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Phil Read MBE

Phil Read MBE 1939-2022
The world of motorcycling has lost one of its greatest and most stylish road race world champions. Eight times world title holder and eight times Isle of Man TT winner Phil Read MBE, a former Honda dealer, died at home in Canterbury, Kent, on 6 October aged 83.

His legacy is dazzling achievement and high-profile controversy, his life more than worthy of a Hollywood feature film.

Read gave Yamaha its first world title (1964, 250) and became the first rider to win the world series in 125, 250, and 500cc classes. He was the first to lap the Isle of Man TT on a 250 at 100mph (1965, Yamaha) and was the last to win a world title on a four-stroke (1974, MV 500) until the introduction of MotoGP in 2002.

Read was awarded the MBE (1979) for services to motorcycle sport and was declared a GP Legend in 2002 by MotoGP promoters Dorna.

Read’s world titles spanned 1964-1977, the last being the TTF1 championship on a Honda-4. As a result of this success, Honda produced 150 Phil Read Replica CB750 F2 road models, and Read became a Honda dealer at Hersham, Surrey, in 1980.

Both ventures were shortlived. Read was no businessman. After years of excitement on the world’s race tracks and a playboy lifestyle driving a Rolls-Royce and flying light aircraft, the discipline of running a motorcycle dealership was alien to him. Honda despaired and, after 18 months, withdrew their support. They also cut short the Read Replica Series when Read demanded higher royalty payments.

No stranger to controversy, Read caused a great rift when he reneged on a Yamaha works agreement that he would go for the 125cc world title in 1968 and support fellow Yamaha works rider Bill Ivy for 250 honours. Having clinched the 125 title, Read then told Ivy he was also now going for the 250 title, which he won by the narrowest of margins. Ivy fans never forgave him.

His next great controversy was being a lead player in calling for the Isle of Man TT to be stripped of world championship status following the death of Gilberto Parlotti in 1972. Subsequently, Read was hated by TT fans for what they saw as turning on the hand that had fed him. Read returned to the TT in 1977 for the F1 race. His victory was booed.

The previous year he had walked out of the Belgian GP after qualifying his 500 Suzuki declaring he was finished with GPs. His Life Helmets sponsor, Suzuki team manager and mechanics expected him to return on race day, but by this time, Read was at home in Surrey.

He could leave controversy in his wake seemingly without realising it. He could also be charm itself. Race frame maker the late Ken Sprayson fondly remembered Read’s hospitality and consideration when invited to visit the Italian MV factory to consult on frame design.

Read was involved in all kinds of ventures, including distributing Premier crash helmets in the 1970s. There never seemed to be a dull moment. In recent years he was working on an electric gyrocopter project and was hoping to win the lottery so that he could sponsor up-and-coming riders.

Racing was always his heartbeat. Following his primary race career, he took up parading and racing classic machines, his competition career spanning seven decades, a remarkable achievement.

He lobbied MotoGP organisers Dorna to incorporate a classic race or at least a classic parade on their programmes.

An avid road rider, Read stayed on the motorcycle scene and as the years passed attitudes of his detractors mellowed. The motorcycle world began to realise that Phil Read, the Prince of Speed, was a national living treasure.

Read was second only to ten times world champion Mike Hailwood in the ranks of British GP riders. His talent on a bike was mesmerising. In the 1960s, he achieved God-like status and acquired all the trappings of a rock star. Later he would be reduced to living in the back of a van for a brief period.

Phil Read, an egotist with a mellifluous voice and ever-eager for the next opportunity, led a lifestyle of dramatic contrast. He was a great champion who could handle the scariest machines and flowed like mercury when he raced. With his passing vibrant colour has drained from the world’s motorcycle scene.

He leaves four sons – Michael, Graham, Phil Read Jnr and Roki – and a daughter, Esme.


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