Local Hero: Percy Tait’s Triumph 500 GP Racer

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Photo by Kyoichi Nakamura
Percy Tait’s 1969 Triumph 500 GP.

1969 Triumph 500 GP
Engine: 499cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 69mm x 65.5mm bore and stroke, 11.5:1 [10.3:1], 52hp @ 8,700rpm (at gearbox)
Top speed: 139mph at MIRA speed oval
Carburetion: Two 1-3/16in (30mm) Amal TT w/single central remote float
Transmission: 4-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: Lucas energy transfer with remote contact breaker assembly
Frame/wheelbase: Modified Triumph single-loop tubular steel frame/55in (1,397mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual S&W shocks rear [dual Girling]
Brakes: 8.3in (210mm) Fontana four-leading-shoe drum [7in/178 mm Triumph twin-leading-shoe drum] front, 7in (178 mm) Triumph SLS drum rear
Tires: 90/90 x 18in front, 110/90 x 18in rear
Weight (dry): 292lb (132kg)
Year of construction: 1969 [2003]
500 Daytona Replica data shown in brackets if different

Growing up in the English countryside, just 20 miles from the historic Triumph motorcycle factory at Meriden, meant that as a kid I was well aware of our local hero, Triumph factory tester Percy Tait.

Once described as “this ageing juvenile who’s become a legend in his own lifetime,” Percy clocked at least 1,000 miles every week of his life aboard development machinery (including racing weekends, more than a million miles on Triumph twins and triples during a 20-year career) while owning a pig farm in Little Shrewley, the next village over from us. From there he commuted to his day job riding test bikes and factory prototypes that impressed me with their considerable speed and rorty exhaust notes as he blatted past my dad’s car, with me hanging out of the passenger window reveling in the sight and sound. Percy’s farm lay at the entrance to a pair of mile-long straights connected by a flat-out bend, which must have prepared our Percy for what arguably remains his finest hour in a 30-year racing history.

That moment came in the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps in July 1969. It was only his third-ever race outside the U.K., riding the factory Triumph 500cc development twin in the Belgian GP on the ultra-fast 8.76-mile Spa circuit against the 500cc stars headed by Giacomo Agostini on the all-conquering 3-cylinder MV Agusta.

Racing against Tait and his overhead valve pushrod racer were the fast Linto and Paton twin-cylinder GP racers from Italy, as well as the usual phalanx of Manx Norton and Matchless G50 British singles. It was the fastest road race yet recorded, with Agostini lapping the circuit at over 130mph on the MV triple, averaging more than 125mph to a typical runaway win. Tait came home in second on the pushrod Triumph twin at a remarkable 116.51mph average speed, the only rider not lapped by Ago! It was also Triumph’s best-ever finish in a Grand Prix — quite the accomplishment for a bike closely derived from a road model.

Order the March/April 2018 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about the 1969 Triumph 500 GP. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.

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