Sunday, March 16, 2008

Memorable: The Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans


The 1976 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans Mk I. It's just so, so cool...

Er…, we’ll admit we aren’t big fans of Moto Guzzi machines here. While we lust after Ducati 1098s and MV Agusta F4s, it’s a bit harder to think of a Moto Guzzi that’s in the same league. Maybe it’s the kind of bikes Moto Guzzi make, maybe it’s what MG bikes stand for. Now while a Griso BB1 looks quite all right to us, what’s with the Bellagio? What were Moto Guzzi thinking of when they made that bike…?

The Bellagio notwithstanding, there’s been at least one Moto Guzzi which we absolutely adore – the fantastic late-1970s/early-1980s 850 Le Mans. Launched in 1976, the 850 Le Mans Mk I was fitted with Guzzi’s 90-degree air-cooled v-twin that made a claimed 78 horsepower at the flywheel – that’s about 71bhp at the rear wheel. The gearbox was a five-speed unit, twin 300mm brake discs were fitted at the front (and a single 242mm disc at the back), and the chassis was a cradle-type tubular steel number.

Look at these pics and you'll probably understand why we're in love with the 850 Le Mans

With Moto Guzzi’s traditional shaft-drive, telescopic forks at the front, adjustable twin rear shocks, and proper Italian-superbike styling, the racy-looking 850 Le Mans was fast and fun. Top speed was about 210km/h, and while racer-style ergonomics and stiff suspension meant that the 225-kilo Le Mans wasn’t very comfortable, it handled at least reasonably well. (For that era, riding on the tyres available in those days, and other such clich├ęs as applicable…) It also cost US$3,700 back in 1976, which wasn’t exactly inexpensive!

It's a pity Moto Guzzi don't make such good-looking bikes anymore

Guzzi launched the 850 Le Mans Mk II in 1978, following it up with the Mk III in 1980. They also made Le Mans 1000 Mk IV and Mk V models in 1984 and 1988, but rather than the earlier 844cc engines, the Le Mans 1000s were fitted with slightly more powerful 949cc v-twins. Over the years, the Le Mans also got some styling tweaks, air-assisted suspension, linked brakes, and marginally better electrics. But the sexier, more stylish 850 Le Mans – and not the later Le Mans 1000 – is most definitely the bike to have.

Good 1970s/80s models go for around US$8,000 - 10,000 these days, and for fans of classic Italian sportsbikes, those old 850 Le Mans should be well worth the money…
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