Laverda SFC 750 : Italy's Endurance Racing Icon
Massimo Laverda will always be remembered as one of Italy's patron saints of motorcycle racing, having determined that "racing always imporves the breed". Massimo was always willing to expain his philosophy of motorcycles to anyone ready to listen. Massimo often talked about design concepts that made each of his Laverda's able to fight for a win, without making the rider fight his machine.
Many years ago in a interview with "Motociclismo" Massimo stated "The advertising value of races, be they great or small, is immense and at the technical level the expereince of racing can certainly lead to an improvement in production bikes. I maintain however that the most immediate and pratical effect can be derived from endurance racing and our sporting efforts are always in that field."
At the point in time 1969 the entire concept of what a motorcycles performance could be was being redefined by Honda's introduction of the CB750 / 4cylinder. It was at this point that the european motorcycle industry scrambled to respond. But it would almost 3 years before the majority of the Italian motorcycle industry could deliver a 750cc engine designs to motorcycle consumers. Laverda had only just introduced a 650cc twin, but Massimo knew it was still not enough power.
The SFC Legend is Born
Laverda's debut of the big "750 twin" came in June 1969 in a 24 hour race on a 2 mile street circuit in the town of Oss in southern Holland. Massimo took 3 race machines and one for testing. The Laverda's ran faster in pratice than the Honda's, Ducatis and Guzzi. So as not to attract attention Massimo and his good friend Brettoni entered the race under assumed names. When it was all over and even with a holed piston Massimo & Brettoni finished 4th overall behind the winning Honda, and grabbed a class victory ! These machines were the fore runners of what would become Laverda's famous 750 production legend the SFC.
Massimo's passion for racing, pushed constant efforts for development of the 750 as a racing package. Gave his team riders the zest to always reach for the top step on the podium. Up until this time Laverda only had been know for racing small engines. Laverda's list of victories and podiums during the early 1970's was truly a accomplishment that grows larger when viewed in the framework of time. All Laverda's are still known for being tougher than nails, and almost indestructable. Many 750's and 3cyl 1000cc motors have been pushed past 100,000 miles and never required a rebuild !
Unlike todays endless racing calendar that never seems to end. In the late 1960's and 1970's endurance races were few. Also there was no world championship of superbikes, or endurance racing. Many of the races that Laverda's 750's won do not exist today. The Modena 500Km, Monza 500km, 24Hrs of Oss, 500km of Vallelunga,. Or really legendary international events that saw Laverda victories. Such as the Montjuich 24hrs. Where in 1971, Laverda's finished 1st , 3rd and 4th.
The SFC's abilities and development history
When we look at the SFC model history there are three distinct models. What is more important is that there were only 549 built over a period of about 5 years. Laverda produced over 19,000 750 twins In a modern world where 500 race bikes is small, for a single production year. The SFC could be had by anyone will to show up with the cash. Massimo wanted everyone racing. If you had the desire Laverda would make it possible.
Today's Ducati 999R & 749R's, now offering that same type of possibility to modern day racers. Only difference being that even early SFC's in many cases sell for more than both the Ducati 749R and even Ducati's 999R's $32,000+ USD price tag. Ducati's rise to dominace in late 1980's, produced more world superbike championships than any other motorcycle company in Japan or Europe ! Also supported world sales growth, because it followed in the path of offering race bred product as well as race ready products to consumers.
Laverda's 750SFC is actually more famous, and more sought after than many other famous bikes of that period. The best example of this fact is we look at the much over rated MV Agusta 750. The MV Agusta 750 ( chain drive ) in its only race in 1972, lost to a little know Italian 750 V-twin. That was Paul Smart, and the Ducati 750SS !
MV Agusta was so embarssed that it never raced the 750 again. SFC's exhibited the amazing ability to be race ready right out of the box. No special parts were required to be installed. Just gas and oil. Prices on SFC's continue to raise. The 2 most sought after Italian motorcycles by Japanese collectors in particular are Laverda's SFC 750 & Ducati 750SS (round case only) The SFC being much faster on the track in it's original production from.
SFC-1..........the birth of a legend
The SFC first generation engine was really the first race version of the original SF, but the SFC was a real production racing animal from the ground up. But inside the engine very different. There are very few parts that are interchangeable with the GT, S and SF road models. The early SFC's came standard with a special piston, giving a compression ratio of 9.8 to1. Also very visible to be seen on historically correct SFC's are the Spanish made Amal 36mm Carbs.
The SFC-1 ( above) is currently listed for Sale at Cycletrader.com
The SFC got special racing considerations all the way down the line. Parts for the SFC's were hand selected and given heat-treatment, offering the max in realibility. SFC's have all kinds of special hidden value added features, starting inside the engine. Both main and big end roller bearings were of a much higher specification, just for the demands for endurance of 24hr racing. Not to mention a larger capicity oil pump to ensure that bearing never ran dry. Now add to that a close ratio gear box.
Massimo's dedication to quality seemed endless, as each motor was built to true race tolerances, and prepared to give a minimum of 70bhp at 7500rpm. The SFC motor could be counted on to produce speeds of 125-128 lap after lap. Now days that may seem like slow motion. But combined with the best suspension and massive brakes allowed Laverda racers to seemly never slow down, just downshift and flick left or right and hold maximum revs and drive away from the competition.
The SFC's fame looks similar to the SF frame, but not at all the same. Confussed? The SFC frame has dramaticly greater more bosses and also the bracketing is different. The actual hardness of the frame tubing is dramticly stronger. Like all Laverda's, the SFC has a great center stand, but no lift handle. The seat on the SFC is similar in size to that of a racing bicycle in size, and comfort. The battery tray is also larger, and there are brackets for the signature SFC faring. Still one of the most beautiful, and most functional. In that it acts to directly create a kind of barge board effect in streaming cool air over the engine. While directing the air stream more cleanly around the rider. Much less buffetting.
When we see early SFC's it is hard to remember that in the early 1970's drum brakes were still the state of the art. Disc brakes were just becoming viable, except in the highest levels of GP machines. So Laverda fitted a very strong 230mm -drum brake as standard. They work very well and reflect the endurance, and production style of racing of that period. Scrubbing off a little speed or in emergency situations. In some cases engine braking was all that was needed in setting up for a turn. Down shift once or twice and back on the gas.
Lavereda spared no expense on any componets. Ceriani 35mm forks were standard and the rear shocks were also Ceriani. Ceriani were considered to be the best the industry offered to the racing community at the time. As they provided handling that improved as the speeds went into the triple digits. Harsh on freeways at speeds of 55 to 65mph.
Early SFC ran a different exhaust system to the later models. Some ran the short down pipes and very very long open megaphones. As 1971 came to a close the design shifted to longer down pipes, and shorter megaphones. These ran beside the engine rather than under. In 1972 Laverda created a much heavier street exhaust system. This system was designed for street use and featured a cross over tube that ran under the engine sump. Along with a set of very heavy steel silencers. This system is often found on many American, Canadian and some UK models.
The SFC has a sound that rivals many automotive race engines, in terms of total sound output. Many export markets were asking for a lower decible levels. So of course when you pile on the iron to make "john law" happy, you create a heavier and slower animal. The steel silencers with the cross over system you lose performance.
Early SFC's perfromance personality
The power curve of the street exhaust feels like your streaching a rubber band. The added weight suddenly makes the SFC feel like a single cyclinder machine. The loss of ground clearence is another real problem as well. Laverda also made 3 versions of megaphones for racing that could be fitted for complementing the power curve and the tracks layout.
Riding the early version SFC's is much like riding on a TZ250, as far as turning and handling. It is short and will crank around any corner, provided you are agressive about steering input. As the rake and trail are familar for racing motorcycles of the late1960's. The engine feels almost like a locomotive, but once in it's rev zone it is willing to allow the rider to maintain speed with just downshift and a flick left or right.
As mentioned before, you can punish the Laverda engines forever and they just keep going.
The bikes feels lazy when compared to today's ultra high reving 4cylinder buzz bombs. This early short version SFC is a little jumpy at triple digit speeds over ripples, but swallows large bumps very well. Leaned over it is stable and even rolling on throttle does not upset the SFC. It does not take any real effort to ride.
It is not made for downtown traffic, or freeway usage. The brakes like all drum brakes provide good feedback but not made for panic stops. The early version SFC we see in the photos, exaclty as it was left the track after finishing the Monza Classic 100Km race in the late 1980's. Built with all new internals just for that race.
1974 Massimo unleashes the next SFC
In 1974 Massimo released what is the second version of the SFC. This version is on sight clearly different as we see the introduction of the Brembo disc brakes and also 38mm Ceriani forks. But not seen is a new magnesium rear wheel hub ! The fuel tank now takes a dramatic styling change. As it becomes a new signature styling symbol of all future SFC's. A long low and slim shape. Also enhancing the design appeal of the SFC is an newly revised half fairing, and side panels that shroud lower and longer frame. Now many people are not aware that there was a difference in frame length between the 1st SFC's and the later models. That means of course that the wheel base was slightly longer on versions 2 and later. Why?
As we mentioned early on Massimo was driven to gleen every advantage possible for improving the SFC for racing and this frame change came from a need to get better handling that was a result of lower center of gravity. So when I mentioned the problem that the new style street exhaust created with less ground clearence, you can see that the SFC was really not intended to use the politically correct "quiet" exhaust and still race. On tight tracks the short chassis was great, but on longer tracks at top speeds the SFC was twitchy some times on bumpy surfaces.
SFC's all new engine.......1974
The new SFC also enjoyed the benefits of a new lighter crankshaft. The new version engine also was given the addtional boost of larger valves. The new valves were 41.5 on the inlet side, and 35.5 on the exhaust side. Other quiet design changes, were things like changing the spark plug angles, and a new CAM and pistons were also giving the engine more horses. Once again many would be collectors are turly unaware of these differences.
Now the compression raito is bumped up to 10.5 to1 To help create a better combustion process, there was a real need to deliver more fuel. So a pair of Dell'Orto carburettors, but minus pump jets was added. Now the net gain from the redesign was anywhere from 5-10 hp, extra depending on the final tuning. So you could count on 75-80hp at the 7500 rpm level. Of course this is with the race exhaust. Speeds of 130-135 were now easy.
1974 SFC model version differences.
In 1974 there were about 222 of these new "Disc Brake / Points" models were built and of that group there are some estimates that between 50 to 100 made it to the USA and Canada. This model batch are easy to identify as they also have the CEV style taillight, rather than the round version. But even more strange was the fact that these models shipped to the America's were fitted with the big round Jota Nippon-Denso instruments, and instead of the real racing clip-ons, mounted the standard Jota handle bars !! Not to mention turn light indicators, mirror and side reflectors.
My first SFC was a 1974 model, and had all of these strange racing extras. Many of which were not allowed on the track. So I dumped the "boat anchor", cross over street exhaust, and contact my friend in Italy and got 2 different open mega phone exhaust systems.
One with short down tubes as well to help tweak the power curve for the track I was racing. Just this combination allowed me to grab more power in places I could not before. Along with a half turn race throttle was a great combination.
1975 introduction of SFC Electronica........the fastest SFC's
Just no sooner had the Laverda community around the world gotten delivery of the new engine 1974 model, then Laverda pushed forward for what would be the 3rd and fastest version of the SFC. Now there are so many Laverda people who think that all SFC;s are creadted equal......Not ! As we have seen the changes to the SFC have been extensive. But most owners are not aware of this. As so often is the case, many are defensive if they do not have the latest and greatest version of a particular hot bike.
Many SFC owners ride there machines only a few miles each year and are suffering from the cronic italian owners syndrom.....I might break it, if I ride it to fast. Yes as crazy as this sound it is true. The 750 Laverda motor is one of the strongest and toughest motors ever made. Many people who ride a SFC for the first time, comment that the bike does not "feel" fast. The motor has a lazy sound when compared to a CB750 Honda or other Jap 4 cylinder motors. Laverda produced tractors for many years and as such, they reflect the basic strength of a traction motor.
For 1975 the changes to the motor were again major. The first and most visible was seen on the left side of the engine. The twin contact breaker point system was dropped for a new electronic ignition system. when you look at the side cover the entire shape is totally different. There is a small polished housing and a all new magnesium primary chaincase side cover. This replaced the long time shape seen on all SFC's except for these1975 & 1976 models.
Next is another complete change to the cylinder head, this is so significant that there were different barrels as well as new pistons. These are not readily usable on the 1974 models. So onced again we see major step up in perfromance. Up until the 1975 model a oil cooler was not standard, but now it became a factory item. There are only 130 of these machine known as Electronica versions.
The late 1975 SFC's were the final version, these were fitted with Massimo's own thyin-web cast alloy wheel. This was an option. In 1976 only 30 SFC's were built.
Also again there was a special cam that was and additional optional extra. this cam raised the peak rpm and peak power. Laverda never quoted a top speed for the Electronica, but it was given a 2 way mean top speed of 138.
Also the SFC's that were exported to the UK, USA & Canada were converted over from a single Smith's Tach to the Nippon-Denso instruments. Why? requirements of the DOT in the USA required a speedo, as well as netural light and nite lite instruments. Now days many owners are going to great trouble to take the Nippon-Denso instruments off in order to make their SFC look like a ex-factory bike. Most of the export SFC's never made it to the race tracks in America. Never the less SFC's are now approaching the point of cult status.
Riding the best version SFC
This last version SFC is truly a confidence inspiring racer, very stable in almost any situation and the better ignition system makes for better hard throttle response. the larger carbs, and special cam put a real snap into the engine that you will not get from the 1974 and early versions. At speed the wind will allow a kind of floating of the riders upper body and there is little or no weight on the wrists. The Brembo brakes are eye poping. The advent of new tire compunds really makes many high performance bikes from the 60's and 1970's unveil a level of handling in extreme situations that could not be reached with the old Dunlop models.
The SFC will embarrass many a modern owner in a twisting enviorment. Not to mention stir a strong sense of outright envy as the Jap bikes of any period just have no sole. Never stirring any emotion. Massimo used to say to me that people should love Laverda's for what they are, and.....what Japanese motorcycles never will be!
Superbike Age: Overshadows SFC's racing abilities
Laverda was such a small motorcycle company that it's ability to create a variety of great engine designs, was truly remakable. The SFC's status was over shadowed by Laverda 's 1000cc, 3cylinder, JOTA. Winning the first ever international superbike championship title. The AVON Championship in 1976, 1978 & 1979. Peter Davies on the Slater Bros. prepared machine. In 1977 the series was won by Guzzi's 850 LeMans, if memory serves me. The AVON series was seen as so important, that Honda built the CBR1100RR just to wrist the title away from Laverda. The only race series to allow only a single entry to each factory represented in the race.
Ducati's 900ss never was successful in the AVON series. Aprilia never produced any motorcycle engines above 250cc until the late 1990's.Guzzi's 850 LeMans, had to be streached almost the moment it came out of the factory. MV Agusta never went beyond a 850cc version of the 750 engine vanished from even GP racing within on a few years. Even the SFC's racing life was very short, but productive.
Honda got rule changes in the AVON series to allow 1100cc engines and also unlimited number of entries per factory. These rule changes allowed Honda finally take the Avon title in the last couple of years that the AVON series existed. This short period of about 10 years was when popularity of production racing gave birth to what we now know today as superbike.
Making Laverda, Italy's leader of superbikes more than 12 years before the WSB championship existed. Some14 years before Ducati's 851 won it's first superbike title 1990. Massimo Laverda seemed to always be blazing a trail. The result has seen superbikes become almost more dominate than Moto GP. Why? Because of the dogma.....what you of race on sunday, you sell on monday.
We hope our look back at Massimo's SFC, some 35years after it carved it's name on the wall of famous race tracks and hearts of motorcycle fans around the world. Will help add a better perspective and apperciation of Italy's most famous motorcycle brands.
My thanks to the owner of the 2 SFC's we used for this retrospective. The Late version SFC is the only original factory bike, that still never been started or run. All of these photos were taken in just the last week of May 2006. Amazing to see something 30+ years and almost as new as the day it was built.
This gem was traded to Mr.Conti for his musuem. The bike was the original factory show bike in 1975. Built as a factory racer , it was never even started. Today some 30+ years later it is the last remaining virgin factory SFC.
Mr.Conti was "Conti Exhaust" everytime you see a Jota pipe or Ducati reverse cone exhaust for the 900SS bevel drive motors. Thank Mr.Conti for the "sound" you love so much!! Conti made almost all of the Italian automotive & motorcycle exhaust systems for about 50yrs.
When Conti died, all of his motorycycles, every italian brand know were purchased. The Laverda's were sold to this california collector, with the "founder" of Gia.Co.Moto as the broker back in 1989. It even has the original production tag in the Boot. Both SFC are listed in the registry.
The 1975 SFC "Conti-bike" may be offered for sale, on Ebay,....estimates are $75,000 to $72,000.
Why so high, the owner feels, it's the last Factory SFC, and the last virgin Electronica anywhere. That says it all.
Enjoy the photos for your own use, no pubication without written consent. All copyrights,all media, L.Marvin 2006
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