With all the latest high-power Lambretta exotica currently being released to market, it’s easy to forget where it all started, the humble TS1. But should we write this legendary kit off just yet?
AF Rayspeed introduced the Lambretta TS1 performance cylinder kit in 1986. With its unique design and increased power, it began a tuning revolution among the scootering population that has lasted three decades, and has admirably served thousands of Lambretta owners worldwide. This summer sees the 30th anniversary of its release.
It was only a vague half-page article in the 1986 edition of Scootering, just a couple of short paragraphs. Accompanied by a black and white photograph showing the then unheard-of Terry Shepherd holding what seemed like a silver-coloured Lambretta cylinder. Nevertheless, what was written would send shock waves through the Lambretta world in an instant.
Everyone was talking about it, this new bolt-on cylinder kit that, according to the figures, could propel your Lambretta to speeds in excess of 90mph. Even if the claims were slightly on the generous side it was enough to make every owner want one. Though development was well under way it would be another year before the kit would go on sale. The waiting list in the meantime would grow considerably.
By 1984, with Lambretta ownership at its greatest since the post-1979 Mod revival, there was a healthy market growing in Lambretta tuning. Up until that point everyone had made do with the original Innocenti cast iron cylinder design. The standard piston port layout was very workable and top tuners at the time did gain impressive results.
The reality, though, was while extra performance was achievable, reliability was not. On a rally weekend it was commonplace to see many Lambretta owners, certainly ones with tuned engines, broken down on the side of the road, the usual symptom being a heat seizure.
AF Rayspeed had been producing the S-Type range for several years with the 250cc Super S-Type being the flagship model. The cylinder incorporating a complicated sleeve design was prone to heat build-up and needed welded supports on the fins in an attempt to prevent the cylinder walls from warping. Not only was this a costly procedure but a lengthy one, ruling out the possibility of mass-market production. AF Rayspeed proprietor Ray Kemp knew that if a reliable Lambretta cylinder could be produced which in theory was factory tuned, it would sell in significant quantities.
CREATING THE PERFECT CYLINDER
While Ray had ideas of what direction he wanted the cylinder design to go in, he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it alone. With this in mind he hired the services of two-stroke tuner Terry Shepherd. Terry had been a successful Grand Prix and road racer before concentrating on his tuning business and was highly regarded in the racing world for his innovative ideas.
The cylinder design created by Innocenti for the series one Lambretta had remained the same since the 1950s and it needed a complete revision if Ray’s idea was to be successful.
Development by Japanese motorcycle manufacturers had advanced dramatically during the 1970s. The idea seemed simple: look at what the Japanese had achieved and attempt to use the same technology on a Lambretta cylinder. The one major change during that time had been the development of reed-valve induction. Yamaha had introduced the system in 1974 and by the 1980s it was standard practice for most two-stroke manufacturers. Not only does it offer better and smoother acceleration but is far more fuel efficient than the traditional piston port method as it allows fuel in but not back out. Unlike the fixed inlet timing of a piston port system, the inlet duration on a reed valve is controlled by the opening and closing of the reed petals which is governed by the air flow demand.
The other advantage gained is by allowing far greater space for larger or multiple transfer ports. One or two Lambretta owners had produced homemade reed-valve systems before with great results on the track, so in theory it had already been proven to work.
The challenge now was how to make it all fit. Unfortunately due to the Lambretta main frame tube lying directly above the cylinder, space was extremely limited. Terry Shepherd had worked extensively on Yamaha reed-valve systems for years. Through his knowledge he was able to adapt the Yamaha YPVS reed valve and create the TS1 reed valve.
Though it was a tight fit to say the least, there just was enough room to fit the four-petal reed valve and its manifold under the tube. The only disadvantage was the manifold would now have to come out on the right-hand side of the frame tube to allow enough clearance. This then created a secondary problem in the fact that the carburettor would now sit where the battery tray was located. There was no other option but to remove the battery tray completely to allow the carburettor to sit perfectly in position.
Fortunately it was the period in time where hacksawing pieces off a Lambretta was all the rage, so this modification didn’t seem to bother many owners! Having got the plans drawn up, the task of producing the cylinder was given to Italian manufacture Gilardoni. The cylinder was cast from aluminium, giving the advantage of much quicker heat dispersal compared to the traditional cast iron equivalent.
The lining of the bore was then Nikasil coated with it being much harder wearing, which in turn would extend its life. Ten sample 200cc cylinders were produced and sent to AF Rayspeed in March 1985. Over the period of the next year each cylinder was rigorously tested and tweaked where necessary before final production could commence.
Initially the kit was only going to be made available as a 200cc option though. With the past problems associated with the thinner walls of the 225cc bore, Ray was hesitant to go down this path. However with the better heat dispersal properties of aluminium it was decided it should be at least attempted. With the results proving more than successful, the kit was produced in both 200cc and 225cc formats.
By the summer of 1986, widespread news had got out about the kit’s impending launch. AF Rayspeed was inundated with orders and enquiries so it took the gamble of ordering 1000 cylinders from Gilardoni, 500 of both the 200cc and 225cc versions.
Its debut to the public was at the first AF Rayspeed open day in July 1986. Thousands gathered outside the shop and were entertained by Ray Kemp doing several runs along the A64 at full throttle. A stunt of this nature would seem unthinkable nowadays but back then health and safety was a little more relaxed. Though no top speed was recorded on the day, there wasn’t anyone in the crowd who wasn’t impressed by the kit’s performance.
The kit would go on sale at a price of £230 for the 200cc and £265 for the 225cc. Other requirements would be an over the kick start Fresco expansion chamber, which would be adapted for the different exhaust port design. Also a choice of the Amal MKII or Dellorto VHSB series carburettor in either 30mm or 34mm size depending on which capacity kit was being fitted.
The full system price was more than £400 which in today’s market may seem cheap but back then could buy you a running Lambretta. This didn’t put customers off though as enquiries flooded in. The first 200cc kit was sold on August 12, 1986, to a Mr Greer of Darlington and the first 225cc kit sold on August 13, 1986, to Mr P McMeeking of Morecambe. Sales of the kit soared.
While the cylinder itself had already been reliably proven, there were initial problems in some of the engines they were fitted to. With the kit producing at least 20bhp in standard form, this was more than double the power that Innocenti had ever produced. Even though many Lambretta owners had had tuned engines over the years, the TS1 was marketed as bolt-on power for the masses.
Back in 1986 many engines were still untouched since they left the factory and were not capable of taking the power that was now thrust upon them. Most problems arose from crankshaft failure or inadequate top end set-up. It should be remembered, though, that dyno technology wasn’t as advanced and available as it is today so getting the jetting correct wasn’t as easy. The other problem was the transmission, most notably the clutch.
AF Rayspeed offered the option of using the Lambro centre spring fitted into the middle of the clutch spider. Though this would help prevent clutch slip, at the same time it made the clutch lever hard to pull in, resulting in clutch drag through inadequate plate separation. It did seem that some owners were in such a hurry to get their kit fitted that not enough attention was paid to the rest of the engine.
A NEW INDUSTRY
Within a year of its launch the TS1 kit was selling nationwide at a rapid rate. Other Lambretta tuning shops were selling their own set-ups of the kit and already looking at developing it further to produce more bhp. This paved the way for a host of engine component development to cope with the increased power. Whether it was the expansion chamber, cylinder head, clutch or chain tensioner, new designs were regularly being made available.
It wasn’t just the engine either — with increased speed and acceleration came the need for improved brakes and tyres. With ownership of the TS1 growing each month, developing a product that would improve any aspect of a Lambretta would have an instant market. There was no doubt that the TS1 had begun a revolution in the Lambretta performance world.
With scooter racing gaining more and more popularity by the late 1980s, the TS1 gained acceptance into the group six class for the 1988 season. After a long absence Ray himself would return to the track with a TS1-based engine. Results were very encouraging even though the kit was in standard trim, proving just how good its performance actually was. Following on from Ray’s success there was talk of a TS1 production class but unfortunately it failed to materialise.
At the turn of the decade legendary Lambretta tuner Dave Webster, along with racer Guy Topper, produced the ‘cooler’. This was a modified TS1 cylinder that had been water-cooled to allow the engine to run at lower temperatures during racing. As the cylinder was made from aluminium it was far easier to create a water jacket than on cast iron cylinders. Apart from the jacket the transfers on both the casing and cylinder were heavily modified to create much larger ports.
With an additional boost port made in the top on the cylinder this would now push power output past 30bhp. With breathtaking results from the outset, soon enough many of the country’s top tuners would follow suit. The possibility of a road-going 90mph Lambretta soon became a reality, all thanks to the TS1.
TIME FOR CHANGE
In the year 2000 production of the 200cc version ceased. In many eyes it was seen as the better kit with its squarer configuration. However with slightly less torque than the 225cc version, the 200 wasn’t as popular among owners using it for touring, especially two up.
By the turn of the century the 225cc version was out selling the 200cc by 50 to one, making it uneconomical to produce. In 2005, Ray approached a few people with the idea of upgrading the TS1. Several designs were drawn up and sent to Gilardoni to evaluate the cost of modifying or changing the tooling. In November of that year Ray meet up with Gilardoni to discuss possible plans at the Milan motorcycle show. While there, and completely by chance, Ray came across the Airsal stand. Airsal was a specialist two-stroke cylinder manufacturer whose chairman had once been involved in production of the Spanish Lambretta.
Ray showed the company the drawings of how he wanted to change the existing TS1 four-petal reed valve to an eight-petal one. Airsal was sure it could create an entirely new cylinder with a 20% power increase over that of the TS1. From that meeting the RB kit was introduced to the AF Rayspeed stable in 2007. As it was totally different in design and power output to the TS1 it was decided both kits would be sold side by side.
To date more than 10,000 TS1 kits have been sold worldwide and it continues to sell well for two stand-out reasons: performance and reliability. A TS1 kit bought 30 years ago is exactly the same as one purchased today. Why? Because its design was so good in the first place.
Ray credits Terry Shepherd for the success of the TS1 kit; without him it couldn’t have happened. But without Ray’s vision and ideas, where would the Lambretta be today? The TS1 has served thousands of owners well over the last 30 years. Here’s to the next 30.
Text & Images: Stu Owen
This article was taken from the May 2016 edition of Scootering, back issues available here: www.classicmagazines.co.uk/issue/SCO/year/2016