1979 Moto Guzzi: An Italian Motorcycle That’s California Cool

The Moto Guzzi T3 California was Guzzi’s best-selling model ever.

| March/April 2013

Moto Guzzi T3 California
Claimed power: 59 hp @ 6,800 rpm
Top speed: 100 mph
Engine: 844 cc air-cooled OHV 90-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 540 lb. (245 kg)
Fuel Capacity/MPG: 6.34 gal. (24 ltr)
Price then/now: $3,250 (est.)/$5,500 - $8,500

It was back in 1988, on the streets of South Philly, that the Moto Guzzi T3 California first made a big impression on me. It was big, with loads of presence and dripping in style, and it had an exhaust note that caught your ear and made you turn and notice the nonchalant rider in black Ray-Bans and an open-face helmet.

I was then a 20-year-old Londoner, in the U.S. for the first time, playing guitar in a band and looking out for ‘57 Chevys, ‘53 Caddys and H-D Knuckleheads — not Italian motorcycles from Mandello del Lario, a place I’d never heard of.

When I got home, my brother bought one. It was his first big bike before a serious Harley passion kicked in. I was so envious. He lent it to me for a week, and I racked up 1,000 miles just cruising around London — I felt like the king of the road. He sold it, but I was determined to own one some day. The T3 California was just cool; I was smitten.

An Italian motorcycle gets a police bike's modification

What makes the original Moto Guzzi California so special is that it wasn’t designed to be a show pony, but a hard-working utilitarian motorcycle. In fact, looks were probably the last thing on Sergeant Scotty Henderson’s mind as he watched over workers at the Guzzi factory at Mandello in late 1968. Sent over by the L.A.P.D. Traffic Enforcement Division, Henderson supervised the building of 10 special 750cc V7 Police bikes, commissioned after two 700cc machines (with involvement of U.S. Guzzi importers Berliner Motor Corporation) had been tested by police top brass  in Los Angeles earlier in the year.

The handling and ruggedness of the V7s, along with their ease of maintenance, had impressed. Moto Guzzi was eager to impress even more. “At Mandello, I was given carte blanche for ideas on how to make the motorcycle,” Henderson later commented. “They literally designed a bike right before my eyes.” Henderson oversaw L.A.P.D.-required modifications, including the sprung sidestand that could be operated from the solo saddle, the famous footboards, a left foot gearshift and a windshield in bulletproof Lexan, all added to a machine that already featured extra lights, a siren and a radio.

Larry Strawbridge
5/17/2013 1:05:13 PM

Guzzis are great bikes, no question! I own a '73 "Aluminum" and find it the "perfect" motorcycle...except for ONE thing....total lack of dealer support!! Parts are very hard to find and expensive. If you buy one, you had better learn to wrench your own bike. For that reason, one might want to consider another brand. My next bike will be a Harley "police" model with the hydraulic seat which should be easier on my old back injuries.

Mark Johnson
5/16/2013 3:28:09 PM

This is one bike I wished I had, just didn't have the money for when I was a young rider. Parts used to be cheap too. I replaced a couple expensive valves on a Honda 450 and after that, thought to investigate parts prices before I bought a cycle.

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