Moto Guzzi Le Mans
|Production||1976–1992 (2002-2004 new frame V11)|
The Moto Guzzi Le Mans is a sports motorcycle first manufactured in 1976 by Italian company Moto Guzzi. The original 850 Le Mans was a true Cafe Racer and is considered a classic of innovative styling, with excellent performance. The Le Mans was subsequently developed as a sports tourer.
850 Le Mans
Released in 1976, the 850 Le Mans was styled as a cafe racer. Although often referred to as the Le Mans Mark I, the first Le mans model was known by the factory as the 850 Le Mans, and is part of a long list of Moto Guzzi motorcycles developed since the company's inception nearly 100 years ago. It had debuted at the Milan motorcycle show in November 1975, although the groundwork started several years before the eventual production version appeared. It was developed from the earlier V7 Sport model but moved performance far beyond the interim 750S and the 750 S3. The power output measured at the back wheel was some 71 bhp, giving a top speed of around 130 mph.
The Le Mans used matte black instead of traditional chrome to offset paintwork, and debuted the tank-hugging one-piece seat made from injection molded foam. A marketing success, competing with other Italian superbikes, it spawned four later models until its ultimate model of the late 1990s. It was named in homage to the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race track in France. A 1973 factory prototype finished 4th in the 24-hour race at Barcelona's Montjuïc circuit. In 1977 Roy Armstrong won Britain's Avon Production Machine championship on a standard bike fitted with production race kit, and it had multiple race success during the AMA Superbike Championship in the US.
The Mark I had two production runs with slight modifications. The first run, known as Series 1, used the roundish CEV stop/taillight used on many Italian bikes of the decade and is known to have continued until at least September, 1976. Fewer than 2,000 of the round taillight bikes were made. The second production run, known as the Series 2 and totaling around 4,000 bikes, used a De Tomaso-designed rectangular taillight/reflector and modified rear guard. This was also used on the Mark II and SP models. The taillight and guard was the biggest change between Series 1 and 2 but other modifications included later inclusion of a tripmeter, black fork lowers, a more generous dual seat that replaced the split-prone original seat, exhaust pipe heel guards and inferior fuel taps and altered front indicator stem bracket. The extra cost compared to the "cooking" T3 model paid for performance items such as high compression domed pistons, larger inlet and exhaust valves, Dell'Orto 36mm pumper carbs with filterless mesh grey plastic velocity stacks, Tomasselli clip-ons and quarter-turn throttle. Most Mk I bikes were brilliant red and black although a very small number were painted in metallic ice blue. An exceedingly small number of Series 2 bikes were white. All bikes had a poorly-primed matte black frame and exhausts prone to rust.
Bikes imported into the United States were distinguished by two major visual differences. They were fitted with yellow side reflectors on the black CEV indicator (blinker) bodies, both front and rear. More significantly, the US bikes were fitted with a sealed beam headlight to meet Department of Transport approval instead of the non-US poor quality OEM Aprilia headlight with removable 40/45W bulb. The US sealed beam units protruded significantly in front of the bikini fairing, changing the flush lines of the bike when seen in profile.
Both engine and frame numbers for the Le Mans are prefixed with "VE". Engine serial numbers are stamped on a lower left hand side casing rib. Frame numbers were allocated a different sequence to engine numbers. Frame numbers commence from VE11111 and engine numbers commence from about VE70500. Due to poor priming some frames were replaced under warranty, adding complexity to the number sequence. Frame numbers and data plates are on the headstock, opposite the Neiman steering lock. Confusion about fake based on numbers further rests in part because of veteran motorcycle author Mick Walker's specific warning that a Le Mans 1 outside the frame range of VE11111 to VE13040 is likely to be a fake. This erroneous detail gained further credence in the Introduction to a compilation of period magazine reviews. In fact, it is the Le Mans Series 1 (with roundish CEV taillight) frames that are numbered VE11111 to VE13040. Le Mans Series 2 (with rectangular taillight) are numbered VE13041 to VE17311.
A Mark II bike reconfigured to look like a Mark I bike has been nicknamed a "Mock I". The Le Mans was also affectionately nicknamed the Lemon. This was not for reasons of unreliability. It gained popularity when published as an entry in Bike's Quote of the Month, after a reader sent in a cutting from Motor Cycle Weekly highlighting a typo in which Le Mans was spelt Lemons — similar to the French pronunciation. The story reiterating how the nickname came about was reprinted in 1979 when Bike reviewed a newly released Mark II bike (registration number plate DRO205T).
850 Le Mans II
Basically the same motorcycle to the original Le Mans, except Moto Guzzi changed the fairing from a small 'bikini' fairing to a larger, more angular one in keeping with emerging fashion trends of the period with incorporated indicators and with two small frame mounted fairings similar to those of the 1000cc SP model. The fairing had been tested in Moto Guzzi's own dedicated wind tunnel, which had stood dormant for many years but had been used originally to test race bike fairings in the 1950s. The new nose fairing had a rectangular headlight, rather than the round headlight of the original. Other changes included addition of Nigusil instead of the iron bore cylinders used on earlier mkII's. It also had improved air assisted front suspension. The brake calipers on the front wheel were mounted behind the forks, whereas they had been mounted on the front on Le Mans Mark I. The problematic single seat of earlier models was also replaced with an improved saddle now capable of accommodating a pillion.
Improvements included a revised instrument cluster derived from the 1000cc SP model, however the new dash used an integrated circuit board which was in itself problematic. Brakes were still linked with the hand lever operating the front right caliper and the foot brake operating the front left and rear caliper.
Frame numbers are VE17312 - VE22635 in the first series of the Mark II, with the second series starting in 1980 from frame VE22636 to VE24086. Moto Guzzi patented Nigusil-plated cylinders were incorporated from engine number VE80390 onwards. The CX 100 version sold in the US - 1000cc with downrated carbs - carried a new frame number sequence beginning at VU11111, with only 353 being made in total it "remains a unique model in the history of the sporting Moto Guzzi."
850 Le Mans III
This model saw an extensive re-design both technically and aesthetically. Features included revised cylinder heads and barrels, now sporting a squared off cooling-fin design. Pushrods were moved further from the bore centre, hinting at intent to provide larger bore sizes and an increase in capacity. In total there were some 80 technical changes from the Mk II model. The aesthetic upgrade included the tank, seat, fairings and instrument cluster. Now dominated by a large white faced Veglia tachometer hinting at the Le Mans sporting heritage. The technical changes included improved machining tolerances, revised carburation and exhaust systems. These technical advances resulted in an increase in power and torque from preceding models. Other improvements were made to the rear suspension and front forks with provision of linked air assisted damping.
Frame numbers are VF11111 - VF20700 inclusive, engine numbers are also prefixed by "VF".
Le Mans 1000 (16-inch and 18-inch front wheel) (1984–1993)
The Le Mans 1000 appeared at the end of 1984 and continued with modification until 1993. There were two main production runs known as Series 1 and Series 2.
The frame and engine prefix started with VV11111 in the 1984-85 Series 1. Many of the bikes, especially US models, included a new 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the headstock. The VIN consisted of Z (denoting Italy), GU (for Guzzi), VV (specifying Le Mans 1000), a four-digit particular country code, a year code (A-H from 1980), M (for Mandello) and six digits beginning with 1000001. With factory data listing some modifications by frame number and others by VIN, it can be difficult to determine exactly when updates occurred.
The 16-inch front wheel and Lario-styling were personally ordered by owner De Tomaso. Whereas other manufacturers redesigned frame to incorporate a smaller front wheel, Guzzi simply placed the smaller wheel on the proven Tonti frame, which dated back to the V7 Sport, which was designed for an 18-inch wheel without reconfiguring the geometry. It did, however, have sturdier forks than earlier models and smaller (270 mm) semi-floating front discs. Physically, the bike was much larger than the lean and low earlier Le Mans bikes, and performance from the 949 cc engine with uprated 40 mm pumper carbs and LM I production racer B10 camshaft was only marginally better than the Mark III. An 18-inch option was made available in 1987. The Series 2 bikes commenced at VIN VV100165 and started to include uprated Bitubo dampers and updated geometry.
Production totaled 6343 units between 1984 and 1988. In 1984 and 1985 a total of 2226 bikes were produced as Series 1. Then 1179 Series 2 models were made in 1986; 754 in 1987 and just 71 in 1988. Most 1988 models were factory-fitted with the 18-inch wheel.
Le Mans 1000 SE (Special Edition) (1986-88)
Released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the V7's appearance the 1000 SE was sold in late 1986, 1987, and also into 1988 for those in the US market. (Only 100 SE models were sold in the US.) All bikes sold worldwide were red and white, with a red seat, red cast wheels and most had black rocker covers, engine and lower rails. Some had black engines and transmissions. The bike's gearing was closer and higher than the standard 1000.
Le Mans 1000CI (1988-1993)
The 1000CI started at frame number VV14000 as Series 1 and included many updates of the previous version and included a range of color schemes. Series 3 commenced at VV16350 and ended at VV16994. It is sometimes called the Le Mans 1000 Mark V NT (new type) and was to be the final incarnation of a great line of larger capacity, sporting Guzzi v-twins.
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p. 97
- Robert Smith (May–June 2006). "1976 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans Mk1". Motorcycle Classics. Retrieved 2009-08-20.
- Walker, Mick, Moto Guzzi Twins Restoration, p. 20
- Clarke, R. M., Moto Guzzi Le Mans Performance Portfolio: 1976-1989, p. 4
- Classic Bike, June 2009, pp.66-67
- Classic Bike, October 2008, p50
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p69
- Walker, Mick, Illustrated Moto Guzzi Buyer's Guide, p. 67
- Richardson, Dave, Guzziology 6.0, p5-53
- Walker, Mick, Illustrated Moto Guzzi Buyer's Guide, p. 65
- Clarke, R. M., Moto Guzzi Le Mans Performance Portfolio: 1976-1989, p. 4
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, pp. 69, 73
- Classic Bike, June 2009, p67
- Clarke, R. M., Moto Guzzi Le Mans Performance Portfolio: 1976-1989, p. 37
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p75
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, pp.75, 79
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p83, 85
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p89, 95
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, pp. 97-104
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p 99
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, p 104-6
- Falloon, Ian, Moto Guzzi Sport & Le Mans Bible, pp. 114-116
- Media related to Moto Guzzi Le Mans at Wikimedia Commons