Historic Motorcycle Brands
Moto Laverda was established in 1949 by Francesco Laverda, in the Italian province of Vicenza, as a motorcycle manufacturing company and the first model, the Laverda 75, was officially introduced in 1950.
In 1947, assisted by Luciano Zen, after hours of running his agricultural business, Francesco designed a small motorcycle, powered by a simple four-stroke, 75cc engine, using girder forks and a fully-enclosed drive chain.
The prototype showed promise, so in October 1949, the statutes of Moto Laverda were officially submitted to the Chamber of Commerce of Vicenza.
In 1951, in the Milan-Taranto race, the 75cc Laverdas finished 4th, 5th, 6th and 10th in their class, racing against renowned marques.
1957 Laverda Sport Production Racer- Bonhams
Inspired by these results and after some bike improvements, Laverda entered the 15th running of the Milan-Taranto, in 1952 and took the first five places. Laverda had 16 bikes in the first 20 class finishers.
Off-road, trial and motocross machines were developed in conjunction with other manufacturers, including Zündapp, BMW and Husqvarna, and were successfully raced, but the real developments came in street models.
1960 Laverda Mini Scooter – Italian Ways
The 1955 Laverda 100 allowed the small company to grow more quickly. In July 1958, the Laverdino 48 four-stroke moped was launched and followed a year later by the 49 cc scooter.
In 1961 came the Laverda 200 twin-cylinder bike.
Until the mid-1960s, production was focused on small engine bikes, mopeds and scooters, but by the late 1960s, Francesco and his brothers began sketching out a new breed of large motorcycles that would be built around an all new 650cc, parallel-twin engine.
Laverda was confident that it was sufficiently strong and well known, and Francesco’s son Massimo had just returned from the USA, where he saw that sales were dominated by large-capacity British and American hardware suited to long distance traveling.
1970 Laverda 750GT – Catawiki
The aim was to produce a prestigious and powerful machine that could conceivably take on Moto-Guzzi, BMW and the rapidly emerging Japanese.
To ensure that, the Laverdas had the finest components available at the time: Smiths instruments, Pankl con-rods, Ceriani suspension, Mondial pistons, Bosch electrical parts and Japanese Nippon-Denso starter motors.
Laverda aimed to eradicate the major problem plaguing nearly all contemporary British and Italian motorcycles at the time: their electrical unreliability.
In November 1966, Laverda exhibited its 650 prototype at Earls Court in London. While not an extreme sports bike it did away with the accepted fact that big-bore, parallel-twin bikes had to be British built.
Luciano Zen and Massimo Laverda worked on production engineering and also developed a 750cc version. Four pre-production bikes were entered in the prestigious Motogiro d’Italia, where the bikes picked up a 650cc class victory and three bikes finished in the top six.
Laverda 750 Sport 750cc – Peprovira
Two weeks after this victory the first 650cc production models left the factory. The 650cc model offered superior comfort and stability, and its handling was at least equivalent to the competition. Of course, it also carried a high price.
However, the 1968 release of the production Laverda 750cc halted sales of the recently introduced 650. The 750 was identical to the 650, except for having a lower compression ratio and carburettor re-jetting.
American Eagle Laverda 750GT
Many of the first bikes were produced for the American market under the brand ‘American Eagle’. They were imported to the USA by Jack McCormack and were used by stunt rider Evel Knievel until 1970.
In 1969 the 750 S and the 750 GT models were born. The engine and frame had been reworked and power of the ’S’ was increased to 60bhp.
Like the agricultural machinery made by Laverda SpA, the other family business, Laverdas were built to be indestructible. The parallel-twin engine featured no fewer than five main bearings – four crankcase bearings and a needle-roller outrigger bearing in the primary chain-case cover – a duplex cam chain and a starter motor that had twice the needed power. The downside was increased weight, compared with the competition, such as the Ducati 750.
1972 Laverda 750SF
Three bikes were entered for the 1969 Dutch 24-hour endurance race in Oss, where the 750S was clearly the fastest bike, until piston failure left just one machine to finish fourth.
The SF model incorporated disc brakes and cast-alloy wheels. The 750 SFC half-faired racer dominated the international endurance race circuit in 1971, distinguished by its orange colour, aerodynamic fairing and upswept exhaust.
(The SFC was featured in the New York Guggenheim Museum’s 1999 exhibit The Art of the Motorcycle as one of the most iconic bikes of the 1970s.)
By the late 1960s, Laverda was facing increasing competition from the Japanese and developed a new three-cylinder powerplant, which was first shown as a prototype at the Milan and Geneva shows in 1969.
Laverda RGS 1000 with fairing extensions – Mr Choppers
The 1000cc prototype was essentially a 750 twin with an additional cylinder. The bike that went into production in 1972 retained a conservative layout, sharing some of the features of the earlier SF/SFC models, but the 981cc triple provided more power than the outgoing twins, with not much more weight.
The 1973-1981 Laverda 1000 3C Triple model made 85bhp at 7250rpm and could better 130mph (210km/h).
The new Laverda Jota, based on the 3C, made a big impression in 1976, producing 90bhp and reaching a top speed of 146mph (235 km/h). It came with factory racing parts fitted into the road engine.
Laverda Jota 1000cc – Ronald Saunders
British importer Roger Slater helped the factory to develop a high-performance version of the bike. Laverda three-cylinder engines had a 180-degree crankshaft arrangement, in which the centre piston was at the top of its stroke when the two outer pistons were at the bottom. This purposefully out-of-phase design gave the Laverdas a distinctive character.
After the rework, the engine evolved into a smoother, rubber mounted 120-degree configuration in 1982.
Laverda 1000 V6 – Laverda Archive
In 1977, Laverda unveiled a V6 at the Milan Show and entered it in the 24-hour Bol d’Or race at the Paul Ricard circuit in France. While notching an impressive main-straight speed of 175.46mph (282.38km/h) during a practice run, its performance in the race was hindered by its bulk and it did not finish the race.
Laverda planned on re-entering the V6 in the 1979 race, but rule changes limited Endurance racers to four cylinders and the V6 project was officially ended.
The three-cylinder, 1978-1979 Laverda 1200 TS Mirage was one of the largest Laverdas with a 1115cc engine producing 73bhp.
1980 Laverda 500S – Ricard Liop
Laverda launched a smaller, 500cc, twin-cylinder, eight-valve, entry-level machine named the Alpino, in 1977. It came with a six-speed gearbox and balance shaft. A 350cc version of the Alpino was also available from November 1977 and was primarily designed for the home Italian market where a high tax was payable for machines over 350cc.
1977 Laverda 350cc – Catawiki
These were followed by the improved Alpino S and Formula 500 racer in 1978. Its import into the UK led Roger Slater to develop the 1979 Montjuic that was a road-legal F500 with lights, side stand and instruments. It evolved into the Mk2 in 1981, but EEC noise restrictions saw its demise by 1983.
Tellingly, Massimo Laverda said that each Alpino sold cost the factory money.
The production of the Laverda 1000 in various versions, from the 3CL to the Jota, continued through the late 1980s. In particular the Laverda 1000 RGS (Real Gran Sport) was quite popular, introduced at the Milan show in 1981.
By the 1980s, the European motorcycle industry was reeling from Japanese competition and Laverda attempted to update its product line by introducing the RGS sports tourer in 1983, with features such unbreakable Bayflex plastic mouldings; fuel filler in the fairing; integrated but removable luggage option and adjustable foot peg position.
In 1985, came the SFC 1000 sports model that was a badge-engineered attempt based on the RGS to reprise the hallowed SFC name. Also, an enduro frame was built for the 500cc engine and followed by the Atlas series with 570cc engine and improved oil cooling.
However, Laverda’s engines and chassis technologies were 10 years out of date – and overpriced – when compared with the lighter, faster, cheaper and more advanced Japanese bikes. As an example, in 1983, the Montjuic Mk2 cost the same as the four-cylinder, 100bhp Kawasaki Z1000J. On the race tracks too, the Japanese bikes dominated.
Flirtations with a highly complex aluminium framed, 350cc, three-cylinder, two-stroke and the unsuccessful V6 endurance racer consumed resources that the small factory could not afford. In these conditions, the Laverda family bowed out by 1985.
In the 1990s the company tried a product downsizing and diversification policy that did not achieve the expected results.
In 1993, millionaire Francesco Tognon bought Laverda, which, over the next five years, launched new sports models, based on a thorough rework of the DOHC 650cc parallel-twin. The old Alpino-derived engine was upped to 668cc and clothed in contemporary superbike bodywork.
These bikes were outfitted with Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection, Brembo Gold Line brakes, fully adjustable Paioli suspension – White Power on some models – hollow-spoke Marchesini wheels and a modern beam or trellis frame.
Within a year and a half, a larger, water-cooled 750 appeared, with a new engine in an aluminium beam chassis developed by frame specialist Nico Bakker.
Laverda 750 Strike – Kwerty 242
At successive international motorcycle shows, Laverda displayed new models they were planning to build, including an all new, 900cc liquid-cooled, three-cylinder engine; 750 roadster variants Ghost and Strike; the Lynx naked roadster, powered by a Suzuki 650cc, V-twin engine and finally the 800TTS trail/enduro, which aimed to take on the likes of the Cagiva Gran Canyon and Honda Transalp.
The Tognon-owned venture failed after five years.
Along with historic rival Moto Guzzi, the Laverda motorcycle brand was purchased by Aprilia SpA, in 2000.
1998 Laverda Ghost Strike – Seat850
Aprilia canned the planned projects and the existing two production motorcycles. Aprilia founded a new Laverda division business unit, which imported low-cost Asian scooters and quads and sold them under the Laverda brand name.
In 2003, Laverda presented a new SFC prototype, based on a heavily revised Aprilia RSV 1000 at the Milan EICMA motorcycle show, but the exercise failed to attract enough interest.
In 2004, the Aprilia Group was acquired by Piaggio, the giant scooter manufacturer of Vespa fame. Piaggio elected to close all activities related to the Laverda brand and stated that it would be willing to sell the rights to the brand if an investor should appear.