Laverda 1000 3C – Don’t touch me!

Bike Profile

Elvis Centofanti's 1974 Laverda 1000 3C.

Story and photos:  Jim Scaysbrook • Period photos: Lindsay McKay

To find a motorcycle sold new in 1974 that is still in absolutely immaculate condition, just as it was when it rolled off the showroom floor, is rare, considering that (gasp) 48 years have since passed. But this Laverda 1000 3C is just such an animal, and Elvis Centofanti, whose Ducati 750 Sport we featured in OBA 66, needed no time for thought when the opportunity arose to acquire it.

The Laverda was purchased new in 1974 from Allmakes Motor Cycles in Pirie Street Adelaide by the late Paul Attard. Paul had originally intended to buy a Ducati, but when told there was a lengthy waiting list for the model he desired, his attention shifted to the Laverda. And so the green machine took up residence with Paul at Newton in the Adelaide foothills. Paul was a long time member of the Classic Owners MCC, and a keen classic rally goer. Although the Laverda sports a badge from the Classic Owners Mildura Rally of 1975, the Laverda was not there – Paul took a couple from his own classic collection. He and his wife Margaret attended the Isle of Man TT in 1984, although not on the Laverda, which is where the sticker on the rear number plate bracket came from. 

After Paul’s passing, his fine collection of classic bikes was split up and found new homes, and the Laverda went to Chris Williams in Victoria, who noted that it had covered only 9,500 miles and was last registered in South Australia in 1989, and had not been started for five years.  Chris was astounded at the originality, saying “ it took about a week of polishing and tweaking to bring it up to scratch.”  However Chris decided against keeping the Laverda, which is where Elvis steps in, and upon an invitation we took the opportunity to inspect the Latin lovely.

Bigger and better

At this point it is timely to swat up on just how the 1000cc three-cylinder Laverda, and the 3C itself, came into being. While the world was going gaga at the announcement of the new four-cylinder Honda CB750 in 1969, across in Italy Massimo Laverda was hard at work on a mega machine of his own. His big twin, in its various iterations, had first appeared in prototype 650cc form in 1966, and Massimo openly admitted that he had been inspired by Honda’s best-selling 305cc CB77. The new 650cc Laverda drew heavily on many of the Honda design features, but Massimo was unabashed by this ‘inspiration’, saying that Honda himself had been similarly influenced by the NSU Rennmax. Like the CB77, the 650 Laverda featured horizontally split crankcases, with a 180-degree crankshaft (which became 360 degrees by the time production commenced), as used on the early CB72 and CB77 models. The wet sump engine used a chain-driven single overhead camshaft and acted as a fully-stressed chassis member.  Even before the 650 managed to reach the production stage in 1968, Laverda had stretched the prototype design to 750cc by increasing the bore to 80mm. 

Owner Elvis Centofanti enjoying a spin.

As it turned out, the 650 was short-lived and soon replaced by the 750, which made commercial sense in the wake of the excitement created by the CB750 – a decision heavily influenced by Laverda’s US distributor, the McCormack Corporation. Only a handful, perhaps as few as 150, of the 650s were made before the decision to move to the 750. In fairly short order, the 750 range grew to two, to include the base model 750 GT, and the more sporty 750 S, which came on stream for 1969 and featured a more powerful engine producing 60 horsepower, as well as a frame with increased rigidity and different steering head dimensions. In 1971 the 750 SF appeared, with a new frame and new brakes, produced by Laverda themselves, to replace the original Grimeca drums.  The GT/SF range continued, with detail improvements, through the early ‘seventies, acquiring Brembo disc brakes with the SF2 model for 1974. In 1972, the sportiest Laverda of all the 750s, the beautiful 750 SFC appeared and is today regarded as a highly-collectable classic.

While the 750 range went through its process of evolution, Massimo Laverda had already foreseen the eventual need to upscale the design, and as early as 1969 was working on a three-cylinder version. By grafting an extra 75mm x 74mm cylinder onto the 650 twin, he came up with a 980cc triple, with a crankshaft throw of 120 degrees – the same as the British BSA/Triumph triples and the racing MV Agustas. The twin carried its pair of contact breakers on the end of the crankshaft, but in order to keep the width of the new unit as low as possible, the now-three sets of points were moved to the left side of the camshaft in the cylinder head. The 750’s separate dynamo and starter disappeared, replaced by a single Bosch AC unit running onto the right side crankshaft and doing double duty as a starter motor. A key figure in the design of the new one-litre model was Luciano Zen, who had been associated with the Laverda company from the very beginning and was a close friend of Massimo’s father, Francesco. 

There’s a family resemblance to the 750, but only superficial. Note the right foot gear change.

Initial tests of the new triple were however, disappointing, the unit being underpowered and the whole package somewhat overweight. It was decided to advance the specification to include double overhead camshafts, and a prototype was built using a toothed belt to drive the valve gear. This rather ugly design, with the belt running in a substantial timing case on the right side, was soon discarded and a further new design, using chain drive to the crankshafts, appeared in time to be displayed at the Milan Show in November 1971. Power was stated as 80hp at 7,000 rpm, and this version, which bore a close resemblance to the one that finally went into production, also featured an entirely new full cradle frame using a large section tubular backbone with twin front down-tubes where previously (on the 750) there had been none. 

It was a time of frenzied activity at Laverda, which was in the process of transferring production to a new 12,000 square metre factory, still in Breganze but now out of the centre of town, about 150 km north west of Venice at the foot of the Dolomites. It was mid-1972 before the first of the production 1000s appeared, at a point where much of Italy’s manufacturing industry was in the grip of strikes, which meant supplies of various components were difficult and in some cases, impossible to obtain. In production form, the DOHC triple had reverted to a 180-degree crankshaft, achieved by the expedient of placing the centre cylinder 180 degrees out of phase with the outer two which ran at the same 360 degree layout as the 750. The camshafts, driven by a single-row chain, ran in plain bearings in the heads, while the crank ran on two outer ball and two inner roller bearings.  Although many of the components were similar to the 750, few were identical. The cylinder head was redesigned to incorporate a narrower valve angle, with (like the 750) a cast iron “skull” combustion chamber which incorporated the valve seats. 

Left: Isle of Man sticker from 1984 graces the rear number plate bracket. Right: The Laverda’s distinctive exhaust note comes out here.

Strictly speaking, all the 750 and 1000cc Laverdas were hand-built, as there was no production line as such, even at the new factory. Bikes were constructed in batches, with each engine built by a single employee. But despite the attention to detail, the 1000 was not without its share of problems. In cold and wet conditions, ignition failure was not uncommon, which further strengthened the reputation of ‘Italian electrics’ which was a little unkind as it was not the electronic unit itself that gave trouble, but the insufficient attention to sealing the compartment in which it operated, and in any case, the unit came from Bosch in Germany. 

Despite the labour and component problems, the 1000s continued to be built in small numbers, and in late 1973 a revised version, the 3C, appeared. Up front, the drum brake had given way to twin 280mm front discs with Brembo calipers, although the Laverda drum remained at the rear. Other small changes included the use of Nippon Denso switches on the handlebars in place of the previous Lucas switches, accompanying the Nippon Denso speedo and tachometer that had been used on all the 1000s. Handlebars were an adjustable racing style made by Brevettato, which could be altered to change the angle of the handle itself. The front fork was still the 35mm Ceriani, which was scarcely up to the job of handling the weight and power and was eventually replaced by a 38mm version. Two Voxbell horns relaced the single horn on the original 1000. 

Nippon Denso instruments, similar to those on the Honda CB750.

No fewer than sixteen colours were listed for the 1974/75 1000 3C, which carried a price tag in USA of $3,400 – or around double that of a CB750 Honda. Regulations were becoming stricter and more universal, and for 1975 the 3C complied, with the gear change moving from right to left, via a crossover shaft behind the engine. 

The 1000 had enjoyed considerable endurance racing success in Britain, with energetic support from the British importer Roger Slater, and it was largely at his behest that in 1976, Laverda produced the most famous 1000 triple of all, the Jota, named after a lively Spanish dance. With the special 4C camshafts fitted as standard and a British made exhaust system, the Jota was tested in England at 140 mph, making it the fastest “standard” motorcycle available, but at £2300, also amongst the most expensive. From initially being a UK-only model, the Jota gradually became available in other markets. Later models were fitted with an hydraulically-operated clutch in place of the cable. 

Handsome cover hides triplex chain primary drive.
Cable operated Laverda rear brake.
New for ’74 – twin disc front end.
Three Dell’Orto PHF32A carbs, with accelerator pumps, supply the mixture.

The triple continued in 1000 3CL and Jota form, with cast alloy wheels replacing the spoked items and a rear disc brake, until 1981, when the 180-degree crankshaft design was laid to rest and replaced with a new 120-degree design which also had the capacity punched out to 1200cc, but that’s another story.

Laverda in the colonies

In Australia, two companies in particular, Stan Evans’ Stanco in Melbourne (the official Australian distributor) and Jim Eade Pty Ltd in Sydney (the NSW agents), were the mainstay of Laverda sales and promotion throughout the life of the 1000cc models, which initially (in 1973) carried a price tag of $2,700. Its triple-cylinder competitor, the Triumph Trident, was priced at $1,795. 

Jeff Curley on Stanco’s Laverda 1000 at Calder in 1973.

As early as 1973, Stanco provided a new 1000 for hard rider Jeff Curley to use in the increasingly popular Production races. For the 1975 Castrol Six Hour race at Amaroo Park, Stanco entered a 1000 for Bob Rosenthal and Ross Barelli, while Jim Eade did likewise for the pairing of John Hughes and Greg Byrnes. But even before the race began, there were dramas, affecting not just the pair of Laverdas, but the two Ducati 900SS models and the three Triumph Tridents entered. The regulations stated that 20 of the model to be raced had to be registered in NSW by October 1, 1975, and none of these complied. The promoters, Willoughby District MCC, were understandably concerned at the prospect of losing a large chunk of the entry, and took the matter to the Auto Cycle Union, who ruled that the regulations would be amended to require 20 of the model to be registered in the whole of Australia, not just NSW. As it turned out, the Laverdas were off the pace in the dry, but in the second hour of the race, it began to rain. In the slippery conditions, the Stanco Laverda began a march through the field that had it up to fourth place, but alas, the sky cleared and as the track dried, the faster machine once again took over the pace-making. Adding to their problems, the Stanco bike’s exhaust system began to disintegrate after the pipes (which converged from three into one and then into two mufflers below the engine) cracked and began emitting quite a racket. Although the Laverdas had plenty of ground clearance on the left side, Amaroo’s corners were predominantly right handers, and the alternator cover progressively wore itself away. Still, Rosenthal and Barelli came home in eighth place, while the Hughes/Byrnes 1000, which was originally listed as finishing sixth, dropped to 13th after the lap scoring charts were re-checked. 

Lindsay McKay on the Jim Eade Laverda at Amaroo Park.
Pit stop for Lindsay McKay in the Surfers Three Hour Race where he rode with Owen Hughes.

The following year, Rosenthal paired with Paul Graydon on a new 1000 3C entered by Stanco, while Lindsay McKay joined John Hughes on a Jim Eade-entered 1000 3C. Bob Rosenthal recalls, “The bike we rode in 1975 was a spoked wheel model. The 1976 bike had alloy wheels, which I think was about the only difference. I think the wheels were made by Campagnolo and were ultra-soft; tyre changing without a machine resulted in bent wheels. We also had problems with the hydraulic brake light switches imparting sponge into the system, so we cheated and by-passed them! But the 1976 bike didn’t really stand a chance and although we did two more laps (327) than in 1975 we finished way down.” The Hughes/McKay faired better, clocking up 340 laps to be placed 12th, nine laps behind the winning Team Avon Kawasaki Z1B ridden by Jim Budd and Roger Heyes. 

Lindsay McKay on the way to 12th place in the 1976 Castrol Six Hour Race.
Owen Hughes on the Stanco 3CL in the 1977 Castrol Six Hour.

That wasn’t quite the end of Laverda and the Six Hour however. In 1977 Greg McDonald and Owen Hughes brought the Stanco 3CL in 13th, although the Jim Eade entry of John Hughes/David Braha failed to make it to the finish. 

Specifications: 1974 Laverda 1000 3C

Engine: 981cc DOHC three cylinder.
Bore x stroke: 75mm x 74mm
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Power: 80hp at 7,250 rpm
Carbs: 3 x 32mm Dell’Orto PHF32A
Lubrication: Wet sump.
Ignition: Bosch magneto.
Transmission: Five-speed, triplex chain primary drive to wet clutch.
Frame: Double cradle all-welded tubular steel.
Suspension: Ceriani telescopic fork. Veriani twin rear shocks.
Brakes: Front: twin 280mm discs with brembo calipers. Rear Laverda 230mm drum.
Wheels/tyres: Borrani alloy rims with 410 x 18 front and 425 x 18 rear rtres.
Fuel capacity: 7 litres
Wet weight: 235 kg
Seat Height: 770mm
Ground clearance: 120mm
Maximum speed: 136 mph (220 km/h).

OBA Issue 68
This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue No.68