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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 7th June 2010

Moto Morini 350 / 507

Take a humble 350cc Morini Strada and turn it up to 11 by fitting the beating heart of a 507cc Excalibur factory custom, then add lightness. Paul Miles liked the Moreini Special so much, he bought it twice...

Morini. Often described as the best kept secret in classic motorcycling, a jewel of a little overhead valve V-twin that revs like a two stroke and handles like a racer. Better still, the knowledgeable owner can dismantle one using little more than a 10mm spanner and a Swiss Army knife and if you ever need spares there's a wealth of knowhow out there. They look a million dollars, yet can be had for considerably less, under a grand in fact.

Well, that used to be the case, but the prices of Italian classics have been soaring of late and Morinis are belatedly getting the financial recognition that their reputation deserves. Which is one of the reasons bikes like the Morini featured here will become ever more scarce, because this bike is a 350 Strada bicycle fitted with a 507cc motor!

Worth a double-take? Moto Morini 350 / 507

An easy way to improve the performance of a bike is to give it a heart transplant, and Morinisti have been doing this for years. One of the best bikes I ever rode, and I've ridden a goodly few, was a 250 Morini with a 350 lump shoehorned in it, the extra power added to the miniscule machine made for a very exciting ride indeed. Morini, like a lot of Italian manufacturers, used the same few engines in a series of different chassis in order to create a range of bikes to tempt the prospective buyers. Morini were invariably skint, however, so often added layers of unnecessary bodywork or gizmos to create the illusion of development as the years went by.

By the 1980's the factory had fully developed their iconic V twin into a 507cc, six speeder and used it in three guises, the Sport, a dirt-style Sahara and the Excalibur, a err.. umm.. chopper! Why Excalibur? Perhaps it was all the sharp edges, heavy metal and propensity to rust, who knows. The Sport was itself by now a long and relatively heavy machine, with electric start, twin discs and more extensive bodywork, all a far cry from the early models where the original Morini credo seemed to be, to quote Lotus' Colin Chapman, to "add lightness".

You can make your own boat-ancho joke Moto Morini 350 / 507

The builder of this particular machine in 2005, Dave Curry, wanted a light and nimble classic to ride in classic events like the Circuit des Pyrenees , a long and winding alpine time trial. The early 350 Strada seemed like an ideal machine, with its classic styling and surefootedness, but the wee vee needs a fair bit of spinning to really get going; they like to be thrashed. The later 507 was a much more lusty beast, but either looked too modern (Sport) or too weird (the be-chromed Excalibur). Plus, they were over complicated and therefore much too heavy. But sticking the big lump into an early bike? Hmm.

Like it's meant to be there... Moto Morini 507 motor looks right in 350 Strada frame

A scruffy Strada was duly purchased, for around 400 (try doing that now) and stripped of all unnecessary weight and complexity. For instance, Morini, marching to the beat of a different drum, fitted electrically operated petrol taps-unnecessary, heavy and complicated. These were junked, along with miles of spaghetti wiring powering (or not) rarely functioning idiot lights and indicators. The wheels were re-laced with 18" rims to provide better tyre choices, everything was powder coated or polished, the rear suspension was taken care of with Koni shocks and the front fork internals were treated to cartridge emulators- no I don't know either. A new Grimeca calliper was mated to a Honda VFR master cylinder and Presto! We have a bicycle.

Next, the motor. The bigger Sport and Sahara are well worth preserving, but the Excalibur... A few quid changed hands for one of these non-emerging classics and within a few hours a black and chromium plated 507cc engine sat on the bench, along with the surprisingly retro white faced clocks. The rest was returned to the lady of the lake, or eBay, if you like.

Looking more retro than the older originals... Moto Morini Excalibur clocks

The engine was stripped - vapour blasting removed the unwanted black and chrome plating - then rebuilt, throwing away the incredibly heavy electric start setup and mildly porting the heads before fitting 28mm carbs. Once in (making it all sound really easy) the bike looks quite standard and very few people realise what it really is, until you start it up, that is. The completed bike looks like it was made at the factory, not like a special, even the Ducati switchgear looks appropriate. The original 'Three and a Half' badges are still in place-something which caused much confusion when they were launched as three and a half was sometimes thought to refer to the old horsepower rating, which equates to about 500cc. Serendipity, I'd say.

Does it go? Oh yes! Lighter than the standard early model Strada, itself a featherweight at about 144KG, it makes about 20% more BHP and around 30% more torque. The equivalent 500 Sport Morini weighed in at 183KG and the Excalibur a pasta munching 194KG, so it's easy to see the attraction of this conversion, adding glamour, performance and lightness.

It pulls very hard from tick-over upwards with virtually linear power right up to the red line at about 8500rpm. The result, with mountain pass gearing fitted, is a wheelie-prone animal of a bike that launches out of the bends yet handles and brakes as well as any classic I've ever ridden.

Morini Stuff on Now...

I've had to play with jetting the big carbs; the donor bike had a large and complicated airbox and it's well known that modifying the intake side on a Morini can be an irksome process to get right. Downsides? The clutch; in my experience most Morini clutches are grabby things and finding neutral is harder than finding Nemo. The rest is just about acquiring technique, starting it, for example, is a one prod affair once you know how to do it.

'Does it go? Oh yes!...' Moto Morini 350 / 507

Confession time, I've actually owned this bike twice.

When Dave Curry built it originally, he hated it. Hated the left hand kickstart, hated the riding position, hated the power delivery. Dave is a Ducati V twin man and assumed that the wee vee would be similar to, say, a Pantah. Oh dear. I bought it from him just after he'd finished it and he'd only ridden it up the road. I had it for about a year before selling it to help pay for the MV I'd bought and had regretted selling it ever since.

Four years later and a chance conversation with EV Guru, of message board fame, led me to appreciate its considerable - and available for purchase once more - charms. So now its home again and I plan to keep it that way. Negotiations have commenced with Mr Guru about further tuning over the winter and I quite like the idea of turning into a homage to Morini's last experiment with the old V twin that never quite made it into production....the Turbo!

So, is it better than the 350? Probably yes, if you like blasting around a tutto gas (a Morinisti thing). Is it better than the other Morini special, the 250 with a 350 motor? No, that was something else entirely, another level; I'd like to have both, ideally.

Now make your own...

If you'd like to build one yourself simply buy a Morini 350 with a blown engine and a shed of an Excalibur. Pop round to my place for inspiration and you've got yourself an epic street sleeper. Oh, one more thing, Morinis never blow up, so good luck with that search!

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