Moto Guzzi 850 Eldorado
It might have dominated the world’s racetracks in the mid-1950s, but the subsequent decade saw Moto Guzzi teeter on the brink of disaster.
The company’s string of chequered flags ended in 1957 when Australia’s Keith Campbell won the 1957 350cc World Championship. Campbell had more cause for celebration as Australia’s first road racing world champion.
Away from the thrills and champagne spills of racing, Moto Guzzi prospered by producing ordinary bikes in large quantities, but its complacent company directors completely underestimated the significance of the Fiat 500.
Italy’s economic prosperity in the mid-1960s saw a cultural shift from basic motorcycles to small cars as a means of mass transportation.
In addition, much of Moto Guzzi’s plant and machinery was out of date by this time, and the company almost followed dozens of other Italian manufacturers into extinction.
Moto Guzzi was instead saved in 1967 by the V7, a model distinguished by its transversely mounted 90-degree 700cc V-twin with shaft drive, which arrived when the company was better known for its horizontal singles. The V7’s layout has since become a Moto Guzzi trademark and continues to form the basis of all models.
Designed by Giulio Cesare Carcano, the engineer behind the DOHC V8 Grand Prix racer, the V7’s engine was extremely advanced for its day and is remarkably similar to the current 1400cc variants apart from overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder.
The all-alloy engine included pushrod-operated overhead valves, with the camshaft between the cylinders. Unlike most motorcycle engines of the time, the one-piece steel crankshaft used plain big-end and main bearings.
Ignition was by battery and coil, with an automotive-type distributor driven off the rear of the camshaft. The clutch and final drive followed automotive rather than traditional motorcycle practice.
Bolted to the rear of the crankshaft was a flywheel and twin-plate dry clutch. The final drive was by shaft inside the righthand side of the swingarm. A universal joint was connected to the gearbox layshaft and the rear of the driveshaft to a pair of bevel gears. It was rugged and reliable.
There were calls for more displacement from the US – the V7’s largest market – and for 1968 the engine grew to 757cc for the 750 Ambassador.
The next evolution came in 1972 when Moto Guzzi launched its 850cc big tourer, the 850 GT, or Eldorado as it was known in the US, which lasted just two years in production.
Output was up to a respectable 65 horsepower at 6500rpm and there was now a five-speed gearbox, but some anachronistic features remained, such as the belt-driven Marelli dynamo.
The Eldorado’s chassis was inherited from the V7 with the large-loop frame designed for strength over lightness, and 18-inch wheels front and rear.
Some examples retained the V7’s twin-leading shoe front brake, while others included the more effective four leading shoe type of the contemporary V7 Sport.
One thing that didn’t change was the size and weight. The 850 GT was built to last, and weighed a considerable 235kg. Even so, it was capable of reaching 190km/h in the right conditions, and was the mainstay of Moto Guzzi’s line-up during 1972 and 1973.
By 1974 a disc replaced the front drum brake, but by now Alessandro de Tomaso was in control and a new era of production rationalisation had begun.
De Tomaso wanted to end all twin-cylinder production to concentrate on the Honda-derived four- and six-cylinder models and the 850 GT was the last of the large loop-frame Guzzis. But tradition dies hard at Maranello and this wasn’t the end of the twin.
While the multis withered away, the big twin survived, but not the loop-frame 850 GT and Eldorado. Replaced by the 850 T, the next generation of twins had the sportier Tonti frame and this saw Guzzi through the next couple of decades.
While not particularly rare, the Moto Guzzi loop-frame big twins, like this 1972 850 Eldorado, still offer exceptional cruising ability with long-term reliability.
They were designed to run for long mileages, and with big seats and high handlebars provide exceptional touring comfort. Other Guzzis may be more glamorous, but the loop-frame twins are for the touring cognoscenti.
Moto Guzzi 850 Eldorado
- Contrary to popular perception, the real predecessor to the Moto Guzzi V7 engine was a Fiat 500cc car engine designed by the great engineer Giulio Carcano in 1958, and not Micucci’s 3×3 Autoveicolo da Montagna.
- It was the tender for a new police motorcycle during 1963 to replace the 500cc Falcone single that gave Moto Guzzi a reason to create the V7.
- Testing by the Italian police and military began in 1966 and the V7 won the contract ahead of offerings from Benelli, Gilera and Laverda.
- The designation V7 came from the V layout and the initial capacity of 700cc. And as unlikely as it may seem, V7s were entered in occasional production races during 1970.
- The V7’s career really took off in 1970 when, after a series of stringent tests, the Moto Guzzi V7 Police won the selection to enter the Los Angeles Police Department fleet. This was the first time a foreign motorcycle had won a police contract in the US.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
– New $1675 (1972)
– Fair $10,000
– Mint $20,000
A good site for Guzzis:
My favourite forum is Wild Guzzi: