In the late 1970s, the Moto Guzzi Le Mans was the closest you could get to a factory café racer. Bereft of chrome and frippery, it would hit 130 mph and recorded over 70 hp at the back wheel. It was the ultimate low-tech superbike, essentially agricultural, but also possessing a strange charm.
The uncomplicated mechanicals of the Le Mans have helped it to endure, and it’s a machine that engenders remarkable affection from its owners. Today, the chunky Guzzi is an anachronism, but it’s also one of the most highly sought-after platforms for customizers: easy to work on, reliable, and easily upgraded.
So here are five of the best Le Mans customs from the world’s top builders. I’d happily put any one of them in my garage.
Kaffeesmaschine #7 Along with Officine Rossopuro and HTMoto, Axel Budde is one of Europe’s top Moto Guzzi specialists. His machines are minimal, elegant and beautifully constructed.
‘Caffettiera d’oro,’ meaning ‘golden coffee machine,’ is a Le Mans Mark III and the seventh Kaffeemaschine build. The engine is running Mark IV heads and bigger carbs, and has been bored out to 1040cc. With the help of HTMoto, Budde installed a balanced crank, a hotter cam, dual-spark heads and an electronic ignition system. There are new brake cylinders and hoses, and progressive-rate springs in the forks. The classic spoked wheels are from Morad. If there was ever an archetypal Le Mans custom, this is it. [More about this bike | Kaffeemaschine]
Le Mans IV Suzuka Battle Race There’s a very interesting idea behind this brutal-looking Le Mans Mk IV, described by builder Davide Caforio as having a ‘false history.’ It’s a tribute to the endurance racers of the 1980s—a bike that the Mandello Del Lario factory might have built if it was competing against the Cooley and Crosby Suzukis, or Wayne Gardner’s Honda.
It’s no show pony, either. Caforio has bored out the engine to 1150 cc and fitted dual-spark heads, big valves and hot cams. He’s modified and lightened the frame, and tightened up the handling with race-spec suspension and wheels. The custom fiberglass bodywork is loosely based on the Yamaha TZ750, with neat touches like a vintage Bimota filler cap on the aluminum tank. [More about this bike | Ruote Fiere]
Matt Machine’s Le Mans café racer Matt Machine is not a prolific builder, but he always gets it right. He wanted a “reliable, fast Italian cafe racer suitable for high-speed freeway runs,” and found a former race bike to modify. The engine has had a capacity bump from 850 to 950cc, and it’s also packing Carrillo rods, a hotter cam and 40mm carburetors. The bodywork is alloy, and a product of Matt’s superb fabrication skills. Everything is hand-made, and topped off with a cut-and-modified tank. A simple stripe was the only paint applied, just enough to show off the bare metal. A classic example of less is more. [More about this bike | Machine Shed]
HTMoto Black & White Hartmut Taborsky has been working on Moto Guzzis for thirty years now, tuning engines and supplying parts to the thriving European custom scene. So when he occasionally builds a complete bike, it’s pretty special. This one is a 1982 Le Mans Mk III that arrived in the HTMoto shop with only 6,000 km on the clock, but that didn’t stop Taborsky stripping down and rebuilding the engine with a tasty selection of performance parts. The engine was bored out to 92mm and fitted with 11:1 compression pistons, which help raise power output to 90 bhp. Gases exit via a custom stainless steel exhaust system, and the clutch and flywheel are uprated to make the most of the new-found grunt. The Le Mans now weighs less than 190 kg, and enjoys the occasional outing at the racetrack with Taborsky himself behind the bars. [More about this bike | HTMoto]
Revival Cycles 1978 Le Mans Mk I Alan Stulberg and crew built this bike in just two weeks, racing to get it ready for the Barber Vintage Motorcycle rally. But it’s far from a rush job. The frame has been de-tabbed and cut down, and there’s a custom aluminum tail and seat pan. Underneath is an RFID sensor and keyless ignition switch system, with a Dyna electronic ignition and a lithium iron battery providing juice for starting. Revival also fitted modified Tarozzi rearsets and relocated the rear master cylinder—cleaning up frame ‘triangle’ under the seat. The shocks are revalved vintage Marzocchis, installed upside down to make them fit with the factory rear brake caliper. Two red LEDs in the rear frame act as taillights, and there’s a trick LED headlight up front. But the highlight has got to be the lovely subdued grey color, based on a Porsche 356 paint code. [More about this bike | Revival Cycles]
Last week’s Top 5 covered the Ducati SportClassic.