Saturday, April 13, 2024


The growing popularity of retro racing at the Isle of Man’s Classic TT festival in August, attracting an ever-greater number of star names, has spawned a cottage industry fabricating modern replicas of historic machinery to fill out the grid. Unsurprisingly, many are much faster than the originals they purport to duplicate.

Leading contenders for this year’s Superbike Classic TT are the three riders lining up for Steve Wheatman’s Team Classic Suzuki. Hot favourite is Michael Dunlop, winner of this year’s Senior TT for Suzuki and outright Mountain Course lap record holder. Alongside him are Lee Johnston and Danny Webb, both top road-racing names.

This trio will be on the grid astride alleged replicas of the 1981 Suzuki XR69 ridden to fame by Graeme Crosby and Mick Grant, when the outright TT lap record barely breached 115mph. But Dunlop set a new Classic TT lap record last year on one of Wheatman’s XR69 repli-racers with a stunning speed of 126.8mph.

The secret is simple. Although Team Classic Suzuki tackle features gesturally faithful copies of the original XR69 chassis, their engines are considerably more powerful and eminently tuneable oil-cooled GSX-R1100 lumps dating from the late 1980s and beyond.

Its a similar tale for the latest Ducati Classic TT challenge. Some 39 years since Mike Hailwood won the Formula One TT for Steve Wynne’s Sports Motorcycles team on a race-kitted Ducati 900SS, Sports Motorcycles is set to return to the Isle of Man with a bike referencing Hailwood’s iconic steed and highly-rated classic specialist Chris Swallow in the saddle.

Pre-event publicity waxes lyrical, claiming: “The sight and sound of a Ducati twin wearing the distinctive Sports Motorcycles Ducati colours on the island will surely evoke some memories of that magical moment in 1978.”

However, resemblance is literally skin-deep – essentially confined to fairing livery and decals. Hailwood’s bike was a 1970s-era modified production leviathan with a twin shock-frame and portly bevel-drive OHC desmo motor. This Classic TT confection is built from scratch entirely in-house by Glyn Robinson on behalf of his friend Steve Wynne.

Its monoshock chassis has a host of special parts which are all CNC-manufactured in his own machine shop. These include Marzocchi replica 41mm magnesium forks and adjustable yokes, brake discs, footrests and controls, dry clutch assembly and housing, rear spindle clamp assembly and caliper carriers. The frame itself, swing arm, exhaust system and fuel tank are hand-crafted too. The engine is also a hugely updated (albeit still air-cooled) device with belt-driven cams.

Well, they say racing improves the breed – if not authenticity.


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