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

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