft bikes with rubber-mounted engines to absorb the inherent
rocking-couple vibration.

Ackelson’s 3CL 

Why the 3CL? As it
turns out, Ackelson once owned — or rather shared ownership of — a brand new
Jota with a buddy, in 1977 during his university days in England. “We
worked out that if we didn’t eat at all, we could just afford the payments,” he
recalls. He used the Jota when he was a motorcycle courier in London
and brought the Jota to the U.S.
when he moved here in 1979, but finding premium fuel for the high-compression
U.K.-spec engine was a problem. “I carried a bottle of octane enhancer with me
everywhere I went,” Ackelson says. “It was a pain in the butt. So I got rid of

Then came a “midlife
crisis” in 2004. “I thought, ‘I want my Jota back,’” Ackelson says, adding,
“but what a man’s bike the Jota is! I didn’t want to mess with that high
compression again.” So he found a 3CL on eBay in Washington,
D.C., and rode it home to Chicago.

Though the
high-strung Jota has a reputation for breathing fire, the more mellow 3CL and
1200 triples are quite docile machines. Firing up the engine, the sound seems
all wrong, like a cylinder is missing — which in some ways it is. And at idle,
the whole bike throbs and trembles in anticipation. Laverdas are tall, heavy
bikes with a high center of gravity, so care is needed moving them on and off
the excellent centerstand. Laverda owners know to avoid using the notoriously
fragile stock kickstand: Picking up a Laverda triple is not easy.

Unlike the Jota and
the 1200 triples, the Laverda 3CL never got a hydraulic clutch, and the lever
requires a manful pull. Finding first gear using the vague and sloppy U.S.-spec
left-side shifter generates a healthy clunk. Changing gear requires persistence
with the vague shifter, especially downshifting, and the Marzocchi suspension
is, at best, adequate: choppy on rough surfaces and prone to bottoming out
under braking.

Ackelson, however,
focuses on the bike’s positive attributes. “I like how stable it is,” he says.
“It’s a good, solid ride. It would take a rock to knock it off course. And you
can’t beat the sound.” And although it’s a description that’s become something
of a cliché, the Laverda’s mass really does seem to dissipate once rolling. The
engine smooths out as the revs rise, and the steering feels much lighter.

On smooth roads and
fast sweepers the 180 triples are majestic. Though needing effort to turn in,
they hold their line solidly, resisting road ripples and braking inputs until
told to straighten up again. The riding position can be made quite relaxed by
adjusting the handlebars, and the gearing suits 70-80mph cruising — though not
without some buzzing from the engine. Ackelson says he finds the riding
position a little uncomfortable, noting that “the seat could do with more

Even so, he’s quite
happy with his three-times restored triple, and plans to enjoy his Laverda 3CL
for many years to come. MC 

Read more by Robert Smith covering the crankshaft options for the Laverda 3CL.

  • Published on Apr 8, 2013
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