Char­lie Wil­liams’ Max­ton TZ385

TT podi­ums, 500GP world cham­pi­onships The Dug­dale Max­ton and a host of other Yamaha tz385 that du­ties. Wil­liams was far served un­der Char­lie more than a one- trick pony.

Classic Racer - - WHAT'S INSIDE -

It seems crazy th­ese days that mo­tor­cy­cles like this were bro­ken up for parts and sent to the four cor­ners of the globe to end up as parts in var­i­ous other bikes – but that is what hap­pened. How­ever, when a par­tic­u­lar mo­tor­cy­cle man­ages to do so many var­ied things dur­ing its life there is al­ways one per­son who might just be able to pull it all back to­gether again.

Back in the days be­fore any­one dreamed that Yamaha two-strokes would ever be ven­er­ated as prized col­lecta­bles, the Dug­dale Max­ton Yamaha TZ385 that took Char­lie Wil­liams to a pair of sec­ond places in two Isle of Man TT races just five days apart, as well as 10th place in the 1974 500cc World Cham­pi­onship on the back of that and his fifth place in the Dutch TT three weeks later, was sim­ply dis­man­tled at the end of that year and its com­po­nent parts were re­cy­cled by Dug­dale’s for the 1975 sea­son. “It’s true – we just kept a few bits and pieces from that old bike, like the seat with the fuel tank in it and such, but with the crank gone af­ter Ed­die Roberts’ Manx GP ride, there was no en­thu­si­asm for re­build­ing the en­gine,” says Char­lie. “We’d cer­tainly have re­tained the Max­ton chas­sis, but the trou­ble is that Ron Wil­liams didn’t num­ber his frames, so it’s im­pos­si­ble to know what be­came of it. And the fol­low­ing sea­son, 1975, was when Ron pro­duced his first monoshock frame, which worked so bril­liantly straight out of the box that I won the Ju­nior TT on it. “So af­ter that we’d prob­a­bly have sold that old twin-shock frame on to a cus­tomer. But when my pal Em Roberts phoned me up al­most 20 years ago to tell me he’d found a Max­ton chas­sis that was iden­ti­cal to the one we used for the TZ385, even down to the sus­pen­sion, and asked me what I thought he should do with it, there was re­ally only one an­swer: build another 385!” Em Roberts takes up the story: “I was quite ex­cited about do­ing this, even if orig­i­nally it was only go­ing to be a demo bike for Char­lie to ride in Clas­sic pa­rades. I’d hoped to get it ready for the Cen­ten­nial TT at Assen in 1998, but I just ran out of time. The prob­lem with the orig­i­nal bike was that us­ing the TR2 crank­shaft was al­ways a bit of a com­pro­mise in terms of vi­bra­tion, and th­ese weren’t eas­ily avail­able any­more, any­way. “The main bear­ings were dif­fer­ent than the TZ, and so were the big ends, so I de­cided to make a new crank from scratch with the longer stroke, but this time us­ing TZ350 cylin­ders, pistons, con­rods and crank bear­ings – ball bear­ings in the mid­dle, and rollers on the out­side. The bal­anc­ing holes are in a dif­fer­ent place to elim­i­nate the vi­bra­tion, and it’s all worked much bet­ter from the very start. “I was also able to go down in size from the 24mm big ends on the TR2 to the TZ’S 22mm ones, which meant I could use the 5mm-shorter TZ350 con­rods with nee­dle rollers at big and lit­tle ends, which elim­i­nated the need for any pack­ing plates top and bot­tom of the cylin­ders.” But Roberts re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to take a file to the stan­dard TZ350 cylin­ders’ twin-trans­fer/sin­gle exhaust port­ing – so no boost ports or bridged ex­hausts, ei­ther – but he did make spe­cial in­serts for the cylin­der heads, af­ter com­pletely ma­chin­ing away the com­bus­tion cham­bers. Hav­ing in­tended only to ever pa­rade the born-again TZ385 that he then built up as an ex­act ex­ter­nal replica of his 1974 bike, with the ex­cep­tion of the miss­ing pair of pack­ing plates, Wil­liams has rid­den it in sev­eral TT pa­rades down the years. But Char­lie ad his arm twisted by ICGP or­gan­iser Eric Saul (www.icg­prac­ing.com) to come and race it in his an­nual six-race se­ries cater­ing for

1970s 250/350cc two-strokes, recog­nis­ing that its en­gine was over­size for au­then­tic rea­sons. Rid­ing it in a 2003 sup­port race at his old En­durance hunt­ing ground of the Bol d’or – by then at Magny-cours, how­ever, not Paul Ricard – clinched it for Char­lie, since when he’s been a reg­u­lar if oc­ca­sional mem­ber of this mod­ern-day Con­ti­nen­tal Cir­cus, es­pe­cially in the races held at what he calls “my old stomp­ing ground”, the Bu­gatti cir­cuit at Le Mans. “I’ve al­ways fin­ished in the top six or seven, and the bike’s never let me down,” he says. “But then Eric started of­fer­ing a Masters Tro­phy for the best over 50-year-old, and I won it first time out at Le Mans, much to Phil Read’s dis­gust, be­cause I passed him on the last lap to clinch it!” Char­lie has con­tin­ued to ap­pear spo­rad­i­cally in ICGP events on the TZ385 in

be­tween rac­ing his Manx Nor­ton in the Clas­sic TT and such­like, and then in March 2016 he rode it in the first mo­tor­cy­cle race to be held at the Good­wood Mem­bers Meet­ing, cater­ing for 350cc two-strokes. “I promised [the or­gan­is­ers] I wouldn’t fin­ish on the podium on my cheater bike, so I wouldn’t de­prive any­one of a tro­phy!” joked Char­lie, af­ter rid­ing to a re­spectable and non-con­tro­ver­sial sixth place in the race on surely the most his­toric bike on the grid. The chance to try the Max­ton-framed TZ385 for my­self came at a sunny CRMC Don­ing­ton Park race meet­ing in one of the pa­rade events that Char­lie Wil­liams kindly in­sisted I take his place in. I’ve rid­den sev­eral Clas­sic TZ250/350 Yama­has, but never a Max­ton-framed one, and the first im­pres­sion I got af­ter pad­dle-start­ing it eas­ily into life – no won­der Char­lie was up with the lead­ers from the very start of that 1974 Dutch TT – was how much more spa­cious and ac­com­mo­dat­ing it was than a more mi­nus­cule stock Yamaha for my 5ft10in/1.80m stature, only slightly taller than Char­lie. Com­bined with the plush pad­ding of the Us-made seat-cum-petrol tank, it would have made the Max­ton a good ride for a two-hour TT race, es­pe­cially in those pre-kneeslider days when you stayed seated on the bike, and didn’t move about to hang off the side in turns. You won’t see many pe­riod photos of Char­lie Wil­liams do­ing that, and his eco­nom­i­cal Tt-de­rived rid­ing style would have been ideal for the En­durance races in which he later ex­celled, too. It also meant that the bro­ken scaphoid he was suf­fer­ing from dur­ing all of his 1974 races with the TZ385 wouldn’t have been so much of a hand­i­cap, be­cause he wouldn’t have had to put ex­tra weight on his dam­aged left wrist to lever him­self from side to side on the bike. How­ever, stay­ing seated on the bike means us­ing more lean an­gle to keep up speed in turns, hence the Max­ton frame’s high-set footrests, which I only just man­aged to lever my toes onto. But that also meant I could tuck away be­hind the broad screen down Don­ing­ton’s pit straight, aided by the quite steeply dropped clipons that al­low you to get flat on the tank in a straight line – a cru­cial

is­sue when rid­ing an un­der­pow­ered twin in the 500cc class against the faster, more po­tent fours. All the time you’re rid­ing the Max­ton Yamaha you’re aware not only of the great crack from the un­si­lenced stinger ex­hausts – si­lenc­ing only came to GPS in 1976 – but also how smooth the en­gine is, with none of the vi­bra­tion I was ex­pect­ing af­ter read­ing pe­riod race re­ports con­tain­ing in­ter­views with Char­lie about the bike, in which he com­plained of this. That was be­cause I hadn’t yet spo­ken to Em Roberts and learnt about the spe­cial crank that he took more than 70 hours to painstak­ingly build for this not-quite-a-replica pis­ton-port two-stroke. All I can say is that he did a good job – this was as vi­bra­tion-free as you could ever ex­pect a par­al­lel-twin stroke with a 180º crank­shaft to be. It was also con­sid­er­ably more torquey than any Yamaha twin I’ve yet rid­den, so that while re­ally strong power comes in at around 8500rpm – enough to lighten the front wheel in sec­ond gear ex­it­ing the Don­ing­ton chi­cane – it’s for­giv­ing enough to pull cleanly away from a right turn like that one 2000 revs lower. This would have made it an ideal ride in the TT course, where in sec­tions like Glen He­len or from Ginger Hall to Ram­sey there are sev­eral suc­ces­sive sec­ond or third-gear cor­ners where you’re con­stantly back­ing on and off the throt­tle, and the same from Par­lia­ment Square to the Goose­neck com­ing out of Ram­sey. You’d be able to let the 385cc mo­tor do its job with­out en­cour­ag­ing it too of­ten with a dab of the clutch lever, and I’ll bet Char­lie saved sec­onds per lap against his Tz351-mounted ri­vals ex­it­ing Ram­sey Hair­pin or Gov­er­nor’s Bridge, thanks to the 385’s su­pe­rior ac­cel­er­a­tion and more meaty drive. In my case, this was the most flex­i­ble

friend of a pe­riod stro­ker I’ve en­coun­tered for a long time, com­pen­sat­ing for my some­times ham-fisted at­tempts to choose the right gear for turns like Redgate or Mclean’s via the clean-shift­ing one-up right-foot gearchange. Even­tu­ally, I got it more or less fig­ured out right – but by then I’d dis­cov­ered al­most in­ad­ver­tently that there’s more power avail­able up high, be­yond the 10,500rpm mark where Char­lie told me he usu­ally changes gear. So if dura­bil­ity isn’t so much an is­sue – and of course to fin­ish first in a six-lap TT race (or sec­ond in CW’S case with this bike!) you must first fin­ish – the 65bhp on tap at 10,500rpm from the TZ385’S mo­tor is held or even ex­ceeded all the way to the 12,000rpm mark, where it fi­nally starts to fall off the pipe. So this would have been an added ben­e­fit if Char­lie had rid­den it more in short-cir­cuit events, with more fre­quent crank re­builds on the agenda, in which case its light 119kg half-dry weight, ag­ile han­dling and torquey na­ture would have made it hard to beat on tighter Bri­tish tracks, even in 1976 when the first pro­duc­tion RG500S brought four-cylin­der per­for­mance to pri­va­teer cus­tomers. It was a bit of a missed op­por­tu­nity, be­cause in 1975 – the year af­ter the Dug­dale Max­ton TZ385 spent its sea­son in the sun – Char­lie’s name­sake John Wil­liams fin­ished fifth in the 500cc World Cham­pi­onship on his ver­sion of the same bike, hav­ing ob­tained a ros­trum fin­ish in the Swedish GP (ahead of Bon­era’s works MV!) and in the Se­nior TT, where he em­u­lated CW’S pre­vi­ous year’s ef­fort by fin­ish­ing – you guessed it – sec­ond to Mick Grant’s works Kawasaki. Be­cause the Max­ton frame is re­ally a sweet-steer­ing de­vice, with lots of feed­back from the front 18in Avon AM22, you quickly feel you can re­ally trust the front end when swoop­ing down­hill from side to side through the Craner Curves, or try­ing to keep up turn speed at Mclean’s to com­pen­sate for the up­hill exit. Yet it steered quite quickly at the chi­cane, flick­ing nicely from side to side to let you ac­cess that ex­tra torque for an early drive down to Redgate. The only thing I didn’t care for were the brakes.

The sin­gle 260mmyamaha front disc gripped by a two-pis­ton Lockheed caliper jud­dered quite badly in brak­ing hard for the chi­cane or Redgate, so it was prob­a­bly slightly warped. For­tu­nately, the rear brake was an over­size 240mm disc, which started out life in a Tri­umph Her­ald car be­fore find­ing its way to the Max­ton Yamaha, and with the same twin-pot Lockheed caliper as up front, it did what it needed to do in tak­ing up the slack from its part­ner. And al­though Don­ing­ton doesn’t have any real bumps th­ese days, the Max­ton sus­pen­sion worked well. I’m sure on the TT course it would come into its own com­pared to the stock Yamaha setup. I was gen­uinely sorry to have to hand the TZ385 back to Char­lie again at the end of my 10 laps aboard it. This is a very nice mo­tor­cy­cle to ride, and it must have been a great one to race. Too bad no­body told Phil Car­pen­ter it was rain­ing that June day back in 1974!

The tank was one of the parts that Char­lie man­aged to hold on to...

...but the crank was soon gone from the bike...

...and while it is nice, the orig­i­nal seat unit was not much use in mak­ing the bike run again.

Char­lie Wil­liams is di­rectly associated with the mod­ern TT event pre­cisely be­cause of his brave rides over the years.the Max­ton 385 was one of those bikes that he pow­ered around The Moun­tain and was par­tic­u­larly good for an Is­land at­tack be­cause of its roomy chas­sis and body­work.the big­ger ca­pac­ity meant that the twostroke could hold onto gears for longer than the stan­dard 351cc ri­vals, some­thing which added up to sec­onds in the bank af­ter a few laps of The Moun­tain Course.

Char­lie and the bike that his de­ter­mi­na­tion pulled back to­gether. It is a tes­ta­ment to the man that such a fine rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle breathes th­ese days.

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