Mandello's last Lemon was the sweetestA
s the most popular production Moto Guzzi ever, the Le Mans exists as a vivid backdrop against the sweeping tides of technology. Reluctant to change, the regime in Mandello produced motorcycles in an ancient complex trimmed with gingerbread valence and lace draperies. The first generation, built between 1976 and 1992 was based on a simple, yet brilliant engineering formula that began with Lino Tonti's 1972 750cc V7 Sport
. Tonti's cradle frame hugged the engine snugly; it's upper tube running between the cylinders to connect the swingarm to the steering head. This platform gave the Le Mans a solid, highly effective balance that endeared it to legions of motorcyclists around the world.
Four versions of the Le Mans were produced prior to final version. The Le Mans 850
-often miscast with the unofficial the 'Le Mans I' designation- came first, making its debut late in 1975. Hot on the heels of the 750 Sports the 'Lemon' featured a larger, quicker-spooling engine, flashy paint (decorated with a day glow headlamp surround) matt-black exhausts and cast wheels. Backed and supported in various high profile racing events, Moto Guzzi even offered a factory racing kit. In 1979 Guzzi moved the Le Mans closer to R100RS territory by fitting a larger fairing with a rectangular headlamp and leg shields. Made specifically for the US market, the CX-100
looked much like the Le Mans 850 II
, but used the small-valve, 949cc tuning from the G5/SP1000 tourers. Revised with numerous changes, the 'square-head' Le Mans 850 III
was developed in the very early 1980s and found success; earning the highest production run of the entire series. As such, it is viewed as the epitome of the Le Mans concept by many enthusiasts. Under Aprilia, an 1100cc version based on the spine-frame V11 was produced between 2001-2006.
Using most of the updates engineered into the Le Mans 850 III as a starting point, the 1000 was bigger, faster and somewhat bulkier. Trading in the narrow-waisted profile of the earlier versions for yards of swoopy ABS plastic, the reviews were hardly favorable. Most of the criticism centered around Guzzi's decision to fit a 16” front wheel, followed by speculation that form had surpassed function as a priority in Mandello. This may have been the case, but the explanation given to me claimed the move was inspired by the tire manufactures. Responding to Japanese engineering mandates, most of Japan's big four had fit the sixteen to its flagship models. By the late 80s, the trend has all but vanished.
Regardless, at the center of the Le Mans 1000 is its engine, and what an engine it is. Uprated with 47/40mm intake and exhaust valves, a larger combustion chamber, high-dome 10.0 pistons, 40mm Dell'Orto PHM carburetors and the hi-lift
B10 camshaft from the Le Mans 850 race kit, the Le Mans 1000 delivered a bare knuckle punch unlike any Moto Guzzi produced before it. The suspension received attention with a new 40mm forks and standard Koni 7610's for its dual-shock swingarm. In response to the decreased rim size, dual Brembo 270mm cast iron floaters replaced the fixed 320mm units bolted to the previous versions with additional changes to the wheel design, width, and controls.
In 1988, Guzzi revised the Le Mans again, retrofitting the 18” front wheel and a larger, frame-mount fairing. This was given the Le Mans 1000 CI
designation. Unfortunately, Guzzi retained the 270mm front rotors, and while these provide better than adequate stopping force, a certain styling aesthetic from the older models is missing. Some notable highlights include uprating to smaller, lighter Valeo starter, a keyed (instead of tapered) alternator mount and improved switchgear. Production dramatically slowed, and between 1990-92 it seems Guzzi occasionally pieced a few Le Mans 1000s together as need demanded. The very last version wore a five-piece fairing which
housed the instrument cluster and new clip-ons fastened under a sculpted upper clamp. A special version of the Le Mans 1000 called the 'Ultima Edizione'
was produced from the final batch of parts for the Dutch Moto Guzzi importer. It sold in very limited numbers before production ended.
Perspective ownership falls under two categories: collectability, and machines for use. While all Le Mans models have value and are solid, reliable classics, the first issue 850 (1976-to-78) is the obvious choice as an investment motorcycle. Despite its loyal following, the Le Mans 850 III ranks behind the Le Mans 1000 by virtue of the liter bike's superior engine output. In this writer's opinion, the upgrades and revisions made to the Le Mans 1000 CI earns it top marks for over the road use. Factor in the CI's ultra-low production numbers and rich heritage, value and demand seems certain to rise. Nolan Woodbury