Facing an uncertain future, Moto Guzzi developed the V7. The rest is history
It was during the poly-period, when Gary Nixon was riding for Triumph and Honda’s biggest bike was a 450 twin, that the Moto Guzzi V7 made its debut. Described by moto-journos as a 'gigantic' machine, the V700 appeared on the cusp of motorcycling's most exciting era. But what those scribes and reporters couldn't know is the impact Guzzi's V7 would have. And while the big new twin made good on its mission to save the company from extinction, history shows the V700 accomplished much more.
Fifty-years ago the consumer motorcycle market was in turmoil, due in large part to the popularity of the compact automobile. While this was certainly the case in Europe, the situation was greatly magnified in the auto-crazy US, where acceptance of motorcycles as a valid form of transportation came much later. Forced to deal with this new set of circumstances were a host of European manufactures, many of who depended upon the support of military and police agencies for sales support. But Guzzi, who had traditionally fielded such contracts with little competition faced a double-dose of reality with the realization that their aging Falcone 500 single was obsolete. Hitting upon a solution that seemed fair to all, the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs placed before these struggling local makers a contest. This time, the battleground was the drafting board, not the racetrack. Two general parameters were issued: 100.000 km's of serviceable use, and availability by 1966.
To lead this project Guzzi turned to lead engineer Giulio Cesare Carcano, who had designed some of the most successful and dynamic motorcycles in GP history. Vastly underrated, Carcano’s personal belief that aerodynamics and suspension should be developed before horsepower earned respect from riders and foes alike. When Moto Guzzi had extracted all they could from their DOHC, 500cc Gran Prix single, Carcano (assisted by Umberto Todero) unveiled the awesome 500cc V8. A design so advanced, so ahead of its time, that it remains a technical tour de force today.
Some time back, it became chic to for journalists and misinformed authors to link the V7’s alloy lump with the engine fitted the failed Autoveicolo da Montagna, or mechanical mule 3x3 utility tractor. Designed by Antonio Micucci, a two-stroke specialist who joined Guzzi during WWII, the 3x3 did indeed use a 90-degree twin, but one that featured different crankcases and heads. It wasn’t even Guzzi’s first 90 degree-twin, that design being an air-cooled 500cc unit designed for use in the Fiat 500 automobile. Kudos to author Greg Field (assisted by Moto Guzzi historian and VMOL contributor Ivar de Gier) for laying that tired old rumor to rest in his book “Moto Guzzi Big Twins”.
Built with a straightforward, auto-inspired layout, the V7 was a far cry from the lightweight, streamlined racers Carcano was known for. Designed durability and ease of service, characteristics that clinched the contract for Moto Guzzi. In fact, the only other machine considered in the military competition was the Ducati Apollo; a rather amazing 1250cc V4 using four carbs on that familiar L-cylinder configuration. Designed by Fabio Taglioni, the Apollo was deemed excessively complex and expensive, and was too powerful for the tires of the era to withstand. Destined to make a big splash, Taglioni would par-off two of those cylinders to give Ducati a very workable design of its own…
The first prototypes were assembled during 1964, shortly before the death of founder Carlo Guzzi who had given the project his blessing. The chassis offered easy access to the drivetrain and gave the V7 a strong, purposeful looke so. Riding on twin Borrani alloy rims the V7 used large, 4.00” x 18” tires on both ends with a full-width 220mm DLS-drum on the front and a matching SLS on the back.
Spinning inside the right swingarm tube is the V7’s shaft drive, starting a tradition now identified with the Moto Guzzi name. It’s attached via an inline u-joint to a four-speed gearbox that takes its power from a very automotive looking twin-plate dry clutch. Measuring 704cc’s, the V7 is an oversquare 80 x 70mm with four-ring pistons running in hard-chrome plated bores. Running on plain bearings, the one-piece steel crankshaft drives the V7’s camshaft, placed above and in the center of the cylinder splay, via helical gears. Bouncing off the camshaft are four separate pushrods that run up the cylinder’s backside and act on a matching pair of inlet/exhaust rocker arms. Valve sizes are 38.5mm intake, 34.4 exhaust, with fuel provided by a pair of 29mm SS21 remote-reservoir Dell’Orto carburetors. Fitted with a 12-volt system, the V7 came well equipped for police duty with a 300-watt Marelli generator fixed to the top of the crankcase; driven off the nose of the crankshaft using a v-belt.
The success of the prototype was soon cooled by economic misfortune. Creditors could wait no longer, and Moto Guzzi went into receivership February of 1966. A group of Italian bankers known as the IMI took control of the company and immediately sacked the entire workforce, including the legendary Ing. Carcano. The good news was the arrival of Lino Tonti, the brilliant engineer who would later lift Moto Guzzi to even greater heights. Tonti’s hiring came after a new ownership group (SEIMM) had been formed. Although Moto Guzzi had been imported with some success into the US, it was the Berliner Group, headed by the brothers Mike and Joe, who would have a profound effect of the direction of the V7. By securing police contracts and solid marketing, Moto Guzzi gained momentum. With the release of two updated versions: the 750cc Ambassador and 850 Eldorado, Guzzi regained its identity.
The first of the series, the V7 can be identified by its slimmer fuel tank, longer headlight shell, minimal crankcase webbing and ‘peashooter’ mufflers. Seldom seen, these original exhausts did not prove durable and finding exact replacements is difficult. Atypical for most imported V7’s is the accessory leg shields and handlebar faring that were often fitted to magistrate models.
So while the editors at ‘Cycle World’ and ‘Motorcycle Mechanics’ carried on about the V7’s towering presence and substantial girth in 1969, the 500 pound Guzzi now feels light and narrow, allowing your feet to touch pavement with some knee-bend in reserve. To start, find the V7’s twin cam-lever fuel valves, add some choke, stab the throttle twice and twist the key –car fashion- to the right. Once lit, the choke can be rubbed off rather quickly and the Guzzi settles into a gentle, rocking idle. Not always the case, many V7’s fitted the shift rocker under your right foot, so it’s heel down and point toward the road. No surprise, the 700cc twin pushes the V7 up toward your desired speed lazily, with plenty of intake honk thrown in for free. Rated at 50-bhp, it feels like maybe half of that is reaching the back wheel. Police and military units were rated 18-hp less, at 32-bhp (no wonder those guys always looked angry). The gearbox change-up is widely spaced and rather clunky, but it engages positively and the V7 tracks down the highway in confident fashion. I’ve sampled many bikes from this vintage, and the V7’s stability rates it high on the scale. In many ways, the Vee Seven’s porky acceleration is a blessing, especially when it’s time to stop. The full-width, 300mm front drum feels a bit over matched, while the back unit will ignore your request for more friction until it’s fed up and locks the wheel.
Feeling the ‘loops’ represented the old guard at Moto Guzzi, the last versions limped off the assembly line in 1974. A shame, for the V7 and its siblings had gained a loyal following, serving faithfully for the agencies that purchased them in fleets. Striking a perfect chord, the V700 rivaled the quality of the trusted and revered BMW while offering the substance and road holding of the Harley Electra Glide. In this writer’s opinion, production should have continued in harmony with Tonti’s new T-series longer, maintaining the momentum both the Berliner’s and Moto Guzzi worked to hard to establish.
Although cut short in its prime, the V7 still accomplished much. Besides rescuing the proud Guzzi name it ushered in a whole era of big-bore Italian speedsters, grandfathering some of the most beautiful, passionate and exciting motorcycles the world has ever known. For modern riders, the V7 offers a hearty dose of fat-fendered, real steel fun. Nolan Woodbury
Moto Guzzi V700 (1969 specs)
Engine: 703cc 90-degree v-twin
Horsepower: 50 (at crankshaft)
Frame: tubular steel cradle
Brakes: 300 mm dls drum front and sls rear
Weight: 502-lb (dry)
Current Market Value: $4,500-$6,750