The Proddie TT
Half a century ago, the Proddie class appeared to take on The Mountain – it’s been a thrilling battle ever since.
2018 marked the 51st anniversary of the first ever Production TT races and whilst they may not always have been the most popular of classes, being on and off the programme in that half century plus one, they’ve played an important part in the event’s history as well as providing some of the closest racing.
The first races took place at the 1967 Diamond Jubilee TT as the ACU celebrated the occasion with the newly introduced format of racing. Held over three laps of the 37.73-mile Mountain Course, the race was split into three categories – 750cc, 500cc and 250cc – and held under a national licence, and was seen by many as being a return to the original Tourist Trophy concept. It also has a unique spot in the TT’S history as it featured a Le Mans style start. At the time, Production racing was very much seen as a growth class and it had the backing of Britain’s biggest manufacturers, the Bsa-triumph combination and Norton Villiers. They couldn’t produce pure Grand Prix machines to match the Italian and Japanese factories but they could still race showroom models which acted as an extremely useful marketing tool.
Despite their common ownership, the BSA and Triumph race teams had a healthy rivalry and they concentrated on the 750cc class with John Hartle coming out on top for the latter. Riding the popular 650cc Bonneville sports machine, albeit with clip-on handlebars, aluminium fuel tank, race fairing and slight engine tweaks, the popular Hartle came home almost two minutes clear of Paul Smart on a 750cc Dunstall Atlas, withtony Smith almost four minutes further adrift on a 654cc Spitfire. In the 500cc class, Velocette made their comeback to thett and Neil Kelly became only the second Manxman to win a solott (aftertom Sheard in 1922 and 1923). Riding a Venomthruxton single he got the better of Keith Heckles and whilst the bikes sounded remarkably quiet compared with the full blooded racers in the open classes, the same couldn’t be said in the 250cc category where the rather noisy Bultaco Metralla two-strokes ruled the roost. TT aces Bill Smith andtommy Robb enjoyed a race long tussle on their identical machines and the duo kept the crowd on their toes as they were never more than yards apart. Coming out of Governor’s Bridge on the final lap, it was still anybody’s race but Smith took it by 0.4s in one of the closesttt finishes ever.
After a very successful maiden appearance, the Production races were moved into the main race week in 1968, rather than on the Saturday preceding the features races as had happened in 1967, but there was disappointment for first year winner Hartle as he crashed histriumph in the mist at Windy Corner on the opening lap. That enabled Ray Pickrell, riding a Dunstall Dominator, to take the first of his fourtt wins ahead of Billie Nelson with Smith again taking third on his reliable BSA. In the 500cc class, there was to be no repeat Manx victory and, instead, it was journalist Ray Knight who took the win on histriumph with John Blanchard (Velocette) and David Nixon on anothertriumph completing the podium. The 250cc race saw a start to finish win for Trevor Burgess but it forever has its place in the record books as it was the onlytt win taken by the Spanish Ossa company.
With the number of race starters having increased from 46 to 56, the Productiontt was gaining more support and interest from manufacturers and riders alike. And with Giacomo Agostini and MV Agusta continuing to dominate the Senior and Junior races, it was left to the Production categories to provide the closest racing. The manufacturers were lending their support to the Production race more and more and it wastriumph who gained the most publicity in 1969 with Welshman Malcolm Uphill taking victory in the 750cc class. Riding the Bonneville twin, he not only won the threelap race but set the first 100mph Production lap with a fastest lap of 100.37mph. Indeed, he averaged 99.99mph and although Rod Gould was second at the end of the first lap, he retired on lap two which allowed Smart to take another podium. It was also a notable year for Honda too as they scored their first Production win as Bill Penny claimed the 500cc honours on a 444cc CB450 ‘Black Bomber’ twin although his task was made slightly easier when first lap leadertony Dunnell crashed his three-cylinder Kawasaki. The 250cc class had a different leader on each lap, with Chas Mortimer and John Williams both taking their turns at the front but it was Ducati-mountedtony Rogers who was in the lead when it mattered most. Frank Whiteway took second with Mortimer holding onto third.
The ACU made a number of changes in 1970, increasing the race distance from three laps to five and also giving them International status.they also opened the programme for the week but it was the British machines that continued to dominate the 750cc class with Uphill andtom Dickie riding the new threecylindertriumphtridents and Norton entering their development engineer Peter Williams and short-circuit ace Pickrell on their 750cc Commando twins. It proved to be a tremendous race as although Uphill was a comfortable leader in the early laps, Williams slowly reduced the deficit. Going into the final lap, Uphill still led by 14 seconds but Williams was charging but although he got close, he just missed out on victory by 1.6s. The 250cc class was equally as close with a four-rider battle taking place at the head of the field as John Williams and Mortimer exchanged the lead. Mortimer held on for his firsttt victory ahead of Williams but there was no such excitement in the 500cc class, with Whiteway, riding Eddie Crooks’s Suzukit500 two-stroke twin, an easy winner.
Responding to the rapidly growing worldwide trend, the newly-introduced Formula 750 class opened race week in 1971, with the Production races being pushed back to Wednesday and put back to four laps.the 750cc class saw a tremendous duel between Pickrell (Triumph) and Williams (Norton), with the duo never more than a few yards apart. However, Williams went out at the Bungalow on the third lap which allowed Pickrell to take a comfortable win from the similarly-mounted Tony Jefferies with Bob Heath (BSA) claiming his firsttt podium in third. John Williams led the 500s from start to finish whilst Bill Smith repeated his 1967 success in the 250cc class for his secondtt win with Charlie Williams andtommy Robb second and third throughout the four laps.the race was also significant as it saw Barry Sheene retire from the race and, with a crash in the 125cc encounter, it would be the one and only time he raced on the island.
Continuing with a distance of four laps, the Production races were put back to the beginning of race week and their popularity could be seen by a record 80 entries and close racing. Pickrell gained his thirdtt victory for Triumph in the 750cc class with a start to finish win and a new lap record of 101.61mph despite a brave effort by Peter Williams on a Norton twin. He had problems starting and was immediately 35 seconds down on Pickrell, who was flying at the front. Williams’ chances of catching thetriumph ended when he hit a familiar Norton problem and lost fourth gear, but he nursed the bike home for second ahead of David Nixon on a Boyertriumph. The 500cc class provided a much closer finish, Stan Woods (Suzuki) eventually seeing off the challenge oftriumphmounted Roger Bowler, the duo along with Hugh Evans battling it out at the front for much of the race.the 250cc class was a Williams battle, with John, riding a Honda, beating Charlie, riding ayamaha by a commanding 41.4 seconds.
By 1973, Britain’s motorcycle industry was very much in crisis but its products still ruled the roost in the 750cc Production race.the Peter Williams/norton combination led for the first two laps before retiring third time around when the gearbox gave up at May Hill. As the race wore on, conditions worsened with torrential rain and wind, and even hailstones, setting in for the second half of the race, buttony Jefferies brought histriumph home ahead of John Williams with Nixon again in third. “It was the worst last lap of my life and the rain was so heavy,” Jefferies said afterwards and he was grateful to race engineer Les Williams who had been up to the early hours building the three-cylinder engine and gearbox. The heavy rain produced a dramatic last lap in the 500cc class when leader Stan Woods stopped at the Bungalow on his ‘works’t500 Suzuki after firstly suffering gearbox issues and then one cylinder cutting completely. Bill Smith took over, although his Honda was only firing on two cylinders in the deluge. Smith staggered on to win, with Woods drying out to finish second from Kawasaki-mounted Keith Martin. The 250cc class was even closer, with Charlie Williams winning his firsttt race after a tremendous scrap with Eddie Roberts and Tommy Robb, sunshine breaking through at the Grandstand as the Cheshire rider flashed across the line.
Bad weather blighted the 1974TT and the Production races eventually got underway on Tuesday with 85 entries and the ‘big’ class having had its capacity increased to 1000cc.the Triumphtrident, also known as ‘Slippery Sam’ had won the race for the three previous years and Mick Grant made it four in a row for the famous machine, the Wakefield rider grabbing his first of seventt wins ahead of the BMWS of Hans-otto Butenuth and Helmut Dahne. Third in 1973, Keith Martin made no mistake in the 500cc class where, aided by a new lap record of 95.21mph, he swept to a start to finish victory. Once again though, the 250cc result was in doubt for much of the way with Martin Sharpe and Roberts involved in a short-circuit-type duel. It was Sharpe who got the verdict though, by 2.3s, having out-braked Roberts at Signpost Corner on the final lap.
Big changes took place for the 1975 Production races as they were increased to an amazing 10 laps (nine for the 250s) which was the longest race ever to be held on the Mountain Course, each machine to be ridden by a team of two riders. Many expected such a long race to be boring, but it was anything but, as exciting racing saw two of the three class lap records broken with Alex George and Dave Croxford continuing Slippery Sam’s amazingtt exploits by winning the 750cc class after early leaders Dahne and Werner Dieringer (BMW) went out. The lesser-supported 500cc class proved to be the best in 1975, with various leaders throughout and it wasn’t until the ninth lap that the eventual winners Charlie Williams and Roberts took over at the front. Meanwhile, Mortimer and Billy Guthrie gaveyamaha another victory in the 250cc class.
Weather conditions again caused the programme to be rearranged in 1976 and the Productiontt, again held over 10 laps, was postponed from Saturday untiltuesday which saw the nicest weather of the week. Indeed, it was so hot in places that melting tar caught out a number of riders although the worst hurt was Percytait who got knocked over in the mass start for the 1000cc race, suffering numerous broken bones in the process. It wasn’t a classic race though and, realistically, only the most ardent Production enthusiast was looking forward to the prospect of 10 laps of racing.the ACU had also modified the class departures although it was still nine laps for the 250s and 10 for the 500s and 750s. On this occasion, it was a 250cc machine, in the hands of Mortimer and Bill Simpson that was declared the overall winner despite only having to complete nine laps once more. Frank Rutter and Mick Poxon won the 500cc class on their Honda after the Bill Smith/geoff Barry partnership ran out of fuel on the final lap. In the 1000cc division, Stevetonkin/roger Nicholls led until the eighth lap before Nicholls was forced to stop at the Waterworks, their only consolation being a new lap record and that paved the way for the German pair of Dahne and Butenuth (BMW) to claim a popular victory. However, they won just £75 for their efforts and it would be eight more years before the Production races would be seen at thett again. Manufacturer interest had dropped considerably and with thett having lost its world championship status, the ACU responded by launching its own three-class Formula TT championship which left no room on the schedule for the Production class.
John Hartle winning the inaugural Production TT in 1967.
Bonnie’s finest hour – Triumph Motorcycles, Meriden, couldn’t have wished for a better year than 1969.The T120 was at its peak and was heading for the record books as the first production racing machine to lap the Isle of MANTT course at over 100mph.
Above: Hans-otto Butenuth 745cc BMW R755.
Peter Williams – 745cc John Player Norton.
Below; Steve Spencer on a 745cc Norton Atlas at Union Mills.
Above: No. 38 Mick Potter on a 650cc Triumph Metisse, No. 51 Ted Redford on a 748cc Kawasaki.Right: Tony Jefferies, 746cc Triumph, at Whitegates.
the Pwilliams winning TT. 1973 Isle of Man F750
Mick Grant on the Kawasaki.
Chas Mortimer – 699cc Danfay Yamaha.
Percy Tait – 750cc Triumph.
1975 F750cc start.
Dave Croxford won the 1975 Production TT on ‘Slippery Sam’, the famous racing Trident. ‘Sam’ was a TT winner five times in a row, this year was the last.