So you were riding with The Bowmen (a Lambretta club) on a Vespa?
I was still on the Vespa at this stage, John was riding a TV175 and Roger, a TV200, but at this point, the pressure was being put on me to make the change. All three of us received gold medals for the laM event, which meant we had cleared the Manx 400 without losing any penalty points. I can't remember if there was a night trial in these early days - I think that came in later on -but there was a gymkhana­ styled event. Then there was the Druidale on the Thursday; you had to have won a gold medal in the Manx 400 and it was the rider who got the nearest to their time on the Druidale who would win the overall event and the Tynwald Challenge Trophy.

We learnt later on that it was a case of being on the right bike for Druidale. The difficulty was that the Druidale timing was a bit of an art. The stretch from the top to the bottom was on open roads and you were given loads of time to get down there. At the beginning of the climb there was a flying timed checkpoint which you went through flat out and they timed you across the line at the top. These times were always set so you had little hope of doing it, then you lost penalty points for how late you were at the top - and it was inevitable you were always going to be late. Because you were in different classes (125, 150, 200, etc.), it was always a case of getting your class time right. What used to happen was that a manufacturer would bring out a new model with differing acceleration and top speed, so some people struggled to get it spot-on. It became a case of getting to know the course and working out how to hit that time nearest to your individual scooter  class. The first year we went, Roger, on a 200, was slightly quicker, which gave John a slight disadvantage on his 175. My Vespa 150 wasn't that quick, so I had no chance.

Going back to your original question. The pressure was put on me that year to make the change and I swapped the Vespa for a Lambretta  Pacemaker 150 (BTO 729B if I remember rightly) which I took back to the laM the following year. Then I did the Milan­ Taranto on it.

How did that all come about?
Thinking back, I ask myself the very same  question. I think Malcolm Clarkson was secretary of the LCGB; he later went on to run Supertune down in Croydon. I vaguely recall Malcolm being at the laM during that first year and he asked me why I was riding a Vespa.

It was after I'd made the swap to the Lambretta that we got the invitation to go on the Milan-Taranto the following year (1965)­ presumably because we'd won the team award at the laM. Bob Wilkinson  of the Lambretta Concessionaires had turned up on the scene  by this time and  nine of us flew from Southend to Geneva, then  drove through the Alps to Milan with Bob and his wife Usshi (Ursula) who spoke several languages and acted as our translator.

In Milan we went on a trip to the Innocenti factory and were asked if anything was wrong with any of our bikes. Someone commented that their front brake wasn't working too well - off came the wheel to be replaced with a new one - no expense was spared with any of the repairs needed to our bikes.

This particular event was run by Innocenti and the whole plan was to get as many bikes as they could from Milan to Taranto; the event took place over five days (again a timed event, meaning you had to be at certain points at certain times). We were given a route card and everything else needed; all the petrol was provided by AGIP, so you had to go to one of its fuel stations if you needed fuel. Articulated lorries full of spare parts were on hand at the end of every day, so if anything went wrong with a bike, it was put in the lorry with a team of travelling mechanics who would rebuild it overnight if necessary. The idea of this was that if 500 riders started  the event, then Innocenti wanted 500 riders to finish.

We completed the event at Taranto on May 5, 1965 -my 21st birthday. Bob had organised for us all to travel with our bikes overnight by train back to Milan (unfortunately having to miss the award ceremony), while Bob and Usshi drove the Commer van back to Milan and then on to Geneva, meeting us for the flight back to Southend.

(Continued below)

Stormin' Norman

Mau Spencer interviews Norman Ronald

Where were you born Norman?
I was born in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire, where my father came from; my mother was from Nottingham and they met when my father was doing war work at Chillwell, Notts. They got married and moved to Newton-le­ Willows, which was near where my grandparents lived in Bootie. Brother John and I were born up there. Then, when we were around seven or eight, we moved back to the Nottingham area to be near our mother's family and have lived around here ever since.

How did you get into scooters?
My father was an engineer working for the Government, testing tanks and all sorts of other things. He was always mechanically minded and in our family it was never about sport; for my father, it had to have an engine, so we always used to get taken to motorbike trials and scrambles (John remembers being taken to The Scottish Six Days Trial). We went to places like Aintree and Mallory Park for the post TTs and other events.

Dad had a Scott Flying Squirrel500cc and then a James Captain, but it was a bit too big for him. In the late 1950s Lambrettas came onto the scene and he bought a scooter - from memory an LD 150cc. Around that time, the Lambretta  Concessionaires were trying to get a foothold into scootering; they advertised in various papers around the country, asking if anybody was interested in forming a club. My father went to a meeting and that was when the Nottingham Lambretta Club 'The Bowmen' was formed. There used to be a club night during the week and a club run every Sunday. In the winter it tended to be closer to home, but in the summer they used to go fiuther, to places like the east coast and as a family we would follow the event in the car.

When I was 16 or 17, I got my first bike, a second-hand Puch Cheetah which I ran backwards and forwards for a bit. Then I got a new Honda 50 when they first came to the UK. After that I bought a Vespa 150 (UNN 221). Don't know why I bought a Vespa.

What was your first scooter event?
In those days there were three scooter  clubs in Nottingham: The Bowmen (Lambretta), The Lightweights (mixed scooter  models) and the Nottingham Vespa Club (although I had a Vespa, I can never remember going to Vespa club meetings). There were a few local gymkhanas and suchlike and I can vaguely remember doing some gymkhanas on the Honda, which used to take place in Bunny in those days.

However, the first serious event I took part in was the Esso Scoot to Scotland. At that stage I had already met my future wife, Christine and when I first told her about the event, she didn't believe me and thought I was off my trolley. The plan was to finish work on Friday and we would go down country towards London (Kettering/Northampton rings a bell) for our starting  point. There were different starting  points for the event and everybody had to end up doing the same mileage. There were people starting from London so the idea of us going down country was to put in the miles at the different checkpoints. After being given our route, we left our departure checkpoint late Friday night (with the scooters leaving at one minute intervals) and rode back up country through the borders, checking in at various points at a specific time.

On Saturday morning there would be different events to complete, like a hill climb where you had to do things like drive away without rolling back and crushing an egg with the back wheel. We ended up in Edinburgh on Saturday evening; then on Sunday we did a run to Loch Lomond  and other places. Then Monday it would be the drive back home for work on Tuesday. I did that event on my Vespa. I think brother John did two events, but I only did that one. Scoot to Scotland was all roadwork, but we did other events like the Cambrian, where you effectively went off-road down country tracks.

(Continued above)

And after that?
In 1966, I won the British Lambretta Championship and the gold-painted bike that the Daily Mirror gave away. But there were no major events to attend abroad that year and the 1oM was cancelled due to a seamen's strike, although I did go to Ostend where I won the slalom and an 18-carat solid gold Innocenti medallion - I've seen lots of metal medals, but this was the only solid gold one that I've come across.

The second Italian event was the 1967 Motogiro D'Italia (the first time it had been thrown open to scooterists). It was a totally different kettle of fish altogether to the Milan­ Taranto - around Italy in seven days. Again Bob Wilkinson took the Commer van with all six bikes on a trailer - God knows how he did it!We met him at a local Lambretta Concessionaires in Bologna and then rode to Rome for a few days of sightseeing.

For the Motogiro, we had to have an FIM international licence and medical checks. The bikes were scrutineered and had to be completely standard - we weren't allowed to change anything. They were kept in a locked compound  overnight and you were only allowed to get them out in the morning, five or 10 minutes before using them. You weren't allowed to start your engine, although you were allowed to check your plug, etc. At the start line with a cold engine you were given a minute to start the bike on the kick-start and if it didn't start, then you were immediately docked penalty points.If you hadn't got it started, you were then allowed a further two minutes to bump-start it.

If you hadn't got it going after three minutes, you were disqualified. After that, there were checkpoints all day and you had to arrive within 30 seconds either way of your allotted time. What you could do if you were early would be to stop prior to the checkpoint, then walk up and check your time before riding in at the specified time. The route was a mixture of Tarmac and dirt tracks through little villages where the locals came out to cheer us on the way; you can't believe just how well supported it was. There would also be hill climbs during the day and timed night sprints to the finish line in the dark. On finishing, the bikes would then be locked up overnight until the next day. You weren't allowed to touch or do anything to them - and so it went on for seven days.

In the morning you could never get anything to eat - or even a cup of coffee. Halfway through the day, the organisers at a specific checkpoint would stick a nosebag on you, which contained a couple of rolls that were so hard you couldn't eat them; there were also small sweet packets (which we gave to kids along the way) and a bottle -but no bottle opener!

I remember turning up at a checkpoint and being spotted by a group of motorcycle riders who came charging over - not to look at the scooters,  but to use the sidepanel handle catch as a bottle opener!This became the normal experience for all the Lambretta riders throughout the event. John and I were the only two riders in the British team to complete the event without any time-control penalty points.

Where did you go from there; you were involved with Team S Equipe weren't you?
It was Arthur Francis who came up with that. We'd met him at previous events -John and I had always performed well at Snetterton - and Arthur was quite keen to win the event. At one stage (either late 1966 or early 1967), neither John nor myself had bikes for some reason, so I rang Arthur and asked him if he had any spare bikes we could use for Snetterton? We borrowed a TV200 S-Type which we won the event on, and that's really where it all started; we were together from then on, riding bikes for Arthur.

All this took place before the Motogiro. I remember because the regulations for that got misinterpreted. It said that in a team, there had to be three different capacities of bikes (a 125, 150 and a 200). The bike I had was a 200 and we were teamed up with Harvey Watt, who had a 125; John also had a 200, so Arthur prepared me a 150. Then shortly before we were due to go, the Lambretta Concessionaires reread the regulations and decided that they applied  to works teams, not a club team - which was what we were.

Arthur asked if I wanted to switch back to a 200, but I said no because of the short time span for preparation - a mistake on my part because I ended up competing against the 200s on a 150. That was the bike I took to the 1oM in 1967.Then I did it in 1968 on DRO 62F (which now belongs to Ian Cunningham). We decided as a team that 125 scooters were the right choice of bike - and that's when Arthur came up with the idea of forming Team S Equipe. Arthur was quite artistic and designed the banners - in fact, I still have my original one, made by Arthur. John's also got one with his name on it; for the first year they didn't have names on (these were added for the second). That year the full team was John, myself and Neville Frost (who did the Motogiro with us as well).

How long did Team S Equipe run for?
We didn't go back to the 1oM after 1969 - don't know why - and that was about it for Team S Equipe, so we only did it for two years. During 1969, we used DL (GP) 125 scooters with consecutive numbers and were joined on the team by Nick Barnes who worked for Arthur before joining the Lambretta Concessionaires, then Suzuki until his retirement.

What happened after that?
By the time we got to 1970, we'd been at it for over eight years and at that stage, Arthur had a 125 Vega. It was sprayed black and I ended up with it. I stripped it down to bare metal and took it down to Arthur who sprayed it with three or four coats in the morning. Then we went to the pub for lunch, then came back later put the heaters on it and left it to dry. Later in the afternoon, I drove home with it stuffed in my Fiat 500. It sat on the bed in our spare bedroom for a few weeks and then I rebuilt it.

My dad, being an engineer, helped me and an awful lot of work was done on the bike, I could do all the metalwork, but my father sorted the welding that I wanted doing. I read up on tuning two-strokes; everyone else was going for revs, but I decided I wanted torque, so I got a set of bevel gears (not so easy to get in those days) and made up a unit which would go down the barrel, so I could put a horizontal file into the transfer  ports, reshape them, polish them  and the inlet/exhaust ports. Dad helped  me with the silencer, but the trouble in those days was that whatever you did, everybody copied it. So we made a full-blown  squish silencer, but hid it inside the standard silencer. The gear ratio proved to be too low, so we got a sprocket to go on to the front end of the crankshaft, turned it down in the lathe, turned the boss down, put new onto the old boss, then dad welded it up - so we had actually made our own gears to increase the gear ratios. The carburettor manifold, I fabricated in aluminium and dad welded  it together. At some stage we decided on a central plug; to get it in we lengthened the rear back suspension. We didn't realise quite what we were doing at the time, but we'd actually reduced the geometry of the bike - not a good idea because the first time at Mallory it went like hell but got into a 'tank slapping' situation, which made a right mess of it, not to mention me.

We rebuilt the bike and got rid of the lengthened rear suspension to overcome the problem  of the spark plug hitting the underside of the frame. I cut a hole in the frame so the spark plug could go up and down into the frame and the plug {HT) cable was threaded down the inside of the frame onto the plug. That Vega was clocked touching 80mph at Snetterton - it went like the wind. After I finished  riding it, John took it over.

Then when we'd finished with it, it went to Mike Karslake's museum. When the museum closed, Arthur took it back to London {although we'd done all the work on it, by rights it was stili Arthur's bike). However, knowing all the engineering work that had been done on it, he was happy for us to have it back, provided we could replace it with a more standard one. At this point, however, fate set in and the bike was stolen - quite upsetting for all concerned. It was a bit of history that just disappeared forever.

John became secretary of the LCGB and that was probably around the time he actually stopped riding. By that stage Christine  and I had our daughter, Karen, and life took on a different perspective.With family commitments to fulfil, we eventually  moved on to other things.

(Following the loss of the Vega and now in retirement, Norman is now in the process of building an Innocenti 125DL, which will be an identical replica of the Lambretta S-Type which he competed on at the Isle of Man during 1969).

Written by Mau Spencer. Images courtesy of: Norman Ronald

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© Mau Spencer and Classic Scooterist, 2013