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Steve Wynne tells everyone he’s moved to heaven – New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

Wynne credits the late Robert Holden with introducing him to the country. He loves the weather, scenery, beaches and roads, which he describes as being like the Isle of Man TT course. He says in places he can ride his Ducati for two hours and not see another vehicle. He even has some ‘racing’ sheep.

Wynne was born in Manchester in 1945 and says it’s a good place to come from but not to go to! As for his interest in motorcycling:

“I believe folk inherit interest and talents from their grandparents. My Granddad and Granny rode a Brown and Basket trailer in 1904. He was a motoring pioneer,” Wynne said. “I rebuilt my first 500 Norton when I was 12 and
my first bike was a Sun 197,
at age 16.”

In 1964, aged 19, Wynne founded Sports Motorcycles in Manchester and built it into one of Britain’s leading dealers for BSA, Triumph and Norton. He rode his first race at Cadwell Park on a 650 Triumph. Looking for new makes to sell, Ducati importer Coburg & Hughes tempted him with a 750 GT. He was instantly in love and was soon racing a 750 Sport and then a 750 SS.

Wynne turned 30 in 1975 and realised he couldn’t compete at the level he desired in the Isle of Man, so he switched focus to preparing machines. His 750 SS was fifth in the Production class of the 1974 Thruxton 400 Mile race (Roger Nicholls and Alistair Copeland) and led the 1975 10-lap IoM Production TT for nine laps (Nicholls and Steve Tonkin) before a piston failed.

Ducati then sold Wynne an ex-works endurance racer, which Nicholls rode in the inaugural (1977) TT Formula One Championship race at the IoM. Though riding injured, Nicholls led Phil Read’s works Honda, but there was no fairytale win. Poor weather saw the race shortened and Honda learned this in time to scrub Read’s scheduled second fuel stop and help him re-gain the lead. Wynne reckoned it was his biggest disappointment.

It was different in ’78, thanks to Mike Hailwood and his famous winning TT return on a new Sports Motorcycles-entered factory Ducati. Catalyst for that union was Hailwood sitting on the ex-works endurance racer at Silverstone in 1977 and saying it felt like his kind of bike.

What did Hailwood say to Wynne in parc ferme after that sensational TT victory?

“After 40 years you wouldn’t think I would remember this, but I do. It went something on the lines of: ‘I thought I saw you nearly smile’. Apparently, I didn’t smile much then? It’s not like today when they all jump up and down kissing and hugging each other, nothing like that in my day.”

Hailwood agreed to a second Ducati TTF1 ride in 1979, but he and Wynne went through endless dramas with the promised new factory bike. (Wynne says he sold the 1978-winning machine to a Japanese enthusiast for £5000.)

“In the race, the bike lost top gear on lap two. The battery carrier fell out on the last lap and Mike fixed it himself, to finish fifth, despite the danger of the remains of top gear locking up the box.

“This epitomised Mike as the greatest, more than his 1978 win. He could have legitimately pulled out on the second lap and saved himself the danger and inglorious defeat. Instead, he soldiered on so as not to let down his fans and the team.”

Wynne is still peeved that Ducati spun the Mike Hailwood Replica out of that machine, with no royalties for rider or entrant. He insists the colour scheme was based on Castrol oil livery, not the Italian flag.

Wynne enjoyed further TT success, with Tony Rutter winning the 1981 TT Formula Two race and a 1-2-4 finish in 1983 by Rutter, Australia’s Graeme McGregor and Steve Tonkin.

In the 1990s, Wynne produced F1 and F2 Pantah based racing and road bikes with a variety of frames. He reckons the factory became miffed at an English company producing more racing bikes than were coming out of Bologna, so a deal was done; Wynne was given an import franchise in return for ending Ducati bike production.

“I kept running a race team, notably giving Carl Fogarty his first WSBK win (Donington Park, 1992), followed by Ron Haslam, Nick Jefferies, and my favourite, Robert Holden. With these riders, we went
on to win another TT, Ulster GP and NW200.”

And what ever became of Sports Motorcycles?

“When I decided to retire to NZ, I wondered what to do with it. I had some offers to buy the company, but it seemed such a part of me that like an old drum brake, I decided it was best to just let it fade away.” DON COX