Whatever happened to Laverda?

Published: 28 June 2016

The firm that built the wild and wonderful Jota was booming in the 70s but has struggled ever since...

Fact file

Founded October, 1949
Finest hour 140mph Laverda Jota, the world’s fastest production bike
Closed 2004

Laverda? Weren’t they one of the big Italian superbike brands?

In the 1970s, if Ducati were the two-wheeled Ferrari, Laverda were the two-wheeled Lamborghini, especially as they both used to make tractors.

What do you mean, tractors?

That’s how both started out. Ferruccio Lamborghini founded Lamborghini Trattori in 1948 then began building supercars in 1963. Meanwhile, in 1873 Pietro Laverda started an agricultural engines enterprise in the small rural village of Breganze in North-East Italy. By the 1940s it had flourished but the aftermath of WW2 created a demand for cheap transport and in 1949 Pietro’s grandson Francesco set up Moto Laverda and began building small motorcycles.

Small bikes? I thought Laverda were famous for BIG motorcycles…

Small ones were the focus until the mid 1960s when Massimo Laverda, son of Francesco, steered the company towards bigger bikes to take on the best from Moto Guzzi, BMW and the rapidly-emerging Japanese. A 650 twin debuted at Earls Court in 1966, followed by a more successful 60bhp 750 in 1969, which, in S and GT guise, quickly gained a reputation for indestructibility and speed. The spin-off SFC with disc brakes, alloy wheels and a half fairing was, in 1971, the RC30 of its day, dominating production and endurance racing.

But there were 1000s, too?

Oh yes. A 1000cc triple, essentially the 750cc twin with an extra cylinder, debuted in 1969 and went into production in 1972 as the 3CL although, initially, it was more conservative than some liked. An even larger 1200 version came later.

What were most famous models?

Probably the Jota. British importers Slater Brothers of Bromyard, Herts, suggested a performance version of the 1000 fitted with racing cams and high compression pistons which raised output to 90bhp and made the result, the 1976 Jota, the fastest production motorcycle of its day, capable of 140mph. Today they’re genuine classics. While in 1977 Laverda launched a new, middleweight, eight-valve twin 500, the Alpino, which in 1979 Slaters again developed into the almost-as-famous Montjuic.

Didn’t they also have something to do with the BMW GS?

Yes, in 1977 BMW asked Laverda to build two off-road prototypes based around the R80 boxer twin. Although there were many differences with the final bikes, they were very significant in the GS’s development.

So how did it all go wrong?

By the early 1980s the whole European industry was reeling from Japanese competition causing many firms to disappear. Laverda attempted to keep pace but even its stylish, fully-faired RGS sports tourer was, under the skin, obsolete and overpriced.

Anything else?

They also wasted resources on flawed concepts, namely a complex aluminum-framed, 350 two-stroke triple and a glorious but unsuccessful V6 endurance racer. Faced with dwindling sales the Laverda family shut down the bike concern in 1986.

Didn’t Laverda come back?

Yes. In 1993, Francesco Tognon bought the brand and produced a range of exotic middleweights based around an updated 668cc version of the middleweight parallel twin. A 750cc version followed later. Sadly, despite great handling, the engines were weak while the infrastructure was poor. Despite plans for a new 900cc triple the venture failed after five years.

So that was it?

Not quite. In 2000 Aprilia bought both Moto Guzzi and Laverda. Aprilia revitalised Guzzi and unveiled a new Laverda SFC prototype. Sadly, as it was based heavily on an Aprilia RSV1000 it didn’t generate much interest. Then Aprilia fell into difficulties and, in 2004, they were acquired by Piaggio.

And now?

Piaggio closed all activities related to Laverda. Today, the motorcycle brand is no longer in use. Shame. 

Words: Phil West Photos: Bauer Archive