The Prod­die TT

Classic Racer - - WHAT’SINSIDE -

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.

Words: Philip Wain Pho­tos: Nick Ni­cholls Col­lec­tion at Mor­tons Ar­chive

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.

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