Known to many as a successful racer of Triumph motorcycles in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Percy Tait was much more than that.
Born on a farm close to Meriden and the Triumph factory, he was a farming boy through and through, yet after time in the forces, riding with the Army’s Royal Signals display team in 1950, Percy joined Triumph aged 21 to work on the production line, being transferred to the experimental department where he was encouraged to take up road racing, winning his first race in 1951 at Silverstone on a 250cc Triumph T70 prepared by his boss, Frank Baker.
The work undertaken at that point led him to becoming the factory’s main test rider – a task he relished covering upwards of 1000 miles each week, and reputedly more than a million miles riding Triumphs during his career – and then moving to the race department to work on frame development under Doug Hele. And he still continued with his work on the farm.
Meanwhile, his racing talents continued, racing for Triumph to an international level, including finishing runner-up behind Giacomo Agostini’s MV Agusta triple in the 1969 Belgian GP; winning the 1971 Bol D’Or 24-hour race at Le Mans with Ray Pickerell, and the 500-mile Thruxton GP d’Endurance with Dave Croxford, as well as becoming Superbike Champion and British 750cc champion in the same year.
He also helped develop the legendary three cylinder Triumph ‘Slippery Sam’ but then retired when he crashed ‘Son of Sam’ at the 1976 TT.
But between those times he also worked for Suzuki, aiding in the development of the 500cc GP bike ridden by Barry Sheene, and also rode Yamahas, notably finishing second in the 1975 Classic TT on the Yamaha TZ750 he called Leaping Lena, after its steering damper broke on lap one.
In fact, it could be said that Percy was one of the best riders to have never won an Isle of Man TT.
After retiring from racing, Percy ran multiple Suzuki car dealerships until 2002, when he returned to the farm.
And success also came in his agricultural endeavours, winning at the Royal Show, the Royal Welsh Show and the Scottish Highland Show with rare Bleu De Main and Blue-faced Leicester sheep breeds from his Worcestershire farm.
Our deepest condolences to Percy Tait’s family and friends at this difficult time.
Read more News and Features in the January 2020 issue of Old Bike Mart – on sale now!