John Williams: a private matter

Throughout the 1970s, John Williams was one of the UK’s leading racers and although he only had one year as a fully-fledged factory rider, 1976 saw him not only claim a 500cc Grand Prix victory but also become the first rider in history to lap the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course at more than 110mph.

Having already put himself in the record books at the Ulster Grand Prix and North West 200, being the first rider to take a hat-trick at each, the Cheshire rider eventually took a hugely impressive 16 international road race wins only for a crash at the 1978 Ulster GP to claim his life whilst still very much at the peak of his profession.

Born in the Wirral on May 27, 1946, John Glynne Williams was of Welsh ancestry with his great-grandfather being an Eisteddfod (Aberdare) winner.

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After leaving school, John worked in an ironmonger’s shop before being encouraged to take up an engineering apprenticeship in Liverpool.

However, he was born to be a racer and after leaving the apprenticeship to work in a local motorbike shop, he began racing in 1966 on a converted 125cc MV Agusta roadster which he shared with friend Tony Irvine.

Money was scarce and, as well as the bike, the duo used to share leathers, boots, gloves and a crash helmet which required a quick changebetween heats.

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Williams in action on the F1 Honda, 1977.

Two years later, the Heswall rider picked up sponsorship from Vic Camp and riding one of his 250cc Ducatis, he won the Stars of Tomorrow meeting at Brands Hatch which enabled him to purchase a Matchless G50.

Like many before and after him, that was the springboard he needed and although it would be five more years before he could turn professional, those intervening years saw him firmly establish himself as one of the UK’s leading privateers not only on the short circuits but also on the roads where his reputation grew rapidly.

Flying high over Ballaugh at the 1976 Senior TT.

However, his first two years at the Manx Grand Prix resulted in disappointment with retirements in both the 1966 and 1967 Lighweight races.

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Despite these setbacks, he moved straight up to the TT for the following year and more than showed his potential with a fine 11th place in the Senior.

1975 and the cap denotes the fashion and the passion was strong.

His riding skill soon caught the eye of Bill Smith and Tom Arter and between 1970 and 1972 he rode Arter’s Matchless with vast success – fifth place and a silver replica in the 1970 Senior race one of his standout results.

A maiden win around the Mountain Course looked on the cards though in the Production 250cc race at the beginning of the week, when he led Chas Mortimer at the end of the first lap.

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Second time around and Mortimer took over at the front, albeit by just one fifth of a second, before John retaliated on his Honda on lap three to take over the lead once more.

Mortimer wasn’t to be denied though and he crossed the line at the end of the five laps 5.6s clear of John, but second place and his first ever TT podium gave John a glimpse of what lay ahead.

Read more and view more images in the July/August 2019 issue of CR – on sale now!

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