Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom & ’74 El Dorado 850 | New Cool vs. Old Skool

1974 Moto Guzzi El Dorado and 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom

2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom & 1974 El Dorado 850 Ride Down Memory Lane

The Moto Guzzi El Dorado 850 was used by many police departments worldwide, and some consider it the quintessential Guzzi. Thanks to my friend James Salter, I was able to spend a few hours on his El Dorado 850 – a 1974, which was the final year of production for this beauty.

After riding Ultimate MotorCycling’s 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom test bike for more than 600 miles, the switch to Salter’s ’74 was an eye opener. But, perhaps, not in the way you are thinking.

Sure, the California 1400 is more refined, bigger, more powerful and much more of everything, but the interesting comparisons reside in the similarities of both Guzzis.

Naturally, the signature V motor immediately stands out, as does the sound upon starting. The new Moto Guzzi still likes to torque shift when revved, but once under way both machines are smooth and stable. And while the new California Custom is much more modern, both love to cruise in the same loping manner.

I asked James to send me notes about the bike and received such an interesting reply that I offer it below as a testament of one who loves the marque.

James writes: “A few factoids regarding the 1974 Eldorado. The Black Moto Guzzi Eldorado (aka California in Europe) is amongst the last of the Loop Frame Moto Guzzi’s manufactured.

“This bike was originally ordered by the owner of the Los Angeles Moto Guzzi dealer in 1974. A few interesting features where specified from the factory which include: a factory polished dual disc front end (less than 200 bikes came from Moto Guzzi with dual Brembos), D’ellorto 32mm carbs, Koni Rear suspension, sidecar mounting points, and a La Franconi exhaust.”

“I’ve also been told the bike was ordered with Le Mans heads but have no way of knowing without pulling them. The motorcycle has 16,000 original miles (3,000 of which I’ve put on). It is for the most part living room kept and when I take it out I generally end up doing 200-500 miles. It has a Saddlemen solo seat, detachable passenger seat, rear crash bars, and extra wide bars. The bike rolls on an Avon 110 Roadrider tire in front and a 120 in back. The factory floorboards were powder-coated, but I intentionally did not repaint or redo the frame as I’ve never seen a redo look quite right.”

“I also have a 1972 Eldorado which I’ve rebuilt, upped compression, ported heads, etc. It’s an overall more worn-in bike but performs like no other. I adapted some Norton handlebars, a Harley seat, BSA pillion pad, slash cut exhaust, and more.”

James goes on to write:

“I met my first Moto Guzzi on a damp October afternoon in Georgia, just when the leaves started to change. I remember the very first sound of the round-head twin and gentle rock of the engine in the loop frame. I had been obsessed with motorcycles since childhood and, at that time, had about 15 years riding both for pleasure and necessity.”

“Moto Guzzis have Italian flair combined with serious function; proverbial espresso, served in an iron cup. Since the engine and transmission are in line with each other there is a very distinctive feel to a Moto Guzzi’s power delivery. I equate the sensation to that of a well-tuned V8 – they give a bit of a shift to the right under power and make a most wonderful noise when spirited revs take place.”

“To say I’m an addict might be an understatement. My current stable houses three versions of the round-head twin. I was recently invited to ride the new California 1400 Custom and the words ‘yes please’ were quick and enthusiastic.”

“Yep, those are definitely impressions from a true Guzzista.”

“First and foremost, I am not a fan of technology on motorcycles. I deal with computers and high-tech all day at work, so when I ride I want to be purely mechanical and analog.”

“My first apprehension was the drive-by-wire feature on the California 1400. As soon as I fired the bike it erupted to life, and unlike the other modern touring counterparts, it had a distinctive nostalgic bop. I never even noticed the drive-by-wire feature on the 1400.”

“Fuel maps were kept in Touring mode, and the suspension was very moderately set. The California 1400 is a behemoth in size, weighing in at over 700 pounds. Once in place the weight is very well distributed, and the bike handles with fair neutrality considering the very-long wheelbase – 66.3 inches!”

“Our test ride took place in the Malibu Canyons, starting at the ever famous Rock Store down Mulholland, over to the Pacific Coast Highway and back. A gorgeous morning for my passenger and loads of quick turns allowed us to put the 1400 through its paces.”

“The 1400’s engine is simply fabulous, equally willing to lug at 2000 rpm or rev to a 6000 rpm redline. The new 6-speed transmission shifts smoothly and might be the best touring transmission I’ve shifted. The only oddity about the 1400 was the well forward floorboards which are angled and took a little getting used to.”

“I’d like to see a more traditional headlight and round taillights as they are signatory for Moto Guzzi. Considering the price tag for the new 1400 – $14,990 – you simply cannot go wrong. An American-sized portion with European bouquet.”

“Of course I have my own ideas about how to improve the 1400 – a nice set of Weber or Stromberg side drafts, some slash cut exhaust with just a small touch of baffling, and a Sawzall to all that protective BS around the engine, transmission and suspension workings.”

Thanks Mr. Salter for your perspective. As a non-Guzzista, I enjoyed riding both bikes and making the comparison. Our original review of the 1400 Custom can be found here, but we trust you will find James’s story a fun read, especially if you have a warm spot in your heart for Moto Guzzi.