Under The Radar: Moto Guzzi Daytona 1000

Best bets on tomorrow’s classics: 1992-1995 Moto Guzzi Daytona 1000.

| May/June 2013

  • Daytona Cobbed
    After his team of modified Moto Guzzis won the 1984 and 1985 U.S. Endurance Championship and the 1987 Pro Twins series, U.S. Moto Guzzi guru Dr. John Wittner was summoned to Italy and asked to help develop a new world-beating superbike.
    Photo Courtesy MC Staff
  • Harley Davidson Buell
    Harley-Davidson’s 200-pound Sportster lump powering a diminutive sportbike? Erik Buell was the one man who could make that unlikely combination work.
    Photo Courtesy MC Staff
  • Ducati 900SS
    Also exuding charisma in 1992 was the new Ducati 900SS.
    Photo Courtesy MC Staff

  • Daytona Cobbed
  • Harley Davidson Buell
  • Ducati 900SS

MG Daytona 1000
Claimed power:
95hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 145mph
Engine: 992cc air-cooled high-cam 8-valve 90-degree V-twin
Weight: 451lb (dry)
Price then/now: $14,195/$10,000-$12,500

After his team of modified Moto Guzzis won the 1984 and 1985 U.S. Endurance Championship and the 1987 Pro Twins series, U.S. Moto Guzzi guru Dr. John Wittner was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. Summoned to Italy by Guzzi godfather Alejandro de Tomaso, Wittner, a former dentist turned endurance racer, was asked to help develop a new world-beating superbike. Guzzi revealed a prototype at the 1989 Milan show and named it for the famous Florida circuit (where they won the 250-mile endurance race in 1985), but in typical Italian fashion it took until late 1991 for the Daytona to go into production.

Although the hot rod Daytona engine was based around the classic “big block” air-cooled Moto Guzzi transverse V-twin, in the end it retained only the crankshaft and crankcases of the standard engine. Using the 78mm stroke of the 948cc Le Mans 1000 combined with new plated alloy cylinders with a 90mm bore, it displaced 992cc. A bright red sport fairing melded into the gas tank just above the Daytona’s all-new cylinder heads, grandly marked “OHC 4V” for overhead camshaft 4-valve. In truth, the cams were carried high in the cylinder heads, not on top, so the engine could also be considered a high-cam design overhead valve.

From the crankshaft, a reduction geartrain drove a pair of toothed belts, each spinning a single camshaft in each cylinder head, which in turn opened four valves via short pushrods operating rocker shafts. Fueling was by Weber-Marelli electronic injection, and the exhaust system was in stainless steel. The engine drove a revised version of the 5-speed transmission used on most Guzzi twins through a beefed-up clutch (with 10 springs versus eight) and a driveshaft to the rear wheel.

The powertrain hung from a new spine frame based on Dr. John’s race bike design, constructed from 1.5mm chrome-moly tubing with a cantilevered rear swingarm and a fully adjustable Koni (later WP) monoshock under the seat. Marzocchi supplied the “conventional” three-way adjustable fork, and Brembo four-pot calipers with 300mm dual discs (two-pot/260mm rear) provided stopping power. Cast alloy 17-inch wheels ran on 120-section front and 160-section rear tires.

With a claimed 95 horsepower available at 8,000rpm, the Daytona was the most powerful road-going Guzzi to date, returning a top speed of 145mph. “The result is excellent rideability, with big-time low-end and midrange power available whenever you open the throttle,” Cycle World said of the big twin in 1993. On the road, they found that being long and low in Guzzi tradition gave the Daytona reassuring stability at high speeds: “The Daytona proved unflappable, with well-damped suspension, plenty of cornering clearance, premium tires and a relatively flickable yet very stable nature.”

Those same characteristics, though, meant it was less nimble than some lighter and more compact motorcycles of the time. “The Daytona is less track-ready, more of a traditionalist’s GT-class machine,” Cycle World said, adding, “The Daytona shines by excelling everywhere and not doing anything wrong. Its suspension offers a good balance of compliance and control … though the bike does turn more readily to the right at slower speeds thanks to the engine’s pull-to-the-right flywheel effect.” They were impressed by the absence of driveshaft-induced handling quirks, noting that “mid-corner throttle changes have almost no consequence whatsoever on the chassis. If anything whacking open the throttle while leaned over makes the rear end squat slightly, just like a chain-drive bike.”

But Daytonas aren’t without their issues. The timing gears are noisy and have been known to fail as have timing belts, which must be replaced regularly as failure — from the belts or the gears — can result in serious engine damage. Further, harnessing the Daytona’s prodigious torque means a heavy clutch pull plus extra strain on the transmission; it doesn’t help that there is no cush drive in the driveline. Gearbox oil should be changed regularly to help keep the gearbox happy, and the magnetic drain plug checked for metal fragments. The Daytona’s bevel drive case is unvented and blown oil seals are not unknown.

Overrall, though, Cycle World concluded that the Daytona was “a polished and thoroughly updated version of a machine many had left for dead … there is no more charismatic motorcycle on the market today,” and 20 years later, that statement still rings true. Limited production (there were just barely more than 1,000 built from 1992-1995) means finding one requires patience, but the rewards are clearly worth the wait.

Contenders: Sport V-Twin Rivals to the Daytona 1000

Ducati 900SS
Claimed power:
73hp @ 8,000rpm
Top speed: 129mph
Engine: 904cc air-cooled SOHC desmodromic 90-degree L-twin
Weight: 414lb (dry)
Price then/now: $7,900/$3,000-$7,000

Also exuding charisma in 1992 was the new Ducati 900SS. Derived from the liquid-cooled 907 i.e. Paso engine, the 900SS engine instead used air/oil cooling, 38mm Mikuni CV carbs and a 6-speed transmission. The 904cc 2-valve desmo engine was slung beneath a strengthened version of the F1 Sport steel tube ladder frame, forming a stressed member.

Elegantly simple, the 900’s cantilevered swingarm pivoted in the engine cases and worked a preload- and rebound-adjustable Showa shock running under the seat. A three-way adjustable Showa upside-down fork controlled the front end, and the 900SS ran on three-spoke cast alloy wheels fitted with dual 320mm Brembo four-pot front disc brakes and a single 245mm two-pot rear disc brake.

Period tests praised the Ducati for its looks, handling and visceral V-twin character. While it was outclassed by contemporary Japanese multis on the strip and the track, it scored high on roll-on acceleration, street-ability and, surprisingly, comfort.

“Absolutely wonderful … one of the five best-handling bikes I’ve ever ridden,” Cycle magazine’s tester said — though they also noted an electrical issue that extinguished all the dashboard idiot lights! Ducati got the powertrain and chassis right in the 900SS, but that old bugbear of unreliable electrics remained. And with a valve-check/adjustment interval of just 3,000 miles, a 900SS could be an attention whore as well as a seductive mistress.

But what a mistress it was — and still is.

Buell RS1200
Claimed power:
70hp @ 6,000rpm
Top speed: 125mph
Engine: 1,203cc air-cooled OHV 45-degree V-twin
Weight: 461lb (wet)
Price then/now: $15,995/$8,000-$12,500

Was the Buell RS1200 a match made in heaven … or hell? Harley-Davidson’s 200-pound Sportster lump powering a diminutive sport bike? Erik Buell was the one man who could make that unlikely combination work. Essentially Buell’s 1985 RR1200 Battletwin without its wind-cheating bodywork, the RS1200 combined a more-or-less stock 1,203cc H-D Evo XL engine with Buell’s Uniplanar mounting system to isolate the steel-tube frame from the 45-degree V-twin’s jackhammer vibration. That was only the beginning, as the RS bristled with innovations like an upside-down Marzocchi fork with Buell’s own electronic anti-dive system, a rear monoshock mounted under the engine, Buell-designed alloy wheels, and the clever if clunky-looking combined bum-stop/passenger backrest.

At just 460 pounds with a 55.5-inch wheelbase and 25-degree rake, the RS1200 steered quickly yet confidently, though reviewers said the rear suspension lacked sufficient damping. The brakes were powerful, with precise control at the front, but were race-bike-weedy at the rear: Stoppies were the RS1200’s specialty! But the Buell’s biggest selling point — and its Achilles’ heel — was the engine. The reason for the RS1200’s brief bodywork, anathema to Buell’s aerodynamic sensibilities, was to show off the Harley engine. But with just 70 crankshaft horsepower at best and only four gears in the tranny, the RS1200 was always going to be a minority taste. Sadly, so were the Buells that followed it.

11/1/2013 1:46:07 PM

Note: the pre-'95 straight-cut 5th gear in the Sport/Sporti & Daytona gearboxes [they're the same bikes, really, just the Sport & Sport Inezzione used the regular 2v mill instead of the Daytona's 4v HiCam developed by Wittner & Todero...] is prone to (catastrophic) failure: anyone w/ one of those models who actually rides it [Ride'em don't hide'em!] would be well advised to retrofit the later helical-cut 5th gear from the 95+ models. All this info & more is out there in Guzzi specific forums like WildGoosechase, v11lemans.com (which is also supportive of the precursors of the V11 LeMans from which it takes its name, since those later models were largely just product-improved versions of the Sporti) & others. Anyone who's interested in riding an old Goose really should spend some time noodling around the forums first: the info available there can really save you a lot of heartache & expen$ive mi$take$...

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