Making history: Cannonball J-range

Words: Adam Bower

Wining a race with a J-range isn’t easy but it is possible, if you are willing to go the distance…

The Corsa and Corsette are a pair of unique events based in the USA. They evolved from some of the vintage scooter owners and a few cross country Cannonballers wanting a shorter ‘event’ (road racing is illegal of course, and this is simply a timed endurance event, with the shortest time completing the course being the winner. So, um… no road racing whatsoever is taking place, honest!).

The two events, both vintage only, are based on the old 60s navigational trials. One is a two-day, 600-mile navigational trial for all vintage, geared scooters (Corsa). The second is a two-day, 300-mile trial, but small frame scooters only, designed for the ladies (Corsette). Specifically, this is where our group runs into trouble…

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See, we’re a Lambretta only race team/ scooter club, so when our clubmate Heather decided to do the Corsette, we couldn’t have her going out on a Vespa could we.

Of course, Vespa riders can simply buy a ‘Malossi this’ or a ‘Polini that’, but the Lambretta small frame range has never really gone much beyond an old Cento stuck in the back of the shed, collecting dust (probably with a twisted crank and ruined first gear). So this was going to be a real long-shot, no matter what we did, and we did plenty. Here’s the evolution…

Year one

The start for the J Team as it became known, was 2013. We were the first Lambretta small frame to ever enter the Corsette. We had done a Yamaha TZR piston conversion, with a 24mm Keihin carb and not much else (173 degrees of intake timing!).

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While it could be quite fast on flat ground, the three-speed gearbox and peaky piston ported set up made it quite hard to ride through the hills. Even with this setup, she was a fairly close second place to a tuned-up PK50. Not bad for a Cento!

Year two

We decided to go a bit more unconventional. I had built an iron-lined barrel from aluminium stock, using the same TZR 125 piston, but reed valve. There’s a video online showing that process, and it’s quite easy to see the several large mistakes that were made. Even though it’s slightly embarrassing, we leave it online to show the development.

Year three

This was the first year we built a proper expansion chamber. We found that to be the most beneficial upgrade! Our threespeed Cento was still slow up hills, but could hold it’s own in a large frame group ride and make decent power if you could keep it in the power band.

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This pipe was also our prototype for the HM Road pipe we made available to the public. We still had issues with aspects of the J-range, but Heather got another second place!

Year four

Now we only needed minor changes, the scoot was fast, but we had an hour and a half delay on the side of the road, due to points ignition troubles. Even with that massive time delay, she ended up 12 minutes behind the lead!

Her THIRD time in second place! We knew we needed electronic then! As a side note and testament to Heather’s end – this was the year she actually won the Corsa: the 600-mile large frame trial. Put her on a competitive scooter and she beat all of the boys to claim the first ever girl Corsa win, and the first ever Lambretta win!

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Year five

By now our original Cento had one foot in the grave and the frame was falling apart pretty quickly. We found a Starstream (four-speed finally) and built that from the ground up. But by this time I knew we needed electronic ignition (which we built using Jem Booth’s AF conversion system), plus a proper con rod and piston.

This was the year we developed the Wiseco/YZ80/TS125 piston/rod conversion. Coupled to our expansion chamber and TM24 carb, the scoot was faster than ever before! Probably the first ever J-range pulled over for speeding! That 30 minutes perhaps cost Heather another win, handing her a fourth time in second place!

Oh for f**k’s sake! What do we have to do to get a Lambretta small frame to win this thing!? We had clutch slippage issues, so used a complete clutch pack from Scooter Restorations and MB uprated springs to fix that. Heather needed more ridability overall, better gas mileage, cleaner running, more power, so we returned to reed valve! The stock head also sucked and wouldn’t really allow for proper squish clearance on a Wiseco set-up.

We tore it down, checked the YZ rod which was solid from last year, and made two very important (and difficult) improvements… we made a new head from billet, and make a proper reed manifold. Those two improvements would surely do it (we hoped)! The scoot was faster than ever before, but could the rest of the engine hold on for the whole race?

The answer was yes, but only just. Heather did win, thus being the first and only Lambretta rider (so far) to win both; first Lambretta to win Corsette, first Lambretta to win Corsa, and first girl to win Corsa. She won the Corsette by almost an hour and 10 minutes ahead of second place, but the Starstream was pretty tired by that point, having given up most of its shifting ability by the end.

Having read a lot of the old race stories in Scootering magazine over the years, I do sincerely believe Heather Masar has earned her place in Lambretta scootering history! The USA might not be regarded as a hub for vintage scooter development (yet!), but there’s a dedicated group working to show that the Lambretta is still the world’s finest scooter!

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