1963 Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport
Years produced: 1950-1963
Claimed power: 23hp @ 4,500rpm
Top speed: 85mph (est.)
Engine type: 499cc air-cooled OHV single
Weight (dry): 162kg (367lb)
Price then: $900 (approx.)
Price now: $4,000-$12,000
MPG: 50 (approx.)
One of the main attractions of motorcycles — to gear heads like you and me, anyway — is that they wear their insides on the outside. Unlike a car, the motorcycle’s inner workings (its modus operandi, if you will) has — for better or worse — been an integral part of its appearance.
Better or worse? Well, there are those who might consider that some motorcycles are over exposed, and that some of the parts on display would be better hidden. Take the Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport, for example. Is it perhaps a little too naked, maybe wearing too much of its heart on its sleeve? The huge outside flywheel on the engine’s left side, for example? Or the rear suspension’s chrome-plated friction dampers, the positive-stop gearshift mechanism, the clutch actuator and oil pump, all bolted to the outside of the engine?
In the Falcone’s case, this exuberance comes honestly, because the bike’s basic design can be traced back — without fundamental change — to the first Moto Guzzi of 1921 and even to Guzzi’s first design, the Moto Guzzi-Parodi prototype of 1919.
Michael Blumberg’s Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport
Like BSA Rocket Gold Stars, it seems there are more examples of the Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport around now than the factory ever produced. The reason? A few unscrupulous “restorers” have been buying up ex-police and military “Turismo” models, fitting them with alloy rims and other Sport cosmetic items, then selling them as genuine Sport models. It was just such a machine that Michael Blumberg spotted online at a U.K.-based Italian bike dealer’s website.
Born in the deep south of the U.S., Blumberg now lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is an Italian bike and car nut, a passion that dates from his teens. He worked as a Fiat mechanic for a while after college, and as a sideline, began restoring old Fiat 500s and 600s while also acquiring a taste for Italian motorcycles. Into the stable went a pair of Moto Guzzis (a V7 Sport and a touring SP1000, as well as a Ducati Monster), but what he really hankered after was a Falcone. And it had to be a Sport.
“While owning V-twin Guzzis, I became intrigued with Falcones through reading various books and articles,” says Blumberg. “I wanted to find one that was in good original shape, and a Sport model that was originally a Sport when it left the factory. A true Sport has higher compression, a different cam, a different carb and many other detail differences.”
Blumberg forwarded a picture of the suspect bike to legendary U.K. Guzzi guru Ian Ledger, who has been collecting and restoring Guzzis ever since a trip to Italy in 1974, when he discovered and fell in love with a 1953 Moto Guzzi Falcone — then rode it home to England!
“I happened onto Ian Ledger early on while reading an article in an early-Nineties classic bike magazine,” says Blumberg, “and saw a little ad for his Guzzi Singles specialist business on an adjacent page.”
Ledger carefully examined the picture and concluded that it was indeed a Turismo that had been converted to a Sport, and while fixing the cosmetics would be easy, the Sport engine internals were a different matter. Blumberg passed on the deal.
Now knowing that Blumberg was in the market for a Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport, Ledger offered to sell him a Sport from his own collection. But while Blumberg was waiting for photographs of the bike to arrive by mail (Ledger, at the time, had no Internet access), another purchaser pounced, offering Ledger a price he couldn’t really refuse.
But as marque specialist with the U.K. Vintage Motorcycle Owners Club and singles advisor to the Moto Guzzi Club GB, Ledger is well placed to hear of Falcones going up for sale. So it was that Ledger contacted Blumberg late in 2005 to let him know a Sport belonging to a Michael Lacey would soon be available. The fact that Ledger had once owned the bike and could vouch for its authenticity was a bonus.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. The bike had a checkered history, as Blumberg found out from Lacey. After being “restored” in Italy, the bike had passed through numerous owners, recording just 12 miles, before passing into Lacey’s hands. Lacey bought the Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport to ride, but after adding another 2,500 miles or so, noticed a serious drop in performance.
Dismantling the engine, Lacey discovered the “restoration” had been cosmetic only. To make matters worse, the engine had been “cleaned” with a bead-blaster without dismantling, and some of the beads had found their way in, damaging the engine’s internals.
The Falcone needed a rebore, new piston and rod, bearings and many other parts. That took care of the engine, and Lacey added another 11,000 miles without incident, including a “Round Britain” circuit with a group of riders from the Carlo Guzzi Club in Mandello del Lario, Italy, home of Moto Guzzi. But advancing years and knee problems meant Lacey found the big single more and more difficult to start, and he decided to sell it. Blumberg bought the bike sight unseen and had it shipped to Vancouver. As Lacey was at that time treasurer of the MGOC, Blumberg felt pretty safe about the deal and wasn’t disappointed.
“Mine is probably a very, very late one,” says Blumberg. “According to Ledger and Lacey, most Falcones were produced to around 1957 or so. After that, just a handful was built every so often as orders accumulated.”
Life with a Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport
There is, of course, a technique to starting any big single, and the Guzzi is no exception. The Guzzi’s big, exposed flywheel has an interesting effect on how the engine spins over, and one long lunge on the kickstarter will spin the engine through a half-dozen revolutions.
On my visit for our photo session, however, the bike hadn’t run for a while and was a bit slow to start. Even so, after a few reluctant coughs the Guzzi started and settled into a remarkably slow, almost catatonic idle. Also unique is the exhaust note: like firecrackers exploding in a paint can — sonorous and resonant. The sight of the huge flywheel spinning — backward, because of the gear-drive primary — evokes memories of stationary “hit-and-miss” engines and fairground equipment. The flywheel seems innocuous enough, its red and chrome finish glinting in the October sunlight, but potential pilots might be recommended to avoid long scarves and loose clothing.
The engine’s lazy power and steamroller torque haul the Guzzi away at very modest revs, which is probably just as well because the huge flywheel effect means throttle response is lethargic at best, and its considerable inertia continues to drive the bike forward after the throttle is closed. The flywheel was cited in contemporary tests for inducing a reluctance in the Guzzi to change direction at speed, something that’s difficult to test on city streets.
As I line up my camera for some action shots, though, Blumberg swings the Guzzi easily through a series of turns, easing the long-wheelbase single to quite respectable lean angles.
My most memorable experience of the single-cylinder Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport is riding behind it, listening to the steady, hollow beat of the exhaust. Michael credits good parts availability from Paul Montgomery at www.guzzino.com in California with helping him keep the Falcone in fine fettle.
The Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport is truly a trip back in time. Essentially obsolete when it was launched, it nevertheless survived, in various forms, for another 25 years; yet its exposed mechanicals and in-your-face engineering provide a direct link to the early years of the 20th century. Beauty? Well, that’s subjective, of course. But it’s totally candid: no dressing up, paneling over or unnecessary trim. And there’s an honest beauty in that. MC