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Sport 1100i - The Accidental Restomod

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If you’ll bear with me for the first few posts, I have a story to tell that I hope you’ll find initially entertaining and, at some point, informative.

I’m a motorcycle guy. I eat, sleep, and breathe motorcycles…always have…I hope I always will. If we’re sitting somewhere, and I’m staring off pensively in quiet contemplation, it’s a solid bet that I’m thinking about motorcycles. I’m a product of the Evel Knievel generation and I’ve been fixated since I was 4 years old. I got my first minibike at 8 years old (still have it) and I’ve been riding as much as possible for the 40ish years since. For all of those years, I’ve been slowly trying to assemble the perfect collection of bikes to cover just about every possible riding scenario as well as for maximum viewing pleasure when I’m sitting in my garage during the long New England winters.

For 25 years, however, one bike has eluded me. I read about it in the AUG2006 issue of Sport Rider when I was 25ish years old and it was the ONE for me.  A 1997 Moto Guzzi Sport 1100i.  In my romanticized imagination, this exquisite piece of two-wheeled art was hand-built by venerable old world craftsmen with names like Giacomo or Ernesto – guys with a cigarette butt permanently affixed to their bottom lip while they spin wrenches in a black and white pre-war world…wholly incongruous with the neon Technicolor world of the 1990s outside their doors.  All of this transpiring in Mandello del Lario, Italy on the shores of the fabled Lake Como. It was a company with a storied past, a cult following, and all the exclusivity of an Italian marquee.  It was exotic and beautiful and seemingly fast and I desperately wanted to own this machine.

In a strange twist of fate, I actually had the money to buy the bike, but nobody would sell me one. I drove to the Moto Guzzi dealership in my hometown - a little shop specializing in small European marquees and very little inventory - and told the owner that I had $15,000 in the bank and that I wanted to buy THAT bike. He laughed and assured me that, regardless of how much money I might have, I would NOT be getting one of those bikes. With all the derision he could muster, he informed me that only 200 were likely to make it to North America and, if he ever saw one, which he highly doubted, he wouldn’t be selling it to ME – a 25 year old squid with road racing fantasies. It would, instead, go to one of the loyal Guzzista who could truly appreciate this piece of mechanical art - presumably someone who wouldn’t thrash it. I’ve never forgotten that guy’s name and I’ve been waiting for my opportunity for retribution ever since. 🤣

Crestfallen, I drove to another dealer, 2 hours away, and was essentially told the same thing…more politely. There was no internet at the time, so my quest simply ended. I went to the local Honda dealer and bought a blindingly yellow CBR900RR instead; an exceptionally good sport bike, but utterly devoid of Italian charm and charisma. :sad:

However, I never stopped wanting the Guzzi. In fact, I’ve been looking for one ever since. For the past 20 years, I’ve closely monitored eBay, Craigslist, and most recently, Facebook Marketplace, but the closest I’ve come to buying one was a yellow one in Oklahoma a few years back. Sadly it was gone before I could work out the logistics of driving half way across the country to pick it up. Oddly enough, in all the riding that I’ve done in the ensuing 25 years - cross country road trips, rallies, races, Sunday morning ride ins - I have NEVER seen a Sport 1100 in person. Not once.

So imagine my surprise in April when I received an alert from Facebook saying that there was a one-owner original, unmolested, Sport 1100i for sale in northern Vermont. Within minutes of the alert, I contacted the owner and told him that I would be there, 4 hours away, the next day with cash, a trailer, and zero haggling. He was shocked. Apparently he wasn’t emotionally prepared for the idea of selling the bike. He had posted it - maybe hoping that there would be no buyers and he could continue to enjoy looking at it for another 20 years as a static display in his garage. I feel like I had to convince him that I was a worthy caretaker (which was clearly a lie) before he agreed to sell it to me. In the end, he acquiesced, so I emptied my “motorcycle fund”, grabbed a buddy, and we hit the road!

When we arrived at the owner’s house, the Guzzi was parked for maximum viewing pleasure; undoubtedly because he had spent the morning agonizing over his decision to sell. It was just as described and had racked up only 500 miles per year since new – no doubt due to the torturous racing ergonomics, the concrete slab of a seat, and bone jarring suspension best suited for only the smoothest of roads. I couldn’t care less about such things! After 25 years, I finally had the machine that I had lusted after as a much younger man and was told that I’d never have. Sweet victory.

We made the transaction before he could rethink his grave error and loaded it onto the trailer. I could see regret in the man’s eyes as we tied it down and secured it for the trip home. I knew that someday, hopefully decades from now, that I’d share that same feeling of regret as I watch Signora Rossa leave my garage. We are but caretakers…

Once safely at home, I immediately put the old girl up on the table, tore her apart, and set to sorting out the maintenance needs. I pulled the entire 7 piece stainless exhaust system for polishing, changed engine, tranny, and rear differential oils, and ordered a custom fuel map PROM chip from a fellow enthusiast in California who had likely spent countless hours dyno testing and creating his own fuel delivery profile that was known, amongst internet enthusiasts, to be the best. He laughed when I emailed him because he had done this quite some time ago. I suspect that he had to do some digging to find me a chip for a 25 year old bike. I also special ordered a set of aftermarket pipes that are guaranteed to let this lady sing like Cecilia Bartoli!


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