The Laverda Jota 1000 made a big impression upon its launch in 1976. Producing 90hp and clocking speeds of over 140mph, it was the fastest production motorcycle to date. Roland Brown takes the Jota for a spin in the present day…
The charge along the traffic-free country lanes was thrilling — just the sort of ride that helped forge the Jota legend. Whenever the throttle was open, the result was fierce acceleration, a howling three-cylinder soundtrack and plenty of vibration through the clip-on bars. Through the bends, the bike’s firm ride and pitching shook my kidneys, twitched the handlebars and sometimes made me feel as though I was trying to hang onto an uncontrollable wild animal.
That image of brutal power accompanied by marginal high-speed handling was one that made Laverda’s mighty triple one of the iconic superbikes of the Seventies, as well as one of the fastest. Of all the mighty superbikes of that fast changing decade it was arguably the fastest and best, combining Italian character, design flair and chassis rigidity with Japanese style levels of multi-cylinder power and sophistication.
And some vital input from Britain too, it shouldn’t be forgotten. The Breganze factory’s UK importers, Herefordshire based brothers Richard and Roger Slater, famously created the model by tuning the 981cc engine of the standard 3CL triple with hot cams and high-compression pistons, as used by factory endurance racers, and naming the result Jota after a Spanish dance in three-four time. Free-breathing pipes completed a snarling beast that produced a claimed 90bhp at 8000rpm.
The big, heavy Laverda’s handling did not quite match that of its compatriots, Ducati’s 900SS and Guzzi’s Le Mans. The Jota needed plenty of muscle to steer quickly, and could weave at high speed when pushed really hard. But its reasonably stiff frame and taut suspension gave cornering performance which, combined with its acceleration to a top speed of 140mph, put the triple ahead of all opposition bar trick-framed specials.
That performance was emphatically confirmed on the racetrack, where Slaters’ ace rider Pete “PK” Davies wrestled a Jota to three National production race championships in the late ’70s. The Jota’s ferocious performance, racing success and subsequent adoption by the Breganze factory did much to establish Laverda as a star of the Italian industry.
Ironically much of the model’s reputation for wildness was exaggerated, and previous Jotas I’ve ridden have been more rider-friendly than this very clean but less than fully sorted example. It was always a man’s machine, though, the Jota; or at least a bike for riders physically big enough to cope with a stretched-out riding position, a tall seat, and a wet weight figure of 237kg that made it a handful at times.
That dohc motor was always the Jota’s main attraction; the key to its all-conquering horsepower and muscular, barrel-chested look. That was certainly true of this very clean machine, first registered in 1980, which was finished in Laverda’s traditional orange paintwork, without the half-fairing that the model often wore by that time. The Jota’s endurance-race cams and high-compression pistons contributed to an output of 90bhp — and to a 140mph top speed that for a time was unmatched by any rival.
This bike’s powerplant fully lived up to expectations, too. It started at the press of the button (Laverdas, with their partly Japanese electrics, were generally among the more dependable of Italian bikes), burbling a rich three-pot sound through its minimally silenced pipes. For a tuned motor it ran reasonably well at low revs, responding respectably cleanly through its bank of 32mm Dell’Ortos.
As the revs rose towards the 8000rpm redline it came alive, storming forward with an exhilarating, high-pitched howl and with a force that made me grip those juddering clip-ons tightly. (They were nicknamed Jota bars after their toothed method of adjustment, not the way they transmitted the 180-degree crankshaft engine’s vibration.) In a straight line the Laverda was magical. Its sheer speed and presence more than made up for a raw, almost crude feel that brought to mind the company’s background as a maker of agricultural machinery.
Corners were a rather different story. The ride was very firm to the point of being twitchy. On a route that mostly consisted of narrow Suffolk roads near the base of Made In Italy, the Italian classic specialist whose boss John Fallon had kinly lent me the bike, the Laverda was sometimes a handful despite its thoughtfully added steering damper. Its Koni shocks were too firm despite being on their lowest preload settings, and over some bumps had me wondering whether I was about to punch a Jota-sided hole in a roadside hedge.
Fortunately the excellent brakes prevented that happening. The triple Brembo discs, plumbed with braided hose, lived up to the Italian specialist’s reputation. The blend of Metzeler’s ME33 and ME99 on its 18-inch wheels provide plenty of grip, too, though I didn’t manage to ground an engine cover, as can happen when the big triple is cornered very hard.
When correctly set up the Laverda was certainly capable of handling well, as one contemporary magazine’s tester confirmed. “There is absolutely no use in making it the world’s fastest bike if it is not possible to use the performance safely, and the Jota’s capabilities here are such that we found ourselves willing, and able, to ride the bike through corners considerably faster than we are normally accustomed to without frightening ourselves or passers-by,” he wrote.
I finished my ride having enjoyed a Jota that was gloriously fast, loud and aggressive, but which required some suspension tweaking in order to approach its full Seventies magnificence. When so many classic bikes inevitably fail to live up to their reputations, though, it’s no bad thing to find a machine that fits its hairy image. If riding this Jota was a bit scary at times, it was certainly a thrilling experience.
Get Laverda motorbike insurance for the Jota 1000.
ENGINE Air-cooled dohc 6-valve triple
BORE X STROKE 75 x 74mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 10:1
INDUCTION Three 32mm Dell’Ortos
MAX POWER 90bhp @ 8000rpm
FRAME Tubular steel
FRONT SUSPENSION 38mm telescopic Marzocchi
REAR SUSPENSION Twin Koni dampers, adjustments for preload and rebound damping
FRONT BRAKE 2, twin-piston Brembo calipers, 280mm discs
REAR BRAKE Double-action Brembo caliper, 280mm disc
FRONT WHEEL 3.00 x 18in; cast aluminum
REAR WHEEL 3.50 x 18in; cast aluminum
FRONT TYRE 100/90 x 18in
REAR TYRE 120/90 x 18in
WEIGHT 237kg with 4 litres fuel
FUEL CAPACITY 20 litres
Image: Phil Masters