Moto Guzzi do evolution, not revolution and the Le Mans was no exception. In the 60s, their range of 750 (and, later, 850) big twins had proved robust and reliable so, when time came to design a sports bike to battle Ducati and Laverda's twins, it made practical, as well as economic, sense to start with what they already had.
The heart of the affair is that lump of an engine that started life as the winner of a contest to design a more powerful bike for Italy's police and military. Popular myth has it that the new (in the 60s) V-twin engine was developed from an earlier V-twin engine used in a three-wheeled military vehicle, but the Giulo Carcano/Umberto Todero designed motorcycle engine owes nothing to that earlier device.
The Guzzi engineers won the government-sponsored competition and the winning engine powered the V7, a successful machine in its own right but by 1969, Moto Guzzi management wanted a more sporty machine, with 200kph performance, a five-speed gearbox and an all-up weight of less than 200kg. The new machine was to be the genesis of all subsequent V-twins from Mandello.
Lino Tonti - a former race engineer who'd built his own Unto racers and worked for both Bianchi and
Aermacchi - was the man entrusted with the project. Tonti had no doubts that the engine could stand a power hike to deliver the performance his bosses wanted, but the frame was too high, too heavy and it lacked the precision handling the racer in him demanded. In order to get the frame lower, Tonti relocated the alternator to the end of the crankshaft from its position high up between the cylinders of the transverse V-twin engine. That meant he could run the frame top tube between the cylinder heads, allowing the new frame to be significantly lower. Using large diameter tubing triangulated in straight runs, the result was a masterpiece. Rigid, low and light, it provided the basis for the V7 Sport - the spiritual forebear of the Le Mans.
Certainly the 844cc development of the Tonti-modified V-twin engine gives the Le Mans its character and, like many of the best things in life, it's remarkably simple. The crank is a massive, one-piece forging running on two plain bearings. It will stand a re-grind or two with ease and is at the centre of the famed longevity of Guzzi's big twins.
The crankcase is similarly sturdy, being a single casting with six bolts holding the alloy barrels and heads on. Con-rods are two-piece with white metal big end bushes and a plain phosphor-bronze bush small end. Lubrication is by a geared pump driven off the four-lobe camshaft that runs between the cylinders. The Le Mans Mkll further benefits from the canister type oil filter that supplemented the gauze strainer in the sump from the mid-70s. With a duplex timing chain and slow, but sturdy gearbox, the Le Mans delivers impressive performance from an extremely durable package.
That's one of the attractions of running a Le Mans, or any of the big Guzzi's. Routine servicing is a snap. The Guzzi V-twin must be one of the easiest engines ever for tappet adjustment - an important point when you realise that Guzzi valve clearances tend to tighten up with use. There's decent oil filtration and the points ignition can be replaced with a modern digital set-up to need even less servicing.
There's a low centre of gravity, coupled with acceptable overall weight and fine - if slightly slow handling - and Guzzi's famous linked brake system really does work. It was way ahead of its time in the 70s and remains impressive even now and to cap it all, you get 120mph performance potential with around 50mpg economy. Who says you can't have the best of both worlds - what are you waiting for?
Milin'. A man who has seen the light - Patrick Wall loves his Guzzi.
Patrick Wall, a self employed haulier from Worksop, and the owner of this Mkll Le Mans has become quite a fan of Mandello's big bore sports twin - but it wasn't always like that. In fact, it was pure luck - and a bit of friendly banter that turned his head the Guzzi way in the end.
"I'd had Japanese stuff mainly," Pat explains. "Still have actually, but my mate Phil Cooper (who's since invested In a Moto Guzzi 350 Imola for himself) phoned me up out of the blue one night and said: 'you've got to come and have a look at this bike for sale. If you don't buy it, I will.' Well, of course, I had to go and take a look - just to save him from himself."
When Patrick went to have a look, what he saw was this, slightly non-standard Le Mans. "I wasn't sure about it to start with," he admits. "Until I had a ride on it. That was it. I loved it. It's had new rings, the carbs and alternator overhauled and a pair of new rear shocks fitted. The tank's been sprayed, it's missing the under-seat toolbox, it had no mirrors on it and the fairing lowers are missing, but I bought it to ride, not fuss about. Apart from the few bits I need, I'll leave it as it is. When I first got it (a couple of years), it spewed oil out of the oil filler neck - the bike has the optional extended dipstick tube fitted to make access easier - but a new O-ring cured that. It's been no bother other than that - it hasn't missed a beat. That's the sort of bike I like."
Milin'. A man who has seen the light - Patrick Wall loves his Guzzi.
Above: Acccssibilty to engine is excellent.
Right: Oil chctks arc dead easy.
Main: l ong legged and beefy - (he Gutzi's not bad eidier!
After the Mklll Le Mans was replaced, Moto Guzzi upgraded their flagship sports model to a full (well 949 actually) 1000cc, fitted 40mm carbs and trendy 16in front wheel, but for many Guzzi fans, the only 'real' Le Mans models are the 850s that ran between 1976 and 1985 as the Mkl - officially designated the Le Mans 850 - the Mkll and the Mklll. Here are the principal differences between the three versions.
1 976-1 978 LE MANS 8 50/MKI LEMANS Shown for the first time at the 1975 Milan Show, Le Mans 850/Mkl production is split into Series one and Series two bikes. The Le Mans is essentially an uprated S3 with a modified cylinder head with oversized valves, domed pistons to raise compression and racing-style open 36mm Dell'Orto pumper carbs. High tech? No. Effective? Yes.
Despite this modest tuning, where the Le Mans stood out was in the styling -stripped-down, minimalist café racer chic. A tiny bikini fairing and low clip-on bars deflect a little of the wind, while rear-set footrests and a narrow seat with 'bum-stopper' hump make up the back.
Series one machines have a rounded CEV stop/tail lamp and frame numbers run up to VE13040. Only around 2000 of the series one Le Mans were manufactured and they are the most collectable, so beware of buying a fake. Check the frame number. Series two bikes have squarer, de Tomaso tail-light, black fork sliders, a larger seat and a trip meter.
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