Laverda 650 Ghost Strike


Moto Laverda


The roots of the Laverda Motorcycle company go back to 1873, when Pietro Laverda (1845-1930) decided to start an agricultural engines enterprise in the small rural village of Breganze.

Almost exactly three quarters of a century later, with a spirit of enterprise and feeling the need to improve the situation of an economically underdeveloped region which had suffered badly from two world wars, in October 1949, Pietro’s grandson Francesco founded, Moto Laverda S.A.S – Dottore Francesco Laverda e fratelli .

Assisted by Luciano Zen, and after hours of running the normal agricultural business, Francesco had started in 1947 to design a small motorcycle. Word has it, that some engine parts were cast in Francesco’s kitchen, confirming that at least initially, the project was not regarded as a serious business proposition. What most likely started as an evening pastime garage project of two technical enthusiasts was to become one of the most successful motorcycles in history.

A simple four stroke 75 cc bike with girder forks and a fully enclosed drive chain.

However, the little bike showed promise and so on October 13 1949, the statutes of Moto Laverda were officially submitted to the Chamber of Commerce of Vicenza. Over the next several years, Laverda became well known for building small capacity machines of high quality, durability and relative innovation for the time.

To prove this, right from the beginning they modified their bikes in order to race them in distance and endurance events like the Milan-Taranto . the Giro d’Italia and the Cavalcata delle Dolomiti . In 1951 upon their first entry in the Milan-Taranto . the 75 cc Laverdas finished 4th, 5th, 6th and 10th in their class, racing against renowned marques like Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Alpino, Verga, Cimatti. Navarra, Arditto, Capriolo and Ceccato.

Inspired by these results, and after once again improving their bikes, Laverda entered 20 bikes the following year in the 15th running of the Milan-Taranto in 1952. In this race which covered a distance of 1410 km they took the first five places. The winner was Nino Castellani, L. Marchi came second and F. Diolio came third. In total they had 16 bikes amongst the first 20 of the classification.

Laverda motorcycles thus became a firm favorite among racing clubmen due to their record for reliable performance.

Over the next two decades, Laverda would go on to produce new models of ever increasing capacity and capability, in different sectors of the market. Off-road, trial and motocross machines were developed in conjunction with other manufacturers like Zündapp, BMW and Husqvarna, and were successfully raced. But the real development came in street models, which began to earn a good reputation as classy, low maintenance and quiet motorcycles.

From that first 75 cc single, they eventually went on to produce different bikes ranging from scooters, the Laverdino commuter and eventually to the 200 cc twin.

The big twins

By the late 1960s, Francesco and brothers began sketching out a new breed of large motorcycles that would be built around an all new 650 cc parallel twin engine. The brand was now sufficiently strong and well known, and Francesco’s son Massimo had just returned from the USA where it was clear that sales were dominated by large capacity British and American hardware. Above all this, was a desire to produce a prestigious and powerful machine that could conceivably take on the best and finest from Moto-Guzzi, BMW and the rapidly emerging Japanese.

In November 1966 Laverda exhibited the result of its thinking with the 650 prototype at Earls Court in London. While not an extreme sport bike in any sense, it exhibited all the virtues that Laverda had become synonymous with. At the same time its appearance disrupted the concept of a big bore parallel twin being British built . After this first appearance, Luciano Zen and Massimo Laverda retreated until April 1968, working hard in order to prepare the bike for production.

By now they had developed a 750 cc version too. They were confident enough to enter four examples in the prestigious Giro d’Italia . Two 650 and two 750 machines provided Laverda with victory for the 650 in her class, with three bikes finishing in the first 6 and all in the top 10! Two weeks after this victory the first 650 cc production models left the factory.

The bikes carried the finest components available at the time, from British Smiths instruments, Pankl con-rods, Ceriani suspension, Mondial pistons, to Bosch electrical parts and (revolutionary at the time!) Japanese Nippon-Denso starter, thus eliminating the one problem plaguing nearly all contemporary British and Italian motorcycles at the time: their electrical unreliability. The 650 cc offered superior comfort and stability with its handling at least equivalent to the competition.

Of course, it also carried a high price. It is difficult to quantify production quantities since frame numbering was shared with the 750 launched in May 1968 – as few as 52 or up to 200 Laverda 650 cc were produced.


The SF evolved to include disc brakes and cast alloy wheels. Developed from the 750S road bike was the 750 SFC ( super freni competizione ), a half-faired racer that was developed to win endurance events like the Oss 24 hours . Barcelona 24 hours and the Bol D’Or at Le Mans. This it did, often placed first, second and third in the same race, and dominating the international endurance race circuit in 1971.

Distinguished by its characteristic orange paint which would become the company’s race department colour, its smooth aerodynamic fairing and upswept exhaust, the SFC was Laverda’s flagship product and best advertisement, flaunting pedigree and the message of durability, quality, and exclusivity. The SFC Series 15,000 was featured in the Guggenheim Museum in New York’s 1999 exhibit the Art of the Motorcycle as one of the most iconic bikes of the 1970s.

The triples

By the late 1960s, Laverda was facing increasingly sophisticated and powerful competition from the Japanese. While launching their new 750 cc model range in 1968, the company turned its attention to a revolutionary project: new three-cylinder powerplant, which was first shown as a prototype at the Milan and Geneva shows in 1969.

After extensive testing, modifications, and mechanical engineering, the company finally unveiled the new liter-class, 3-cylinder bike in competition at the Zeltweg race in Austria. The bike that went into production shortly later in 1972 was recognisable as a motorcycle of the modern era, but it was still configured in a conservative layout, sharing some of the features of the earlier SF/SFC models, such as the high-quality alloy castings and distinctive styling.

The 981 cc triple provided more power than the outgoing twins, with not much more weight. Its heavy clutch and tall seat height helped develop its reputation as a Hard Man’s bike.

British importer Roger Slater worked with the factory to develop a high-performance version of the bike, the Jota, which soon gained the accolade of the World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle after it was road tested at 140 mph (230 km/h). It won many production-class races in the UK and impressed the motorcycle press enough to guarantee its place in Laverda’s history.

A unique factor regarding the three-cylinder engines up to 1982 is that they featured a 180-degree crankshaft arrangement, whereby one piston would be at the top of its stroke, and two at the bottom. This purposefully out-of-phase design gave the 1000 cc Laverdas a unique and appealing sound . a special riding character and a brutish behaviour. The engine evolved into a smoother, rubber mounted 120 degree configuration in 1982.

The middleweight twins

Laverda launched a smaller 500 cc twin cylinder 8-valve entry-level machine named the Alpina in 1977 (quickly renamed Alpino due to trademark infringement and Zeta in the USA). It come with a six speed gearbox and balancer shaft. A 350 cc version of the Alpino was also available from November 1977 – primarily designed for the home Italian market where a high tax was payable for machines over 350 cc.

This was followed by the improved Alpino S and Formula 500 racer in 1978, to support a single model race series. Its import into the UK led Roger Slater to develop the Montjuic in 1979 which was a road legal F500 with lights, sidestand instruments. It evolved into the mk2 in 1981 was a cult bike due to its radical appearance extremely noisy exhaust.

EEC noise restrictions saw its demise by 1983. Tellingly, Massimo Laverda said that each Alpino sold lost the factory money. Then somewhere in the mid eighties an enduro frame was built, fit with a 500 engine. It was liked so much that it was decided to build it in series: the Atlas was born, a bit longer stoke compared to the 500 so its capacity grew to 570 cc and with improved oilcooling.

In 1986 around 300 white frame bikes were built, then 100 blue framed ones until 1988.After the rearranging of the company about 50 red frame machines were built in 1989.

The beginning of the end

By the 1980s the European motorcycle industry as a whole was reeling from Japanese competition, causing many companies like NVT (the amalgamated surviving British companies Norton, Triumph, and BSA), Moto-Guzzi, and many others to struggle or disappear completely. Laverda attempted to update their product line by introducing the RGS sports tourer in 1983, a stylish and modern looking machine with clever features like unbreakable Bayflex plastic mouldings; fuel filler in the fairing; integrated but removable luggage (Executive version), and adjustable footpeg position. In 1985 came the SFC 1000 sports model – a badge engineered attempt based on the RGS to reprise the hallowed SFC name.

Underneath the new skin were engines and technologies that were 10 years out of date, and worst of all, over priced when compared to the lighter, faster, cheaper and more advanced Japanese bikes. As an example, in 1983 the Montjuic mk2 cost the same as the 4 cylinder, 100 bhp (75 kW) Kawasaki Z1000J. On the race tracks too, victory on anything other than a Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki was if not impossible, a kind fluke.

Flirtations with a highly complex aluminum framed, 350cc 3 cylinder two-stroke and the famous but unsuccessful V6 endurance racer were exciting to see but sucked up enormous resources that the small factory could not afford. To make matters worse, the motorcycle industry in general was in trouble as sales dropped, and as the two Japanese industry giants engaged in what is now known as the Honda-Yamaha War in a bid for global supremacy by unleashing unbelievably advanced new models at a furious rate, often at a loss. In these conditions, the Laverda family bowed out by 1985.

With the SFC, orange became the standard colour of Laverda’s racers.

Some were pure factory racers, such as the 1000 cc triple factory racers built from 1972 through 1975 and of course the fabulous V6 in 1978. 1978 also saw the Formula go in production. The 500 Formula was a real cup racer based on the 500cc DOHC 8 valve twin.

In the eighties, Laverda did the same with the LB UNO, a 125cc 2-stroke which is a less spectacular bike than the 4-stroke racers of the seventies, but just like the Formula 500, good for very close and spectacular races.


Bol d’Or 1974 – The factory prepares one triple factory racer for this race. The frame is a mix between standard 3C frame which was modified at the rear, and that of a late SFC. Just look at the swinging arm which was also used on the triple endurance racers that followed in 1975.

The man standing next to the bike is chief mechanic Nino Caretta.

Laverda 650 Ghost Strike

Here’s a picture of a three cylinder factory racer which was probably taken end of 1974. We see the first version of the space frame. Note the pickups of the electronic ignition. The machine is equipped with three absolutely gorgeous megaphones. It is very well possible that this engine contained a 120 degree crankshaft since three coils are fitted.

If anybody knows more about this exotic version I would love to hear it!

Barcelona 1975 – two of the three triple ‘space frame’ triples at Montjuic. Marco Lucchinelli is the man standing under the 29 sign. He was one of the riders.

Others were Brettoni, Gallina and Fougeray.

These racers had a duplex chain.

Needs no introduction, here it is pictured at Montlhéry in France where Augusto Brettoni rode it in May 1997. Everybody who was so lucky to be there was stunned, and I was maybe the luckiest. Read more about the V6 in Stephen Battisson’s pages (see links).

Takeovers and rebirth

In 1993, millionaire Francesco Tognon bought everything, thus saving the company and setting up what looked like the first serious attempt in a decade to relaunch the brand. Over the next 5 years, they launched a small selection of new sports models based on a thorough redo of the bulletproof DOHC 650 cc parallel twin derived from the old Alpino, upped to 668 cc and clothed in contemporary superbike livery.

These bikes were outfitted with Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection, Brembo Gold Line brakes, fully adjustable Paioli suspension (White Power on some models), state of the art hollow spoke Marchesini wheels and a modern beam or trellis frame. The series were the equal of their direct Italian competition from the likes of Ducati, but much more exclusive. With 65 bhp (48 kW) available at the rear wheel and a very rev-happy engine, these bikes were nothing like traditional parallel twins.

Within a year and a half, a larger, water cooled 750 appeared with a new engine in an aluminum beam chassis developed by frame specialist Nico Bakker, which boasted very fine handling and finish quality.

At successive international motorcycle shows, Laverda displayed mockups of new models they were planning to build, including an all new, 900 cc liquid cooled 3 cylinder engine; The 750 roadster variants Ghost and Strike ; the Lynx . a small, naked roadster with a Suzuki 650 cc V twin motor; and finally the 800TTS trail/enduro, which aimed to take on the likes of the Cagiva Grand Canyon and Honda Transalp. Tantilizing promises, but in the face of fierce competition and under-powered engines, the venture failed after only five years. This time, at least, not for lack of trying and with some decent hardware to show for it.

The Aprilia takeover

Along with historical rival Moto-Guzzi. the Laverda motorcycle brand was purchased by Aprilia S.p.a (another Italian motorcycle manufacturer based in the same region) in 2000, restructured and incorporated into the Aprilia Group. Several projects that had been in development and the existing two motorcycles in production, were cancelled.

Aprilia founded a new Laverda division business unit which shortly after began importing low cost Asian scooters and quads and selling them under the Laverda brand name, a development which upset traditional Laverda fans, who felt it diluted the prestige and quality of the original motorcycle company. It seems clear that this was an initiative designed to fund development of new motorcycles, but it ultimately didn’t work, most likely because they were sold only in the scooter saturated Italian market, and because the brand name didn’t resonate with buyers on that level.

In 2003, Laverda presented a new SFC prototype, based on a heavily revised Aprilia RSV1000 at the Milan EICMA motorcycle show. While stunning in many aspects, in particular the attention to component and mechanical detailing, it did not generate enough positive interest to merit further development. Traditionalists scoffed at the re/use of the Aprilia engine and cycle parts, nicknaming the machine the Laprilia.

The thread connecting this ultra-high cost and exclusive superbike with garden variety scooters of Asian origin was also unclear, confusing the brand image further still.

By this point, the Aprilia Group was in dire financial condition and would itself be sold to Piaggio. the giant scooter manufacturer of Vespa fame and longtime Aprilia rival only one year later. Piaggio elected to quietly close all activities related to the Laverda brand, and has publicly stated that they would be willing to sell the rights to the brand if an investor should appear. Today, the brand is no longer in use.


Die cast metal

Makes a present or can be added to a collectors collection!

Brand New in Box


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