A couple of weeks ago, contributor Vipin Shri shared a Moto Guzzi Super Alce project, and he concluded his post by saying “I suspect that this is a bike that is in need of a very dedicated, patient enthusiast to get it up and running, or even simply, to look the part.” 4 days later, I got an email from Ray Sapirstein (you may remember his recent story about the Loring AFB Speed Trials). The subject line told me everything I needed to know: “My new bacon slicer“. My favorite emails to receive are when readers let me know that they snagged a Bike-urious feature, so I asked Ray to share what his plan was. Read on to find out!
First, I feel obligated to share that Ray is in a band called the Wayfarers. You can check them out on Spotify, or just hit play to enjoy one of their songs as some reading music for the post below. See the rider on the album cover? That’s Ray!
Bought on Bike-urious: 1957 Moto Guzzi Superalce 500
Text and Photography by Ray Sapirstein
I’ve always wanted a girder fork or prewar springer bike. The Superalce, though a ’57, is essentially a 1930s design; only the engine is updated. The WW2 predecessor was originally a side valve motor, the Superalce is an overhead valve…with exposed hairpin valve springs and rockers! And I ride Guzzis.
I emailed the guy and made a reasonable offer and justified it, based on recent values and sales. He was friendly and knowledgeable and accepted it. By happenstance, the bike was located 5 miles from where I grew up in Port Washington, NY, a town famed for its “Largest Dealer on the East Coast” historic Italian motorcycle shop, so I suspected I knew the seller. I didn’t. I rented a pickup and drove 700 miles roundtrip in a day from Maine and back to beat the oncoming expected snow.
My plan? Hmm. I’ve gone over the bike and examined it in detail. It was shipped from Italy (pronounced “It-lee”) in what looks to be as-new condition (in 1975?) with minor use, but had some bumps and bruises in the shipping process, and it sat and was moved around at a now-defunct Guzzi dealership for many years. It was last registered and run in 1982. I see very little wear on the nuts and bolts, on the chain adjuster nuts, for instance, that lead me to believe it had very little use. It’s a beautiful dark navy blue with red and gold pinstripes, and I believe it was a Carabinieri bike. As the child of a holocaust survivor and descendent of holocaust victims, I am haunted by WW2, and was pleased to find out that many Italian Caribinieri mutinied and actively fought as core partisans against Mussolini and the Nazis.
I’m going to put fluids and a battery in it, give it some going over and maintenance, check out the carb seals and filters, and ride it around town next spring. There’s no odometer on it, so I’m really going to figure out exactly which petcock setting is reserve…this time. Maybe I can find the period Veglia speedo/odo listed in the parts manual. I think it’s worth leaving in original condition. As a professional historian, I dislike over-restored bikes, unless they’ve been really battered, and honest wear doesn’t bother me. I like motorcycles as artifacts and utilitarian machines, rather than badass fantasies or splendor. The front fender was likely creased by an over-enthusiastic stevedore cinching it to a skid. I may work it out, but leave the original paint. It’s too nice to mess with. It is what it is.
I’ve found great resources online, even though it’s rare in the US, they are more common in Europe, and share a great many parts with civilian bikes of the period. This one is the only deep blue one I’ve seen, and it appears to be stock factory paint and pinstriping. One of the many things I love about vintage Italian bikes is the standardization of supplies; components are often shared among manufacturers, and parts are not too hard to find; many of the OEM manufacturers are still in business, with records, and dusty warehouses. It’s fun to learn another language, and technical terms are often colorful in Italian.
I bought the bike for 75% of the asking price. I’m going to keep it and ride it here and there, but care for it for posterity with my modest stable of Italian bikes, which I work on and/or restore myself. I sell the bikes I can bear to part with once I’ve gotten them running and sorted out, and hope to recoup my costs and some labor.
Best of luck to Ray with his new purchase, I hope he gets to enjoy it as soon as the weather warms up for him!