Peter Williams has died

| | World News

Peter Williams, one of the great riders of the sixties and seventies, has died. He was 81.

Peter was not only a brlliiant racer but a forward-thinking designer and engineer with considerable impact on the John Player Norton team with whom he enjoyed many successes including winning the F750 TT IN 1973.

It was a career, and indeed a mission, he pursued after his forced retirement from racing following a serious crash at Oulton Park in 1974. Physically, he never totally recovered from that crash, but his determination to revolutionise the way that motorcycles were constructed grew.

Lightweight monocoque frames, disc brakes, six-spoke electron wheels became all the unique features of the Tom Arter AJS and Matchless bikes on which Peter had many of his early successes including fourth in the world 500cc championship of 1967.

Perhaps there should be no surprise about that as he was the son of Jack Williams, development chief at AMC, parent company of Matchless and AJS.

Prior to this, he and Tony Wood sprang from anonymity to recognition by winning the 250cc class in the 1964 Thruxton 500 on an AJS, earning a ride on a Dunstall Dominator in the Manx and a Reg Orpin Greeves Silverstone in the Lightweight class finishing third at the first attempt.

Success followed with wins in the TT and the North West but the world championship beckoned and a fourth place with the Arter Matchless in 1967 when the field included the likes of Agostini and Hailwood. A works ride on an MZ resulted in a win at the Ulster GP in 1971. He had arrived.

But he was then working for Norton and helping them transform their somewhat old fashioned 750Commando twins with a win, alongside Charlie Sanby, at the 1969 Thruxton 500, and a second in the Production TT.

Many successes followed when John Player sponsored Norton and started to take on the big boys like BSA and Triumph with Peter as designer/rider. The accident at Oulton changed all that but during that period he had met up with Norman White and he persuaded Peter Inchley, boss of the Norton development base at Thruxton, to take him on.

It was a relationship which lasted 50 years and Norman still runs Norman White Norton at Thruxton.

He said of Peter: “Whether it be his engineering ability or his racing skills, Peter Williams was without question up with the very best in the World, although you would never know his stature in motor cycle racing having just met him.

“Modest, quietly spoken with an intellect akin to a rocket scientist, he raced to be the fastest on the track, to make a lap as short as possible, rather than beat the opposition. As it happens, he would more often than not do just that, beat the opposition. His success in designing and developing his vision of the very best “bicycle”, with the knowledge the power unit available was well past it, is well documented.

“The beautiful 750cc Monocoque is without doubt one of the most iconic racing motorcycles of all time and my memory of that time is still clear to me and many many of his fans. Many years after the John Player Norton days, he and I were invited to New Zealand, me to race the 1972 JPN and he to give lectures.

“It was a most wonderful experience which both he and I agreed was the best motorcycle orientated trip ever. We reminisced on Skype over this experience just a few days before we lost him. We parted both laughing out loud.

Sister Andrea Coleman, who heads the Two Wheels for Life charity, added: “Peter was completely focused on technology for competition. When he was a child he drilled his push bike full of holes to make it as light as possible and made beautiful, light ‘planes out of balsa wood. Although he suffered from crippling asthma (about which he never complained) he was very athletic - good at cricket, tennis and the slow bicycle race.

“Anything that required real skill. He was very funny and loved family jokes from books about Winnie the Pooh and by Lewis Carroll. I wanted to be just like him and started riding motorcycles as soon as I could. He encouraged me and gave me a present of lessons at the Chas Mortimer racing school for my 18th birthday.

“I went to all the circuits to watch him and to help (cleaning bikes, doing pit signals and collecting spares) when he was racing the fishtail Velocette, then the Reg Orpin Greaves and the Tom Arter Matchless. And that was the story of his career—a dedication to riding the under-powered and brilliantly-engineered against all comers.

“I always wished he had taken the Yamaha ride when it was offered to him but nevertheless, whatever the motorcycle, he knew he had an advantage in the rain and had ‘Pray for Rain’ on the side of the Thames van.”

Dave Croxford, team-mate in the glory days of John Player but a man who loved a pint and therefore a polar opposite, remained in constant contact with Peter, via Skype, during his lengthy recent period in a nursing home.

He recalled a recent conversation: “One day Peter said to me ‘I wish I had been like you.’And I said ‘You wouldn’t want to be like me Peter. We’re opposites.’

“When we were in the Douglas Bay hotel in the Isle of Man I’d ask him if he fancied a pint but ‘no’ he would have to do his bikes, worrying about the fastest lap tomorrow. I’d be in the bar talking rubbish.He liked the Isle of Man, I didn’t. But he was a designer as well as a racer. He had designed big diesel engines and worked for people like Lotus.

“Peter and I started racing at roughly the same time and we had to start from the back of the grid. We’d make a bit of fun, because he wore glasses, but at 18 or 19 you do.

“He was always the opposition and he had the Arter Matchless. Even when we were team-mates at Norton we were competing but we had fun and he had a good sense of humour. I’d say to him ‘Look Peter, you’ve got brains but half of them are in your trousers. Look at that family.’ He took it all in good part and would give it back.

“I had a lot of respect for Peter and certainly as a rider. I would tell him ‘You’re number one I’ll follow you. Some days I was a bit better than Pete but they were few and far between. I liked the chats I had with him because we used to talk for about and hour and a half. Of course we used to talk about bikes but other things which I call curtain twitter. He liked that sort of stuff!

“I’d tell him I used to take Bray Hill flat out and ask if he did the same ‘Every time Dave’ he’d say ‘Every time’. ‘Oh, seriously,’ I’d say not telling him I was talking about the first lap only.

“He never complained although he knew he would never get out of the place he was in. He also had his family near him and Norman White was often in touch. It’s a great loss.”