Ray Collins
Scooterist Extraordinaire

Written by Mau Spencer
Editor, Classic Scooterist Scene


Raymond Henry Collins was born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, on July 16, 1920. He grew up in Bishops Stortford, Herts, where his father had a grocer’s shop. It was in this period that he first got to know his future wife, Florence, whilst delivering groceries to her and her then husband and a friendship grew because of a mutual interest in motorbikes. Ray nicknamed Florence ‘Sally’ (because he said, Florence reminded him of Gracie Fields and her song ‘Sally’). The name stuck and from that point only her immediate family called her by her proper name. Following the divorce from her first husband, Sally (as she was now known) and Ray developed a relationship and eventually married on September 20, 1947. Two children followed, Robert Richard Collins and Gillian Mary Collins who were both born in St Stephen’s Hospital, Fulham before the family left the area to live in Streatham in 1954.

From this point on, Ray’s historical timeline becomes a little sketchy. He did spend some time in the Army’s Royal Corp of Signals (possibly his National Service). It is also known that back in ‘civvy street’, he worked at Service Engineers (Fulham), Claude Rye’s (Fulham) and was Workshop Manager at London Scooters Ltd in West Ealing, W13, prior to being employed by the Lambretta Concessionaires in the late 1950s where he became one of the four mobile technical advisors who travelled around their appointed territory to advise local Lambretta dealers. Then on February 7, 1963, Ray was offered an employment contract to work for Don Noys, based at Crown Point, SE London.

Available records show that Ray (a member of Bats SC from SE London) was involved in sport competitions in the 1940s, 50s and 60s (this is confirmed by his personal trophy cabinet). There is also documentation of him competing at the Isle of Man during 1959 on what would then have been a brand-new Lambretta TV175 Series 2. There are also the two trophies that he won at the 1960 MCC Lands End Trial on a Lambretta; one for the Team Award with his (Faith, Hope & Charity) team mates, JAC Bennett and J Hornsby; and another for an individual event in which he appears to have come third. Records from the same source also show that he returned to the area in January 1961 to compete in the Exeter Trial and winning the appropriate class, again on a Lambretta.

All of this would have taken place during Ray’s time with the technical team at Lambretta Concessionaires and probably one of the most memorable events that he was involved with would have the infamous Scottish Six Day Trials, where his technical knowledge showcased his engineering skills. All three Lambrettas used for the event were prepared by Ray – and all three completed the event without any major mechanical problems, gaining award placings for their riders.

Although Ray’s technical and mechanical knowledge had now earned him respect and recognition, it was his time spent working with Don Noys that really made him stand out and shine above his peers. Arthur Francis commented on his memories of Ray: “Initially I only knew Ray from the motorcycle shows when he was on the technical team at Lambretta Concessionaires. He was into the improvement and sporting scene; I do remember Ray was happy to share tips with me on what he’d found to make things work better - and probably told anyone else who was interested! Around the time he was poached by Don Noys, off-road was the only really competitive scooter sport - pretty crude stuff and not much more than a basic frame with a tank between the knees and wide handlebars - until Don and Ray turned up with a touch of brilliance by Ray. He had cut through a Lambretta crankcase and re-welded it with the cylinder vertical (sort of LD style); it made the unit much shorter and when it was mounted into a special frame, it was unbeatable (I think they first showed up with three of them)”. Don seemed to loose interest after Ray’s death; in fact, I am sure the prime mover had been Ray. The special grass track scooters were sold to the Luton Lambretta Club, then chaired by a wealthy retired enthusiast”.

Ray also participated in Speedway and Scootacross/Scrambling events. One magazine report from 1961 reports of him racing in a Speedway event at New Cross Stadium as part of ‘The Belfrys’ team, which meant that he was competing against his club’s other team ‘The Bats’ who boasted amongst its ranks, other well-known scooter personalities including Don Hale and Don Noys. Ray’s ‘Belfry’ team had the last laugh though and went on to practically annihilate the ‘Bats’ with four firsts, three seconds and a third place with a best time of 82.2 seconds. The Speedway motorcycle riders at the event were so impressed by how the scooters had performed that they ‘borrowed’ the scooters after the heats had finished to have a go at ‘Scooter Speedway’ themselves.

Long forgotten events at venues like Elstead, Bray, Swanley Heights and Cheltenham are probably the best documented period of Ray’s life. There are countless reports of his antics and tussles with other well-known scooter personalities of the day, which often ended in tears for those involved (Ray himself is recorded as to having run into a bush on at least one occasion). Interspersed between all this activity, Ray even found time to pen articles in various scooter-related magazines offering technical and mechanical advice to readers at all levels from beginners to professionals. He could also on occasions between races, be found wandering around and offering advice to novice racers - in every sense, he was a true sportsman.


Around the time Ray was poached by Don Noys, off-road was the only
real competitive scooter sport, but it was pretty crude stuff, until Don and
Ray turned up! – Arthur Francis


Ray Collins was only 45 years old when he died on July 18, 1965 at the 6th Scootacross event held at Elstead Common; he was characteristically at the top of the Senior Trophy overall results at the time of his death – a true sportsman right to the end. The races were over and he was packing-up when he had his first heart attack he was taken to hospital but discharged and told to get someone else to pack-up his things and go and see his own doctor in the morning. Of course, being Ray, he didn’t follow this advice and went back to finish packing-up and then suffered a second attack. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. At the time of Ray’s death, Don Noys commented:

"It had been my pleasure to know Ray since scooter scrambling began. When Ray joined our company, we started a new era in the service field, because with his skills, we were able to progress more surely".

Ray was cremated and soon after his death the family travelled to Elstead where Don Noys rode Ray’s bike around the course whilst Ray’s ashes were scattered onto the track by Ray’s son Bob, who was riding pillion. As a tribute to his death, the ‘Ray Collins memorial Scooter Scramble’ took place at Brands Hatch on Sunday Sept 26, 1965.

There were no charges made to those who competed, or to the spectators who attended. Instead a voluntary collection was made and the proceeds were later passed on to his family. Ray’s personal Stingray was exhibited in the paddock at the event, complete with his familiar riding number (61). However, only a handful of people knew that Ray’s own highly tuned engine had been transplanted into Bob Jarvis’s Stingray for its final race. It was a fitting tribute to one of the great heroes of scooter sport: Ray Collins – scooterist extraordinaire.

Mau


Colour photo: Mike Herriott
Thanks to Gill Briscoe (Ray’s daughter) and the Collins family for providing photos and personal snippets from Ray’s life.

Re-published with kind permisson from Classic Scooterist Scene (Issue 86 Aug/Sept 2012) Full article available here: www.scooteristscene.com

Long forgotten events at venues like Elstead, Bray, Swanley Heights and Cheltenham are probably the best documented period of Ray’s life. There are countless reports of his antics and tussles with other well-known scooter personalities of the day, which often ended in tears for those involved (Ray himself is recorded as to having run into a bush on at least one occasion). Interspersed between all this activity, Ray even found time to pen articles in various scooter-related magazines offering technical and mechanical advice to readers at all levels from beginners to professionals. He could also on occasions between races, be found wandering around and offering advice to novice racers - in every sense, he was a true sportsman.