Author’s note: Oh dear. Whilst doing a little ‘website housekeeping’ I found this article languishing in the ‘drafts’ folder. And it has been “languishing” for a very very long time… On re-reading it (a few years on from the original draft) I find that it is now significantly ‘out of date’ because I went a bought a… hold up. That’s another story, which surely rates a (Part 2) to this article. I’ll get on to that immediately. Well, later. But not years later, I promise.-Barry
A Tale of Two Cylinders – Getting the Moto Guzzi going (Part 1)
I used to have a stable full of motorbikes – quite literally. The stable came with the (then) new house, the previous owners took the horse with them, and I commandeered the stable to house a collection of motorbikes (a writing desk, a hifi, and a beer fridge). The motorbike collection grew a bit more, in response to that curious phenomenon where, once people realize that you have a lot of (old) motorbikes, they ask if you also want “the old one in (their) shed”. Fortunately, and inevitably, that collection diminished as the family came along, and I came to accept that most of the remaining bikes were never to going to get ridden again, or – if in bits (as some of them were) – never to be reassembled, let alone ridden. I think the Triumph Bonneville was effectively traded in for a new 3-piece suite.
Eventually I ended up with just a Ducati 600 Pantah, which was a cracking looking bike, and one which I still miss, but which was something of a high-strung thoroughbred; a bike which pretty much demanded to be ridden flat out (in a racing crouch), which was incapable of running at 30 m.p.h. or slower, and which simply wouldn’t tolerate anything coming past it. It was also in need of something of a thorough overhaul, having been stood for quite a few years, and I decided that something a bit more low-revving and portly was appropriate, seeing as how I had become somewhat that way myself.
I like twins (and that’s very much another story), and Italians, so a Moto Guzzi very much fitted the bill. (thats’ pronounced “moe-toe goo-tsy” by the way and not “motor guzzee”). I *really* wanted a Moto Guzzi California – a ‘cruiser style’ machine and one that most definitely wasn’t a Harley, or a Harley clone. Sadly, the price of that particular model was (and still is) increasing apace, as collectors snap them up, so I had to settle for a Moto Guzzi 1000SP
Now that the purchased machine actually *is* one “that can be ridden away” (so said the seller) – I am enjoying it very much.
Meanwhile I kept the dream alive with a 1:12 scale model of the hoped-for bike. I still hankered over that California model, and day-dreamed of finding a real one in a shed somewhere. Like you do. Then I remembered that I *did* have one – potentially – in my own shed, and which had been sitting idle for even longer than the Ducati. Funny what you forget that you have in the back of the shed, eh?
First registered in 1975, this Moto Guzzi 850T came to me via a mate who had eventually come to find it just a bit too big & heavy for him. He had acquired it from a chap in Ottery St. Mary (a place that I thought was in Dorset but which turned out to be in Devon) – where we’d travelled to get a new fairing for my Ducati (that too is another story, involving an encounter with a Vauxhall Cresta). The very nice gentleman who made the fairings rather fancied my mate’s Moto Guzzi 500cc Monza
He showed him this 850T that he had in the garage, chins were scratched, and a straight swap was done on the spot. A few years on I, in turn, inherited this machine in full cafe racer trim: tank and seat from a Moto Guzzi Le Mans (I think), and some very loud exhausts which have stamped upon them something along the lines of ‘restrizione di competizione’. This, I am fairly certain, translates to: “fully UK MOT approved”.
I never used this Moto Guzzi very much, truth be told, because of the aforementioned ‘stable full of motorbikes’. And I only used it then after stripping off (and squirreling away) the ‘cafe racer’ parts, thus making it more of a two-up, practical, ‘go to the shops’ sort of bike.
Anyway, having remembered that I had this beasty, I blagged the loan of Wendover Balloons’ recovery trailer and dragged the old (flat-tyred) Moto Guzzi over to Wendover Towers. As it turned out, I had also collected (and also forgotten about) quite a few of the bits and pieces needed to convert it into a California-style machine, which is lucky, because some of those items are now fetching quite staggering prices on FleaBay. Over at Wendover Towers she languished, covered, for a while, in between a Standard and a Honda, whilst we waited for the temperatures to climb above zero, and waited too for me to acquire the funds necessary to purchase the parts necessary to get it going again. And then the Taking Things Off process began:
The bike was running fine when last used (in the early 80’s), but having stood for such a long time, many of the perishables had indeed perished, and most of the stuff that might be expected to seize up had done its best not to disappoint. Fortunately, the ‘seizing up’ seemed not to extend to the engine itself, which – after having regular squirts of oil, WD40 and other remedies poured down the bores – rewarded our patience by turning over uncomplainingly when asked.
The carburettors were totally gummed up (no, I never drained them) so they were sent off to a bloke in Swansea to be ultra-sonically cleaned (inside and out). Which process, I like to imagine, involves being shouted at, constantly and repeatedly, whilst being painstakingly disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled. Lovely they were, when I got them back. All sparkly clean and ready to go. Shame that all the additives (ethanol) we now have in our unleaded fuel will undo all that work in short order. The older Moto Guzzis, as it happens, are more than happy to run on unleaded. Something to do with the way the Italians decided to build their valve gear, way back in the 70’s.
From time to time, as funds allowed, various wonderful parcels have arrived with replacements for those parts too perished, too seized to be sorted, or which were necessary to turn it into the sort of bike I wanted to end up with. Some patient, and judicious Googling has uncovered various bits of unobtanium, from places near and far; many of them ‘new, old stock, boxed and OEM’and at prices a fraction of that which some people seem prepared to pay on FleaBay (commonly for an item that ‘was OK when removed from the bike, but may now need some attention’). Funny old world. In fact, some of the bits and pieces that I had already acquired over the years, for pennies, and which were now surplus to requirements have been flogged off on ebay for surprising sums, and have thus largely funded the other bits and bobs that I needed to purchase.
Fortunately for me, this Moto Guzzi shares a frame with models dating from the early 70’s right through to the late 80’s, and which (almost uniquely) lends itself to mix and match swapping of parts from quite a number and diverse range of motorcycles: including iconic sports racers (such as the Moto Guzzi Le Mans), cruisers (the California, the V1000-G5, and the *automatic* V1000 I-Convert), faired tourers (the Spada), and ‘standard workhorses’ (the T-series).
I say fortunately, because I am, it has to be said, mechanically inept. I’m more of an “out of the box” sort of person, but even then the more ‘mechanically ept’ residents of Wendover Towers have been known to shake their heads in dismay as I open said box from the end marked “open other end”, with a screwdriver, or ask (for the umpteenth time): “should I be turning this (bolt) clockwise or anti-clockwise?” or am told (yet again) “no, your other left”.
With Mr. Dunkley’s patient help, those tasks which tax my understanding of things mechanical (electrical, logical, physical — see a pattern here?) have been overcome and the old Moto Guzzi is now surprisingly close to being finished.
She’s got new tyres (this bike is definitely a ‘she’), new brakes, new hoses all round, a rebuilt starter motor, new indicators, horns, replacement seat, cruiser footboards and foot controls. New stainless fixings, pretty much throughout. Quite a list, all in all, and one which I’d prefer not to contemplate too fully.
Still to be done: some electrical re-wiring (the indicator looms were ‘adjusted’ before my period of ownership), and someone took an interesting approach on the handlebar switchgear – so that’s got to be fathomed out and sorted. We’ve also discovered that the steering lock stop has been broken off, some time in the distant past, and likely as a result of the bike becoming tired and laying down. Since that is (now) an MOT failure, that’s got to be seen to, and since it will certainly involve welding gear, I’ll likely be on tea duty (again) for that job. Other than that, it’s largely a case of bolting on the various shiny bits from their respective (open other end) boxes and bleeding the (front) brakes – rear is a drum. A new battery will be needed (thank goodness that battery technology has come on leaps and bounds – the Moto Guzzis when new came with a battery bigger than those used in most family cars). We know she runs, Chris being unable to resist the temptation to find out, one cold December afternoon [short video].
There are a few more things I’d like to get for her, but they can – and will have to – wait until after she’s been run ‘as is’ for a while. And oh. There’s the paintwork. Which will probably be primer grey when she goes to the very nice men at Dave Rogers Motorcycles (just down the road at Kimble) for an MOT. The genuine Californias used to come in a rather handsome black with white pin-striping finish, but I’m thinking that – since she’s not “genuine’ – something equally handsome, but obviously different, might be appropriate. Ideally, it might be a colour which will both confound and offend the purists. To be decided on over beer, at length, no doubt.
That’s definitely going to be the last motorbike project for a while. Absolutely. Categorically. No argument. Well. Almost certainly. Probably. In fact, if anyone knows of any old Moto Guzzis (or bits thereof) lurking in a neighbour’s shed, do let me know. I have an idea…
(Part 2 to follow).
Editor’s note-If you click on the blue writing its a link, like something magical