“Bring Back The Eldorado!!”
Noted British journalist George Orwell once wrote: “He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.” If that be true, perhaps there is hope yet for a modern Moto Guzzi Eldorado. Certainly, the title of this month’s “Roadworthy” is a phrase we have gotten used to hearing a lot, and not unlike Orwell’s quote, the statement is a political one - a decree issued to the powers - that - be. Tell me, Guzzi faithful, do you mean it? Do you really? If so, read on.
As Greg Field reported in chapter one of his book “Moto Guzzi Big Twins” the Eldorado (along with the Ambassador, which preceded it, and the V700, the original version of the Guzzi big twin which was developed in the early to mid 60s) was the final version of the famous big twin presented by Giulio Carcano and Umberto Todero, two talented Guzzi engineers given the task of coming up with a design to win a lucrative Italian police and military contract. Hopefully push the concept on farther to civilian buyers. As we all know, Carcano and Todero were extremely successful in their venture, and the proof (if you will) of the brilliance in that design is still seen on the streets and roads of the world today, some 35 years later. Some motorcycle journalists have called the big Guzzi vee “The small block Chevy” of the motorcycle world, and that is a very good comparison. Both have passed the greatest test of all, the test of time.
Near the end of chapter one, Greg reports of the sale of Moto Guzzi to Benelli chief Alessandro De Tomaso, a businessman from Argentina, for 1.25 billion lire. De Tomaso took control of the concern in late 1972, and promptly started cleaning house; massive reorganization of the production facility, research and development teams were either pared down or discarded completely, senior employees - some of whom had served the company nearly all their lives - were shown the door, and the demise of the Eldorado was at hand. To be fair, De Tomaso was responsible for signing the go-ahead on such projects as the LeMans series, the SP1000, the widely successful California series (all based on the Tonti frame, by the way), even the four-valve Daytona, and that modern classic, the 1100 Sport, came under the direction of De Tomaso.
Now, some 25 years later, we still hear the disappointment of many Guzzi owners (both past, and present) regarding halting the production of the Eldorado. To quote Greg Field from his book: “In its final year, the Eldorado remained a phenomenal seller. Most dealers were out of machines long before the selling season was over, and began crying for more. The Eldorado was gone and there was a delay in production of the new 850T. The word among American dealers and distributors was that De Tomaso despised the Eldorado and saw it as a remnant of the old Moto Guzzi that should be done away with as soon as possible. In the opinion of many, De Tomaso made a rash decision that, at least in the United States, cost the company dearly.” “There was nothing wrong with those last Eldorados,” Greg wrote quoting John Gregory. “They tracked straight as a string, as fast as you wanted to go.” Greg finished up his summary of the situation by saying: “Moto Guzzi lost the sales momentum the Berliners and their dealer network worked so hard to build. According to Dave Hewitt “Many of the Eldorado guys never bought another Guzzi. Some bought the T3 or the Automatic eventually. Many of them went to Gold Wings.” Greg finishes his retrospective by adding: “In a fond nod to the Eldorado, the most successful American dealers of the coming few years succeeded largely on their ability to make their new-style Guzzis look like the old.”
(MGNOC ED NOTE: I accurately recall the time when production of the Eldorado was stopped. Sales literally stopped dead in their tracks. In 1974 I attended an all brands motorcycle rally, which approximately one thousand others attended. There were so many Ambassadors and Eldorados there that Moto Guzzi was the third best represented brand.
I disagree however about their being straight as a string. Put a fairing and bags on an Ambassador or Eldorado and run it up to 90+ mph. Very often it could get scary. Lots of owners crashed their bikes because of high speed wobbles. Put two people on the bike, or remove the handlebar fairing and bags, and the bike was stable.
Maybe the best thing about an Eldo is if you’re very short, you can easily reach the ground. And if you’re very tall you have more leg room than that available on most of the newer model Guzzis. For sure I’d buy a new F.I. Eldorado with brakes if Guzzi produced one. FW
The Eldorado 1100i
“Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs,” Henry Ford.
Peter Coronado sold his 1993 Suzuki GSX1100G four years ago because he just couldn’t afford to keep the big Suzuki around anymore. “I’ve been raising my daughter alone since she was two years old, and when I told my folks I was selling my bike, my father was happy, but my mother wasn’t. Although admitting it was dangerous, she reasoned it was the only thing I ever did for myself, and now I was giving up that. In the course of the next year and a half, both of my parents passed away, and remembering how mother felt, I let motorcycling back into my life, and back into my soul.
Some friends recommended a Guzzi Sport 1100i to Peter when he asked what sort of “unusual” bikes were available at the time. A short time later, Peter bought a yellow 1997 Sport 1100i (“I didn’t know they still made Moto Guzzis,” he told me later.), from Mark Etheridge at Moto Guzzi Classics in Signal Hill, California, and named the bike “Momma Goose,” in memory of his mother.
Five hundred miles and one month later, a full sized Ford Bronco and its driver decided to prove the size difference by placing the Sport under the Bronco’s large wheels. “While the bike was at Mark’s shop for repairs, I started to notice some of his Ambassador and Eldorado restorations.” Peter continues, “One guy, Raymond Cruz, an accomplished actor in Hollywood, has a green and tan Eldorado Mark built for him awhile back. That machine moved me deeply. I found myself under the spell of those vintage Guzzis. I approached Mark with the idea of building my very own custom Eldo.”
Mark’s talent with vintage Guzzis has captured the attention of the biking press in the past. A full blown article about him and his shop was published in a past issue of Rider magazine. “A lot of the Hollywood types come in here,” Mark said, “looking at this and that. I always fantasized about delivering a full-on Eldo restoration to Jay Leno at “The Tonight Show” and just leaving it there with a note: “If you like it, send me a check. If not, I’ll pick it up.” Kinda scary, but I just may do it. ”
Convinced, Peter gave Mark the go ahead to start the project, which first began as a rusty 1974 LAPD, disc brake, loop frame and a round head Guzzi vee from an 850 LeMans. Peter had other ideas. “I told Mark I loved the square head motor that was in my Sport, and Mark replied he had fancied the idea of creating a modern Eldorado, but suggested that it would be a good idea to build the bike during the leaner winter months, so he could devote the time to getting the project right.”
“I estimated it would take 200 hours to finish,” Mark revealed, “but it ended up over double that. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t an easy bike to build. As many Guzzi restorations as I’ve done, I thought I had it pretty much figured out. Sheesh! Was I wrong.”
The search began first with an attempt to find a suitable donor bike for the engine, electrical components, wheels, suspension, etc. “We had trouble finding a reasonable deal; even wrecked Calis were fetching over $3000," Mark explained. “But finally I found a wrecked 1996 Cali 1100i in San Francisco, and I knew the history of the bike as well. It was originally sold by Harper’s, had been owned by an ex-Police officer, then sold again to a guy who crashed it at 115 mph. We were lucky to get it for $3000. Although it looked rough, it was in surprisingly good shape chassis wise, which was all I cared about.”
The Cali was stripped to bits and the torches were lit. Clearance would be needed between the Eldo front fender and the protruding alternator of the modern engine, so the neck was cut and moved back to increase the rake. When I asked Mark how much, he replied: “Till it looked good.” To use the Cali swingarm, the rear rails were also raked and lengths of steel tubing added to the upper frame rails to accommodate Cali’s longer swingarm. Mark used a combination of Eldo, T3, and Cali parts to fit the swingarm, then fitted the chrome acorn nuts to finish the look. “A pain!” Mark remembers.
While he was at it, Mark beefed up the frame’s backbone, and reported of the constant practice of removing old brackets, grinding, adding new brackets and more grinding. ”Months passed,” Peter remembers, “and the bike didn’t really look that much different. It was a slow process.” With the Cali’s swingarm and wheel fitted to the frame, Mark turned his attention back to the front half of the motorcycle. “The forks are the 40mm units from the Cali, as are the triple-trees, into which shorter Eldorado stem pressed in. Peter thought the front looked too “skinny” so I fitted the chrome sliders from the Eldo’s forks after I machined the seal flanges out. I then fitted the upper fork covers over the Cali’s sliders and under the trees.” “Mark cussed me endlessly about the forks,” smiles Peter. “But I think it was worth it. The bike wouldn’t look like a real Eldorado without those big, fat forks.”
That done, the Cali’s alloy spoke front wheel could be fitted, along with its matching floating rotors and calipers. Note: Mark also fitted the stock Guzzi steering dampener as well. The large Eldo fender was squeezed in with a modern brace bolted betwixt the tubes. It was now time to fit the injected 1100 motor between the frame rails. “Installing the engine wasn’t as hard as you might think,” explained Mark. “I had to do some work to the front mounts, which are higher than stock, but the transmission mounts lined right up. The hardest part was finding a place for the electronic brain. To insure reliability, the Cali’s wiring harness was used, but I still had to figure out where to put everything else.”
“I remember Mark telling me he was placing every electronic part, every relay, and the fuse block as close to where it was mounted on the Cali as possible,” Peter pointed out. “In my opinion this is where the real fabricating was done, and where Mark really impressed me. The clean look of the finished bike is due to his expertise on this point in the build. He was always thinking ahead.”
For the fuel plumbing, the Cali’s fuel pump and filter found a home in the “V” section of the engine, thanks to another custom bracket, but the brake hoses presented yet another problem. “The front was easy, but there was no room anywhere for the rear master cylinder and reservoir,” Mark recalled. “So I hid the unit in the right side tool box, and the proportioning valve in the other tool box. I still smile when I look at that.”
Peter remembers that during the construction on the 1100i/Eldo, he and his daughter Catherine made hundred of visits to Moto Guzzi Classics to monitor the progress of the restoration. “It was at these times Mark would come up with ideas to make the bike better, and safer for Catherine, like the rear turn signals. I didn’t want them but Mark insisted. “You can have anything on the bike you want,” he’d say smiling, “as long as I agree with it.” It turns out the large front and rear signals fit the look and personality of the bike perfectly. Another part of the bike he designed with her in mind was the (not shown) rear seat. He hacked apart a perfectly good king/queen seat, and recovered the rear section of it to match the front. Catherine loves it.”
Two years later the machine was nearly finished. Peter selected the white with red pinstripe paint scheme in the original Guzzi pattern, so the body work (tank, fenders, fiberglass sidecovers, and toolboxes) was prepped to perfection and sprayed, with the frame and fork covers finished in gloss black. “Josh, Mark’s right-hand man at Moto Guzzi Classics, came up with the idea of using the longer headlight from a V700 to match the long, low look of the rest of the machine,” Peter recalled.
Fitting the large, alloy police speedo unit to the top of the Cali’s upper triple tree proved another challenge for Mark. “That was a nightmare” he remembers. “I re-did it over and over until everything fit correctly.” With the Cali wiring harness, it was just natural to fit all the handlebar switches from the newer bike to further insure the bike’s reliability. To this end, everything lights up, blinks, honks and turns-off just like a new motorcycle. Smashing!
How does it work? When MGNOC editor Frank Wedge viewed the pictures of this machine, his first question to me was: “What’s it like at 100 mph!?” Peter replies: “The bike steers, handles and stops like a modern Moto Guzzi 1100.” Mark adds: “It rips through the gears like a proper Guzzi should, right up to 100 mph and beyond. It’s as steady as a freight train up there too.”
I first viewed and photographed the finished result at the Southern California MGNOC rally in early October. I walked right past it several times, not noticing anything more than just “another” clean, restored Eldorado - such is the beauty of this machine. It looks like a factory 2000 model Moto Guzzi Eldorado 1100i! Quiet, solid, and stately, this Eldorado has all the qualities of the original version (real steel styling) with the power, handling, and reliability of the latest machines from Mandello. To say it is impressive is a vast understatement.
So...what do you say Eldorado fans? Would you buy this machine if it was available at your local Moto Guzzi showroom? Sure, you can call Mark and he’d be happy to build you one just like it, or add/subtract anything to personalize the machine to your tastes. But Mark advises you bring your checkbook, and be prepared to invest a five figured sum, “$15,000 to $20,000,” he reasons. “And I’m not making much profit.” Better Moto Guzzi build it, allowing Mark and the other Guzzi dealers around the globe the task of simply uncrating the machine and adding fuel.
“They should make this bike,” Mark states. “It’s what everybody wants.” So here’s the deal, Guzzi faithful: I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that if this is something you want Moto Guzzi to build, send me a letter, or an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If I have enough, I’ll put them all in a big box with a stack of 8"x10" photos of Peter’s bike and this article, and send it to Moto Guzzi personally. On the front I’ll simply write:
“BRING BACK THE ELDORADO!!”
It’s your call.
1974/96 Moto Guzzi Eldorado
Owner: Peter Coronado.
Builder: Moto Guzzi Classics/Mark Etheridge.
1996 Moto Guzzi 1100 injected.
5 speed transmission.
Staintune head pipes, Dunstall replica mufflers. Custom stainless extensions.
1974 Moto Guzzi Eldorado LAPD frame stretched front and rear.
1996 Moto Guzzi California Forks-adjustable/Eldorado covers.
1996 Moto Guzzi California Swingarm/Progressive rear shocks.
1996 Moto Guzzi California alloy spoke wheels.
1996 Moto Guzzi wiring harness/switches.
Brembo floating rotors and calipers/Stainless lines.
5.8 gallon fuel capacity.
Vintage Eldorado Police speedo with warning lights.
Police spot lights.
Weight: Who knows?
Length: 92.5 inches.
Wheel base: 64 inches.
Seat height: 29.5 inches.
Time of construction: Approximately 500 hours.
Copyright 1999-2000 MGNOC