Aaron Frank: 1973 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport - Resurrection Road

The Life-Affirming Power Of One Very Special Motorcycle

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Jim Moy

Not done with it yet?! The freewheeling, curve-chasing hippie was long gone. It was the mid-'90s, and Jim was an executive at a tool-and-die company with two kids and a split-level on a few acres outside of town. The Guzzi had long been banished from the living room and now languished under an old blanket in a dark corner of the basement. It hadn't been started in at least 20 years.

I eventually gave up trying to buy the bike. Instead, I tried to talk Jim into getting it running again. Maybe I could at least ride this motorcycle that had animated my imagination for so long. But Jim wouldn't have it. At times he seemed unwilling even to uncover the bike. He'd just repeat his familiar refrain: "I'm not done with it yet."

Jim's cancer stayed in remission for nearly 25 years, until 1999. Within weeks, he was gone. His life got complicated at the end, with a large estate, properties, multiple collector vehicles, lawyers and another woman. The Guzzi got tangled up in a nasty probate battle, and an estate auction looked inevitable. After multiple letters and a few desperate phone calls, I managed to buy the V7 in advance of the estate auction. It was professionally appraised before the sale, and I had to write a surprisingly large check, but in September 2003-just days before my 29th birthday-the title to "my" '73 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport arrived via certified mail.

My father and I retrieved the bike the next weekend, on a dismal, rainy day. It had been moved out of the warm, dry basement years earlier, into a shed that had been rented to a concrete contractor, and flecks of cement dust coated every surface. I trailered the bike back to my house and went straight to work. I soon noticed that the carbs were spotless inside. Jim had been working on the bike before he died. Next I lifted the seat, and stopped in my tracks.

There was no battery. Instead, I found a pile of license plates and unused registration stickers from '76 through '99. On top of the pile was a well-worn leather belt with the famous Guzzi eagle embossed across the back. All these years Jim had dutifully kept the bike licensed and registered-waiting to work up the nerve to ride again. Of course it made sense. This bike had already saved Jim's life once before. Was a second miracle too much to ask?

Excepting those spotless carburetors, almost every component on the bike needed to be rebuilt or replaced. The sealed fork cartridges (the first cartridge fork on any production motorcycle) no longer compressed. A shift lever return spring deep in the transmission was broken, but the transmission had to be pulled anyway to replace clutch plates fouled by a leaky main seal. The felt seals in the final drive were hopeless. The 30-year-old tires were worthless, too, as were the rock-hard brake shoes. And there were a half-dozen broken spokes.

The engine wasn't much better. Chrome-plated cylinder liners shouldn't be dry for three decades, and the Italian electronics weren't robust when new. I rapidly achieved frequent-buyer status with the vintage Guzzi parts pushers at MG Cycle in Albany, Wisconsin, and I know my repair bills funded at least one south-of-the-border moto-adventure for Milwaukee vintage bike guru Tim Schneider at The Shop.

After two years of waiting, wrenching and writing endless checks, I finally got to ride the V7-and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a huge disappointment. The 750cc V-twin is quick-revving and makes a deliciously deep growl, but too-tall gearing means that even my old 52-horsepower Hawk GT could walk the Guzzi in any acceleration contest. Despite the new clutch and rebuilt transmission, communication between the wobbly shift lever and recalcitrant transmission remains more telegraphic than telepathic. Massive shaft jacking makes aggressive cornering an exciting proposition, and then there are those brakes. Even if vintage Guzzi maestro Stephen Kames called it "the best Guzzi drum that ever left his shop," I could stop that bike faster by jamming my boot against the front tire!

The V7 is not without its charms, however. On the right road-preferably a fast, flowing stretch of tarmac where you can dip in and out of the throttle without touching the shifter or brakes-it's a stellar companion, powering through sweepers with the unstoppable authority of a charging buffalo. And talk about charisma: The booming exhaust note, the deep bands of vibration hammering through the age-hardened rubber grips and footrests, and the animal heat radiating from the round cylinder heads make this motorcycle feel alive in a way that precious few bikes can match.

Unlike my Hondas, my Moto Guzzi is not a bike that disappears beneath me. It's a bike that speaks very clearly, in an intimate and uniquely expressive way. I've lately taken to riding it late at night, setting out long after the kids are tucked into bed. I'll disappear deep into the countryside, where the only illumination comes from the dim cone of my sealed-beam headlight. I go where the roads are long and empty and free of distractions, so I can better focus the subtle communiqus issued by this ancient machine. The alarming clatter of worn-out rocker arms. The slight wobble emanating from the front wheel, with yet another broken spoke. The hollow thud over big bumps when the fuel tank, riding on its weary rubber mounts, contacts the valve covers on either side. Some nights, if I listen closely, I'll hear a familiar voice uttering a message I waited more than 30 years to hear: "It's all yours, Aaron-I'm done with it now."

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