Marshal's Laverda Jota 1000: the two-wheeled Lamborghini
Enthusiasts claim that if Ducati is the Ferrari of motorcycles, then Laverda is the Lamborghini equivalent. Shannons Club member Marshal Shaw is lucky enough to own one of the finest examples of this rare breed: the triple-cylinder Laverda Jota 1000.
There are numerous parallels between Laverda and Lamborghini. They are both classic Italian marques; both were established as manufacturers of agricultural equipment; both expanded into production of largely hand-built high-performance automotive exotica in relatively small numbers; and both created a model called ‘Jota’ which we’ll expand on a little later.
But first, a brief history. Although it vanished long ago (another parallel with Lamborghini which narrowly avoided the same fate!) Moto Laverda was established in 1949 in Breganza, a small town in the rural north-east of Italy. However, the family roots of this enterprise can be traced to 1873, when patriarch Pietro Laverda established a company bearing his name to manufacture farming equipment.
His enterprising grandson, Francesco, established Moto Laverda in response to an urgent need for cheap and economical transport in post-war Europe. Following the successful launch of its first production motorcycle, a 75cc four-stroke, Moto Laverda continued the Breganza factory’s tradition of design innovation and high build quality as it expanded into scooters and larger capacity twins.
By the late 1960s, Laverda had stepped up to the big-bore performance market, initially with a 650cc twin followed by numerous 750cc versions. These fast and robust machines played to Laverda’s strengths in international endurance racing in the early 1970s. This was also when bright orange was established as the firm’s competition colour.
In 1973 Laverda entered the emerging ‘superbike’ class with a new 981cc inline three-cylinder engine, which it considered to be an ideal compromise between the lighter weight but lower output of a parallel-twin and the increased weight/width but higher output of an inline-four.
The handsome Italian triple also featured chain-driven dual overhead camshafts and a 180-degree (aka flat-plane) crankshaft which gave this engine its unique exhaust note and pulsating character.
It produced a more than competitive 85bhp (63kW) which allowed Laverda’s new 1000 model to exceed a stunning 130mph (210km/h), even though its rock-solid build quality contributed to a hefty 233kg dry weight that was heavier than contemporaneous Japanese rivals like the Honda CB750 and Kawasaki 900 Z1.
The 1000 3C was released the following year with dual Brembo front disc brakes replacing the original drum, followed by the 1000 3CL (with the L denoting lega or alloy in Italian) in 1975 featuring Laverda’s own lightweight alloy wheel castings and a rear disc brake.
Which brings us to the sublime Jota 1000 featured here. It’s arguably the most iconic of all models produced during the Laverda family’s hands-on ownership. For a life-long motorcycle aficionado like Marshal Shaw, who owns an eclectic choice of bikes including BMW, Kawasaki and Ducati, this small-volume Italian marque left a lasting impression from childhood.
“I saw my first orange Laverda when I was about 10 or so and I thought it was just the best-looking motorcycle I’d ever seen,” he recalls. “From that day on I always longed for one, but it wasn’t until more recently I was finally able to make it happen.”
It’s easy to understand Marshal’s enduring admiration for Laverda and in particular the definitive Jota 1000. Based on the 1000 3CL, its origins can be traced to England in the mid-1970s where brothers Richard and Roger Slater were Laverda’s UK importers.
With a solid background in motorcycle racing and bike development, the Slater Brothers immediately saw potential in the 3CL and produced a competition package for it called the 3CE (E for England).
With factory-supplied high-compression pistons, 4C racing camshafts and a locally-designed exhaust system producing around 90bhp, combined with reduced fork rake for sharper handling, the 3CE was such a good package that Laverda agreed to produce a production version (initially for the UK only) in 1976.
It was called the Jota, a name suggested by Roger Slater and heartily welcomed by the Laverda board, which described an ancient gypsy dance in triple time. Interestingly, Jota is also how the letter J is pronounced in Spanish, which is why Lamborghini chose the Jota name for a track-focused prototype of its V12 Miura, given that it was designed to conform with competition regs under Appendix J in the FIA rulebook.
In any case, the powerful Laverda Jota was claimed to be the first production motorcycle to exceed a then staggering 140mph (225km/h) off the showroom floor. Not surprisingly, it dominated British production bike racing in the late 1970s, winning the premier championship four times in five years between 1976 and 1980.
Refinement of the Jota continued during that exciting period, but in 1982 the essential character of the original was lost after the factory swapped to a 360-degree crankshaft with a much smoother 120-degree firing sequence. However, by then the European motorcycle industry was being crushed under the weight of Japan’s market dominance and many firms went bust, including Laverda.
So, given estimates that only a few thousand examples of the original ‘180-degree’ Jota were produced, the need to preserve or rescue/restore the survivors is paramount. Marshal’s example was indeed fortunate to have been rescued and given a complete ground-up restoration by Red Cawte, who with wife Maxene runs the world-renowned Redax Laverda.
This small Queensland-based firm’s expertise in restoring and maintaining Laverdas, to concours standards if required, is second to none and attracts customers from around the globe. Marshal’s 1981 Jota was discovered by Red in a farm shed in Serbia of all places (long story). It was literally a pile of parts, given that the bike had previously been disassembled, so Red bought and shipped the whole lot back home.
During its meticulous high-dollar rebuild for a customer, with Red’s good mate Paul Casson in charge of reassembly, everything on the bike was either replaced or refurbished, without a single component left untouched. Although it was returned to as close to the original specification as possible, Marshal’s Jota benefitted from numerous Redax engineering tweaks to optimise its performance.
Highlights included discreet frame-bracing and upgraded forks and springs, plus a reworked 180-degree engine bored to 1145cc with Ross Racing pistons, Carillo rods, F1 camshafts and Mikuni RS 36mm flat-slide carburettors on an angled billet-alloy inlet manifold replacing the original Dell-Ortos.
The result was sublime. Soon after completion it won the Queensland Laverda concours but saw little use after that. Eventually it was offered for sale, which was timely given Marshal was looking for such a peerless example at the time. Red put him in touch with the owner, a deal was done and Marshal’s life-long dream of Laverda Jota ownership finally became a reality.
“It performs beautifully,” he says. “Because it’s quite heavy, it’s not suited to lots of slow bends or race tracks with tight layouts. It’s really a long-legged bike designed for long, fast sweepers like the Isle of Man where it can really stretch its legs. The engine has ample power and so much torque you don’t need to change gears very often.
“The only thing I’ve done is convert it from the standard right-side gearshift (common on classic European and British bikes) to the left-side, because it can get confusing when you’re focused on riding it hard. The gear change is also very precise, so you need to be spot-on there. It’s a real European thoroughbred.”
Not unexpectedly, Marshal says the rarely-sighted but unmistakable orange glow of his Laverda creates a lot of interest from fellow riders wherever he goes. Not surprising really - it’s not every day you see a two-wheeled Lamborghini!View Marshal's Shannons Club Garage and Connect with marshal