Moto Guzzi Imola 350 Road Test
Moto Guzzi are out to build the ultimate half-litre
street racer and they are convinced that they can
do it without a high-revving overhead-cam motor —
and without 50bhp. The discrete spec-sheet for the
new Imola 350 carries a photo of a Guzzi 350cc single
pipping a Gilera four on the line at Monza in the
mid-fifties and above the photo is the Moto Guzzi
Golden Eagle, from days of yore, which has replaced
the modern tank badge on the new Imola.
This is subliminal advertising at its best,
and with no text to pound the message home. The Golden
Eagle on the factory is only begin-that Guzzi are
out to do on the road what they did on the race tracks
back in the fifties. Between 1952 and 1957 Moto Guzzi's
38bhp horizontal single carried off five consecutive
world titles while giving away as much as 10 bhp to
the roaring Gilera fours and the DKW three-cylinder
Engineer Guilio Cesare Carcano was the man who breathed
life into the green singles with the dustbin fairings
and he was also the man who built the legendary Guzzi
SOOcc vee-eight racer that made an incredible 75 bhp
and went 170 miles per hour in 1957. But it never
won a Grand Prix. It was the light, low, torquey 350cc
single that brought fame, if not fortune, to the marque.
And although Guzzi today is part of the De Tomaso
empire, the lessons of the fifties seem to be deeply
engraved in the corporate forgotten that low-weight
an low center of gravity can offset brute power and
So Guzzi are now poised to enter the market with
a sports vee-twin that is intended rival such machines
as the Kawasaki Z500, Laverda Monjuic and Benelli
504 Sport. And one look at the Imola lets you know
they mean business.
We've been waiting for the arrival of the Imola for
sometime and when word got around that the Spanish
importer had gotten one for evaluation I threw my
leathers in a bag and caught the first Boeing to sunny
Madrid. . . only to land in the middle of a blizzard
and a major public transport strike.
But early the next morning I was listening to
the low, black and red Italian beauty being warmed
up in the Guzzi workshop and chatting with Sr. Lezcano,
the Spanish Guzzi concessionaire.
More and more Italian factories are releasing their
machines first in Spain now since the Spanish market,
where Japanese machines are banned by law from direct
import, is growing in importance.
Although impressed with the styling of the Imola,
I am waiting for the full 500cc version. Bikes like
the Imola 350, he explained, are intended for
the Italian and French markets where there are special
tax benefits for machines under 400cc. The 350cc version
of the Imola is likely to be too expensive in relation
to the SOOcc, but the factory is only begin-ing to
build the full 500s.
A quick look at the bike reveals the principal changes.
The calipers are now behind the fork legs and the
discs are now fashionably drilled. Two of the flaws
of the V50 have been corrected. The flimsy plastic
lock on the trapdoor petrol cap has been replaced
by a metal lock, and under the trap door is a conventional
screw-in metal cap. The master cylinder that
operates one of the two front discs has returned to
the handlebar, eliminating the spongy feel of the
previous set-up with cable-activated master cylinder
located under the petrol tank. The integral braking
system is retained, but the improved feel and effectiveness
of the second front disc is a definite improvement.
The low (and hard) dual seat, clip-ons and rearset
footrests blend with the elongated tank, efficient
nosecone fairing (borrowed from the latest Benelli
900 Sei) and the new upswept Silentium silencers ,
very Italian and tastefully aggressive silhouette.
But there are also changes with the motor, which
now breaths through 26mm Dellorto carbs. Previously
both the V35 and V50 models were fitted with 24mm
units. The inlet tract has been reshaped and Guzzi
claim that these changes in carburetion and exhaust
have increased performance significantly. The
announced 36bhp at 8,200 rpm is a full four bhp up
on the V35 that I tested two years ago.
I recall very clearly the lack of power that spoiled
the original V35. But the new Imola is definitely
quicker. Quick enough to be enjoyable on mountain
roads, but still not quick enough to justify the racer
styling and the hefty price (about 2,500 pounds in
Spain due to the outrageous luxury and import taxes).
After spending a couple of days running the motor
in and bringing it back to Guzzi for its first 500-mile
service I was given the green light by the shop foreman
to "rev its head off. In fact, added Perez-Rubio,
who has ridden works Guzzi endurance racers in the
European championship, there was a practice day
at the Jarama Grand Prix track on the Saturday where
I could have a real go. He didn't have to ask twice.
But during the next two days there was time to gradually
take the revs higher and loosen the motor up. With
1,000 kilometers on the clock the motor pulled easily
to 8,500 in all gears.
Moto Guzzi claim a top speed of 100 miles per hour,
but the speedo-error is so blatant on this model that
Guzzi really ought to be ashamed. Funny too,because
the V50 has a fairly accurate clock. At an indicated
lOSmph and with the rev-counter needle buried in the
red near 9,000rpm, the true road speed turned out
to be 94 miles per hour. And that is certainly a respectable
rate of knots for a 350.
In fact the Moto Guzzi, which is, according to factory
specs, 25 pounds heavier than the Morini 3V£
Sport, is only about three or four mph down on the
Morini. We set up an acceleration test on the Madrid-Burgos
between the Imola and a Morini 31A. Sport and found
that they both came through the 1,000 meters in 31.4
seconds, but with the Morini starting to overtake
the Guzzi at the end of the test run. The five-speed
Guzzi seems to pull lower gearing, while the six-speed
Morini is pulling .cogs that would permit a genuine
ton if 8,500 could be reached in top.
I tried changing up at very high engine speeds during
a few runs, but like most parallel-valve engines
with Heron combustion chambers, the Guzzi runs out
of puff at high revs. Changing up at 7,500, which
is just above max. torque (I think. . . no hard data
available yet) gives the best acceleration test.