Parts is Parts, Guzzi is Guzzi

Parts is Parts, Guzzi is Guzzi

The resurrection of a 1981 CX100 Moto Guzzi LeMans basket case

basket case

Most of my motorcycle buying decisions are rational and well thought out. An analysis of the pros and cons, risks and benefits is carefully parsed before I make the first move toward acquiring yet another motorcycle.
Okay, the former is a total crock. Truth is, when it comes to motorized two-wheeled vehicles, I am entirely at the mercy of my limbic system, and when the reptile says “jump” I’m like a kangaroo on a meth jag.
Thus it was that when I happened upon a Craigslist ad for a basket case Moto Guzzi LeMans - in the obligatory Ferrari Red and black color scheme! - the climactic chapter was written before I even assimilated the scope of what I was lusting after. And what I was perusing was a fuzzy snapshot of sundry parts – chassis, wheels, engine, gas tank, fenders, etc. etc. etc.  Not a motorcycle, but the promise of a motorcycle. And not just A Motorcycle, but a stunning vintage roundhead Tonti-framed Moto Guzzi LeMans.
basket case

Moto Guzzi is one of those marques that for years has whispered sweet nothings in my ear. It never was opportune for me to own one, but I always thought: one of these days, if the universe wills it. Let’s face it, fellers, those big, beautiful jugs pointing up in front of your knees are enough to melt a man’s heart and gird one’s loins. And lately I’ve become more and more enamored of V-twins in general, though not (yet) of those from Milwaukee.

basket case
Back to the point, though. Through cyberspace, this motorcycle spoke to me, even though the listing photo was not of a motorcycle, but of the sundry, disembodied components thereof, spread out upon a vinyl tarp for the sake of the photograph. Unwanted, rejected, in need of a good home.  And I am a sucker for waifs.
The basket case was 200 miles away from my home in the mountains, but I have a good friend who lives literally just down the road from where my next project beckoned. Eric is an avid collector of vintage Italian motorcycles himself, and always happy to help me add to my growing fleet. Eric checked out the boxes of Guzzi parts on my behalf and reported back. What was on offer seemed to be an essentially complete 1981 CX100, in good overall shape and with matching numbers.  

The CX100 was marketed in the US as the successor to Moto Guzzi’s fabulous and highly prized 850 LeMans. In place of the hotrodded 850-cc engine fitted to the LeMans II sold elsewhere, the US market got the same motorcycle but with a more mildly tuned 1000-cc engine. Okay by me; with today’s crappy gasoline and my riding style mellowing with age, I was happy to accept the more even-tempered demeanor of the bigger engine.
Once I got Eric’s appraisal, my approach to acquiring this project bike was a wee bit clandestine, in the name of marital harmony. I’d already bought a couple of motorcycles in recent months, including a sight-unseen, non-running Moto Morini Camel a thousand miles from home, and a two-for-one special on a pair of FJ1200s. After Eric gave the project bike his thumbs-up, and while my wife Lisa was out doing errands, I hurriedly dialed up the owner of the Guzzi and clinched the deal. At the other end, Eric left a deposit with the owner, and when it was convenient, I made the trip up to Golden in my pickup to pay up and retrieve my prize.

basket case  

Back home with my booty, the chassis and several large boxes of parts took up residence in my “temporary garage,” a tarp-covered Quonset hut-type thing I have stuffed full of bikes in the woods behind our house. I had other projects in line ahead of this one, and it was about three months before I was ready to start on the Guzzi.
When I had time, I took inventory of the parts and noticed a few anomalies, mismatched components and a couple of obviously damaged pieces. It seemed clear that the motorcycle had suffered a traumatic insult before it was torn apart for restoration, but the damage was mostly limited to front end parts, some of which had already been replaced with used parts before I took possession. All told, I needed to invest only about $200 to replace the damaged parts that hadn’t already been dealt with.
basket case  Steering Stem

One day in October, I contacted Eric and suggested that he might benefit from a trip to the mountains to help me put together the CX100. And by the way, if he were to bring his own Moto Guzzi, the assembly process would be that much easier, as we could just slap things together until it looked like his bike! The chassis had been powder-coated, the body parts were nicely painted and new tires were fitted to the rims, so most of my work was simple assembly.
And so it happened. Eric came down with his bike, and we wrenched on mine until a pile of parts morphed into most of a motorcycle, at least a rolling chassis with drivetrain. We congratulated ourselves with a few drams of single malt, and the next day, Eric headed home.
basket case
                                          Eric and Keith

My new Moto Guzzi rested in this state of potential energy for another month or so until I took a break from other projects and put in the time and effort to take it to the next step: a running motorcycle. Fresh oil in crankcase, transmission and bevel drive, valve lash check, some oil poured down the pushrod tubes, bolt on the carbs and exhaust system, wire in the ignition system and install a battery.  Oh, and install petcocks in the gas tank, drop that on the chassis, splash a bit of fuel around…
Finally, on a sunny December day, I pushed the magic button, and it all came together in an instant. The Bosch starter cranked languidly through a couple of revolutions, and the engine fired. Another couple of cranks, and it fired again. Adjust the choke, push the button and…
Damn, that sounds great! Like a small block Chevy V-8 with glasspacks, actually, and though a bit lazy to rev due to a big heavy flywheel, the twin 500-cc cylinders growl with the promise of stump-pulling torque.

Well, that’s where we are with it for now. I rolled the bike out to the driveway, thinking to get in a test ride, even though only one of the three brake calipers is hooked up and working at this point. But up here in the Sangres, this winter has been unkind to motorcyclists, and our driveway has been snow-packed for a couple of months.

basket case           
Discretion may or may not be the better part of valor, but at this mature stage of life, I decided that dropping the Guzzi in the snow on its maiden voyage would be singularly inauspicious. I reluctantly parked it in the bike trailer instead of taking that shakedown ride.

 Another time. Winter can’t last forever – can it?

basket case

 RC Herman
Crestone, CO
January, 2008