Gary O’Neill: Lambretta S2 230 TS1
Paul Le Breton: Lambretta GP 186 Imola
Jim Dennis: Lambretta GP 225 TS1
Martin Watts: Lambretta GP Targa Twin / GP 250RB
11.45 pm Wednesday 17th February and I jumped in the van heading for Medway! Of course it was pissing with rain as it was time for “The Testicle Run pt2, the Shoot-out Vespa vs Lambretta.” Obviously this wasn’t a race because it’s not allowed to race on the road, and both teams were heading in opposite directions around Great Britain, but we all still wanted the quickest time.
For Team Lambretta our route upon leaving Medway in Kent, heading up to John O’Groats first, then down to Lands End and finally back to Kent. Vespa were doing Lands End first then up to the tip of Scotland and back to Kent. Each team had one scooter on the road at a time and it would work in a relay system, changing scooter and rider at pre-planned services along the route.
At 1am on the 18th I’d arrived and found both teams loading bags, food, water and scooters into their corresponding vans; two vans per team. It was going to be a long haul.
We was lucky, as all of team Lambretta had done this before, two years ago and knew what to expect. We were more than up for the challenge. The normal banter rang around despite the crap conditions. The first riders of each team had been selected and were preparing for the 2am start.
With my van holding my co-driver Gary Gibson and riders Gary O’Neil (Speed Demons) and Paul Le Breton (Invicta SC) still loading, our first rider Jim Dennis jumped on his 225 TS1 was off bang on 2am, along with the other Lambretta support van holding Martin Watts (Modrapheniacs) and a couple of his club.
First service stop was South Mimms on the north side of the M25. Considering it was lashing down and we only left 20 mins afterwards, doing 70mph, we only caught up with Jim five miles before the stop. Jim wasn’t hanging around and was clocking 65mph in the rain with an arse end that can only be described as skittish!
At South Mimms, Jim decided he was going to do the next stop to Northampton and after fuelling set off the extra 54 miles at the same pace! Were these 4 tuned Lambrettas really going to complete this 1,980 mile journey without failure? This was with four riders whose motto was “throttle to the stop and squeeze harder!”
At Northampton, it was in with Jim’s and out with Martin’s Targa Twin which made the 87 miles to Woodall look easy. Paul followed and took us to Scotch Corner on his 186 Imola, which included some very last minute lane changes from the M1 to the A1M, which I then had to repeat behind him in the van which got me a few horns and a bloke giving me the coffee shaking hand sign!
At Scotch Corner it was the turn of “Captain Direction” Gary O’Neil on his TS1 230! He set off down the A66 to South Water at the top of the M6 and….surprisingly went the right way! With another stop at Abington, we had made Scotland in nine hours, not a bad start at all!
Spirits were very high and even at this early stage the time mathematics had started! With the help of real-time tracking and the infamous ‘blue dots’ we knew exactly where our rivals were, although our own master-plan was simply to ride as quickly as possible.
From Abington, it was Stirling and then Pitlochry. By this time Gary Gibson and myself had the pit-stops working like a well-oiled machine. Ramp out, scoot out, scoot in, strap, cover and go. There were several words of praise for it as these steps were done. For me I’d driven from Kent to Scotland non-stop, so it was time for a rest, high on Costa coffee and 2-stroke, I jumped in to the passenger seat.
If you look at an atlas of Great Britain, Scotland is the size of a cocktail sausage! A bloody long cocktail sausage it turned out. It never ended! However the stunning scenery really helped keep spirits up, along with the fantastic weather for the time of year. We all knew we’d been lucky as far as that was concerned…well, apart from Jim Dennis, as whenever his scoot came out, the sky turned black and the heavens opened!
The tough roads from Inverness to Wick, together with all the roadworks, slowed us right down, but it didn’t stop Martin. Together with Jim he rode the final 16 miles to John o’Groats. We arrived just before 5.30pm, all scoots were pulled out and the customary photo was taken. Turned out that wasn’t the only thing that was pulled out. Gary Gibson on getting himself sponsored had said if he hadn’t received £250 by that evening he was stripping off for a photo! Good job we hadn’t eaten and by Christ he had balls….it was freezing! Our tag-team had made Kent to John o’Groats in 15.5 hrs…on Lambrettas!
We were at the northernmost tip of the British mainland for all of 15 mins before we were loaded and off again. Lands End here we come! Again it was Martin who wanted to ride and we were desperate to be out of the twisty road sections before complete nightfall.
We had checked the progress of team Vespa and they were well on their way up the M5 but with the slower roads we were on, they were making much quicker progress than us! We estimated they would be in Scotland before we left it…and they were!
We were about to hit our worst weather yet. Paul set off for Pitlochry from Inverness in the dark and then came the snow and did it come down! Visibility was so poor I decided to go as close to the back of him with the van as I dare with my main beam on. It seemed to work but progress was slow and all in the van felt for him…with the heater on full-blast!
It was Gary O’Neill’s turn next to do the 60 miles to Stirling. Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse the fog came to join the snow. The boys were doing a terrific job, as were Gary’s heated gloves, which were religiously put on charge whenever his scoot came in the van! Morale was at its lowest and tiredness had definitely hit, but we were all gunning for the top of the m6, when the ride would get easier.
I feel we worked so well together that night, picking each other up, giving encouragement…and checking that little blue dot of Vespa on the tracker. By this time they had passed us and we knew exactly what roads and conditions they had to face!
At Gretna services there was a boost. We hit the motorway and felt the worst hurdle had been conquered, although it was shortlived. It was after Charnock Richard services near Preston that our first problem hit. Paul pulled over and his scooter couldn’t rev high under load. The decision was made for Gary’s to come back out so the swap took place but within a few miles Gary’s gave up the ghost! By this time the other support van had caught us up and had pulled over and Jim (the rainmaster) Dennis came forward to finish the stint. I personally think he just wanted to do one in the dry!
At Knutsford services it was desperate repair time and we decided to start with an easy fix…a spark plug each, luckily it worked for both! We now told an unconfident Paul a whopping great lie; saying he had 50 miles to do instead of 78, he rode off again to Frankley at the top of the M5.
It had been a rough night, with low temperatures and the breakdowns but with the sun coming up it injected us with adrenaline once again. The smiles appeared, even Gary O’Neill, that’s when he wasn’t in the back of the van on the mattress and duvet I had installed in there while shouting orders to us in the front like a sergeant major!
After Martin’s very fast stint to Severn View services, it was Gary’s turn to ride to Exeter. In typical O’ Neill style he wound the S2 up and pointed it South West at full-bore. The M5 was relatively clear, the sun was shining and with me behind in the van helping him swap lanes, he was flying! It was a fantastic sight to see and several motorists looked on and pointed. It was at this time it dawned on me for the first time what we’d achieved so far and how each Lambretta had not just coped with the stints but made them look easy…and done them quickly.
With Jim doing the 80 miles to Penhale and Paul the 43 miles to Lands End, it gave the two Gary’s and myself chance to send some banter to the Vespa lads to rub it in. One of which sent to Vespa Team’s Dave Sawicki saying that we’d had contact from his neighbour asking what she should do about feeding his cat, as he had only left food for two days! We sent another asking Peter Millard if he wanted Eastenders recording on Monday and Tuesday.
We hit our second landmark at 2.20pm on the Friday! A quick check to see Vespa still travelling north made our smiles broader and we once again unloaded the scoots for our picture, we even did a bit of sightseeing! Could it be possible we would even make the Cancer Is A C##t (C.I.A.C) evening do on the Friday night!
We were off on our final journey back to Kent and with Gary Gibson taking over van driving again, I could take some pics and take my turn listening to Mr O’Neill carping on in the back of the van about anything and everything!
It was on the road back to Exeter that our third breakdown happened….as Jim relayed to me later. Martin had charged off from Penhale on his last stint on the Targa Twin at 70mph. Jim discovered him with a broken scoot and a serious temper at the side of the road 30 miles on, where they had taken his spare RB 250 out and he had shot off at 80mph!
Looking at the FB page and knowing the scooter crowd back in Kent had sussed we could be there early only drove us on further. The support for both teams was immense.
Jim’s final stint was Exeter to Podimore services and again was done in excellent time. Paul’s final one was to Fleet services which along the A303 at night wasn’t a particularly nice one.
His GP didn’t think so either and sheared its exhaust bolt, to leave Gary the balance of miles to Fleet in Hampshire and then home!
We were met by Loz, Louise, Tommy, Chris and Andy from the A5 Scooter Club at Fleet while we filled up the final time. It was a fantastic boost, even though I was too tired to string two words together… this was it though, we were on our way home!
Gary shot up the M3 and anti-clockwise around the M25 like a Cruise missile and in fact I lost him in the van several times! It only took 75 minutes for the final stage but all scoots had been incredibly quick throughout.
The feeling of relief and excitement as to what had been achieved during the last few miles for me was incredible. Who would have thought that four tuned lambrettas would have done 1,980 miles in 44 hrs?! For tuned Lambrettas to have so few problems? Credit to the engine builders as far as I’m concerned and the crowd at Rainham Mark cheered as Gary roared in. Just in time for a beer too!
For me after a few hellos, it was home! I’d driven 1200 miles door to door in 46 hrs….and a week later I had a speeding ticket through the door collected just one mile from home… how unlucky can you be!
I’d like to say well done and commiserations to team Vespa who still completed it in a great time… just not as good as us! Finally to Team Lambretta, the riders, I have nothing but respect for you, the other support van drivers I only saw at services, Gary Gibson my co driver …we are the best!
Words and images: Lee Pacey
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