Motorcycle Classics

Classic Experience: Living With a Moto Guzzi 850 T3

1975 Moto Guzzi 850 T3
Claimed Power: 68hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 120mph (est.)
Engine type: 844cc air-cooled OHV 90-degree V-twin, 83mm x 78mm bore and stroke, 9.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 535lb (243kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 6.3gal (24ltr)/36-42mpg (observed)
Price then/now: $2,800 (1975/approx.)/$4,500-$6,500

Sample parts prices from MG Cycle:
(Prices listed current as of publication. Subject to change)
Muffler set: $497.72 (Original style)
Air filter: $12.12
Points and condensers set: $40.45
Electronic ignition conversion: $202.46
Brake pads: $24.84 per caliper
Valve cover gasket set: $6.94
Top end gasket set: $23.75 per cylinder

Service recommendations:
Oil and filter change: Every 3,000 miles
Air filter: Clean/replace every 6,000 miles
Valve adjustment: Check every 3,000 miles
Spark plugs: Clean/adjust every 3,000 miles
Ignition timing: Check/adjust every 3,000 miles

At the dawn of the Seventies, Moto Guzzi’s U.S. fortunes were on the rise thanks to the popularity of its V7 and Ambassador V-twins. Yet Moto Guzzi chief engineer Lino Tonti knew that continued success meant building the brand beyond touring bikes. What Guzzi needed, Tonti believed, was a sport bike.

By late 1969, Tonti was already sowing the seeds that would grow to become the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport. With a new welded, triangulated frame of Tonti’s own design and a 748cc version of the V7/Ambassador’s 757cc V-twin, the 5-speed V7 Sport proved beyond doubt that Moto Guzzi could make a sport bike to run with the best of them. Building on this new foundation, Guzzi applied Lino Tonti’s brilliant frame to a succession of new models.

In 1974, Guzzi introduced the 850T (for “Tonti”), which featured the V7’s frame and a mildly tweaked version of the Eldorado’s 844cc V-twin. A single front disc brake gave it reasonable stopping power, and the big engine in the Tonti frame gave lively performance.

The 850T had only been on the market a year before Moto Guzzi introduced what many consider its best motorcycle. Introduced in 1975, the improved 850 T3 (the “3” signifying the triple-disc brakes) was in many ways the most important Moto Guzzi made in the Seventies. Lighter than the touring-oriented California and far more sporting than the also new 949cc, 2-speed semi-automatic Convert, the 1975 Moto Guzzi 850 T3 was the bridge between the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and Guzzi’s larger touring bikes.

A sport touring motorcycle in the best Italian tradition, it had all of the improvements Guzzi had prepared for the Convert — linked triple-disc brakes, dual-point ignition, full air filter, a real oil filter (albeit buried in the sump; more on that later) — but with less weight and better agility for riders looking for both performance and long-distance capacity.

Paul’s T3

A carpenter by trade and a former enduro rider who raced Yamaha DTs and Husqvarnas in his native Australia before moving to the U.S., vintage motorcycle enthusiast Paul Harrison saw the T3 as a perfect fit for his needs. “I was after a vintage bike, something with a bit of flair that handles well and is pretty reliable, and a Moto Guzzi fit the bill,” Paul says. “I was interested in a Le Mans, but that was out of my price range. The bike that captivated me was the V7 Sport. I thought the T3 was good value for what it was, and it had the heritage, what with the Tonti frame and the fact it’s an Italian V-twin.”

Paul found this T3 in Brooklyn, N.Y., languishing in a small motorcycle shop located in an underground parking lot. A Florida transplant showing less than 15,000 miles on the odometer (Paul assumes it had turned over once), the T3 was tatty but mostly all there, and with a little love it came back to life. The exhaust was rotten so the seller substituted a set of BUB headers and mufflers, and Paul installed adjustable Raask Ace-style handlebars and Tomaselli rearset foot controls to “suit his height and riding style.” At 6 feet 4 inches, Paul’s gotten used to tailoring his motorcycles to fit him.

That was three years ago, and since then Paul’s put another 4,000 miles on the T3, mostly without issue. Little things like the notoriously poor switchgear have required replacement (“The switches were falling apart,” Paul says), but otherwise the T3’s been a model of civility.

Riding the Moto Guzzi 850 T3

Paul loves his T3, and after spending a few days with it, it’s easy to see why. Swinging a leg over the saddle, the 31-inch seat height lets me plant my feet firmly on the ground. The long seat gives plenty of room to move around but the aftermarket Ace bars make for a long reach forward, and at first blush the riding position feels awkward as I stretch my legs back to find the rearset foot controls. Riders under 6-foot (I’m right at 6 feet) would probably prefer a less aggressive riding stance, but after a few miles I found Paul’s setup to work just fine.

Switchgear on Paul’s bike is non-stock Japanese hardware, which means that unlike the uniquely Italian — read: odd — original equipment it takes short work to decipher. The ignition switch is mounted dead ahead of the gas tank, the key slot covered by a rubber flap to keep out moisture. Cold starting requires pulling the plastic-handled choke enrichers on the Dell’Orto VHB carbs into their straight-up position, and with the fuel and ignition on a stab of the starter button brings the big 90-degree V-twin to life.

Cold idle is a little rough, but with mild coaxing from the throttle the engine quickly settles into a comfortable thrump. Finding first is easy, the shifter requiring only moderate foot pressure and engaging with a satisfying mechanical “plonk” that’s just a little more refined than the agricultural feel of an early BMW R75/5. The clutch is buttery smooth on Paul’s bike, with an easy pull and an equally easy release. V-twins are known for their excellent torque, and Paul’s T3 is no exception. A touch of throttle gets the engine up off idle, and from there it’s an easy feed of the clutch to get the bike rolling.

Like many bikes of its ilk, the Guzzi responds best to a firm hand. Shift the T3 lazily and you’ll find yourself in a false neutral, but shift deliberately and it lands in the chosen gear every time. The shift to second is fairly short, allowing a quick change, while third seems to be spaced wider, requiring a longer pull on the lever. From there the T3 shifts evenly and cleanly up to fifth, and it only takes a mild blip of the throttle to execute clean downshifts. The chassis lifts up just a bit downshifting thanks to the T3’s shaft drive, but it’s not too intrusive. “I’ve never gotten 100 percent used to the shaft drive,” Paul says, adding, “People either love it or hate it, but I’m still on the fence.”

The T3’s fat torque curve means you don’t have to worry much about revs when you shift, because the engine will pull strongly even if you’re letting it lug. What’s surprising, however, is how willing it is to rev, pulling strongly and cleanly up to 6,500rpm without complaint. And while it spins happily to 7,000rpm, where maximum horsepower is made, midrange is where it shines, with a decided sweet spot around 4,500rpm, an indicated 80mph showing on the speedo in fifth. It feels unburstable, ready to push on mile after mile, with plenty of extra oomph on tap for the occasional pass or climb.

Indicated speed was a bit misleading, as the rev-to-speed ratio fluctuated with temperature. Cold mornings showed 85mph at 4,000rpm, dropping to 75mph in the heat of the day. It was erratic enough that I eventually stopped relying on the speedo, focusing instead on traffic flow and engine revs to mark my progress.

The brakes on Paul’s bike were a bit of a disappointment, down, no doubt, to the bike’s almost 40-year-old brake hoses: I suspect much of the effort from the master cylinders was going into expanding the brake hoses instead of pushing on the caliper pistons, as the Guzzi took a strong hand — and foot — to bring down quickly from speed.

Guzzi’s linked brake system pairs the foot pedal to the rear and front left discs, with the right front disc working off the handlebar. Riders used to hitting the front brake first have to reorient their braking habits to make the transition to hitting the rear pedal first, but once accustomed you’ll find the system works well. The only time I question linked brakes is on gravel, where I like to feel out the limits of adhesion with the rear brake only.

Handling on Paul’s bike is period-typical Italian. Steering is on the slow side thanks to the T3’s fairly geometry and longish, 58-inch wheelbase. The front end is under-sprung, and fork action is vague at low-speed compression but harsh at higher speeds. Similarly, the rear Koni shocks feel overwhelmed by the T3’s 700-pound-plus load (bike and rider), fighting to keep the rear tire firmly planted to the road. At speed, however, those detractions melt away. The chassis is superb, a rolling testimony to the superiority of the Tonti designed frame, and if there’s any flex, I didn’t feel it. The T3 is utterly confidence inspiring, especially on long sweepers, where it’s beautifully stable. It’s so good, it makes you wonder why every manufacturer didn’t crib the design.

As a riding proposition, the T3 is possibly one of the best Seventies bikes out there. Service gripes are few, although the Guzzi’s spin-on oil filter placement inside the oil sump is a pain; you have to drop the oil pan to reach the filter. Parts are, for the most part, readily available, and an enthusiastic ownership base means information and advice are easy to find. One of the first stops for new owners should be Moto International for a copy of Dave Richardson’s Guzziology, an epic 766-page guide to everything you need to know about Moto Guzzis.

The biggest problem these days is finding an unmolested 850 T3, as many of them have been “upgraded” to semi-Le Mans specs or heavily caféd. Ignored for many years, the 1975 T3 started being rediscovered some years back as riders belatedly recognized its appeal as a solid, reliable, fast, easy to maintain classic with classic Italian flair. Riding one for a few days, it’s easy to see why. The 1975 Moto Guzzi 850 T3 continues as a lasting reminder of Lino Tonti’s legacy. MC


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  • Published on Dec 10, 2013
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