Jim Stretton: My first GP

Buying a brand new Lambretta in 1969 was a simple exercise of going to your local dealer to purchase one, or perhaps not…

Jim Stretton had been an avid scooterist and Lambretta owner throughout the entire 1960s. Despite owning several different models towards the latter end of the decade he had settled for the very reliable SX 150.

The one he owned was used on a daily basis and had become his pride and joy. So to him, it was a devastating blow when hearing the news that it had been stolen. Though Jim eventually got it back, it had been written off in the process and left him with no other alternative than to get another.

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Thankfully, the insurance company had paid out in full, meaning he had ample funds to now do so. Armed with a wedge of cash, Jim went to his local Lambretta dealer, whereupon he presumed he would be able to purchase one with ease.

His local dealer was P J Oakley in Leicester, who was well known for producing the Oakley special based around the SX 200. This was 1969 and the SX 200 had just been phased out so Jim was keen to get his hands on the latest model everyone was talking about, the Grand Prix.

However, there was a problem due to the shop still having quite a large stock of SX 200s. They wanted to get rid of them first before taking on the GP. This was common practice with a lot of dealers because when a new model was introduced more often than not they would get stuck with older models. The only way of shifting them was by selling off at a loss.

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Jim liked the SX 200, but his heart was set on the GP so he eventually walked out of the shop going elsewhere instead.

Luckily for him, there was another local dealer, Readers Scooters. The problem was they were in the main a Vespa dealer so getting a Lambretta from there was seemingly impossible.

With the cash now burning a hole in Jim’s pocket, he walked into the shop regardless just to see what, if anything, was on offer. Hearing of his plight down the road it came as a total surprise that the salesman said, in fact, they could order him a new GP 200.

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This kind of practice was seemingly unthinkable even just a few years earlier, Lambretta Concessionaires allowing a Vespa dealer to sell the Lambretta if they wanted to. It showed how times were changing in the industry and what would be allowed just to shift as many as they possibly could from the factory.

To Jim, it didn’t matter where he bought it from as long as he got one even, if in unorthodox circumstances. When he went to pick it up two weeks later he found the shop mechanics riding it round a nearby car park. They said it was a pre-delivery check but, in reality, they just wanted to get a taste of what the opposition was offering.

That summer Jim and his future wife travelled all over the country on it to various rallies. Even fully laden with luggage, the scooter performed flawlessly. By 1970, the first full year of an official scooter racing championship was sweeping across the nation.

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Like so many others at the time, Jim soon got lured into entering. Though he was never going to compete with the likes of Nev Frost and company, it didn’t mean he couldn’t participate.

By now the GP 200 was fully run in and though not ultra-competitive in standard form, he could easily outpace some of the older models. He avidly remembers having to ride to the meetings and race, hoping he didn’t fall off and damage it before making the journey back home again. More often than not the tyres would be well worn, but that’s how racing on a shoestring was done back then.

A couple of years later, and despite strong opposition, regrettably the GP was sold off, sacrificed to raise funds for his up-and-coming wedding, not to mention buying a house. Once married and settled in, a scooter was soon back on the list of things to buy. T

hough he owned various other models right up until 1995, none of them equalled the excitement that the GP 200 gave. Perhaps Innocent did get it right and that was the best Lambretta they ever made. He certainly seems to think so.

Many thanks to Jim for sharing his memories in this, the 50th anniversary since the GP was launched.

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