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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 two-strokes.

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 top-end whack.

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 highway

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.