BRIEF EN­COUNTER

Classic Trial - - HISTORY - Words: Yoomee • Pic­tures: Alan Vines, Michel D’awans, James Moor­house and Yoomee Archive

In 1982 Ital­ian brand Fantic had a stran­gle­hold on the world of tri­als that had not been wit­nessed since the days of the Span­ish golden years of the sport. Fantic ac­tu­ally claimed to have a 60% mar­ket share of all tri­als mod­els sold world-wide, with their 200 and 240 mod­els prov­ing a huge hit. A new model beck­oned off the back of the 240 model to keep mo­men­tum in the mar­ket, and the 300 model was born. It would have a very brief en­counter that al­most pulled the red ma­chines onto their knees and into in­sol­vency in the wake of the mono-shock revo­lu­tion.

Hav­ing moved from ri­val Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer SWM, Giles Bur­gat was the num­ber one Fantic works rider for 1983 sup­ported by Great Bri­tain’s John Lampkin and Span­ish de­vel­op­ment rider Jamie Su­bira, mak­ing a truly in­ter­na­tional team on the 240 model. With only 212cc avail­able from the sin­gle cylin­der air-cooled mo­tor it lacked the low-down grunt now re­quired for the new-style world cham­pi­onship haz­ards which were in­tro­duced with the new ‘Stop’ rule. With new rules al­low­ing the rider to stop un­pe­nalised, big steps were ap­pear­ing in the sec­tions with very lit­tle run up to them which re­quired an in­stant, smooth, re­spon­sive type of power aided by a very high-revving en­gine.

High Ex­pec­ta­tions

Bur­gat was ex­pected to chal­lenge for the crown on the 240 but he failed to de­liver any wins, with the only one com­ing from Lampkin in the USA. Su­bira mean­while was work­ing be­hind the scenes with the fac­tory on the de­vel­op­ment of a new model. A 229cc mo­tor looked a good op­tion but the char­ac­ter­is­tics were wrong for tri­als as the power band was too small. Su­bira knew a full 250cc en­gine was the an­swer and he ar­rived at 249.4 for the new model, code named the Type 403.

With the ar­rival of new mono-shock Yamaha all the ri­val man­u­fac­tur­ers rushed to de­velop a sin­gle-shock rear sus­pen­sion sys­tem, but Fantic de­cided that the twin-shock setup was most ef­fec­tive and de­cided to de­velop the con­cept fur­ther. The bore and stroke of the new ma­chine would be 74mm x 58mm, mak­ing it very tractable and ideal for a tri­als mo­tor. The steel chas­sis would be a con­ven­tional tubu­lar design, with the sump shield an in­te­gral part of the ma­chine. It would also fea­ture con­ven­tional Mar­zoc­chi sus­pen­sion front and rear.

Mopeds and mo­tor­cy­cles were pro­duced in-house at the Ital­ian fac­tory, and they in­stalled the new tri­als mo­tor in a road-based model which would take in hun­dreds of road miles to make sure the re­li­a­bil­ity was okay. This was a very shrewd move on Fantic’s part as it kept the pry­ing eyes of the world’s press away. Af­ter this the mo­tor was then placed in a trail-type ma­chine and rid­den off-road in the moun­tains and at dif­fer­ent al­ti­tudes as Fantic wanted to have the ul­ti­mate tri­als en­gine. Su­bira tested the ma­chine in the heat of com­pe­ti­tion but it would take a close in­spec­tion to re­alise it was not a 240 model, with the only give away clue be­ing the larger bore ex­haust sys­tem and al­loy sump guard. Once happy with the per­for­mance he de­clared the new ma­chine ready for pro­duc­tion. In a strange trend fol­lowed by many man­u­fac­tur­ers the new model was pre­sented to the world’s press at the end-of-year trade shows.

The El­e­gant New FM 403

It looked very el­e­gant with its Ital­ian flame-red frame and side pan­els; it was very well ac­cepted by all im­porters and looked to be a dream for the sales fig­ures. The all-im­por­tant UK tri­als scene would not see the new ma­chine un­til the early part of 1984 as pro­duc­tion was not started un­til late Novem­ber at the fac­tory. Fantic im­porter Roy Carey and his team planned to launch the ma­chine at a se­ries of test days based around its dealer net­work. Fantic per­son­nel claimed the new ma­chine was the most pow­er­ful pro­duc­tion tri­als ma­chine avail­able on the mar­ket with the full 250cc mo­tor.

The ra­dial finned cylin­der head and larger bar­rel were very heav­ily finned to aid cool­ing. The all-new light­weight tubu­lar design frame had the new in­au­gu­ral sump shield in place of the tubes, aid­ing ground clear­ance. A strong box-sec­tion steel swing­ing arm had been fab­ri­cated and the shock­ers had a new, slightly an­gled po­si­tion placed fur­ther for­ward, which was claimed to make the ma­chine ap­ply the power to the ground more ef­fec­tively. To fin­ish the whole pack­age off a com­pletely new polypropy­lene fuel tank was fit­ted and held in po­si­tion by two in­de­pen­dent elon­gated side pan­els. These could be eas­ily re­moved for train­ing and were fin­ished in red and black; the idea was that you could have a spare pair of these to keep the ma­chine look­ing good.

It cer­tainly looked the busi­ness and at­tracted French rider Thierry Michaud, who duly signed a works con­tract with the Ital­ians. When he won the open­ing 1984 World round in Spain on the new ma­chine the fac­tory were con­vinced it would be the year of the Fantic. The World Cham­pi­onship would go all the way to the fi­nal round of the year, with Michaud tak­ing four wins but miss­ing the ti­tle by two points. Bel­gium’s Eddy Le­je­une on the four-stroke Honda took his third ti­tle in a row, which would be the last for a twin-shock ma­chine. On the sales front many of the loyal Fantic rid­ers sim­ply traded in their 240 mod­els for the new 300.

Suc­cess

Michaud would take the first of his three suc­ces­sive Scot­tish Six Days Trial wins in 1984 for Fantic on the ma­chine. The new model was not prov­ing very pop­u­lar with its new own­ers; they con­sid­ered it a very phys­i­cal ma­chine to ride as it was quite big and far too pow­er­ful for the ma­jor­ity.

With the ar­rival of the new rider-friendly Yamaha mono-shock ma­chine, which was much lighter and eas­ier to ride for the club­man, many would soon swop from Fantic to Yamaha.

In a fash­ion con­scious world Fantic found them­selves with a ma­chine that was a lit­tle too late. It soon be­came ob­vi­ous that the twin-shock ma­chine was not the fu­ture, whereas the sin­gle shock was. With strong sales in the early part of the eight­ies the fac­tory had also paid very high wages to get the works rid­ers on board, and found them­selves in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties with no money to de­velop a new ma­chine.

With very poor sales in 1984 the fac­tory did not have the money to re­tain its top rid­ers, and with no con­tract on of­fer John Lampkin re­turned to Arm­strong and Giles Bur­gat moved to Yamaha. In a very dif­fi­cult year, 1985 would see a lim­ited ef­fort on the sales front as this was seen as a ‘gap’ year for Fantic.

Michaud had faith in the Ital­ian brand and liked the pow­er­ful mo­tor, and so chose to stay with the ail­ing com­pany and start work im­me­di­ately on a new ma­chine fea­tur­ing a mono-shock sys­tem. In 1985, and to recog­nise his ef­forts, the fac­tory of­ferd a lim­ited-edi­tion 300 model, which was re­leased in small num­bers to bring in some much needed rev­enue. It fea­tured white aes­thet­ics although the tra­di­tional red frame colour was re­tained. The chas­sis was mod­i­fied with the rear frame loop re­moved, and fea­tured a steeper steer­ing head an­gle whilst the foot rests were po­si­tioned fur­ther back. Only ten of these mod­els were im­ported into the UK.

Fantic would move on to more suc­cess with their prototype mono-shock ma­chines dur­ing 1985 with an SSDT win, and when they be­came avail­able they would come out of the crip­pling fi­nan­cial cri­sis fight­ing. A new range of sin­gle-shock Fantic tri­als mod­els would be­come avail­able and en­ter the mar­ket, and the mighty brand once again rose to the heights of its ear­lier suc­cess.

A rare pic­ture from the Re­search and De­vel­op­ment De­part­ment of the 300.

Here you can see the wooden ‘mock up’ fuel tank.

Thierry Michaud (Fantic 300-FRA).

This heav­ily dis­guised 300 prototype ap­peared in early 1983.

Left: French­man Gilles Bur­gat ap­peared in the

brochure shot. Above: John Lampkin at

play on his 300 Fantic.

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