Journalism • Photography • Lifestyle • Events
Moto Guzzi Le Mans CX100 It was an otherwise normal working Monday when long time friend and Guzzi brother Bill 'Billoni' Ross dialed my number and dropped his bombshell. “Hey man” he began, then asked if I could talk while driving.Son Alex and I
Kawasaki Z900 Following Phillip Vincent and Phil Irving’s Black Shadow into the performance hall of fame, Kawasaki’s 903cc Zed was far different than anything not built in Japan. A difference maker, the Z1 was so much better than Honda’s breakthrough 750 four you’d think the engine giant would’ve responded sooner. The truth of it shows that sales proved there wasn’t a reason to, so credit the 750 for that. Cutting edge speed through the gears was the Z1’s game. Cycle called it The King, even after Suzuki’s 16v edged past the bumped-up Z1000, as did the CBX and Yamaha’s bruising XS-Eleven tourer before that. No matter, for in public opinion the Z1 became the recognized symbol of speed, and it’s still that way. That’s why the Zed is legend.
So while it’s a mistake to overlook exclusive builders like Ace, Indian, Coventry and others, the Brough Superior earned its place in history by offering performance exclusive to the brand. The scene is defined by the Brough’s long, low stance that stretched the fenders into different area codes. Tapered saddle tanks hung over the top tube, some chrome, some in
compared to the original bikini 850 of 1976. Designed and constructed during a magical European manufacturing period between 1973 and 1980 the CX100 joined Guzzi’s V7 Sport, the Desmos, BMW S/RS superbikes and Slater-built Laverdas as members of the sporting elite.
The Good, the Fast, and the Ugly
gloss black, with hinged tool boxes with brown leather lids and lamps glowing in soft metallic hues. The engine –some with four cams- hung majestically, fed by a massive carburetor(s) lighthouse magnetos and fuel your camp lantern couldn’t burn. Dual or shotgun exhausts finalized the intent. Timeless.
This example, a 1939 SS80 will be a feature bike in an upcoming issue of RealClassic magazine. The owner, master mechanic TJ Jackson has been so busy knocking out museum quality restos for customers there’s been time for little else…yet patience is a virtue. Clearing the ignition hurdle should give a running example to aim lenses at, and TJ does point this classic Brough Superior down the road. Another rarity. I shot the same machine in 2001 and that image remains among my all-time favorites. No motorcycle was ever more handsome.
were returning from a customer call in Phoenix back to our factory in Coolidge, squeaking along in our well-worn and perpetually overloaded Scion xB, “I’m selling my CX100,” he said as we cleared the suburbs. “You’d expressed interest so I’m giving you the first shot.” Even before Bill had finished speaking I was juggling facts and finances in a mental frenzy. Seven seconds later the decision was made. “Yeah” I responded. “I want it”.
It’s all rather conventional and a bit dated now, but right on the cue for 1972. The Zed’s chain-driven overhead cams worked the valves over four air-cooled cylinders measuring square at 66 x 66mm bore and stroke. The engine’s roller-bearing bottom was a departure from Honda’s plain bearing engine, but the DOHC 903cc again proved superior in strength and durability. Even heavily tuned. Head-to-head comparos against contemporary performance models from Europe exposed the Z1’s lack of sporting balance. A problem not really addressed by Japan Inc. until late in the decade. Sturdy but limited, the traditional cradle/tele/twin shock formula provided the platform to serve
Brough Superior Kicking off in the 1920s and lasting until the start of World War II, George Brough produced exceptional motorbikes for the discriminating motorcyclist. You probably already knew Brough used proprietary engines from J.A. Prestwich and Matchless in both overhead and side-valve configurations, and that the Super Sports SS80 and SS100 (designating miles per hour) were tested to achieve or better that speed rating upon delivery. Fewer stop to consider that rural Brough owners rarely enjoyed a paved road, and insiders say Brough’s ‘The Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’ slogan was bestowed after officials from the car plant admired a polished show-Brough during a visit to Haydn Road. Most are polished keepsakes now.
This one has history. To the best of Bill’s knowledge the original owner painted it, crashed it then took it along on a move to San Diego. Trailered to a reputable repair shop an estimate was given, but sensing some hesitation the shop owner offered to call in a local Guzzi expert and Bill was rung up. An offer was accepted and the black CX100 came home with Bill, was sold again, then back to Bill after some renovations had been completed. I can report it’s a gem on the road; that smooth, capable, 949cc twin mixes Tonti magic with De Tomaso’s wind-cheating ‘Modena’ angles to sail over distance and rail through the sweepers. Count how many 1979's you see fully loaded and two up next time you’re out then get back to me, but isn’t that the point? The excellence of the Brough, Kawasaki and Guzzi is deserving of honor, and many others. You'll see those and more addressed in future editorials. Nolan Woodbury
So why is the Brough good, the Z1 fast and Guzzi’s USA-only CX100 ugly? First off, ugly is not the term I’d use to describe it, but there are many who do; at least when
the Z1 in a variety of café cruiser and touring guises. Later versions, including the Z1000 M.K. II are vastly better and more affordable, but the original DOHC is the one we’re talking about here. Speaking of value and worth, have you priced a well-kept 1973 Z1 lately?
Along with the Honda four, Kawasaki’s double cam became the engine of choice for special frame builders in the 1970s, counting Egli, Rickman, Harris, Bimota, and Seeley among those who based production around the Z1 multi. In the USA Kawasaki earned a run of AMA titles and countless pro and privateer wins On the other end of the radar, Kawasaki’s 1000J is remembered as one of the best police motorcycles ever put into service. Some are still in use. The Z1 didn’t handle like a Desmo, didn’t enjoy Honda’s dealer network and didn’t match the BMW in scarf-flying panache, but as a bare knuckle fighter it never backed down or away from a fight. As long as there are riders to remember it, the Z1’s place in history is secure.
Having more experience the Germans, English and Italians had all earned numerous titles by going faster than the competition with less power, and the secret’s in the details. Short, stout and engineered to correctly handle load, European chassis building wrought platforms that were far more stable. Powered by simple engines tuned for mid-range and geared for speed, the Euro package more than compensated for any horsepower difference, and components like Brembo brakes and premium suspensions tipped the scales further toward the Euros. The tradeoff of cost and fewer dealers was accepted by some but rejected by more, yet the price of admission hasn’t dropped.
Motorcyclists are an opinionated bunch, and those preferences often move past simple brand loyalty. Divided by era, each generation of enthusiast looked up upon the legends of that day. Radically different, these three standouts nevertheless share a common theme of excellence.