Behind the scenes at top British firms
RT Quaife has helped many successful race teams
RT Quaife Engineering Ltd are one of those companies that most riders probably haven’t heard of. However, if you move in the spheres of four-wheeled motorsports or classic bike racing, Quaife are a company at the very top of their game. They are industry leaders in their field who can even boast F1 success, and it all started with bikes. “Our father Rod was a subcontractor who specialised in design engineering,” explains technical director Michael Quaife. “In the early 1960s he was invited by Norton-Villiers to make a five-speed gearbox for the factory race bikes as they only had a four-speed box at the time. He managed to create this gearbox, which fitted within the existing bike’s cases, and after it was put into John Cooper’s bike he instantly won races.”
Due to small powerbands and a lack of torque on bikes of the day, the extra gear in Quaife’s gearbox was a huge advantage on track and it wasn’t long until Triumph and BSA also asked him to build them a fivespeed box. After dominating the 1971 Daytona 200 using a Quaife box in BSA Rocket 3 and Triumph Trident race bikes, Triumph purchased the design from Rod and every fivespeed Triumph produced after that date used his design. However, the Japanese were starting to become a force to be reckoned with.
“In 1971 our father helped Phil Read convert his 250cc Yamaha from a five to a six-speed box,” remembers Michael. “This helped him win the world title as a privateer; Yamaha launched a sixspeed box the next year.”
The rise of the Japanese manufacturers resulted in a change of direction as the British bike industry died and the Japanese built their own gearboxes in-house.
“In the 1970s, 100% of Quaife’s business was British race bike gearboxes and almost overnight this niche collapsed,” said Michael. “So our father looked at fourwheeled motorsport and soon began developing gearboxes for Ford Escort MkII rally cars. Cleverly, just as with two-wheels, he designed his gearboxes to fit within the standard cases to reduce costs and even added a fifth gear.” The company expanded and soon started to add differentials to their range of products, even taking an F1 win in 1986. Nowadays the company are huge in the historic rally and clubman race scene, but also supply transmissions for cars such as Radicals, which mate a motorcycle engine within a car chassis. With an annual turnover of over £10m, 80 employees and two factories spreading over 50,000 square feet in the Gillingham and Sevenoaks areas, Quaife have gone from strength to strength.
“In the car world we take what was cutting-edge five years ago and make it affordable,” says Michael. “But motorcycles hold a very special place in our hearts and we still make gearboxes for Nortons, Vincents, Triumphs, Velocettes and BSAs.”
Bike parts in stock include magnesium gearbox covers for Nortons
Michael Quaife is the son of the company founder
These selectors are destined for a Norton gearbox
Shafts ready to be slotted into a Quaife gearbox