Laverda 500cc works machines won their class in the Barcelona 24-hours in 1978 and ’79. Those bikes inspired Roger Quemby’s special – but it’s taken him five years to approach the finish line
f the bike of your dreams doesn’t exist, just build it. That’s what Roger Quemby did – and the result is a machine that is a dream itself. His Laverda Barcelona replica is the perfect tool for a blast round the country lanes near his Rutland home. It’s taken time, patience and a fair bit of cash, but Roger’s delighted with his bright orange twin – a good job, as he’d never ridden a 500 Laverda before picking up his finished bike from Scottish Laverda guru Keith Nairn.
Laverda only built four of the works 500 endurance racers – two each in 1978 and 1979. But since then a number of riders have built ‘replicas’ for racing and fast road use – including CB contributor Bob Dixon, who raced one in the BEARs series with some success. And it was Bob who was one of the catalysts for Roger’s project. “I’ve been a regular reader of CB for years,” says Roger. “I’ve always liked Italian bikes and followed Bob’s racing avidly. He supplied the Barcelona kit through his contacts at Laverda Corse. But there’s much more to building a machine like this than finding a donor bike and bolting on a body kit, believe me. This has taken almost five years and I dread to think how much money, to finish – and there are still a few things I’ll change this winter.”
Roger’s evident passion for the results of those five years’ hard labour is built on a natural leaning towards the quirky. “I started out on Japanese bikes,” he admits. “But I always loved the idea of a Morini 3½. I bought one when I was a student in Birmingham and had to travel up to Prestwick to collect it. I went up on the train, aiming to ride it home. On the M6 I discovered that when I turned the handlebars the lights went out. Not good. Then the cambelt snapped a few miles short of Penrith. A couple of policemen took pity on me pushing the bike and took both me and it to the railway station in their van. It didn’t put me off, though.”
A Norton Commando and a string of Italian bikes followed. “I had a 500 Morini, a Ducati Darmah and a 900SS and then a Laverda 3CL. But my Laverda SF2, converted into an SFC replica, is the one I should never have sold. I sold everything when I set my business up nine years ago. Once I got up and running I decided on something to replace the SF2, but realised I would never use the performance of a 750; that’s why the idea of a supposedly-cheaper 500 twin made a lot more sense. The idea came to me from reading an article on the Barcelona bikes in an old copy of Fast Classics from the ’80s and from following Bob Dixon’s bike in CB.”
Roger started looking for a suitable donor bike and found a 350 that had been converted to 500cc. “There wasn’t much on the market and I probably paid too much for it at £2000,” he admits. “Originally I planned to do everything myself, but work was going mad and I realised I’d never get it done, so I decided on the idea of farming the engine out to Keith Nairn to build to my specification and handling the rolling chassis myself.”
While the engine headed north, Roger got cracking on the rest of the bike. The frame went to Alumacraft in Walsall (alumacraft.co.uk) to be shorn of unwanted bracketry and have mountings welded on for the fairing mount on the headstock and the footrest plates.
“I stripped off all the parts I wouldn’t need and sold them to offset some of the cost of the Barcelona kit,” he explains. “Bob sourced the kit for me and, while it was a good starting point, the fit and finish of a lot of the parts wasn’t perfect. I’d had the frame powder coated at Triple S in Bingley (triple-s.co.uk) and fitted custom built Maxton (maxtonsuspension.co.uk) rear shocks – they also reworked the forks – but, when I offered up the kit seat unit, it fouled the shocks. To get round that, I sourced a replica SFC seat, but the rear hump was too long for the 500 frame and just didn’t look right. I found a firm in Melton Mowbray (Melton Fibreglass, 01664 823232) who did a great job of shortening it. I’ll get them to modify the kit seat so it will fit at some stage.”
Roger has also used a fairing from Serbian Laverda specialist Boba Vukomanovic (email@example.com). It’s a carbon-fibre unit without a hole in the front for a headlamp,”
says Roger. “It’s a real work of art and the finish on the outside is like glass. It’s almost been a shame to paint it. I wanted to use endurance-style lights mounted on the outside of the fairing – though the original works bikes used lights mounted in the fairing. Period endurance racers would have used Cibie or Marchal units, but these slim KC lights – intended for 4x4s and the like – look good. I used a fog light for the dipped beam and a driving light for main. I drew the mounting bracket for the lights to scale using Microsoft Visio, saved it as a dxf. file and got the alloy plate laser-cut by a firm in Leicester. It only cost a few quid.”
The mounting plate inside the fairing is another laser-cut, Quemby-designed piece and it’s ingeniously mounted to the headstock by means of a bicycle seat post. “They’re strong and almost infinitely adjustable,” Roger explains. The neat mounting for the Motogadget rev counter/speedo and ignition switch is yet another example of his detail work on the bike.
“I didn’t want the wiring to look like an afterthought,” says Roger. “And I didn’t want a repeat of my first taste of Italian electrics, either. So I drew up a wiring diagram and built a new loom. I bought a modern regulator rectifier from Electrexworld (electrexworld.co.uk) and bought the correct wire and connectors from Vehicle Wiring Products (vehicle-wiring-products.eu). I’ve run the headlights through relays too.”
Roger rebuilt the braking system, using new pistons and seals for the Brembo calipers and a brand new front brake master cylinder from Gutsibits (gutsibits.co.uk). Naturally, he’s also replaced the wheel bearings, fitted fresh rubber in the shape of Bridgestone Battlax BT45s and has even had a neat alloy cover machined up to cover the original speedo drive on the front wheel (the drive is now redundant, because the Motogadget electronic speedo uses a pick up mounted on the rear shock lower mount).
With the rolling chassis almost finished, all that remained was to get precisely the correct shade of orange applied to the tank, seat, sidepanels, front mudguard and fairing. “I sealed the glass fibre tank from the Barcelona kit with two-pack epoxy-based sealant to – hopefully – prevent damage from the ethanol in the fuel,” says Roger. Then I researched the correct RAL code for the colour and took the bodywork to Rich Mitchell in Oakham. He remixed the colour in the end, though, because using modern water-based paints can result in the supposedly correct orange looking yellowish in sunlight. I think it looks about right.”
The time had finally come for the chassis and engine to be reunited and Roger shipped the rolling chassis up to Keith in Glasgow. “I wanted an engine that would be fast enough to be fun,” he says. “But I also wanted a bit of go in the midrange. That’s exactly what Keith has given me. He’s also reworked the exhaust, fabricating a new mid section to convert it from a two-into-one-into two system to a two-into-two. I’d originally sourced some Montjuic-spec 32mm Dell’Orto carbs – but after I’d spent loads on cleaning and re-jetting them, Keith went for 36mm Keihin CVs from a Honda and foam pod filters tucked up under the tank. The set up works beautifully, with a lovely pop on the overrun. It took longer than I thought it would to get the bike finished, but it’s all worth it now.”
It certainly looks the part. Perfect paintwork, a discreet satin polish to the engine cases and fork sliders, and a workmanlike, bare finish to the stainless steel exhaust. Only the tiny bar-end mirror and rear numberplate betray the fact that this is a road
bike and not a genuine ’70s endurance racer. But Roger has assured me that it’s a street bike first and foremost – and so it proves.
The riding position is pure race, though. The knurled alloy footrests are high up and rear set, tipping me forwards onto the clip-ons, mounted just under the top yoke. But somehow the riding position doesn’t feel extreme – it’s got that ‘just right’ feel about it. Roger is about the same height as me, so I fit neatly into the SFC seat unit and both the gearchange and rear brake pedals are easy to find on the move. The Maxton suspension is firm but not harsh; the twin front discs have decent bite and bags of feel and the stiff Laverda frame ties the whole together perfectly. Some race replicas feel like hard work on the road – but not this one.
Complementing a great chassis set-up is Keith Nairn’s handiwork inside the engine. With the aggressive race-bred stance of the bike, I expect an all-or-nothing power delivery – something like a Montjuic engine, perhaps. The Montjuic mill, as supplied by Laverda, is almost like a two-stroke, with all the real urge stacked right at the top of the rev range and precious little down below. But the Nairn engine pulls from about 4500rpm and really comes alive anywhere north of 5500. A factory Montjuic will only just be clearing its throat by then, with maximum power another 3700rpm away. A Monty is fun, but can get tiresome on the road. This, on the other hand, is just plain fun.
Thanks to the torquey engine, pulling away is not the clutch-slipping, exhaust-bellowing performance it can be on a Montjuic, either. Indeed, the Barcelona rep will happily trickle its way through town traffic – though its racer-like steering lock doesn’t make for easy U-turns. That’s not what this bike is all about, though. Opening up this jewel of an engine on some suitably twisty tarmac really shows what a fine machine Messrs. Quemby and Nairn have produced.
Roger is understandably delighted with his Barcelona special. It’s hard to believe this was once a tired and tatty 350. “It’s so nimble, the steering is precise and it’s so engaging to ride,” he affirms. “It’s so easy to ride fast on back roads. Fast enough for me anyway – though I don’t know how much power the engine puts out. Now it’s run in a bit, I’m going to do a power run on a dyno this winter. It’s turned out even better than I dared hope.”
No plans to sell this one then?
“No,” smiles Roger. “This is a keeper.” I don’t blame him.
Words Gez Kane Photography Simon Lee