OK folks. Here’s the wrap up to our little 10 bike history quiz. Today it’s the Italian marque Laverda along with Japanese mainstay Suzuki.
Pietro Laverda founded Laverda Macchine Agricole (Laverda S.p.A) in 1873 in Breganze, Northern Italy as a manufacturer of agricultural equipment, engines, farm implements and wine-making machinery. Much later, in 1949, Francesco Laverda (grandson of Pietro) formed Moto Laverda as an offshoot of the family business. Like other Italian manufacturers in those difficult post-war years Moto Laverda focused on small-displacement bikes, built in the Italian tradition of craftsmanship, and attention to detail, combined with a durable ‘tractor-like’ build quality. Through the 50s and 60s the company participated in nearly every segment of two wheeled transport – race bikes, scooters, trials, motocross, and more. But always with small displacement bikes, both two and four stroke versions. At times they even had development partnerships with other brands like Zundapp and Husqvarna in order to create products that ventured outside the typical Italian mold. By 1969 they were ready to really break the mold with their first large displacement offering by launching its GT750 touring, SF750 sport, and SFC (super freni competizione) race bike. Orange (known as “SFC Orange”) became Laverda’s signature color during this period. The 750cc parallel twin featured a single chain-driven overhead cam and at produced up to 70 hp. It also utilized the engine as a stressed chassis member. The 750s also featured the street/sport segment’s latest innovations such as cast wheels and disc brakes. Did you know that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Laverda was imported to America under the “American Eagle” name? The success of the 750 twins, and the continued marketplace movement toward larger displacements begat a 1000cc triple from Laverda in 1973. This bike subsequently morphed into the more refined and well received Laverda Jota, produced from 1976 until 1985. Unfortunately, by that time the Japanese manufacturers, with the application of advanced technology and low cost manufacturing, had basically left the small boutique manufacturers like Laverda in the dust. The parent company Laverda S.p.A. shut down the Moto Laverda operation in 1985. The Laverda brand was briefly resuscitated in 1993, when investor Francesco Tognon re-started production in Zane, Italy. The Zane/Laverda incarnation created a full line of motorcycles including the Laverda Diamante, Laverda 650, Laverda 668, and Laverda 750 ‘Ghost Strike,’ and a prototype flagship 900cc liquid cooled 3 cylinder sport bike. Failing to generate market enthusiasm, Laverda manufacturing was shuttered once again. But the name refused to die. The Aprilia Group S.p.A. purchased the Laverda brand in 2000, creating the ‘SFC,’ which was basically a re-packaged Aprilia RSV1000 with Laverda trim and badging. By 2003 this incarnation was gone too. In 2004 Aprilia was acquired by transportation giant Piaggio and the Laverda name was once again consigned to the dustbin. This time seemingly for good. At least as far as motorcycles go. The good news? You can still buy brand new Laverda farm equipment – harvesters, threshers and such from the direct descendant of the parent firm that was originally founded by Pietro Laverda in 1873.
In 1909, in the tiny seacoast village of Hamamatsu, 22 year old Michio Suzuki founded the Suzuki Loom Works. The manufacture of looms (originally for Japan’s giant silk industry) remained a primary focus of Suzuki’s firm for the next 30 years. Despite the success of the loom business, the lure of diversification called to Suzuki. Based on growing consumer demand, and a high level of expertise in the manufacture of complex and demanding machines, the firm elected to try it’s hand at the production of small cars. The project was begun in 1937 and prototypes were produced but World War II intervened. The government deemed passenger car production a “non essential commodity” and the plan was set aside for the duration. Post war, Suzuki went back to what they knew best, loom production. For a time, business boomed, especially after the US government approved the shipment of cotton to Japan, driving loom demand from Japanese domestic producers through the roof. This joy was, however, short lived as the cotton market collapsed in 1951. Faced with tough times, Suzuki’s thoughts went back to motor vehicles. This time the firm zeroed in on the post war need for simple, affordable, and reliable personal transportation in the form of motorized bicycles, scooters, and lightweight motorcycles. Beginning in 1952 with a motorized bicycle that featured a 36cc two stroke single cylinder engine they called the “Power Free”, the firm quickly grew. Just two years later they were producing 6,000 motorbikes a month and the company name was officially changed to Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd. Then in 1955 first Suzuki car, the “Suzulight” appeared on the scene, helping to usher in the era of Japanese small cars. Both the motorcycle and auto business proceeded aggressively forward throughout the balance of the 20th Century. Success in motorcycle racing (including wins at the Isle of Man TT) foretold advent of stunning Suzuki offerings such as the GSX-R series of sportbikes. BUt they competed in every segment – dirtbikes, cruisers, dual sports and more. By the end of 1999 aggregate worldwide motorcycle production passed the 40 million milestone and just two years later automobile (and light truck) production crossed the 30 million benchmark. Suzuki remains a stalwart of the motorcycle industry with annual worldwide sales of nearly 3.0 million units, and a broad product line capturing virtually every segment of the business.
So, there you go. How did you make out? Hope you enjoyed this little exercise. We’ll have more of this thing from time to time. Hope you’ll join us in the future.