Thirty years ago the LCGB embarked on a trip from one end of the country to the other, uniting its members like never before…
During the early months of 1988, members of the Lambretta Club Great Britain were informed through the club magazine New Jet Set of a rather daunting challenge. It was announced that there would be an attempt to do an endurance run all the way from John O’Groats to Land’s End in the autumn of that year. It was an open invitation to all members with the idea being to raise money for charity. The event would finish off in style with a rally at the Lambretta Preservation Society museum in Devon run by the late Mike Karslake.
General secretary Kevin Walsh was to take charge of organising the event, along with several of the committee members. Kevin can’t remember exactly how the challenge came about in the first place but when asked replied: “I think it was my idea as other people around that time had done it.” It was true several successful attempts had been made but they were only done by individuals or small groups. Nothing like this had been done on such a grand scale and certainly not with the number of Lambrettas predicted to be present this time. The club at the time had around 300 members and although not all were expected to be making the attempt a significant proportion of them were. Judging by the initial response from members, the signs were it would be heavily subscribed.
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The reality of what a challenge this was soon dawned for many as initial blind enthusiasm soon turned to can I actually do this?’ Though there is no set distance between the two places, most routes tend to vary between 900 and 1000 miles. Quite a long way — but you have to remember that no matter where you start from, you do the journey twice by the time you get home. Let’s not forget too that the Lambretta back then was not the most reliable of machines. Many still ran on points-type ignition and the majority used cast iron cylinders, the TS1 being still in its early days. Even so, as the summer months rolled on, a hardcore few signed up to the event. The final figure, in the end, was 29 machines — even though some would be two up.
Kevin and his team had decided that everyone would set off from John O’Groats on Tuesday, September 6, and stay at several predetermined places along the route. The idea, all being well, was to arrive at Land’s End during Friday dinner time before leaving for the LPS museum later that afternoon. Many of the John O’Groats to Land’s End runs, whatever type of transport used, always seemed to be attempted over the shortest time possible. Scooters had done it before over a period of 24 to 36 hours, which was fair enough. That wasn’t what was going to happen this time though. After all, it was a big group of riders — all on old machinery — and it was pointless trying to race the whole distance. It was a marathon task and that’s how it was going to be tackled. It was more than just that though. It was aimed at being a sort of rally event held over a longer duration.
Strangers at the inn
Everyone was to arrive on the Monday at the John O’Groats House Hotel with the majority opting to camp in the hotel’s grounds close by. As per usual members soon packed out the small bar, settling in for an evening’s drink regardless of the long ride the following day. It was in the bar that those present noticed a slight eeriness between fellow members.
Up till now, the majority of members’ rallies were held in the north of the country and anyone who frequented them would tell you they were predominantly a northern institution. The difference here was the small contingent making the trip from other parts of the country and not always present at club rallies. It was almost like the scene of a western and almost like strangers had walked into town, a sort of standoff. There wasn’t a problem as such but it did show the club had a long way to go to be at national level.
The official backup van had also arrived on time with the idea being that it would be the last to leave each day. That way it could pick up any casualties from the predicted breakdowns that might happen. Richard Dawson, then a committee member, had also bought a van along with part of the southern contingent. Finally from South Yorkshire were Dave Waddingham and Martyn Scully with their merry band in what even by 1988 was some sort of prehistoric Mk1 Ford Transit. The van had been more unreliable than any other scooter up to that point — with a head gasket leaking all the way to Scotland, Martyn Scully still to this day remembers how “it put out more steam than Stephenson’s Rocket”.
Everyone woke up to a bright sunny morning which in North Scotland was a one in a million chance at that time of year and didn’t last long into the day before the rain started. With all 29 Lambrettas lined up in a semi-circle and the old club banner placed in front, a photo shoot was then taken. There was a bit of hanging around and chatting afterward, many not realising the task that lay ahead. The idea of everyone driving in a big group and taking it easy quickly went of the window. The problem is, you can wait forever as the group gets ready — only for someone to then stop a few miles down the road at a petrol station. With this in mind, the majority broke off into smaller groups and made their own way.
This was the days of pre-mobile phones and sat-nay — none of that modern help available, just a good old-fashioned fold-out map. It was pretty simple. You were told where you were staying for the night, so it was a case of ‘see you there later’. It worked well and though the odd person got lost everyone made it there by nightfall, this was a repeat pattern for each stage of the journey. Kevin Walsh and his group were often late due to his Series 2 having the tendency to not want to start. That included most times he stopped for petrol but the rest stayed loyal and got it going one way or another.
After the first night’s stay in the Bridge of Orchy, mid-Scotland, everyone was greeted by rain. Not the ideal start to the day when you have a few hundred miles to do. The fact was, most wanted to be out of Scotland not just because of the weather but more from a psychological point. Once in England, it felt like you were actually getting somewhere and finally making progress, eating into the journey. The next night’s stop off would be Chorley rugby club in Lancashire and one by one riders would make it to the destination. Some had set off like a scolded dog, eager to get there first settle in and get to the bar. Others though took the more sedate approach, arriving mid-evening just happy to have made it there without breaking down.
Let’s go bowling
By the end of the third day, one or two casualties due to breakdowns were beginning to happen. Not surprising really as by this time, including getting to the start point, most had done well over a thousand miles. By now though, everyone was starting to get along well and none of the early stand-offs was present. Anyone who needed help got it and no one signed off for the evening till any repair work was finished, making sure everyone’s machine was ready for the journey next day.
The final night’s stay in Bridgwater, Somerset, was by way of a small ten-pin bowling alley. Though the club was run on a shoestring budget it was a rather odd place to stay to say the least. The wooden floor wasn’t the most luxurious and basically, you just found a spot anywhere you could to try and get some sleep. With everyone talking about the final part of the journey long into the night it was difficult to get any peace and quiet. It didn’t matter though, the barrier between the north and south was now being well and truly eroded away. Even though it descended into a slanging match about which part of the country was best, it was all in good humour.
The last leg
The dull wet weather at the beginning of the week was well and truly gone as the sun shone gloriously on the final morning. The start of the journey in Scotland seemed like an age away now as the focus of attention was set firmly on making it to the final destination. There was no hanging around either as everyone wanted to get there as soon as possible. Even the take it easy mob were getting a move on. With the end in sight all of a sudden it didn’t matter about the engine any more. If a Lambretta had got someone this far by now, the engine would surely make it the last 200 miles or so. With that in mind, everyone was at full throttle all the way. Gone was the thinking of keeping to a steady pace — it was now a race towards the finish.
Kevin Walsh had picked out a point a couple of miles down the road from Land’s End for everyone to meet and wait. When everyone was present, the whole group of riders would make the last leg of the journey together. By dinner time everyone was present and as leader of the club Kevin duly took up his position and led the procession from the front. It was a rather odd windy little road to the final point but quite emotional for those in attendance. As each rider rode in, their photograph was taken saluting the achievement they had made before a final group photo shoot was taken. From there it was back to the LPS museum in Devon where the rally was taking place. Mike Karslake had a great venue and the rally had been very well organised. This was now the biggest gathering of Lambretta owners to date and set a precedent for how things would happen from now on.
It may seem strange looking back, thinking what was all the fuss about. Every year now there is the Euro Lambretta with hundreds of Lambretta riders travelling distances much further than this and across mainland Europe. Back then though, nothing had been done like this before — travelling thousands of miles in such a short period of time. It was a groundbreaking moment for the LCGB — not just for the riders proving what a Lambretta could do but for the club in general. It brought members together for the first time as one and began to lay the foundations for the club in the future. No more would there be any divide and the club would become united.
Those that had made the long journey that week now wanted to do something similar the following year and the ones that hadn’t now wanted to be part of it. From now on it was to be expected that something big would happen each year and the club would never be the same again. It had finally come of age and with the news that the Euro Lambretta was to be starting the following year had moved the LCGB into a new era.
Many thanks to Kevin Walsh, Richard Dawson and Jim Trewin for their help and supplying certain photographs for use in this article.
DETAILS ABOUT THE EVENT YOU MAY NOT KNOW…
- Twenty-nine Lambrettas started the journey and despite several repairs along the way, twenty-nine finished.
- Between the riders, more than £3000 was raised for charity.
- By the time everyone returned home a total of around 58,000 miles had been covered in total by the Lambrettas present.
- The LPS museum rally was such a success it would continue every year after and was the base for the 1992 Euro Lambretta rally.
- During the week of the event, plans were discussed regards doing a North South East West run of Britain the following year. It was shelved once the Euro Lambretta was announced.
- It was true that one member of the group drained the gearbox oil from his engine as, during a drinking session on the second night, he was told it would go faster. Luckily he put it right before setting off the next day.
- Finally, what happened to that clapped out Ford Transit used by Dave Waddingham and Martyn Scully? After needing a clutch change on the way up to Scotland it got more and more temperamental as the head gasket started to fail. In an attempt to disown it they hid themselves and their Lambrettas behind some wheelie bins in Glasgow as it went past. The van continued regardless down the M6 towards Chorley without them until the radio caught fire. In haste ‘the mules’, as Dave called them, turned the ignition off and pulled the key out. At the time it was doing 60mph and the steering lock abruptly came on, sending the van up the motorway embankment through a fence and into a farmer’s field.
Words: Stu Owen
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