‘THERE WAS LINGERIE ALL OVER THE PLACE’
PHIL READ AT 80
He’s up there with the very best of the best
Only three riders have won world titles in GP racing’s three major categories, 125cc/Moto3, 250cc/Moto2 and 500cc/ MotoGP. They are Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Phil Read. That stat alone puts Read in the pantheon. He won the 125 title in 1968, the 250 in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969 and the 500 in 1973 and 1974. He also won the TT Formula 1 world crown in 1977, with his eighth victory on the Isle of Man.
He was Britain’s first jet-set GP star
If you think Barry Sheene was Britain’s first jet-set GP star you’re wrong. Read got there first: snow-skiing in Switzerland then water-skiing in Hawaii and, inevitably, lots of drinking and fun with the ladies along the way. “We were like Spitfire pilots. It was like, ‘F**k it, we’ve survived another mission, let’s live it up a bit…’ At one meeting in 1975, MV brought these promotion girls along so we were having a bit of a time with them in my hotel room. It got a bit hectic with lingerie flying out of the window...”
He was the first king of the two-strokes…
Read made his name in the early days of two-stroke GP bikes, when riders were never more than a piston seizure away from death. He won Yamaha’s first world championship in 1964, riding the outrageous 250cc V4 RD05. Success on these tricky machines transformed him from an apprentice fitter in Luton to a Guernsey-based tax exile.
…And the last four-stroke 500cc champion
By the 1970s the only class the twostrokes hadn’t conquered was the premier 500cc category. But every year the two-strokes were getting faster, while the lone MV Agusta four-stroke wasn’t. When Read won the last fourstroke 500 title in 1974 he rode his MV like a man possessed to beat Giacomo Agostini’s more powerful two-stroke Yamaha.
He won the nastiest GP rivalry of all time
Read’s rivalry with Yamaha team-mate Bill Ivy makes today’s rivalries look like schoolyard stuff. In 1968 Read stunned the paddock by disobeying team orders to take the 250 world championship from Ivy. “I was told that Bill would win the 250 title and I would win the 125. Bill had been a bit sneaky, doing a lot of background chatting with Yamaha. Then he told everyone, I’m going to win the 250, I’m going to beat Ready. As we lined up at Brno I said to him ‘OK, if you think you can beat me when we’re riding to orders, now you’re going to have to race me for it.’ He said, ‘Ah, f**kin’ ’ell, Phil.’ So we raced, I won and he was second.”
He was beyond brave and hard as nails
Read’s bravery is beyond doubt; he won seven Isle of Man TTs on those evil early two-strokes. He recalls vomiting before some TTs because he was so nervous, but the puke never slowed him down. And he was a real maverick. His refusal to let Yamaha bosses, or anyone else, tell him what to do, got him the nickname Rebel Read. He was the bad boy of Grand Prix racing, always looking after number one, whether on the track, doing business or chasing women.
He’s the oldest surviving premier-class champion
Following the death of John Surtees in 2017, Read is today the oldest-surviving 500cc/MotoGP champion; four years older than 15-times world champion Agostini. The third oldest surviving 500 champ is ‘King’ Kenny Roberts, who celebrated his 67th birthday on New Year’s Eve.
‘He was the bad boy of Grand Prix racing...’
The seven-time GP champ turned 80 on January 1 Read received his MBE in style
more titles Sheene outshone him but Read won crown Read, not Ago, won MV’s last four-stroke wins and seven world titles Read finally quit GPs in 1976 after 52