Laverda is an Italian manufacturer of Combine harvesters and at one time a maker of high performance motorcycles. The agricultural equipment brand is famous for quality, simplicity, and efficiency; while the motorcycles in their day gained notoriety for being robust and innovative.
The Motorcycle company was founded almost on a whim by Pietro Laverda junior (son of the founder of Laverda Macchine Agricole), his brothers Francesco, Giovanni and Giorgio, and Luciano Zen, a young technician/draughtsman. In 1948-9, in between running the family business they designed and built the first prototype motorcycle, a simple four stroke 75cc bike with girder forks and a fully enclosed drive chain. One account says that some engine parts were cast in kitchen of Francesco, confirming that at least initially, the project was not regarded as a serious business proposition.
However, the little bike showed promise and so in October 1949, Moto Laverda was officially incorporated. Over the next several years, Laverda became well known for building small capacity machines of high quality, durability and relative innovation for the time. To prove this, they began modifying and racing them in distance and endurance events like the Milan-Trento road race, Giro d'Italia and the Cavalcata delle Dolomiti, eventually winning for the first time in 1952, and becoming a firm favorite among racing clubmen due to their record for reliable performance.
Over the next two decades, Laverda would go on to produce new models of ever increasing capacity and capability, in different sectors of the market. Off-road, trial and motocross machines were developed in conjunction with other manufacturers Zuntapp, BMW and Husqvarna, and were successfully raced. But the real development came in street models, which began to earn a good reputation as classy, low maintenance and quiet motorcycles. From that first 75cc single, they eventually went on to produce different bikes ranging from scooters, the Laverdino commuter and eventually to the 200cc twin.
The big twins
By the late 1960's, Pietro and brothers began sketching out a new breed of large motorcycles that would be built around an all new 650cc parallel twin engine. The brand was now sufficiently strong and well known, and Francesco's son Massimo had just returned from the USA where it was clear that sales were dominated by large capacity British and American hardware. Above all this, was a desire to produce a prestigious and powerful machine that could conceivable take on the best and finest from Moto-Guzzi, BMW and the rapidly emerging Japanese.
In 1968 Laverda debuted the result of this thinking. While not an extreme sport bike in any sense, it exhibited all the virtues that Laverda had become synonymous with. The bike carried the finest components available at the time, from British Smiths instruments, Pankl con-rods, Cerriani suspension Mondial pistons, to Bosch and (unthinkable at the time) Japanese Nippon-Denso electrical parts, thus eliminating the one problem plaguing nearly all contemporary British and Italian motorcycles had at the time: electrical unreliability. The 650 was a pedestrian ride, but offered superior comfort and stability and handling at least equivalent to the competition. Of course, it also carried a high price.
The true birth of Laverda as a serious competition brand was with the introduction of the bigger GT750 in 1969, and the sporting version SF750. These bikes came with subtle modifications to spec and components, but the increase in capacity was felt immediately. Raced by the factory right from the prototype stage, the machines proved their reliability by finishing every race they entered, eventually taking some victories. Just like the Tractors and agricultural machinery made by the other family business, Laverdas were built like tanks. The parallel twin cylinder engine featured no less than five main bearings, a triplex cam chain, and a starter engine easily twice as powerful as needed. Of course, this made the engines (subsequently the entire bike) heavy, heavier then say a Ducati 750 of the same vintage, but they were prodigiously fast and stable.
The SF evolved to include disc brakes, cast magnesium wheels, and other technical novelties, culminating in the SFC (super freni competizione), a half-faired racer that was developed to win endurance events like Le Mans, the Montjuic 24 hours and Bol D'Or. This they did, often placing first, second and third in the same races, and dominating the international endurance race circuit. Distinguished by its characteristic orange paint (the company's race department colour), smooth aerodynamic fairing and upswept Conti exhausts, the SFC was Laverda's flagship product and best advertisement, flaunting pedigree and the message of durability, quality, and exclusivity. The SFC "Series 15,000" was featured in the Guggenheim Museum in New York's 1999 exhibit "the Art of the Motorcycle" as one of the most iconic bikes of the 1970's.
In the search for ever more power and in the face of increasingly sophisticated and powerful Japanese competition, Laverda developed a new three cylinder power plant which debuted in the all new 1000C model in 1973. Immediately recognizable as a motorcycle of the modern era, it was configured in a conservative layout, shedding some of the more exotic features of the SF/SFC such as the engine as a stressed chassis member and distinctive styling. However, the 1000C represented little improvement in any way to the outgoing twins, although it was considerable more powerful, but it quickly won a reputation as a "Hard Man's bike" due to its vicious power deliver, sheer size, and holding the title of the "World's Fastest Production Motorcycle".
British importer Roger Slater developed an even higher performance version named the Jota which would cement this image by winning many races and impressing the motorcycle press enough to guarantee its place in Laverda's history. A unique factor regarding the three cylinder engines up to 1982 is that they featured a 180 degree crankshaft arrangement, whereby at TDC, one piston would be up, and two down. This purposefully out-of-phase design gave the 1000cc Laverdas a unique and appealing sound, with the unfortunate side effect of heavy vibration anad a fairly low redline.
The beginning of the end
By the 1980's however, the European motorcycle industry as a whole was reeling from Japanese competition, causing many companies like NVT (the amalgamated surviving British companies Norton, Triumph, and BSA), Moto-Guzzi, and many others to fail and disappear. Laverda attempted to update the product line by introducing the RGS luxury tourer in 1983, a stylish and modern looking machine with clever features like integrated but removable luggage, and adjustable riding position; a 1000cc SFC sport model; and by developing a smaller 500cc entry-level machine named the Alpine. But as with rest, it was too little too late. Underneath the new skin were engines and technologies that were 10 years out of date, and worse of all, highly over priced when compared to the lighter, faster, cheaper and vastly more advanced Japanese bikes. On the race tracks too, victory on anything other than a Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki was if not impossible, a kind fluke.
Flirtations with a highly complex aluminum framed, 350cc 3 cylinder two-stroke and the famous but unsuccessful V6 endurance racer were exciting to see but sucked up enormous resources that the small factory could not afford. To make matters worse, the motorcycle industry in general was in trouble as sales dropped, and as the two Japanese industry giants engaged in what is now known as "the Honda-Yamaha War" in a bid global supremacy by unleashing unbelievably advanced new models at a furious rate, often at a loss. In these conditions, the family bowed out by 1985.
Takeovers and rebirth
Laverda faded into obscurity as one hokey "saviour" after another filed through, from a Japanese investment company who wanted to sell apparel and other merchandise under the name; to a local government initiative who tried to run the factory as a cooperative. Each of these failed and it seemed as though yet another great Italian brand was done for good.
In 1993, millionaire Francesco Tognon bought everything, thus saving the company and setting up what looked like the first serious attempt in a decade to restart the brand. Over the next 5 years, they launched a small selection of new sports models based on a thorough redo of the bulletproof DOHC 650cc parallel twin derived from the old Alpino, upped to 668cc and clothed in contemporary superbike livery. These bikes, such as this Ghost Strike were outfitted with Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection, Brembo Gold Line brakes, fully adjustable Paioli suspension (White Power on some models), state of the art hollow Marchesini wheels and a modern beam or trellis frame. The series were the equal of their direct Italian competition from the likes of Ducati, but much more exclusive. With 65 bhp available at the rear wheel and a very rev-happy engine, these bikes were nothing like traditional parallel twins. Within a year and a half, a larger, water cooled 750 appeared with a new engine in an aluminum beam chassis developed by frame specialist Nico Bakker, which boasted very fine handling and finish quality.
At successive international motorcycle shows, Laverda displayed models of new models they were planning to build, including an all new, 900cc liquid cooled 3 cylinder engine; The 750 roadster variants Ghost and Strike; the Lynx, a small, naked roadster with a Suzuki 650cc V twin motor; and finally the 800TTS trail/enduro, which aimed to take on the likes of the Cagiva Grand Canyon and Honda Transalp. Tantilizing promises, but in the face of fierce competition and under-powered engines, the venture failed after only five years. This time, at least, not for lack of trying and with some decent hardware to show for it.
The Aprilia takeover
Along with historical rival Moto-Guzzi, the Laverda motorcycle brand was purchased by Aprilia S.p.a (another Italian motorcycle manufacturer based in the same region) in 2000, restructured and incorporated into the Aprilia Group. Several projects that had been in development and the existing two motorcycles in production, were cancelled. Aprilia founded a new Laverda division business unit which shortly after began importing low cost Asian scooters and quads and selling them under the Laverda brand name, a development which upset traditional Laverda fans, who felt it diluted the prestige and quality of the original motorcycle company. It seems clear that this was an initiative designed to fund development of new motorcycles, but it ultimately didn't work, most likely because they were sold only in the scooter saturated Italian market, and because the brand name didn't resonate with buyers on that level.
In 2003, Laverda presented a new SFC prototype, based on a heavily revised Aprilia RSV1000 at the Milan EICMA motorcycle show. While stunning in many aspects, in particular the attention to component and mechanical detailing, it did not generate enough positive interest to merit further development. Traditionalists and motorcycle enthusiasts scoffed at the re/use of the Aprilia engine and cycle parts, nicknaming the machine the "Laprilia". The thread connecting this ultra-high cost and exclusive superbike with garden variety scooters of Asian origin was also unclear confusing the brand image further still.
By this point, the Aprilia Group was in dire financial condition and would itself be sold to Piaggio, the giant scooter manufacturer of Vespa fame and longtime Aprilia rival only one year later. Piaggio elected to quietly close all activities related to the Laverda brand, and has publicly stated that they would be willing to sell the rights to the brand if an investor should appear. Today, the brand is no longer in use.
Laverda Macchine Agricole
Laverda Macchine Agricole mainly concentrated on the manufacture of combine harvesters which quickly became popular across western Europe, famed for their simple and robust design.
Older second hand machines are becoming popular on the Asian sub continent as they are exported from the west to them. This is another place where their simplicity is appreciated as they are easy to maintain.
Their current range includes the M series and REV (Reliability, Efficiency, Versatility) series.
- "Laverda - Twins and Triples", Mick Walker, 1999, The Crowwood Press Ltd., ISBN 1-86126-220-5
- "Laverda Twin & Triple Repair & Tune-up Guide", Tim Parker, Ampersand Press, ISBN 0-906613-00-0
- "Laverda", Raymond Ainscoe with Tim Parker, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 1-85532-183-1
- "SFC 750", Tim Isles & Marnix van der Schalk, privately published
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