Suzuki Japan was producing an attractive range of models and Suzuki UK went from strength to strength. Most of the key Lambretta people had stayed on with Peter Agg including parts Director Eric Allvey and in the mid 1970’s he asked to meet me to talk through a problem.
For decades there had been national and regional distributors of accessories and spare parts, mainly for scooters and sourced from Italy. Now they were selling substantial quantities of motorcycle spares imported from the Far East, at well below the manufacturer’s price. The thinking was: if you can’t beat them, then join them to beat them by setting up a similar company autonomous from Suzuki UK. As well as spare parts a new range of accessories was to be designed for motorcycles and off road cars, scooters would also be well represented. It was to be called Two Four accessories.
I was being head hunted from Caterham Cars to be sales manager and I accepted. Installed in suitable warehousing I recruited a seven strong sales team which exceeded expectations. Behind the scene there were significant changes. Peter Agg sold the Suzuki operation to the Heron Corporation; eighteen months later Two Four Accessories was also taken over. Heron man Eddie Leigh was appointed MD, I became his General Manager and we proved to be an excellent team.
BMC had sold the Innocenti scooter plant to India where it was be set up producing the Lambretta Grand Prix and when they had the production capacity to export the GP150, they offered it to Suzuki. The price was right and the decision made to market it through their Two Four Accessories vehicle. An initial 100 were ordered. With hindsight I should first have insisted on going to the factory.
The Lambretta’s were delivered from India to the Suzuki distribution unit at Westbury where I was able to check the first consignment. Each scooter was wrapped in poly sheeting then, individually, in a crate made of rough hardwood, as we were assured it would be by Scooters India, but - without any restraint inside the crate - 98 were damaged, most with broken handlebars. I sent drawings of how they should be secured which almost resolved that problem. Some still arrived in crates that were themselves so badly smashed that it was hard to believe that the damage was accidental?
Another problem was poor quality. This seemed to be mainly parts that were sub contracted. As an example: wiring looms with dry joints. It was becoming depressingly obvious Scooters India did not have a clue.
There was the impression that Scooters India were either owned or sponsored by their government mainly to employ as many people as possible? They readily agreed to everything we asked but seldom produced, so exporting must have become increasingly costly and less attractive, as they failed to meet the service and quality required. They were given one last chance.
I ordered three GP200’s to exhibit at the NEC motorcycle show; my specification included vibrant new colours. They arrived in perfect condition and exactly as ordered. Reaction at the show was brilliant and I ordered loads, but my euphoria did not last. Scooters India then said that their production line would only be able to supply the GP150 and its paint shop only the same drab colour. The last straw was the little interest shown in improving quality control, so it was the end of the second and last time I worked with Lambretta.
Two Four accessories continued in its pre Lambretta format until Eddy became M D of another Heron operation and I went full circle back to publishing.
In June 1992 I went to one more Lambretta event, the third Euro Lambretta Jamboree held in the grounds of the Mike Karslake Lambretta museum. The Karslake family were known to me from when they lived at Benfleet when my boys were toddlers. Mike had died eighteen months earlier and it was quite emotional when his widow, Rachel, phoned to invite me and my youngest son Sean to stay with her for the jamboree weekend and escort her to the dinner.
It turned the clock back to the best of the early rallies, years before most there would have had a driving licence, though I was surprised to see so many from my Watford days. The jamboree consisted of mainly field and off road events, dancing and a sit down dinner, which, I believe, catered for 300 people. It was a credit to the organisers, and a tribute to Mike. It could not have been a better final curtain for me.