1978 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans I
With an experienced team and a lot of data.
In the world of Moto Guzzis, the 1976 Moto Guzzi Le Mans is probably the one to have above all others. It features all of the simple elegance of the 1970s, and predates the angularity of the 1979 Mk 2, the 1982 Mk 3, and the unfortunate 1985 Mk 4 with its 16-inch front wheel.
Based on Lake Como, Moto Guzzi has been in business since 1921, building their own eccentric designs and racing them with considerable success. Their horizontal single-cylinder engines were produced for more than 60 years in various sizes from the 246 cc overhead cam Albatros to the 493 cc Dondolino and Falcone. The race bikes included an overhead cam V-twin as early as 1935 and a three-cylinder twin cam supercharged works racer in 1940. Moto Guzzi even built an astonishing V-8 motorcycle of 500 cc in 1956.
The trademark cross-frame overhead valve V-twin first came about in 1964, after being lifted from a military project for an odd 754 cc, three-wheeled mountain tractor called a 3X3. Moto Guzzi revived the engine for a military bike, then utilized it again as the base for its V7 of 1967. It later became the basis for 1969’s 45 bhp, 757 cc V7 Special, which was capable of 110 mph and finally found a home in the V7 Sport of 1972, which could do an incredible 125 mph.
In 1976, the V-twin engine – now bored out to 844 cc – was fitted to the 476 lb Le Mans, which was basically Moto Guzzi’s answer to the BMW R90S. With high-compression pistons, big valves and open carburetors, the Le Mans developed 71 bhp and was good for a 13.5 second quarter mile and a top speed of 132 mph. A race kit added 10 bhp and another 10 mph.
V-twin Moto Guzzis are eccentric machines with a mix of automobile and motorcycle parts. They have a seven-inch automotive clutch, shaft drive and a linked brake system, so that the front brake lever works one front disc while the foot brake works the other front disc and the rear.
Moto Guzzi has always often been characterized by a lack of funds, and numerous suitors with pockets that just weren’t deep enough have taken control of the company over the years. These included Alejandro de Tomaso, who bought the company in 1973 and ran it on a starvation diet for two decades. As a result, production has been relatively low for most years and both spare parts and expertise are not easy to find.
They are few and far between, but diehard Guzzi enthusiasts are very knowledgeable and very proud of their machines. When shopping for one, it’s best to look for a bike from one of these knowledgeable folks, as bikes with needs or deferred maintenance are easy to fall out of love with.