Like Lamborghini, Laverda started out building farm equipment, but then jumped into the lightweight bike business in the late 1940s. Their tiny 75 cc four-strokes were raced successfully in the long-distance Motogiro d’Italia and Milano-Taranto (in which they took the first five places in 1952), but the Fiat 500 torpedoed the baby bike business in 1957.
Laverda shifted gears to build 650 cc and 750 cc DOHC twins and were quite successful. These bikes were also significantly overbuilt with five main bearings. The racing 750 SFC is still very competitive in vintage events, and the company even built a wild 1,000 cc V-6 to compete in the 1978 Bol d’Or. It was capable of 175 mph on the straights, but it did not finish.
In the meantime, their DOHC 981 cc triple 3C model of 1973 was well-regarded, and would lead to their groundbreaking Jota, which was the fastest production motorcycle you could buy in the late 1970s. The three-cylinder Jota was named after a rapid Spanish folk dance, appropriately performed in triple time.
The Jota was built at the request of the British Laverda importer Roger Slater, who requested hot cams, high-compression pistons, and free-flowing exhausts. The engine did not have an even 120-degree crank, but rather a 180-degree crank, where the center piston would be at the top of its stroke when the other two were at the bottom, producing an out-of-phase exhaust note.
The Jota was expensive and generated 90 bhp at 8,000 rpm, allowing for a 12.5-second quarter mile at 110 mph and a top speed of 138 mph. This was a daunting prospect with no fairing, but at least it had excellent triple Brembo disc brakes. In its trademark bright orange paint, the Jota scored numerous production race successes.
The Jota was known as a man’s bike, being heavy (520 lbs) and tall, and having to really be muscled around the track. It was described as a punishing ride, with hand-numbing engine vibration and a “King Kong” clutch pull. Nevertheless the finish was excellent and the electrics notably effective, as befitted its high price.
Focusing on the U.S. market, the Jota engine size was increased to 1,200 cc in 1978, but without any noticeable increase in power. The year 1980 saw a half-fairing, and in 1982 the crank was evened out to 120 degrees. Tighter U.S. emissions led to the quieter, more subdued RGS 1000 which included a full fairing and luggage, but it proved a handful at high speed. A last effort produced the three-cylinder SFC 1000, but the company went into receivership in 1987. Laverdas require a firm hand to get the most out of them, but aficianados swear by the SFC and Jota models, which seem to be the pinnacle of the brand.