Straight forward, simple and yet, sheer genius, the Morini 3 ½ still enjoys a massive appeal and growing cult status today
On paper there is little to attract all but the die hard 70’s Italian bike fan, in use however this Morini is one of the all time greats from that decade. Ok, the dials that make up the speedo and tacho readout have a wayward attitude to accuracy and the cycle parts do look unfeasibly weedy, but this is one of the best handling machines of all time, not just better than the plasticine framed Japanese bikes of the period, that would be an easy task, no, this machine handles as well as anyone could wish for. Any adjective that can be applied to a sharp and accurate machine can be used in the same sentence as the Morini 3 ½. In the beginning there was the GT or Strada, much like the original prototype shown in 1971, the Sport was a direct development of this model and was launched the year after the Strada in 1974. With 4bhp more on tap, thanks to a raise in compression and a sportier cam design, the Sport soon became the top dog, although those in the know still rank the Strada as it performs in a manner close to its sibling, but with a much more relaxed approach. The 350cc capacity was initially chosen due to heavy taxes in Italy for machines over this size, this made the machine a natural choice for any Italian looking to buy a middleweight as it wore a price tag equivalent or cheaper than many similar oriental designs, however by the time the marque reached the UK the price tag had grown beyond the reasonable and actually cost around £350 more than a Yamaha RD350. The finish and overall technology used in the Morini looked dated alongside the Japanese products so when the dodgy electrics and high price tag were all added together there was few real takers for this Latin lovely. In modern times demand for the breed is strong and thankfully supplies of parts and knowledge plentiful, making running a 3½ a real joy. All of the failing found in the original design have been addressed and cheaply available cures can be applied, the original leaky metal inlet manifolds can be interchanged with later rubber versions while the feeble headlight is a straight swap for a modern halogen one making night use a real possibility.
When first giving life to this air-cooled v-twin, via the kick-start once the left hand peg has been folded up and out of the way, one could be mistaken for thinking that something is definitely wrong. Needing full choke when all but steaming hot, the engine is lumpier than daddy bears custard; this soon diminishes to reveal a revvy and keen engine. In its day the diminutive Italian lovely was capable of keeping all of the Japanese two strokes at bay, not least because of the handling and also the engines ability to maintain speed. There isn’t a power band to drop out of and the well-chosen gear ratios in the six-speed box keeps the lithe machine on the boil and heading for fun.
With its maximum torque and power sitting fairly close to each other the engine has a wide sweet spot between 6000 and 8500rpm, keep the revs there, no need to check the tacho, the engine tells you when and the tiny Morini will keep going all day particularly in the 70-80 mph speed range that, when you sit and think about it, is most likely the place you spend the most time in. for those used to thirsty two strokes the fuel consumption of the Morini came as something of a revelation, often yielding figures around the 80mpg mark even at speed.
The engine is relatively simple to maintain and yet the performance it puts out is nothing less than impressive, there is seldom a need to glance at the speedo, or tacho for that matter, as the whole bike literally talks to the rider. As the revs harden you can be sure it is time to throw another gear into the equation while in the chassis department the suspension seems to react to the road and speed like it is being adjusted mid ride, which of course it isn’t. if the Morini in its original form has a fault it can only be the dodgy electrics and rapidly fading drum brake up front. The huge diameter, twin drum-brake looks sexy, but is not as effective in any way shape or form when compared to the post 77 disc braked model. When buying look for Strada models that have been converted to look like the more coveted Sport model, while this isn’t a problem ride and usability wise the cost difference between the real deal and an imposter is sizeable so worth the effort. Without taking the engine apart, the external differences are few, not made any easier as the factory used the same frame pre fix for both models, a real tell tale however is the front brake the Strada having a single twin leading shoe drum while the sport has a double side set up with cables and levers on both sides of the hub.
The Morini is a real thoroughbred the like of which was seldom seen in the 70’s, a complete machine that lacked little and, wee Latin foibles apart, couldn’t be improved.
Morini 3 1/2 Strada Model history
Moto Morini were a well established and respected manufacturer during the 60’s with much race success at the highest levels using the types single cylinder designs, and strong associations with some of the great riders too. In 1969 the company figure head, Alfonso Morini, died and many feared this marked the end of this great Italian name. The opposite was true however and under the guidance of Ferrari trained designer Franco Lambertini, Morini began to develop the engine layout that would not only save the company but also become their trade mark for the next 34 years. This new engine, a 72 degree pushrod v-twin, despite looking just like any other was in fact ground breaking with many features never seen on two wheels. The choice of Heron cylinder heads that see the combustion chamber cast into the piston rather than the head itself was, for the time, F1 technology, while rubber belts provided the drive for the camshaft nestling between the angle of the cylinders, and a completely electronic ignition supplied the sparks.
Adding to the modernity of this design is an electronic fuel tap and tachometer while later models also sported a single disc brake up front, with a factory option for two at a price, although the most desirable versions are still the ones with the twin-drum doing the stopping. As if limited numbers being imported weren’t enough to scupper the Morini1 3½ in the UK it had a ridiculously high price tag too, at £875 it was price wise at least, alongside most of the days Superbikes, even so they quickly became a cult bike with a legendary status even if no one had actually seen one or knew someone who had. Most people soon learned of the types handling and behaviour but few could justify the price especially when it would have bought most of the latest offerings from the emerging Japanese factories. The type lived on through the 80’s, first of all with the K2, a technically advanced version with chrome bores and stylish body work and then in 1988 with the Dart, basically a 3 ½ engine slotted into a Cagiva Freccia 125 chassis, this was a failure and the end of the line for one of the greatest bikes ever made.
Morini 3 1/2 Strada Timeline
The first 3½ prototype is shown at the Milan show.
The first production GT/Strada models arrive and are well received by the press.
The Sport joins the line up this featured a café race seat and ace bars although pricey to the UK market.
a bore and stroked, 500cc version was displayed at Milan that year
A 260mm Grimeca disc brake replaces the twin drum up front, twin discs was an optional extra.
Magnesium alloys replace the wire wheels and the 500 hits the showrooms, its little faster than the previous model but a lot torquier.
Black engine casings and red frame tubes are the sign of the electric start equipped models
The K2 is launched technically superior in many ways but not as popular as the original drum brake 3½ .
Using the chassis and bodywork of the CBR600 look alike, Cagiva Freccia, the Morini Dart was a last ditch attempt at keeping the 350 V-twin alive. Although handling well the extra weight was not received well by the dated engine and top speed was slow.
Morini 3 1/2 Specifications
- Engine – air-cooled 2-cylinder 4-stroke V-twin
- Capacity – 344cc
- Bore/stroke – 62 x 57mm
- Power – 35bhp @8500 rpm
- Torque – 24.8 ft-lb @ 6300 rpm
- Carburetion – 2x 25mm Dell Orto
- Transmission – 6-speed, dry clutch, chain final drive
- Frame – steel twin loop
- Suspension – 32mm telescopic forks. Twin shock rear
- Brakes – 228mm dual single leading shoe drum, 185mm single leading shoe drum
- Wheels – 3.25 x 18 4.10 x 18
- Weight – 145kgs
- Top speed – 95mph
- Wheelbase – 1371 mm
- Fuel capacity – 15.9ltrs
Morini 3 1/2 Strada Gallery
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