Obituary: Tony Rutter (1941-2020)

| | TT and Roads

Tony Rutter, who passed away on Tuesday morning, was one of the finest British racers of his generation, equally adept on the short circuits as he was the roads, and in a career that spanned almost thirty years, he was a multiple winner wherever he went.

Successful on anything from a 125cc to a 1000cc Honda, there wasn’t a bike Rutter couldn’t win on and he was without doubt, one of Britain’s most accomplished, unassuming and, perhaps, underrated riders.

Born in 1941, Rutter started racing at the age of 20, graduating to the TT in 1965 when he contested the Junior race and he competed on the island for the next twenty years with his first podium coming in 1972 when he finished second behind the great Giacomo Agostini in the 1972 Junior, the race also giving him the first of his five World Championship podiums.

That year also saw him have a brief spell with the JPS Norton team but in 1973, it was the 350cc class that saw him claim the first of seven TT wins with victory coming on his Bob Priest-backed Yamaha in the Junior race, Rutter having been loyal to the Stourbridge businessman since 1969.

That started a run of superb success and, along with the likes of Charlie Williams, Mick Grant and John Williams, made Rutter, one of the best British riders of the 1970s, at every circuit across the UK.

It didn’t matter if it was Mallory Park, Oulton Park or Silverstone, Rutter was amongst the leaders and record breakers at almost every short circuit and this was reflected in his ACU British Championship tally where he won the 1971 350cc and 1973 250cc titles, having previously finished second overall in the former in 1970 and the latter in 1969.

1973 saw him claim the first of his nine North West 200 wins with victory coming in both the 250cc and 350cc races and that year’s Ulster Grand Prix also saw him come out on top in the Junior class.

A second TT victory came in the 1974 Junior race, a year when he also took podiums in the Senior and Formula 750cc races, and three more podiums came in 1976 when he finished in second place in the Junior and Production races and third in the Classic.

By now, Rutter was a regular winner at the International road races with further NW200 success coming in 1977 when he not only won the 250cc race but also tied for victory with Ray McCullough in the 350cc encounter, the only dead heat in the history of the event.

His short circuit prowess could be seen regularly during this period too, a leading contender not only in every 250cc and 350cc British Championship race but also on the big four-strokes with Honda Britain signing him to contest the World Endurance Championship in 1977. He also finished fourth overall in the 1978 British Formula One Championship whilst riding for the Mocheck-backed team.

After a nine-year spell with Bob Priest, Rutter would go on to be sponsored by some of the sports greatest enthusiasts including Sid Griffiths and chicken farmer Harold Coppock and it was on the latter’s 500cc RG Suzuki that he recorded his quickest lap of the TT Course, 112.32mph, on his way to finishing second behind the late, great Mike Hailwood in the 1979 Senior race.

By then, Rutter had come to the attention of the Italian Ducati factory and he would give them no less than four successive World Championships in the Formula Two category from 1981 to 1984. Four TT wins in five years were also taken on the 600cc Ducati.

The wins kept coming, whether on the roads or circuits with 350cc success coming at both the TT and North West 200 in 1982, also using the same 350cc Yamaha to finish, remarkably, third in that year’s Classic TT race.

Despite entering the veteran stage of his career, Rutter was still a major force to be reckoned with as podiums were taken at Donington Park in the 1984 and 1985 British Championship races and although the four-stroke era had now come into the ascendancy, Rutter’s versatility continued to serve him well when he rode a GSXR Suzuki into second and third place, in the 1985 Formula One and Production B TT races respectively.

That year saw him claim the last of his seven victories and 20 podiums at the TT as, just over a month later, he was involved in a multiple pile-up at Monjuich Park, Spain that almost cost him his life. He recovered enough to compete at the TT again between 1987 and 1991 although the injuries sustained meant he was unable to reach the previous heights.

By then, his son Michael had begun his own road racing career and Tony would remain in the paddock for many years to come as he nurtured Michael’s considerable talents which would see him become as equally successful in both the British Championships and at the Isle of Man TT and North West 200.

Rutter’s legacy can be seen in his success which saw him win seven Isle of Man TT wins, nine at the North West 200, five at the Ulster Grand Prix and two British Championships as well as countless individual race wins throughout the British Isles.