Laverda had become an ailing marquee, its famous twins and triples of the early ‘70s were now outclassed and outgunned by the increasingly sophisticated inline-four offerings from Japan, even before the following decade. Although reliable, the 750cc twins and 1000cc triples were now expensive, raw, heavy, needed a commitment to ride fast, and were falling foul of ever tighter emissions regulations… Laverda needed a new bike that would shoot them straight to the top of the technology and riding stakes, their answer was the sophisticated Laverda V6.
Development began as early as 1975 after Massimo Laverda (son of founder, Francesco Laverda) was introduced to automotive engineer, Giulio Alfieri. Known for his work with the famous marquee Maserati, Alfieri had previously developed a 90-degree V6 that was used in the beautiful Maserati Merak. He suggested a similar liquid cooled, 4-valve, twin-cam V6 engine configuration for Laverda, with the possibility of V-four and V-twin modular variants…Massimo Laverda was smitten with the idea and work on the new V6 began in earnest.
Above: Note the pipe in the rear seat unit…the whole unit and seat is pretty much an oil tank
The engine looked like nothing else in the motorcycle industry and was akin to something out of a racing car, especially with its six downdraught Dell’Orto carburettors. The V6 block was mounted lengthways along the bike and with a separate five-speed gearbox at the rear, connected to a shaft-drive.
Traditionally race bikes used a chain final drive, however with endurance racing in mind (something that Laverda had a great history in) reliability was key and there would be less maintenance throughout the race. Not only that, it was simply the best option in terms of space and the Laverda V6 was originally aimed at sports touring.
Technically, the engine was just as special as it looked. To counteract the inherent poor balance of a 90-degree V6 (vibration) and avoid the excess weight of a counter balance, Alfieri designed a counter-rotating clutch and alternator (rotating the opposite way to the crank) that smoothed out the vibrations…with the positive side-effect of cancelling the torque reaction.
The 996cc 24v V6 was also among the first motorcycles to use shim-under-bucket tappets and featured a twin pump dry sump and liquid cooling with dual radiators – one in front of each cylinder bank.
Initial tests of the V6 engine found that it produced 120 bhp, before additional work added an extra 20 bhp giving the Lavera V6 140bhp at just shy of 12,000 rpm…in terms of power per litre, this made it one of the most powerful engines of the time.
Above: The car like Laverda V6 engine
It’s for this reason that the sports touring bike was given the knock on the head, Massimo Laverda knew he had something special in the Laverda V6 and he wanted to race…and to win.
The 1977 prototype featured a steel space frame chassis with the V6 engine as a stressed member. Decked out in the trademark ‘Laverda orange’ fairing and goggle-eyed headlamps, it looked like no other endurance machine before it…you can’t call it beautiful, but it looks purposeful.
Not quite as special as the engine but still top-spec was the running gear. The brake calipers and discs were supplied by Brembo, with handling taken care of by Marzocchi forks and a very beefy looking monoshock.
The monoshock was later dumped because it simply didn’t work and made the prototype un-rideable. The power and torque characteristic of the shaft-drive altered the height of the suspension on acceleration and deceleration, so a new trellis-reinforced steel tube swingarm and magnesium fully-adjustable Marzocchi piggyback shocks were introduced to try and solve the problem, however it remained to a certain degree.
“It’s a very large imposing bike, and long with its 59″ wheelbase, you couldn’t call it beautiful but it looks raw and race ready. I was lucky enough to be allowed to sit on it and boy does it feel dense…very dense and heavy and reminds me of a BMW K100 cafe racer to sit on. The reach is long and you sit in the bike…its sound though is incredible, like a mini Ferrari…” Steve. O&G photographer
It’s first deployment to the race circuit was for the 1978 Bol d’Or 24-hour at the Circuit Paul Ricard. The Laverda V6 was still very much a prototype and despite its incredible sound, friendly, tractable engine and 176 mph top speed on the main straight (20 mph faster than the nearest competitor), it was hampered by its 220-240kg wet weight and soft geometry (59 inch wheelbase!), falling foul to lighter, nimbler race bikes on the bends.
Above: The Laverda V6 still pulls a crowd
Despite their best efforts, Laverda only made it half-way through the race before the ‘fixes’ they had introduced for the rear end after Milan, had placed too much strain on the gearbox/shaftdrive joint causing it to fail.
And so began the downward spiral of what could have been one of the greatest race machines of the last century. Laverda were running into financial difficulties, resulting in a lack of development and ending the possibility of a road going V6 machine. To add further insult to injury, the rules were changed in 1979 that prevented race bikes with more than four cylinders from competing.
Above: Piero Laverda himself riding the Laverda V6
Laverda themselves lost the fight in 1985 after being placed in receivership and trying to survive on their now ancient 750cc twins and 1000cc triples, before finding themselves under government protection. The Laverda V6 race bike (pictured) ended up in Massimo Laverda’s home and can still be seen on the odd parade today, ridden by his son Piero (pictured above).
In the following years, Laverda was revived by Gruppo Zanini and the V6 project was nearly reborn, complete with a cobbled together machine based on 1978 V6 spares and the promise of a production run. However, the bike was incomplete and orders were cancelled…after further woes for the marquee over the years, Laverda disappeared for good.
Above: Laverda V6 and Laverda 750 at play
It’s not all bad news though, the Zanini V6 and all original spares were eventually acquired by the Dutch Laverda Museum who are in the process of building three complete V6 bikes…long live the V6 wail!
All photos by © Oil & Gasoline®