Motorcycle Classics

Ten Days with a 1973 Moto Guzzi Eldorado

1973 Moto Guzzi Eldorado
Claimed power:
64hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 116mph (period test)
Engine: 844cc, OHV, air-cooled 90 degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 261kg (518lb)
Fuel capacity / MPG: 22ltr (5.78gal) / 40-50mpg
Price then / now: $1,985 / $4,000 – $8,000

Rolling on the throttle of the 1973 Moto Guzzi Eldorado, my derrière comfortably supported by the Guzzi’s ample solo saddle, I feel like a refugee from Magnum Force, the 1973 Clint Eastwood flick where a secret fraternity of vigilante motorcycle cops prowl San Francisco, picking off the city’s crime bosses one by one. Their bikes? Moto Guzzi 850s, just like the one I’m riding.

OK, so maybe I’ve watched Magnum Force one time too many, but riding the Eldorado, it’s impossible for me not to conjure up images of rogue cops on Guzzis every time I pull away from the curb, the big V-twin’s dual pipes emitting, no, more like barking an authoritative staccato rasp as the engine picks up speed and I firmly jab the long shift lever for the next gear.

The Moto Guzzi Eldorado yesterday
It’s an imposing bike, to be sure, and it was meant to be. Based on the very first Guzzi V-twin, the 1967 V7, the Moto Guzzi Eldorado helped continue the traction Moto Guzzi had gained in the U.S. with the 703cc Moto Guzzi V7 and later 757cc Moto Guzzi Ambassador. As the story goes, Guzzi sold two of the very first V7s to the California Highway Patrol for $1. The younger cops loved the Guzzi over the current crop of Harleys, and before long big Guzzi V-twins were plying the highways and byways of California, Texas, Georgia and a host of other states, the motorcycle cops effectively supplying Moto Guzzi with free, rolling advertising. Talk about guerilla marketing.

Largely identical to the 757cc Ambassador, the new-for-1972 Moto Guzzi Eldorado received some important upgrades. A longer stroke bumped capacity to 844cc and, more importantly, bumped power to 64hp, up 4hp from the Ambassador. Bigger news was inside the transmission, which added an extra gear for five forward speeds. The only visual cues to the bike’s new status were the 850 Eldorado decals on the side panels, revised instruments and a larger, stronger rear drive unit.

The Moto Guzzi Eldorado today
Before signing on as an ad rep for Motorcycle Classics, Rod Peterson’s motorcycle experience was slim to none. But as he immersed himself in the world of classic bikes, two brands stood out for him, BMW and Moto Guzzi. He now owns one of each, including our test bike, a 1973 Moto Guzzi Eldorado.

An eBay motorcycle, Rod’s Eldo is pretty representative of what $4,000 to $5,000 will get you. With just under 13,000 miles on the clock when purchased, it was a clean, lightly refreshed machine that had clearly led a pretty mellow life. Unfortunately for Rod, that mellow life didn’t stop his Eldo from snapping its crankshaft in two shortly after he bought it. But while that kind of freak occurrence might be disastrous on other bikes, Rod had little trouble finding a replacement crank. And the local independent shop, Extreme Cycle, had it up and running in fairly short order, a testimony to how easy these old V-twins are to work on.

Mildly altered from stock, Rod has equipped his Guzzi as any owner in 1973 would have, with a solo saddle, a tall, wide Plexiglas screen, and a set of fiberglass hard bags. The mufflers are aftermarket replacements, and while they’re shorter and a bit louder than the original Lafranconis, they have the right sound.

Riding the Eldorado evokes a curious mix of reactions. Swinging a leg over its broad saddle and settling in, the bike feels big and comfortable. The reach to the bars is easy, giving a relaxed grip and an upright position that clocks your gaze straight ahead.

Firing up the big twin is a snap; petcocks on, draw the handlebar-mounted choke handle forward, hit the starter button, and it’s running. We found it necessary to warm up our test bike a few minutes before it would pull away cleanly, but to be fair it was pretty cold during our time with the Eldo, the daytime highs rarely breaking 50F. And it always fired right up, even on our last day when outside temps had dipped down to 26F.

With the bike warm, a firm push down on the back of the Guzzi’s rocker shifter (the shift pattern is one up and four down) produces a solid “clunk” familiar to any BMW rider, and like every airhead Beemer the Guzzi uses an automotive style dry clutch. Clutch feed is linear and surprisingly light, and it only takes a slight twist of the throttle to pull away cleanly.

Torque is a V-twin’s strong suit, and the Eldorado delivers. Roll the throttle on more, and the bike picks itself up and moves forward. Nothing happens in a hurry, mind you, but it happens with authority, strong and steady like an old pickup with a V8 and a stick shift.

On the move, shifting is slow and deliberate, with long throws of the lever. Try and hustle the 5-speed box and you’ll be disappointed, but take it slow and easy and it shifts cleanly every time. Once on the move, it’s clear the Moto Guzzi Eldorado was built for the open road, and the straighter that road the happier it is. Although handling in sweepers and tighter curves is steady, the bike’s stiff suspension and limited cornering clearance combine to make aggressive riding a chore. But settle back and dial it down a notch, and the Guzzi rewards with fairly effortless cruising.

Hauling the Eldorado down from speed takes a little practice. At just under 9 inches in diameter, the twin-leading-shoe front brake seems too small to convincingly halt the 518-pound Guzzi’s forward progress. Although a visual inspection showed nothing wrong, part of the poor performance we experienced was due to a slightly warped brake drum; we could feel a noticeable pulse from the front brake on hard stops. The single-leading-shoe drum at the rear was worse, proving almost pointless except during rolling stops.

If you like working on your own bike, you’ll love a Moto Guzzi. Valve adjustments are a snap, thanks to unimpeded access to the cylinder heads. The valve covers come off in minutes, and from there it’s a simple matter of rotating through each cylinder to get the valves at their loosest point for adjustment. Carbs are similarly simple to set, although it’s highly advisable to have a synchronizing tool to ensure an even setting on each carb. Regardless of the big twin’s simplicity, it seems very sensitive to proper carb synching.

Ignition points are also incredibly easy to service, housed as they are in an automotive-style distributor situated just above and behind the right cylinder. The distributor cap comes off in seconds, and once the ignition rotor’s removed the points can be cleaned and gapped in minutes. Similarly, basic servicing on the rest of the bike is a breeze, making it an ideal machine for do-it-yourselfers.

So what’s that curious mix of reactions we alluded to earlier? For all of its good points, and they are many, what the Moto Guzzi Eldorado presents and what it delivers seem like two different things. While 64hp isn’t exactly prodigious, it should be ample for a bike like the Eldo. And yet the Eldorado feels slow, unhappy to build speed with any kind of zeal. Add to that the Eldo’s mission as a highway cruiser, and it feels oddly out of its comfort zone on fast highways, where speeds of 70mph-plus seem too taxing. Stick to the back roads and sub-65mph speeds, and it’s serene.

The other odd sensation is how it handles its weight. Although heavy, at low speeds it feels surprisingly light, exhibiting incredible slow-speed maneuverability. Yet at high speeds, where you’d think its weight would help make it stable, it feels twitchy.

Of course, it’s possible we’re trying to make the Eldorado live up to riding characteristics it could never have. While its engine and transmission are the equal of many of its contemporaries, there’s no denying the handling limitations of its loop frame and stiff suspension. Frankly, we can’t stop comparing it to a similar year BMW R75 /5, a bike much like the Eldorado but one we find a better proposition for the open road.

Personal tastes notwithstanding, there’s no denying the Guzzi’s incredible good looks, with rich paint, just enough chrome and lots of beautiful cast aluminum. Add built-like-a-brick, rock-solid mechanicals to their classic good looks and its no surprise Guzzi owners rave about their machines, preferring to ride no other motorcycle.

Those characteristics are more than enough to make the loop-frame Moto Guzzi Eldorado a good bet for anyone seeking a dependable, easy and cheap-to- maintain rideable classic.

Recommended Service
Oil change: Every three months or 3,000 miles
Air filter: Clean or replace every 6,000 miles
Valve adjustment: Check and adjust every 3,000 miles
Spark plugs: Check every 1,800 miles
Points and timing: Check and adjust every 1,800 miles
Maintenance for this test: 1/2 quart oil, valve adjustment, ignition points and timing
Mileage for this test: 46.5mpg average

Sample Parts Prices
MG Cycle –
Muffler: $230.76
Starter: $210
Air filter: $12.64
Front brake shoes: $56.47
Cap, rotor, points, condenser: $54.49

Insider’s view
Mark Etheridge
Moto Guzzi Classics
Signal Hill, Calif.
(608) 986-0070

Mark’s Story: “I was doing VW and Porsche restoration, and I bought an old junker Guzzi and didn’t even know what it was. I started working on it and thought, these are great. After doing a few Fiats in the past, I was shocked the Italians could make anything good. My first one was a 1975 Ambassador. When I got into it people had bought their bikes from the police auctions, ridden them for six months or so, then parked them. Ten years later they’re advertsing them in the local recycler, and I’d buy them, and before you know it, I was doing it full time. I started the shop in 1982. We’re primarily into used parts, selling used bikes and service.”

Why Moto Guzzis?: “Because they’re so basic and simple, so easy to work on and dependable. My mechanic races, and I sponsor some bikes for Guzzi Tech.

“They’re a good buy because they’re different, easy to work on and cheap in comparison to other classics. And just the cool factor. I love BMWs like the R75/5, but it just doesn’t have the look and the feel. It’s like driving a Sixties Cadillac; it doesn’t do anything great but it looks great.”

Service recommendations: “Change the oil and adjust the valves every 3,000 miles, and get rid of the original chrome bores if you’re doing a top-end job, because the chrome flakes, and then it goes into the oil and then through the bearings. If you rebuild one of these engines with Nikasil liners you can get 200,000 miles out of them.”

Watch out for: The generator bracket and the studs that hold it down are a common weak point. It’s just a bad design, but it gets pronounced with over-tightening, and they can be a bugger to fix.” Mark also says to avoid eBay bikes, or rather, buy one if you want to make him happy: “Please buy one off of eBay, because they’re all turds and I can make a fortune fixing them. Buy an eBay bike if you want to spend a fortune. Really, you just gotta be careful not to get one that’s been butchered by 20 other buyers. Buy the best one you can.” MC

  • Published on Feb 4, 2009
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