Over the last 15 years or so, we at Motolegends have put together a small collection of some of the most iconic motorcycles from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s; everything from a Bonneville TT and a V7 Guzzi California to the legendary Kawasaki Z1 and a Honda CBx 1000. Every month or so, we are going to take one of our bikes and tell you a little bit about it, what it’s like to own and what it’s like to ride. This month we’re looking at the fearsome Laverda Jota.
Our aim here is not to give our customers a history lesson, but to tell you what we think about our various bikes. However, there has to be a little context, so here it is. In 1975, Laverda introduced its latest 1000cc triple, called the 3CL. At the time, Slater Brothers, the UK importer based in Collington, was offering a higher performance version of the 3CL that became known as the 3CE (E for England). In 1976, Massimo Laverda agreed to supply a factory-built 3CE exclusively for the UK market. It’s difficult to ascertain who came up with the new name, Jota, but the rest is history, as they say.
Making around 90hp, it could exceed 140mph, making it the fastest production bike of the day. It went on to win the UK Production series in 1976, ‘78, ‘79 and ‘80. For many, 1981 marked the end of the line for ‘real’ Jotas. To replace the ‘180’ engine, which had the outer cylinders rising and falling together, the new 120° version switched to a new crankshaft with a smoother 120-degree firing interval.
The gearchange moved to the left hand side, and the engine was isolated from the frame in an attempt to further protect the rider from excessive vibration. In fact, I’ve read somewhere that there were nearly 130 changes to the new 120° bike, all aimed at making it a bit more civilised and easier to live with. There’s no doubt that the original Jota was hairy chested, but the guys riding Jotas these days almost certainly have fillings in their teeth; they might even have dentures. And if there’s any desire to keep these orthodontic accoutrements in place, then a 180° bike might just be a touch too authentic. Our bike, we have to admit, is a 120° model.
In almost every objectively measurable respect, it’s a better bike than its predecessor. But when our search for a Jota began, we really wanted a 180° bike, and largely because we preferred the distinctive bright orange paintwork of the original. Nevertheless, when we saw Richard Slater advertising a totally restored 120° bike on his website, we jumped in the car and went up to see it at his Bromyard premises. It was indeed a nice bike, but after discussing our preference for a 180° machine with Richard, we came up with a plan. Richard would re-paint the tank, change the mudguards, side panels and badging to create a bike that, externally, would look almost identical to an early 1980 model. A neat solution, we felt, and in some ways the best of both worlds. The iconic looks of the original Jota, but with the enhanced civility of the latter model. Having taken delivery of our Jota, it took, we have to admit, quite some time to get the bike into shape. In fact, the bike was a real bugger, with an intermittent electrical fault that took an age to sort.
The deWitt electronic ignition unit was the primary suspect. It was sent back to Germany for checking, but when it came back the problem remained. After about 20-25 miles, the engine would falter and then cut-out completely. After 15 minutes by the roadside to allow the engine to cool down, it would start again, enabling us to turn round and get home. Well, most of the time! A fuelling issue was next in line for further investigation. Eventually, Pietro at Motori Di Marino tracked down a wiring issue that seemed to solve the problem. I say ‘seemed’ because it’s a bike that we rarely stray too far from home on.
If there’s a longish trip to be undertaken, and we don’t have the time to wait for the man from the RAC, there’s usually a Honda or a BMW that seems a better bet! But, despite this slight lack of confidence in its reliability, the Jota is still one of the most exciting bikes on our little fleet. Just twisting the throttle when you’re warming it up sends a shiver down the spine. What a noise! But actually, it’s when the bike comes on cam, at about 5000 rpm, that the sound becomes intoxicating, with a wail that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Of course, this is normally accompanied by a surge in acceleration that is quite disturbing.
It’s the kind of increase in speed that might seem somewhat unremarkable on a modern bike, but on the Jota it’s unnerving. Maybe it’s the noise. Maybe it’s the vibration. Or maybe it’s the realisation that there’s no ABS, but it would take someone much braver than me to hold the throttle wide open for too long. It’s certainly exciting, but it’s always a relief when the horizon stops shaking and comes back into focus again. It doesn’t take a long run to develop an admiration for the chaps back in the seventies and eighties who rode these machines at full-tilt on the open road. Perhaps the roads were less busy in those days, but I still reckon those guys must have had huge balls!
There are few bikes, in my view, that so amply demonstrate just how far bikes have evolved over the last 30 years. Modern machines may not be as exciting to ride, but they are infifinitely easier to live with, and to cover ground on. The other feature of the bike that takes some time to get used to is its height. At low speeds and around town, it’s simply not nice to ride. It feels top heavy and somewhat cumbersome, and doesn’t like to be manoeuvred. But what would you expect of such a thoroughbred; a no-frills, café-racer that was created with only one thing in mind: performance?
Even on the open road, though, the Jota is a bike that has to be ridden. Forget any notion of relaxing; this is a machine that demands 100% commitment. On some bikes, you think about turning and they comply. If all you do with the Jota is think about turning, you’ll end up in the hedge! Once you’re turning, though, the bike feels very stable, planted even, but getting there can seem like a battle of wills.
So, that’s our Jota. We love it, we really do. It’s the most exciting and edgy bike we own. For a Sunday morning blast down to Goodwood for breakfast, there’s nothing quite like it. But it’s a highly strung animal that requires a good rider to tame it. Deep down, I suspect that, spoilt by modern machines, I may not quite be up to the job. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what a terrific bike it is, and don’t enjoy every minute that she allows me to sit in the saddle. But I never lose sight of the fact that if I don’t show her sufficient respect, she might just revel in dumping me on the floor!