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.
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.
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.