2005 Laverda Owners' Club Rally

Mirages, Montjuic and Magic at inaugural Laverda Owners' Club rally in Ojai, Calif.

| Premiere Issue

My wife has a jaundiced view of old bike rallies. She says they're just a bunch of guys standing around saying "nice bike" to each other. And I guess much of the time she’s right.

But the inaugural North American Laverda Owners' Club meet in April at Ojai, Calif., was different. Sure, there was the "nice bike" stuff, but the four-day 2005 Laverda Rally encompassed visits to four world-class motorcycle collections, two days at Willow Springs Raceway (including participatory "parade laps") and attendance by leading luminaries from the Laverda story — such as Dr. Ing. Piero Antonio Laverda, great-grandson of the company's founder, Pietro Laverda.

The Laverda story

Pietro Laverda founded the Breganze, Italy, company in 1873 to manufacture farm machinery. But it was his grandson Francesco who built a 75cc four-stroke motorcycle for his own use in 1948. Devastated by war but fired with renewed vitality, Italy was undergoing its recostruzione, and demanded cheap, economical transportation. Soon, Francesco's neighbors wanted one of his sturdy little bikes. Including motorcycles into the company's output wasn't a great stretch, and an initial batch of 500 bikes was produced in 1951.

With a commitment to motorcycles Laverda needed sales, and selling motorcycles in Italy means going racing. So Laverda entered a 75 in the 1951 Milano-Taranto race, and although carburetion problems forced early retirement, the bike proved competitive. In the same race in 1953, Laverdas filled the first 14 places in their class! Success followed in the 100cc class until 1956, from which time OHC Ceccatos and Ducati Mariannas (both designed by Fabio Taglioni) dominated the class.

Thanks to its farm machinery business, Laverda survived the motorcycle industry's 1960s slump, as Italians traded bikes for Fiat Cinquecentos. After spending time in the United States, Francesco's elder son, Massimo, correctly anticipated the motorcycle market's shift to larger-capacity bikes. The Laverda 650, first shown in 1966, borrowed engine dimensions of 75 x 74mm from the same-size BSA twin, but its 180-degree crank and SOHC configuration came from Honda’s 305cc CB77. By the time the bike came to market in 1968, bore had been increased to 80mm to give 750cc, and crank spacing was 360 degrees, like a British twin. A massively heavy frame suspended the engine and helped damp vibration.

Further tuning produced the 750S of 1972, while introduction of Laverda's own drum front brake, disc brakes, cast wheels (also of Laverda manufacture) yielded 750SF (Super Freni), SF2 and SF3 variants through the Seventies.

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