Mat Oxley

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

21

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Percy Tait, who has died aged 90, was one of the stars of the days of the globally dominant British motorcycle industry. Tait was a senior road tester for Triumph who rode 200 miles a day, Monday to Friday, then raced the Midland company’s products at weekends, usually without the prior knowledge of its management. Triumph managing director Edward Turner always thought racing a waste of money, unlike his opposite numbers at Norton, who built Norton’s reputation on successes on track.

“All the work was done in secret in a half-disused machine shed behind the Experimental Department shop,” recalled Tait, who joined the company when he was 21 and worked closely with Doug Hele, one of motorcycling’s cleverest engineers.

“Doug had come from Norton where he worked under Joe Craig [who had masterminded Norton’s racing successes before and after the Second World War], so he was always mega-keen on racing,” remembers fellow engineer Norman Hyde, who worked under Hele. “He would do racing work when he wasn’t supposed to, so he tended to be like Nelson putting a telescope to his blind eye: I see no racing bikes. Nearly all the racing was in Britain, giving Percy a ride every weekend, from Cadwell to Oulton.”

Tait was an unlikely star of the 1960s and 1970s, which is better known for its glamorous playboys, like Italian Giacomo Agostini and Londoner Barry Sheene. There was nothing glamorous about Tait or his operation. He looked like a greaser and he revelled in playing the outsider, the fly in Ago’s ointment.

He joined Triumph, initially on the assembly line, after completing his National Service, during which he became a member of the army’s motorcycle display team.

In 1969 Tait scored Triumph’s only grand prix podium (until last year, when the reborn Triumph brand became engine supplier for Moto2). This great result was achieved at the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps, where Tait briefly led Agostini’s MV Agusta, finally taking the chequered flag in second place.

The trip from the factory in Meriden was undertaken in the Experimental Department’s scruffy old Transit van. Tait travelled with two helpers, and none of them were paid, because the factory race team was so unofficial it didn’t even exist to management.

“At first the MV crew refused to allow the Triumph team in”

“The trusty Transit was made ready with an oily rag service and the kipper smell removed – after being in the Isle of Man for the TT races,” recalled Tait’s colleague Les Graham, who was team manager. “The two beautiful race bikes were loaded, plus a couple of hammers and tools, a change of underwear, sandwiches and a flask of tea…”

The Spa weekend didn’t start well, because the motley Triumph crew had been assigned the same pit area as MV Agusta, the Italian brand owned by Count Domenico Agusta.

“At first the MV mechanics could not believe that the tatty Transit was entering the pit of the great and mighty and it was duly refused entry,” Williams continued. “The order of the day then became fisticuffs, so Arthur [Jakeman, the other member of Tait’s crew], who is quite large, showed the Italians his fist, and the trusty van, which I might add was also the hotel, cookhouse and workshop, was in. The MV mechanics moved their beloved machines as far as possible from this new outfit, worried they might catch oil leaks and things.”

You can imagine the look of befuddlement on the MV mechanics when 40-year-old Tait led Ago’s MV four at the end of the first lap of the 500cc GP, especially because he was riding a tuned-up twin-cylinder road bike.

Tait, Hele and the rest of the crew had spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours transforming their T100, “a below-average road bike”. A standard T100 made 32 horsepower at 7000rpm. By the time Tait got to Spa, Hele’s engine made 53 horsepower at 9500rpm, enough to keep Agostini worried for a couple of laps. Tait’s hard work and crucial input to chassis development also played a part in the T100’s unlikely speed.

Triumph’s attitude to racing changed in the 1970s when it marketed the machine that was supposed to save the once-great name from Japanese competition, the three-cylinder 750cc Trident. Tait raced the Hele-developed triple from Daytona to Le Mans, where he won the 1971 Bol d’Or 24 hour race, partnered with Ray Pickrell. That year Tait also won the British superbike championship. Three-cylinder machines ridden by others also won the 1971 Daytona 200 and the Isle of Man TT for production machines. However, despite its many successes around the world the Trident couldn’t prevent the demise of the British motorcycle industry.

Eventually, Tait went with the flow. When Triumph shut its race team he signed with Suzuki, making the tricky move from road-based four-strokes to prototype two-strokes, most notably the square-four RG500 that took Sheene to 500cc world titles in 1976 and 1977.

Tait retired a few years later after a nasty accident on the Isle of Man. In retirement he became a Suzuki dealer and a champion sheep breeder. This new hobby was a very different world from the motorcycle racing paddock, but Tait wasn’t your average racer.


Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley

Related articles

Related products