Quan­tum Leap

Though scooter rac­ing dropped out of the lime­light in the mid-70s, to those tak­ing part it was still as pop­u­lar and cham­pi­onships were there to be won. Richard Wil­fang was in it to win it.

Scootering - - Contents - Words: Stu Owen

Though scooter rac­ing had dropped out of the lime­light by the mid-1970s, cham­pi­onships were still there to be won, and Richard Wil­fang was in it to win it. This is his story…

The scooter rac­ing boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a heav­ily con­tested and well-pro­moted af­fair in its day. With the Lam­bretta stop­ping pro­duc­tion by mid-1971 it was thought by many that the rac­ing scene would slowly die off. Though scooter own­er­ship was in gen­eral de­cline by this time a younger gen­er­a­tion would now take it over. Gone were the days when the Lam­bretta and Vespa ap­peared in main­stream press, slowly push­ing the scene un­der­ground. With it went scooter rac­ing and though it wasn’t break­ing news any more, this didn’t mean it wasn’t hap­pen­ing. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth; with the grid as full as it ever had been the com­pe­ti­tion was just as fierce. With many riders now hav­ing had sev­eral years un­der their belts to hone their skills, be­com­ing a cham­pion was an even harder feat to ac­com­plish. Only the best would make it to the top and one per­son by the name of Richard Wil­fang would do ex­actly that.

Sav­ing for a TV

Hav­ing left school in 1967 like most teenagers back then, Richard went straight into em­ploy­ment cour­tesy of an ap­pren­tice­ship. The mea­gre £6 a week wages didn't go that far but slowly there was enough to save up for a scooter. The older less de­sir­able mod­els were to be had for a bar­gain and soon there was enough money put by to pur­chase a TV 175 Se­ries 11 Lam­bretta.

Though the Mod era was well and truly gone by this time, some own­ers would still fol­low the fash­ion cer­tainly – when it came to the scooter. Richard was no ex­cep­tion, with a host of mir­rors, lights, racks and su­per loud ex­haust to weigh it all down with.

For the first few months, most of the time would be spent driv­ing it around pos­ing proudly like a pea­cock. Haunts such as the lo­cal youth club were the main des­ti­na­tion. The lo­cal scooter shop was within five miles of Richard’s house and it was there he would of­ten part with his hard earned money to cram even more metal work on to the scooter. The shop went by the name of Roy’s of Hornchurch, which would go on to be an epi­cen­tre in the scooter rac­ing scene.

On one such visit, there were a group of four or five Lam­bretta own­ers from The Vik­ings West Es­sex Scooter Club. Hav­ing chat­ted to them for a while Richard was duly in­vited to their Thurs­day night club meet. Upon his first visit, his scooter stood out more than it ever had done be­fore.

Most mem­bers wore rac­ing over­alls and their scoot­ers were en­tirely de­void of any chrome work. All had a hole cut in the left-hand side panel to help the huge car­bu­ret­tors fit­ted breath more eas­ily. It was a far cry from how Richard had per­ceived a Lam­bretta to be and what it could ac­tu­ally do.

The 1960s was a pe­riod of rapid change and noth­ing lasted long be­fore mov­ing on. He was quickly put un­der the spell of The Vik­ings’ in­flu­ence and soon moved in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

A change of fash­ions

The im­pact of meet­ing the club mem­bers was a quick and ef­fec­tive one. With­out the slight­est thought al­most a year’s worth of amassed mir­rors, lights and such was quickly re­moved and binned. A pair of knob­bly tyres fit­ted and hey presto a grass track scooter was born. Grass track rac­ing had been pop­u­lar for a few years and, with no ma­jor up­graded re­quired, it was easy to have a go at. It was a rad­i­cal change of di­rec­tion in such a short space of time but one Richard was ea­ger to make.

Dur­ing 1968 he would en­ter sev­eral grass track races pick­ing up tro­phies along the way in­clud­ing win­ning the IoW sand race. Later that year at the BLOA LCGB Southend rally, he would be­come grass track cham­pion over sev­eral races. This not only high­lighted Richard’s hunger for rac­ing but showed he pos­sessed a nat­u­ral tal­ent for it. With the club see­ing his po­ten­tial, it was de­cided he should now move to cir­cuit rac­ing. This would re­quire some prepa­ra­tion but as 1968 came to a close he de­cided to give it a go.

Hon­ing one’s skills

“They wanted me to go rac­ing,” was how Richard put it, “and I knew it was the right thing to do.” A crash course in tun­ing was now re­quired to try and make the old TV more com­pet­i­tive. The first job was to in­crease the ca­pac­ity, an over­size pis­ton giv­ing 192cc, just below the 200cc class limit. A high com­pres­sion head, Amal MK 1 carb and some port­ing would com­plete the top end. The tun­ing was fin­ished off with baf­fles be­ing re­moved from the ex­haust, and so from the ashes of his fancy Mod ma­chine a lean rac­ing Lam­bretta was born.

His first race was at Mal­lory Park on March 2, 1969. Though no of­fi­cial cham­pi­onship would start un­til 1970, this was the year it would de­velop with sev­eral races or­gan­ised to see if it could ac­tu­ally work. As Richard said: “We would ride our scoot­ers to the track, race them, then ride them home.” The idea of a van to trans­port the scoot­ers was un­heard of, which is a shame as that day in early March of that year was bit­terly cold. So cold in fact, that be­fore rac­ing could com­mence the clerk of the course de­manded salt was thrown on to cer­tain parts of the track to melt the frozen sur­face. With ice-cold tem­per­a­tures and a freez­ing track, it would be enough to put any first timer off but not Richard Wil­fang. Not only did he fin­ish his first ever race a re­spectable fifth out of 27 riders but in do­ing so also man­aged to lap one of his team­mates in the process.

For now, he was con­tent just go­ing rac­ing with his fel­low club mem­bers, try­ing to learn the art of rid­ing fast and de­vel­op­ing his tun­ing skills as best he could. For a while it all worked well as the team­mates bounced ideas off each other and be­came a strong force. How­ever, noth­ing lasts for­ever and as time went by he de­cided that a change was needed. By the early 1970s, scooter rac­ing was well es­tab­lished with a fully or­gan­ised na­tional cham­pi­onship. An abun­dance of both teams and riders had sprung up from all over the coun­try with ev­ery­one be­ing ea­ger to win.

Mov­ing on

Whether or not Richard felt the club he’d joined was hold­ing him back is uncertain but be­fore long he and fel­low team­mate Doug May broke away to form their own team, Quan­tum Plus. Though they would amass a fair num­ber of points to­wards the cham­pi­onship, a small two-man team could never win it. It was de­cided to join forces with a group called Con­sor­tium and

to­gether they walled be known as Quan­tum + Con­sor­tium. Now boosted to five mem­bers, it would still be small in num­bers com­pared to a team the size of Bellerophon but what it did have was a group of ded­i­cated and tal­ented riders.

By now his tun­ing skills were start­ing to de­velop and an en­gi­neer­ing back­ground was cer­tainly help­ing. Us­ing books and mag­a­zines ar­ti­cles as a ref­er­ence as well as help from a friend who had good ex­pe­ri­ence with two-stroke tun­ing the en­gines Richard built were be­com­ing more pow­er­ful. More of­ten than not they would be tried out in his road-go­ing Lam­bretta to see if new mod­i­fi­ca­tions had worked. It was also a great way of bed­ding in new pis­tons and rings be­fore a race meet­ing to pre­vent seiz­ing.

Changes were afoot cour­tesy of those who gov­erned the race cham­pi­onship, mak­ing it even more com­pet­i­tive. Classes would be put into num­bers as more and more or­gan­i­sa­tion started to hap­pen within the sport. A 200cc stan­dard Lam­bretta it would now be classed as Group 4. Group 6 was the spe­cials, which al­lowed far more scope for the en­gine as well as the frame. This is where Richard ex­celled, build­ing his own spe­cial not only tun­ing it but do­ing all the en­gi­neer­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions. It gave him great sat­is­fac­tion to go rac­ing know­ing that he had built and tuned the ma­chine him­self.

Ded­i­ca­tion fi­nally pay­ing off

It had now been five years since that de­but on a cold frosty morn­ing at Mal­lory Park. With the 1974 sea­son in full swing, not only was Richard a leader at the front of the grid but the team was be­com­ing very suc­cess­ful. So much so they took the team cham­pi­onship that year. For such a small team it was a great achieve­ment only to be bet­tered by win­ning it again in 1975. For Richard though there were even greater things to come. That year would see him win all but one of the Group 6 races mak­ing him the over­all cham­pion. It was an hon­our ev­ery scooter racer in the last 50 years has wished for and put him in that elite class of win­ners.

Be­com­ing over­all cham­pion gives a racer the hon­our of the num­ber 1 on their ma­chine the fol­low­ing year, which he duly ac­cepted. How­ever, an agree­ment with his wife meant that if such great heights were ever achieved then it would be time to quit. Hav­ing man­aged to do five years of com­pet­i­tive scooter rac­ing and come out of it rel­a­tively un­scathed was a feat by it­self. It must also be re­mem­bered that when you have got to the top the only way is down so per­haps it is the best time get out. Walk­ing away from some­thing you en­joy do­ing or are pas­sion­ate about is never easy to do so the eas­i­est way to stop temp­ta­tion is to get rid. Be­ing friends with Mick Hay­man, an up-and-com­ing racer,

Richard agreed to sell his spe­cial to him. The deal was for him to prepare the ma­chine at his work­shop for Mick be­fore each race. That way though he wasn't rac­ing any more there was still a way of be­ing in­volved. After sev­eral races, Mick took over pre­par­ing it him­self and the rac­ing story for Richard was over, or was it?

Temp­ta­tion

An in­vi­ta­tion to race at the Fes­ti­val of Speed at Ly­d­den Hill in the sum­mer of 1976 ar­rived. It was a pop­u­lar event for both scoot­ers and mo­tor­cy­cles and was widely fol­lowed by the press. The prob­lem was the spe­cial was now sold but the lure of rac­ing with the num­ber 1 plate was just too much. Like any Lam­bretta owner, Richard had ac­cu­mu­lated a whole host of spares, enough to build an­other ma­chine. By the time of the meet­ing, a Group 6 spe­cial was built and ready to race. Be­ing one of his favourite tracks would def­i­nitely help and was part of the rea­son he won both races that day.

It was the only time he ever raced with the num­ber 1 on the scooter and now hav­ing won with it, it was much eas­ier to call time on a great rac­ing ca­reer. Like so many, once the rac­ing stopped he had very lit­tle in­ter­est in it af­ter­wards. It wasn’t un­til last year that by chance an in­vite to a Face­book group rekin­dled his in­ter­est. Not only was he happy to see that scooter rac­ing was still thriv­ing but amazed by just how fast they are now. Hav­ing looked at some of the en­gine work he said: “To­day’s en­gines pro­duce so much more power than we ever dreamed of.”

It’s easy to com­ment on dif­fer­ent eras in any sport, ask­ing whether those back then would man­age in to­day’s cli­mate. That can quite of­ten be re­versed – could to­day’s cur­rent crop deal with the equip­ment and con­di­tions that were on of­fer back in the 70s? When it comes to rac­ing you can only go on what was avail­able to ev­ery­one at a spe­cific pe­riod in time. For Richard Wil­fang in the mid-70s it was sim­ple – he was the fastest, a cham­pion and num­ber 1. It was his time.

Do­ing his best to go round the out­side of Bill Met­calfe.

Richard was of­ten the most talked about rider when scooter rac­ing was men­tioned in the press.

Proudly pos­ing at home with both his Group 4and Group 6race ma­chines.

Richard, num­ber 95, lead­ing Malc An­der­son at Cas­tle Combe in 1971.

Try­ing his luck out in Group 3(150cc) at Cad­well Park in 1974 on the num­ber 9ma­chine. Get­ting his knee down at the Isle of Man in 1972.

Richard up front and out on his own be­came areg­u­lar sight dur­ing 1974/75.

In the wet at Ly­d­den Hill pulling off at the start­line in be­tween TomPead and Ray Kemp.

Sit­ting on his newly built spe­cial for the 1976 Fes­ti­val of Speed now fea­tur­ing the num­ber 1plate. Con­sid­er­ing it was built from bits ly­ing around in the shed the work on this spe­cial just goes to show how tal­ented an en­gi­neer Richard was.

The 1975 scooter lap records chart­fea­tured Richard quite fre­quently.Reprinted by kind per­mis­sion from Scooter and Scooter­ist magazine.

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