Record Speed From An Unlikely Moto Guzzi

This retired fire captain's Moto Guzzi Le Mans was built to beat Harleys at Bonneville.

Bill Ross and his 1987 Moto Guzzi
Retired fire captain Bill Ross and his 1987 Moto Guzzi Le Mans Special Edition.Julia LaPalme
Bike 1987 Moto Guzzi Le Mans Special Edition
Rider Bill Ross
Age 59
Home Valley Center, CA

As a kid, I wanted a minibike, but I just couldn't afford one. I had to wait until I was in my early 20s to get an XL 125 to commute to work. That bike turned into an SR500. From then on I was a thumper nut, which is probably why I love Guzzis—they're double thumpers.

I bought my first in 1992, a V7 Sport. I fell in love with the way the engine delivers power, the way the sound is so similar to an American V-8, the torque, the flywheel inertia, and the mechanical simplicity of it. In 1993 I bought a 1000 Le Mans Special Edition, one of only 100 produced for America. I decided to sell it in ’99, but 12 years later I saw one for sale locally. I said to myself, “God, this looks a lot like my old one,” but it had different pipes. I decided to buy it anyway. After going through all the receipts that came with it, I noticed the oldest one belonged to the guy I sold my bike to. This was my old bike! It had changed hands five or six times, but I ended up getting it back.

I made my first trip to the salt with my Canadian friend Fred in 2006. While we were watching the racing, he turned to me and said, We should do this.

I made my first trip to the salt with my Canadian friend Fred in 2006. While we were watching the racing, he turned to me and said, "We should do this." If I were going to go for a land-speed record, I wanted to do it on a Guzzi. I wanted to go after the fast Harley guys. At the time, the 1,000cc Harley record was 169 mph. That was the one I went for.

The Mandello Meteor was built off a 1987 Le Mans 1000 SE. The heads were highly modifed by Phil Wyatt, and the rest of the engine was built around them. It took a lot of help from many different individuals and businesses who all got their names on the side of the bike. I didn’t want it to be seen as “Billy’s Race Team.”

Bill Ross
We rolled onto the salt at 6 a.m. as the sun came up. I was getting real nervous, thinking, “My, god! We’re gonna do this!”Julia LaPalme

In 2008, the bike and the team were ready. We rolled onto the salt at 6 a.m. as the sun came up. I was getting real nervous, thinking, “My, god! We’re gonna do this!” The starter came over and motioned for me to drop my visor and go. The bike ran 172 mph, besting that Harley record of 169 and putting Moto Guzzi back in the record book. After the run, I talked to Fred, and we decided we could pull the fairings off the Meteor and enter it in another class. We took off everything but the seat fairing and brought home another record.

Today, the Mandello Meteor has made more than 70 passes on the salt and at El Mirage lakebed, it holds six Bonneville records, and it should probably be rebuilt. I’m contemplating retiring it, as I have a new project: I want to see 200 mph on a Guzzi.