Four years and umpteen grand later Jean-Louis Olive’s P12XX (Project 12) is the Jota the factory might have made. Had they not closed for business in back in 1985
Even by PS standards, four years is a mighty long time for a build. However, when you examine the lengths Jean-Louis Olive has gone to in transforming one of his beloved old Laverdas from a brutal relic into a reworked beast for the 21st Century, it seems like a mere drop in the ocean of time. Retired French Coast Guard Captain, Jean-Louis likes a Laverda or 10.
He has five up and running (including a 60cc miniscooter) and others awaiting attention. He’s fully down with the Breganze vibe. “The engines are very strong, but so are all the cycle parts – and that means heavy. Only by taking away weight can you let the quality of the engines shine through,” he says. And the elongated construction time is down to the intensity of the quest to lose mass from every square centimetre of this Jota.
The 1976 Jota was the fastest thing on the road, but it was a handful to ride chiefly because it was (a) heavy at 520lbs, and (b) top heavy, with those two overhead cams. But it was a rocket too. With 90bhp and a 139mph top whack, Pete ‘PK’ Davies won the prestigious (in the true sense of the word) Avon Production Championship in 1977 and 1978. And boy did he earn those the hard way. He always looked on the edge of disaster – chiefly because he was.
Jotas were hard work, especially on track. Davies’ bike had the frame top tube cut and re-welded to steepen the steering angle, and combined with Ducati 900SS yokes to reduce offset and increase trail, PK’s and other proddie-raced Jotas were tamed a bit – a little bit.
Jean-Louis re-angled the headstock at the headstock without chopping into the top tube: a neater fix for something that isn’t an all-out race machine, where mods can be effective, not pretty. However, just because the XX is undeniably beautiful doesn’t mean it’s not engineered to the enth degree.
And the enemy of mass has been engineered out within the bounds of cost and without wholesale remanufacturing of the core of the bike. Titanium, specifically Ti6A14V aircraft grade, became Jean-Louis’ principal material. Along with 15CDV6 steel for the swingarmpivot mounts and the reworked headstock. He shaved 1.25kg by removing redundant bracketry and by using GSX-R1100 wheels he also gave his creation a fighting chance of responding to steering inputs with noticeably more enthusiasm than the Titanic. Keeping the nautical metaphor alive, the anchors are Brembo wavey discs from the Ducati 916 catalogue worked via a 916 mastercylinder. “The weight reduction proved successful,” said Jean-Louis. “It still has that planted Jota feel, but it’s a lot more nimble when you want to change direction. It’s no more comfortable than a normal Jota though.”
Much of that is down to his insistence on using Laverda’s SFC racer as the template for the XX’s style and stance. The SFC was a 750cc twin built in 1970, SFC standing for Super Freni Competizione, or Racebike with Decent Brakes; decent being a fourleading shoe Ceriani, which by the execrablestandards of the time was like having carbon discs when everyone else was using the soles of their boots.“The SFC is an inspiration for many Laverda fans,” says Jean-Louis. “A symbol of Laverda’s early involvement in the superbike scene of the ’70s. It was a great design and aside from the quintessentially Breganze orange paint, it established the Laverda look for years to come.
So the SFC for the design and the Jota for the engine performance.” Striking though the styling is, even 47 years after the event an SFC still looks butch and mildly forbidding, it’s the engine that is forever at the heart of a full-on special. The motor was entrusted to Piet Herrmann of Piet’s Performance Parts in Cologne. And he furnished the unit with all the top-end tackle he could muster: Carillo conrods, ceramic-coated Ross pistons from Redax Laverda in Australia, and a latemodel SFC1000 cylinder head that waseventually located after a two-year hunt. No compromises there then. Dial in bigger valves, a special grind for inlet and exhaust cams from Wolfgang Haerter in Canada – this pan-global powerplant has purpose. “The main problem was to find a good cylinder head which could cope with the power,” said Jean-Louis. “Three-cylinder heads are difficult to find nowadays and one in good condition even more so. Many are cracked, warped or worse. Sure, they can be repaired and used in a road bike – but not in this project.”
With a boxfresh bank of RS36 Mikunis and a PC-programmable Ignitech spark system, the respiratory end of the engine was ready for business. Nor was the bottom-end ignored when it came to lavishing fresh thinking (and no little expense) on an engine that, like the cycle parts, had to be a logical extension of factory development had the firm survived in its original ownership past its extinctionin 1985.
The triplex primary was swapped out for an Iwis duplex and new primaries were fashioned to suit. The clutch basket was punched with 12mm holes to both lighten it and allow the engine oil to permeate its cooling balm better. New input and output gearbox shafts were fitted along with newly turned bronze bushes for all gear pinions. “The old school cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers and only two valves limits the engine for power,” says Jean-Louis. “Basically above 7000rpm it can’t breathe any better. Even with the huge valves it’s now got, air flow speed drops off massively at 7500rpm. And only going to four valves per cylinder would solve this. It’s just a fact of life with any classic engine. If we’d tried to modify the head, it would have meant more vertical inlet ports, which would have meant changing the frame – and then the whole character of the machine would have changed.
1. Be prepared for things to take three times as long as you think they will. Just because a part that fitted and looked right before is being used again does not mean it will either fit or look right or do the same job again. Think hard about getting things right, not about doing them quickly.
2. Be prepared for things to cost three times more than you budgeted for. By the time you start getting things together, your priorities will change and you’ll find a way of doing something better than you thought – and that involves more money.
3. Always have a name for your special. This was P for Project, 12 because it would be around 1200cc and XX because I didn’t know what the exact capacity would be.
1. Take your eyes off that classy oil filler for a second and check the header pipe for number three cylinder snaking under the frame lower.
2. Perfect mixture of ancient and modern: classic clip-ons and perspex bubble married to remote reservoir masters and minimal micro Motogadget switchgear.
3. Extra capacity and compression means extra power means extra heat. Neatly plumbed-in oil cooler an absolute necessity on this.
4. It doesn’t get more old school than 39mm Marzocchis and a big lump of ally machined into a fork brace. And the carbon mudguard works well with that lot.
It’s still very much a Laverda Jota and purists might be relieved to know it runs the 180-degree crank, not the later, smoother 120-degree version. So it sounds as lumpy and badass as it should, especially through a stainless and titanium three-into one. “Jean-Louis Legendre made the pipe,” says Jean-Louis Olive (must be the default namesetting in France). “It was a real headache to make because each ‘slice’ was laser-cut and then rolled by hand. The headers are conical going flaring out from 38mm OD at the port exit to 44mm further down. And then there’s the trade-off between lightness and making it strong enough not to fracture or crack.” You know a builder’s serious when titanium is mentioned as a staple material.
Next on the list of exotica comes carbon fibre. The tank is the work of carbongastank.com, who also made the rest of the body parts. With its ‘heavy’ ally Monza filler-cap the tank tips the balance at 1750g, the seat unit a mere 760g, and the half-fairing 1100g. Instruments too are minimal in the Motogadget way and it’s perhaps the only surprise that this builder, so far a stickler for retaining as much of the Jota ambience as he can, has chosen to abandon the admittedly heavy, but so very Laverda, twin Nippon Denso clocks. But when you’re chasing the evasive demon of lightness at all costs, sacrifices have to be made on the altar of slavish authenticity. It’s hard to see how anything could have been done with more craft or imagination. Perhaps carbon wheels would have completed the picture, but there has to be a limit to (a) costs, and (b) how much the finished article will look like a carbon fibre/ titanium show home. The balance is probably just right. The 18-inch GSX-R11 wheels save 2kg in unsprung weight over the originals, that’s with titanium spindles. Unsurprisingly Öhlins shocks grace the rear and Racetech internals live in the original 38mm Marzocchis.
Again, he could have upside-downed the front end, but instead settled for old school with a massive fork brace which is so the right decision for looks. “Yes, but the front still feels a little outdated compared to the way the rear behaves. Although there aren’t really that many solutions. We’ve probably done as much as we can there,” he says. In all, he’s shaved 60kg from the stock Jota kerb weight. It is, by any standards, a wonderful creation, but not something he’ll be doing again in a hurry. “I’ll try something a bit smaller and lighter,” says Jean-Louis. “Maybe a scrambler based on a 750 Laverda.” Clearly, there’s no helping some people.
SPECIFICATION LAVERDA P12XX
1978 Laverda Jota, 1200cc, 6v, dohc, 180-degree crankshaft, inline-triple, SFC1000 cylinder head, Carillo conrods, Ross pistons, programmable Ignitech igntion system, Mikuni RS36 carburettors, lightened clutch and gearbox, Iwis duplex primary chain.