For most custom motorcycle builders, their creations are like their children: it’s impossible to pick a favorite. But sometimes there’s one project that stands out. For Luis Correia and his team at Maria Motorcycles in Portugal, it’s this immaculate Moto Guzzi Le Mans cafe racer.
Luis is proud of how it turned out, as he should be, not least because Maria’s 37th project was a mammoth undertaking. “Unlike everything else we’ve done so far,” he says, “it was a lengthy and complex process, jam-packed with stories and hurdles that we fought to overcome.”
‘Estoril’ started when a French customer got in touch late in 2013, enamored with a Ducati 750 SS that Maria had just built. After some back and forth, it was decided to build a classic cafe racer using a Moto Guzzi as a donor, rather than another Ducati.
“It would be a much more exclusive and different bike,” says Luis. “Our proposal had as its epicenter the Le Mans MK1 model—a motorcycle whose history is associated with classic racing, and which already had plenty of commercial value.”
Maria’s client managed to source a Le Mans MK1 in Belgium that had already been modified somewhat. Luis’ team would have preferred a stock donor to work with—but it had been hard enough to find this one, so they relented. When it arrived at the workshop, it turned out that it was more custom than they originally thought.
“Nothing was original,” says Luis. “In fact, the bike had already taken part in classic tournaments with its previous owner. It had different wheels, tank, rear end, front suspension, engine … everything had been altered or modified, completely defacing the basis of the original Le Mans.”
“The goal of this project was to build a motorcycle inspired by racing, with a classic approach, without visually emphasizing the use of recent or modern parts. For this, and with the base we had, there was only one solution: take all the screws apart, decide what we were going to take advantage of or purchase, and then build what was missing for our design.”
As soon as the bike was on the bench and stripped down, Maria ran into their first problem: the frame number didn’t match the papers. This wouldn’t have been a problem for a track-only bike, but the new owner wanted to ride it on the street, and getting it registered in France would be a nightmare. After an extensive search and with a little luck, the crew found an original frame with French papers.
The next major speed bump was the motor. When the guys peeked inside, they found extensive race mods—including an overbore, and a number of components that had been drilled out in unconventional ways, presumably to save weight. And it wasn’t exactly in top condition, either.
So the motor went off to an expert: Michael Behrendt at HMB Guzzi in Röttenbach, Germany. It took him a few months to finish, but it was worth it.
Everything was sandblasted clean, and a new 92 mm piston kit was installed, bumping the capacity to 1038 cc. Inside are a new camshaft and connecting rods, high performance carbon-coated valves, a new large capacity oil pump, a reinforced timing belt, a timing belt tensioner with a self-regulating system, and a lighter flywheel. The starter motor was upgraded too, and there’s a Bosch electronic ignition system, with a conversion to two spark plugs per head.
Michael also balanced the crankshaft, and changed the clutch to a competition-spec setup. The carbs are a pair of Dell’Ortos, restored by Maria and ultrasonically cleaned. The Guzzi demanded an exhaust to match its engine spec, so the team collaborated with a supplier to design a two-into-one-into-two stainless steel system.
While Michael was fettling the motor, Maria were hard at work on the rest of the bike. Ultimately, all that remains of the donor are the engine casings, the wheel hubs, the front forks and the foot pegs. “The rest was put aside,” says Luis, “either because it wouldn’t fit our vision, or because they were old, rusted parts in need of restoration. Or because they did not belong to the original bike any more.”
The front forks were upgraded with a whole whack of new parts, including tubes and internals. The rear shocks are Wilbers units, sprung to match the bike and owner’s weight.
The previous owner had swapped the MK1’s alloy wheels for a set of spoked items, but they weren’t great. So Maria refurbished the hubs, then laced them to Borrani aluminum rims with new stainless steel spokes.
A rear disc brake upgrade was discussed, but in the end the drum brake that the bike came with suited the overall style better. But with a more powerful motor, Maria couldn’t leave it stock—so they upgraded it with a custom lever system to sharpen its response. The front brake was upgraded with floating discs, a custom-made Brembo kit from Stein-Dinse Guzzi, and a master cylinder from Braking.
Every last detail was agonized over—like the new yokes, which were custom-made to replace the non-stock parts on the donor bike. Since there was nothing that Maria could buy off the shelf, Maria ended up going back to Michael Behrendt for advice. Together they developed a new set of yokes that would perfect the geometry and look similar to the original Moto Guzzi parts, and could also serve as a prototype for future production.
Even the bodywork has a story behind it. The idea was to have a Monza-style fuel tank and a solo seat, but with more fluid lines than classic examples. At this point, Maria’s client told them he’d found a metal shaper in Italy by the name of Eugenio Libanore, who still beats aluminum into shape with a wooden mallet.
“The problem was that Mr. Libanore would only sell something to those who would visit and meet him in person,” says Luis, “and convince him to sell his pieces, while paying for them in cash. Mr. Libanore is still alive and is currently 90 years old. It is worth visiting his workshop just to see his work. He is regarded as a legend for this sort of work.”
The client was passionate enough to go through with it, so he made the trip to purchase a custom-shaped tank and tail. Once the parts reached Maria’s hands, they further tweaked them to fit the frame, and to correct the minor asymmetries inherent in hand-made parts. They also built a custom mounting system, inspired by old fuel tank designs, to dampen vibrations that could affect the tank’s integrity.
The tank was then lined inside and painted, and the tail section was capped off with a simple hit of brown quilted leather.
When it came time to assemble the bike, there was still a host of stuff to tackle. Maria rewired the bike with a Motogadget mo.unit controller, and also added a speedo, switches and grips from the German electronics brand. The bike runs off a gel battery, and all the wiring’s been hidden from sight.
Then it was tuning time. “After many tests, and a trial-and-error approach, we arrived at the balance between power, engine stability, consumption and reliability,” says Luis.
“It’s a 50-year-old motorcycle that, despite the obstacles, has managed to see the light of day. With an engine that looks like an angry monster, eager to accelerate on any track. A motorcycle that gives its rider the pleasure of having a ‘historical’ piece, but still has plenty of fun and adrenaline to offer.”