By Gary Smith
The Los Angeles Police Department has one of the largest motorcycle squads in the world. Numbering around 400, the brand of motorcycles used by the Department have varied over the past twenty years, but it wasn’t always so.
When I joined the Traffic Enforcement Division of LAPD in 1961 the only bike available to motor cops by the City of Los Angeles was the Harley-Davidson. Over the years Harley had been the mainstay for police bikes around the country to such a degree that most police agencies had developed specifications for purchasing police motorcycles that were literally Harley specifications.
Several other companies tried to enter the market in the early 60’s, but failed to overcome the Harley advantage. Foreign makes such as Triumph, BSA, BMW and Honda all made bids for the job, but failed to meet the requirements of the LAPD. In addition, a law still existed on the books in California that prohibited agencies from buying foreign made vehicles for government use. Other reasons for their failure were, they were “too small” or “under powered” or they just didn’t “look” like police bikes.
In 1967 Moto Guzzi motorcycle distributors for the USA market approached LAPD with a proposal. They would build a police unit to the specific designs of the department! Having gained the interest of the LAPD, Guzzi distributors then set to work to overcome the law prohibiting the purchase of foreign vehicles. Once that obstacle was overcome, the LAPD decided to take Moto Guzzi up on the proposal and began testing their vehicles for performance.
After the first stock Moto Guzzi loaners were tested by the street cops, an experienced motor officer and a representative of the Motor Transport Division were selected to travel to Milan, Italy, where the Moto Guzzi factory was located, and advise the designers of the requirements for the new police bike.
There were many obstacles to overcome. First, there was no current motorcycle produced by Moto Guzzi that even came close to what was needed. So, they made one from the ground up!
George (Scotty) Henderson, the TED (Traffic Enforcement Division) officer chosen for the mission to Italy said, “They literally designed a bike right before my eyes. When we got to work with the design engineers, we were given Carte Blanch for ideas on how to make the motorcycle.” Since many of the “Harley oriented” specifications still existed (and many still exist today), some original designing was done. “We had to have a foot shift on the left side and the rear brake pedal on the right side. Many European bikes still shifted on the right side at that time,.” Henderson related. “They designed a linkage so the shift lever and the rear brake lever could be reversed. Of course, that made the bike shift up into first gear and down into the other three gears.”
It was decided that the direction of shifting was not that important, so they proceeded. Handlebars, side stand, foot boards, seat and all other parts of the machine were designed and fit around the 750 cc V-twin Moto Guzzi engine.
After several weeks of design and redesign, testing and hassles between Moto Guzzi executives, the final product came forth
In the summer of 1969, ten LAPD motor officers were called to a meeting attended by police management and representatives from the motorcycle company. I, and the other nine officers were assigned the first foreign made police motorcycles used in Los Angeles.
Most of us were excited and pleased to get off the, shall I say, less agile, Harley-Davidson. Some of the old-time officers mis-pronounced the name as “Moto Goosey” and the bike soon was nicknamed “The Goose”.
It handled beautifully, had more ground clearance than the Harley and a drive shaft. The new bikes were also equipped with Pirelli tires that seemed to enhance the bike’s capabilities on the street.
The “Goose Patrol” gave the new bikes rave notices and the city bought a large number of the Moto Guzzi “Police Special”, a model that later appeared on the public market as the Eldorado.
The Gooses rewrote the book for police motorcycles and made it possible for Kawasaki, BMW and Honda (for a while) to get into the police market.
Gary Smith is a retired LAPD officer who served 23 years on the department and 16 years on the motor squad. He worked 18 years with American Honda Motor Co., during which time, he served on the Board of Trustees of the American Motorcyclist Association. He helped to establish and manage the Honda Hoot Motorcycle Rally in Knoxville, TN. Now retired and living in Vancouver, WA.
Information and Photos provided by Gary Smith. Thank you Gary for sharing some great history