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

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