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1978 Laverda Jota
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Dave Hawes has owned his Jota for three decades and it's clocked up over 90,000 miles. Earlier this year it was judged to be the Best RealClassic at the Ardingly Show...

Laverda’s one-litre three cylinder bike first broke cover at the Milan Show in 1969, but didn’t reach the showrooms until 1973 when it was finally released as the 3C. The 981cc, 80bhp beast weighed just 10lb more than its 750 twin stablemates and, suitably encouraged, would carry a brave rider to 130mph. At a stroke, Laverda sunk the future sales of their 750s!

Still, the 3C wasn’t quite enough for the British market and so the Jota was created by Roger Slater in 1976, using a tuned engine to raise the output to 90bhp at 8000rpm and top speed to a sniff under 140mph. It was definitely built for speed; the racing camshafts made trying to ride at anything under 3000rpm an unpleasant affair. The motor didn’t start to find its stride until 4000rpm by which time you’d passed the UK speed limit, and the stuttering exhaust grumble didn’t metamorph into a full-blooded bellow until 6500rpm or so.

1978 Laverda Jota with single seat and rearsets 1978 Laverda Jota

Yet the Jota appealed to many riders who desired a European muscle bike. Its looks helped. ‘The Jota’s lines were almost universally regarded as handsome’ says Raymond Ainscoe in his Osprey Collector’s Laverda book of 1991. ‘There was an elegant three-into-two exhaust system. The paintwork was superb, and even the chrome was passable – both entirely uncharacteristic for Italian machines.

‘In 1976 this was the best sports motorcycle money could buy. But heavy, brutal and too much for many.’

At the time, Bike magazine agreed; ‘To get the most out of it the rider needs to heave the machine around with plenty of positive body language. Wring its neck down the straight, stick it into the corner and wrestle the beast down to where you want it. The long wheelbase makes the Jota understeer somewhat, widening the line through a bend. Don’t worry about that – just pull it down like you had your arms around its neck.’

The original triple engines used a 180-degree layout so that the two outer pistons moved in unison, a stroke away from the opposing middle piston. This produces plenty of power but is famed for its vibration, making long journeys a trial of endurance. From 1982 the crankshaft was re-jigged with the cranks balanced at equal intervals on 360-degrees to create the 120 Jota which was notably smoother (and rubber mounting the engine helped, too).

Note the Thousand Yard Stare developed by many Jota riders... Dave Hawes with his 1978 Laverda Jota

The bike you see here belongs to RC reader Dave Hawes, who won the Best RealClassic award at the 2008 spring South of England Show, not least due to his heroic ride to get to Ardingly in the snow. Some 30 years ago, Dave was convinced that it was the bike for him, and he purchased the Jota when it was brand-spanking, squeaky-clean new. Back then it cost him £2250 (which is rather less than a top end rebuild will cost these days!). Since then Dave has travelled some 91,000 miles on the Jota, and not too many of them in unseasonal snow…

The Jota needed a rebore and a cylinder head and carb overhaul in the winter of 2007, which cost a chunky £3000 (yes, more than the original purchase price), and ‘it’s now on its second cylinder head due to cracks in the original. Otherwise it has only really needed the usual service spares – and the ignition charge coil which has been changed twice’ explains Dave.

The next job on the list is the brakes which could do with an overhaul or upgrade, although Dave says ‘I love the bike as it is’ so ‘it’s not going to change much from how it looks now.’ Over the years Dave fitted a grab rail to protect it from panniers, plus a single sports seat and rearsets ‘for comfort. The Laverda rearsets give a much better riding position than the standard set-up.’ Dave also recommends an enclosed chainguard ‘which is very good, but these can only be fitted to pre-1979 bikes because of the chain size.’

Note the stubby mirror stalk: Neat. 1978 Laverda Jota

One trip on the Jota will always be very special to Dave, when he took the bike back to the factory in Italy at the end of the 1970s. While Dave went on a factory tour the mechanics whipped his Jota into the workshop and gave the carbs and the top end a quick once-over. Then they tested their handiwork on the company test track – how marvellous is that? Dave says the were ‘very good, and wouldn’t take any kind of payment.’

If you’re thinking of buying a similar machine then Dave says ‘you need to make sure it’s a real Jota. A lot of triple have had badges put on them but they’re not real Jotas’ so you need to talk to Slater Laverda or the Laverda Club to check. ‘Try to buy one with a good engine, because they are very expensive to overhaul!’

Laverda stuff on eBay.co.uk

You will find that 3Cs and RGS triples can be a little bit cheaper than Jotas, and Dave reckons that each offers an excellent experience. Just don’t pay Jota money for an RGS…

‘I had a 3C in 1974 so I couldn’t resist getting a Jota. Then I also got an RGS, and had fun on them all. The more you put in to bikes like these, the more you get out. I’ve always liked having bikes like these which are different...’

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Show Off!

Dave Hawes won his award at the South of England RealClassic Bike Show at Ardingly. The next event there is on Sunday 26th October 2008, and your classic would be very welcome to join the display.

Entry is FREE for prebooked exhibitors; see www.elk-promotions.co.uk for details about how to enter your classic bike. There are prizes in a range of classes and a commemorative souvenir for all concours entrants.

The Show starts at 10am at the South of England Showground at Ardingly, 15 minutes ride from Gatwick. As well as the concours competition you can expect club displays, trade stands, bike-only autojumble and the RC Roadshow…

'Haven't you taken enough photos already? I'm roasting in these waterproofs' Dave Hawes with his 1978 Laverda Jota

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