Sunday, 13 March 2016
Moto Guzzi V50
I bought my Moto Guzzi V50 for a hundred pounds. It was in a barn, very rusty and did not run. It had belonged from new to a friend of mine who had ridden it until it stopped, whereupon he had put it in the barn with all his previous victims, which included a B40, a C15, an Enfield GT, a CD175 and a small pile of rust that might once have been a Bantam.
I had no garage then, so it was deposited in a workshop belonging to another friend who was attempting to resuscitate a 250 LC. Many evenings were spent that winter as we worked on the machines. The V50 was W reg with 17k on the clock. It was a Mark 3, which meant bigger valves, a return to points ignition and reputedly better ﬁnish, though if this is the case I quail at the thought of earlier quality. Most of my work consisted of removing several years of crud, rust and corrosion from the machine. All the chrome had gone from the silencers, the wheels and engine looked like Quaker Oats, and the tank had rusty scabs around the badges, petrol cap and seat. The tank was resprayed in a similarly bilious shade of orange to that it had originally been to avoid having to do the painted mudguards as well. The sidepanels were black and made of a strange sort of rubbery plastic. Minor repairs done to the wiring proved simple, though the wiring was connected together in a way that made a nonsense of the colour coding. A circuit tester soon unveiled the mysteries. Two of Guzzis more problematical electrical wonders had already been fixed - it had a Japanese fuse box and the CDl75's ignition switch which was in the headlamp, a la BMW. A very worthwhile mod as Guzzi ignition switches are thoroughly unreliable items which should be discarded quickly even if they appear to work okay.
The exhaust system was repainted very carefully with Sperex (which was a complete waste of time and money) and fitted with crushable alloy head/down-pipe gaskets from a Suzuki as the fibre Guzzi ones blow out regularly. Brakes were relined and a disc replaced at a local breaker, as one was warped despite, or perhaps because, it had been skimmed. The donor bike was a sludge green Mark 3 - I was to see much more of it in the coming months.
Finally it was March, so the beast was started with jump leads and taken for its MOT. At least that was the idea. In reality it got about 50 yards. There was a loud bang and I was coasting. The short push home revealed a box full of neutrals. What had happened was the taper roller bearings in the bevel box had broken up and trashed the crown wheel and pinion. Another trip to the breaker and 60 pounds later I was ready to try again. My father said if I spent another three months working on the thing it might get to the corner shop.
This time, though, it did get to the MOT and passed, despite a leaky fork seal and the bellow from the very inaptly named Silentium silencers. The fork seals on this model are of little consequence as they retain only a little lubricating oil; the actual damping goes on in a sealed unit in the top of the fork legs. Caps are fitted but best ignored; zero psi being the only way of ensuring balance.
Finally, we were in business: Tim’s LC was also finished so off we went. The V50 is probably the best bike I have ever ridden for summer's evening runs and Sunday morning blasts. Despite. 10:1 compression it is very torquey, the handling is in a class of its own in my experience. The linked Brembo brakes lived up to their brick wall effect reputation. As on all Guzzis, the left front and rear discs are both operated by the foot pedal, with one handlebar lever operating the other front disc. It takes a while to get used to but has prodigious stopping ability once mastered. You would have to be extraordinarily cack-handed to lock a wheel, and fork dive is minimised.
Performance was about 105mph on the Vagu-lia speedo at around 50-55mpg, which depended more on how accurately the carbs were set than on how much grief the throttle was given. The V50 and LC were marvellous machines to run together. The soundtrack alone was a smile a mile with the bellow from the Guzzi and racy crackle from Tim’s Allspeeds. Performance was comparable. Tim said this proved the LC was better as it was half the size. I felt compelled to point out it used bloody nearly twice as much petrol in the attempt.
After a couple of weeks the ignition went down. Although Mark 3’s points are better than ‘the Bosch electronic ignition of the Mark 2 (that blessed the bike with unwelcome flat spots) mine had Piranha electronic ignition ﬁtted. Though generally first class, this set-up was triggered by a slotted disc on the end of the cam and tiny light beams. The problem being that even minute quantities of oil mist from the camshaft oil seal obscured the trigger beams. An aerosol cleaner designed for computers remedied the problem once you knew what it was. Hours of circuit testing and swearing went on. This problem recurred sporadically throughout the time I owned the bike.
A few months of fun followed. The handling of these machines is glorious. Like boxer BMWs they stand no messing around, all braking and gearchange made before the curve, select your line and power it through. Always, you feel that much more speed could have been used, with never a twitch even on bumpy roads (unlike boxers). However, shutting the throttle or, worse, even thinking about the brakes, will cause it to immediately sit up and go straight through a hedge. It takes considerable self will to open the throttle hard when a machine is running wide.
Mine had a Michelin front and Roadrunner rear, wear being very low. V50s will run on just about any combination of tyres. Probably down to the chassis, with the cast alloy swinging arm running on taper rollers on the back of the gearbox. The forks could do with a fork brace to stop twisting but this never affected the overall stability so there’s no real need.
One summer’s evening in May I was going along the A38 when it treated me to a loud bang, a couple of seconds tinkling then silence The right-hand plug was oily and had the electrode snapped off, a dropped exhaust valve! A dealer reckoned it was a regular occurrence and reckoned they should be changed every 10,000 miles. The whole top end was scrap as the head was cracked and the chrome bore of the barrel was scored. The breaker only charged £50 for replacement bits.
The top end was much easier to replace than the air filter! The rear light bulb tended to blow regularly. Setting up the Dellorto carbs was a suck it and see procedure, but it can be done when stuck in traffic jams by ear and with a screwdriver conveniently carried in my boot. It was more or less impossible to operate the starter and throttle with the same hand and the speedo and tacho are the wrong way round, confusingly marked in a similar manner.
Most of the major components are reliable. The starters can give trouble due to their rather exposed location in front of the rider's left foot. I have heard rumours of gearbox failure but mine was fine. Though not a swift change, there were no false neutrals and gearing was agreeably high, suiting the torque of the motor and offering smooth, relaxed cruising. The dry plate clutch was rather abrupt but not too heavy and gave no trouble One nice touch was that it was possible to buy cable inners on their own, quite cheaply, which saved waste and expense.
It was a great bike on the occasions when it was in good health and the weather was fine. Riding with Tim's LC down the sugarwork's road in Shropshire, roaring through the Peak District at first light, the torque, the handling and the brakes all conspired to provide unforgettably good times. Unfortunately, there were all too many times it was limping home on one cylinder or simply in bits all over the house, while everyone else was out having fun.
One day I met a chap in Wolverhampton with a beautiful R-reg CB750, all gleaming, chrome and horsepower who said the V50 was just what he had always wanted. We agreed to swap. The V50 had tried my patience too many times, had been too unpredictable and was, sadly, just too badly made to be trustworthy. This was a real tragedy because it was potentially twice the bike of its contemporary, and main rival, the CX500, but it lacked that vital build quality. The 750 seemed a great wallowing beast after the V50 (it was) but it was always there, never failed to start and never broke down. Sure, I missed the Guzzi but the Honda was such a relief after the near constant repairs of the Guzzi. That memory is the one that will prevent me buying a Guzzi again, despite the happy memories of the open road.