Beware of the Laverda Jota, not because of its reputation of being “a man’s bike”, or that it’s particularly fast. Beware the Laverda Jota not because of its heavy clutch, lions’ roar exhaust note, terrible vibration or strange handling below 70 MPH. These machines are iconic, They’re agricultural, it was the fastest production motorcycle until the Honda CBX1000 removed its crown in 1978 and they also had some racing success. Although the Jota did have success on the race circuits, the company really gained its racing crown and status with the SFC in the Barcelona 24 hour which delivered international status for the Braganze factory. The Laverda Jota is considered a real classic, especially very early ones, but the real problem is that they’re too cheap. Furthermore, people want UK spec machines, as they had a different exhaust system, which supposedly offers a little more power. Buying almost any UK spec motorcycle creates a lot of problems, as you can read in this article here I wrote back in 2014 and demonstrates why UK bikes are some of the worse ones to buy in general. Apart from our properties not having garages which resulted in motorcycles spending many years living outside, when these machines were five years old they were outdated and worth very little. They fell into the hands of hooligans who abused them and refused to service their motorcycles. This fate would have lingered for a couple of decades and leaves these machines with many more problems than they left the factory with when they were new. Although many have been “restored”, usually by a fool with tools and a shed, the problems they left the factory with and the wear and abuse inflicted on the engine are highly unlikely to have been addressed as it is so expensive to do so. This is why you need to beware of the Laverda Jota when buying one and how we spent £40,000 on a motorcycle we sold for half of that cost.
Problematic motor to start with
The Laverda Jota has a problematic motor to start with for several reasons. They took the 1000cc 3C motor, added high lift cams, high compression pistons and a free flowing exhaust system. The added horse power stressed the big 1000cc triple which had issues around the quality of aluminium Laverda used to start with. The motors look great, but the quality of the aluminium they used was….questionable. Age does not help the old ally as it becomes more brittle with age and heat cycles. Pistons are highly problematic, a compression test may show everything as being all well, but the groves in which the piston rings sit wear vertically and this creates bad wear in the bore over time, it also creates engine problems under hard use. Valve seats tend to eat their way into the cylinder head which makes the valves impossible to adjust, so new seats need to be installed. Jotas have no exhaust oil seals so valve guides can be prone to wear. Oil pumps need to be correctly shimmed, primary drive chains wear badly and so do cam chains. Cam chain tensioners have no locator at the bottom, so they wear through low down. The tensioner system is also really quite archaic, like it came from from a machine in a Walter Mitty novel. Early models have no oil drain plug in the primary, which means previous owners will have drained the engine oil and will have left about an inch of old oil in the primary. This creates sludge in the motor and can do a lot of damage over time. There are many more issues, which you’ll see from the photos as we show you what we found in the beautifully restored example we purchased for our customer, so get a cup of tea and sit back, knowing that our customer paid half of what the motorcycle cost us to buy and repair. That’s the advantage of buying through The Motorcycle Broker, as you buy an investment grade motorcycle on a fixed price contract.
Restored 1975 Laverda Jota
I had a restored 1975 Laverda Jota for sale on my website that a customer had listed with me. Our buyer requested a UK spec Jota so we happily sold the bike to our buyer, knowing it had had a colour change when new, knowing some of the paint had issues we could resolve, but it was a very, very original example. The owner had bought it new in late 1975 from HR Owen in London and the machine was originally green. He had wanted a red one, so HR Owen charged him to respray the the bodywork in Laverda red. Mileage seemed genuine at 25,700 and the compression was was excellent when we did a compression test. The fuel was stale and the carbs needed sorting out, but that now seems to come with the territory, although it ran and went through the gears easily enough. There were no signs of previous crash damage and this bike seemed like a straight forward proposition to us. Strip the body work, wheels, switch gear, headlamp shell, clock bezels and brake callipers back to the bare strata and repaint them authentically. Get the motor and carbs sorted out and set the bike up correctly, however the wrong spark plugs were used with a short reach instead of a long reach which would have seriously compromised the power. Once we had disassembled everything, blasted, painted it all, cleaned it and re-assembled the bike we noticed there were several problems with the indicators from the start. The rear light bulb had blown and the parking lights didn’t work. This was the beginning of a two week nightmare to resolve the electrics which had been really badly stripped out and put back at some point in the past. When we went to adjust the valves we noticed that the cams had clearly corroded very badly at some point and just been re-installed. A delay of twelve weeks ensued while Joy Engineering re-ground the 4C cams for us. We resolved the electrics during that time and the original green we repainted it really set the bike off, it’s the rarest and probably their best colour for these early models. This machine was typical of a pretty looking motorcycle that had serious issues, a common problem with UK motorcycles, a pervading attitude of “let’s ‘ave a deal”. There is only one way to deal with these machines, not cheaper is better, but properly and it costs.
Cylinder head problem
These Laverdas have cylinder head problems caused by the poor choice of aluminium used to start with and not having exhaust valve seals doesn’t help either. The valves were in tolerance to prevent us from needing to strip the head, but the head was off and we had to know that all was well. When we removed the vales we noticed that several of the valve guides had fallen apart and needed replacing along with skimming the head by 0.1mm. We spoke to several Laverda “specialists” in the UK and Europe, but they seemed to recommend skimming the head and just putting it back together, just like the last owner did, claiming it would be alright. We had bought some parts from well respected suppliers who had given us this advice and the quality was just not useable in our motorcycles, so we went on the Laverda expert hunt. Our search was rewarded handsomely when we found Keith at Laverda Scozia. He supplied us some parts up to the standard required to keep this machine on the road and advised us of all the flaws with this massive agricultural motor. We sent the head to him and he made up new valve guides and replaced the lot. He made new valves that will remain in tolerance for many, many years to come, provided they’re regularly adjusted. Keith explained that the marks on the timing chain tensioner were perfectly normal as they were a crap design from new. New useable pistons were supplied and he rebored the barrel for us and told us we were lucky that the liners weren’t all positioned incorrectly, as they usually move over time- an expensive job. We happily paid him thousands of pounds for his excellent work and he was happy to supply high quality parts and offer advice free of charge. I can’t recommend them strongly enough, it’s great to know there are still some like minded folk in the business who want to do the job correctly.
Pistons and rebore
Original pistons are no longer available and they’re made of a soft, chewy alloy that is just not up to the job. The new pistons Keith supplied were perfect, they look and feel perfect for the job and the rebore he did was spot on. This motor will be fine for many years to come, provided the owners correctly service and maintain the machine and allow it to get up to full running temperature before thrashing it. We originally bought a head gasket from a highly recommended parts supplier only to find out, the first time we put the engine together prior to speaking to Keith, that it immediately leaked oil profusely within fifty miles. Keith supplied one with the correct O rings required and made of a far superior quality material, curing the oil leak experienced with the inferior gasket. It pays to research and take advice from people who know, so many other “experts” told us not to dismantle the cylinder head and that it would be fine if the compression test was up to spec. Don’t trust these people, and don’t trust the parts they supply either.
Primary and clutch
Previous “experts” had told us to leave the primary and clutch well alone if all was working well, so we decided to ignore their advice and this is what we found. A whole load of sludge had gathered in the primary case as there is no oil drain plug and everyone who had serviced the bike had never bothered to remove the primary cover, leaving about an inch of old oil sitting in the motor for many decades.
The clutch dampers were shot, so we drilled them out and fitted new items, along with a new duplex primary chain to replace the inferior original triplex item. The oil pump had been running the original shims from new which were a little tight, so we re-shimmed the pump.
Age and ham-fisted bodge monkeys will have caused all sorts of problems with the carbs. Firstly we strip them, thoroughly clean them, rebuild them, after checking that all components are correct and of the correct quality. Then we set them up with a mechanical balance on the bench, once all of the damaged linkages have been repaired. This is typical of all motorcycles of this age when you try and set them up correctly.
Having removed many of the wrong and really poor quality parts from the carbs and replaced them with the correct components of the appropriate quality, the carbs were then ready for the bench and it was plain to see that this motorcycle could not have run properly for a long time. You can see how the linkages are bent from when some “mechanic” could not get them balanced, so they bent the linkages as there was not sufficient adjustment from the linkage when the bike was running so poorly.
The motorcycle is rebuilt, the motor replaced in the frame and it’s ready for start up. The Bosch electronic ignition draws most of the battery power, so these Jotas are always requiring a fully charged battery to turn them over. The bike fired into life and sounded really quite good, except for the new primary chain whining a bit and a strange ticking from the right side of the motor. Some blue smoke came from the exhausts, but that’s the engine rebuild oil being burnt off. Upon further inspection of the area around the alternator, it was found that the wire mesh below the rotor had come away. This mesh was only held on by Araldite from the factory, so we found a spot to safely rivet the mesh back into position and the ticking sound was cured. We adjusted the primary chain and the whine went silent.
Finished at last
We have to put the first 50 miles on before re-torquing everything, checking the valve shims again and changing the oil. Then the next 500 miles is a running in period. The reason to Beware the Laverda Jota is that they are a money pit due to poor design and build from the factory and due to age as well. The only people we can recommend to guide you on these bikes is Laverda Scozia, where Keith will look after you. Like all quality services, you will have to pay handsomely, but he offers great value. The next customer who asks me to source a UK spec Laverda Jota will be directed to read this article before any further discussion takes place. They will then be told that we will source a machine for them and they can buy the machine at a fixed price. They need to understand, and it will be made clear prior to any motorcycle purchase, that after we have sourced the bike they will need to open their cheque book and we will tell them when to close it. The machine will cost what it costs to sort out and we have no way of predicting what that will be until the motor is stripped and the machine is stripped. For similar money they could buy a Laverda SFC, which is a far greater investment and a much more fun motorcycle. If you think you can “‘ave a deal” and buy a Laverda Jota cheaply, please do not call us, as we’re just not interested. However, if you really, really want a Laverda Jota and money is no object, call The Motorcycle Broker because we really do understand these machines.