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The 10 greatest scams, cheats and hoaxes in motorcycling - part 1

Published: 21 January 2010

Updated: 19 November 2014

The history of motorcycling is littered with shady dealings...

These are our favourites:


10 - Kawasaki drifts a bit too close
You’d have thought copying the style of a company which went out of business in the 1950s would have been a pretty safe bet. Kawasaki must have had quite a shock then, when a legal document from a Colorado lawyer landed on its corporate desk claiming infringement of copyright on behalf of the long defunct Indian company, whose 1948 Chief clearly provided the inspiration for the look of the new Kawasaki 800 and 1500 Drifters. But that's exactly what happened. Kawasaki took the pragmatic path of offering a 'without prejudice' gratuitous payment - thought to be around $75,000 - in exchange for a cessation of any further action. It didn't give Kawasaki the right to the Indian look – because the Indian title itself is still in what was formerly a Norton-style worldwide dispute – but it kept things quiet, and (relatively) cheap.
Verdict: unlucky


9 - 600 wins 400 TT
Road racer Geoff McMullan pulled off a spectacular win in the 2000 Lightweight TT on a bike committing the most brass-necked of frauds – his FZR400 was actually a 600. He was quickly disqualified after scrutineers discovered the oversized lump, but unfounded suspicions soon grew that he’d been campaigning the 600 in other races for which it was ineligible in the previous year. But it wasn’t like that, as Geoff told the TT website soon after: “Towards the end of 99 I blew my own bike up so I used an engine from a friend in England for the remainder of the season. It was going to cost £3000 to fix my engine, and it would have been hard to justify the money. This bike was a 400, which had been bored out with 600 pistons, but with a standard head, so where it was gaining in one sense it was losing in another”. So that’s alright then.
Verdict: guilty


8 - The all-conquering LC
Two-stroke tuner Stan Stephens is famous for extracting extra horsepower from his customers’ motors. But he thought he’d better find a few more when it was his turn to race. “Me and Bob Farnham [fellow tuner] entered ourselves in the 500km endurance event at West Raynham in ’82. Only trouble was we were rubbish.” So in spite of being entered in the 250cc production class where extensive tuning was banned, Stand and Bob got to work on their Yamaha 250LC. “We did a huge amount to it. Extra ports, head work, crank case work, disc valves, hundreds of hours…” says Stan. The finished bike pumped out 55bhp – 83% more than it should have. “We seemed to be going past people all the time” remembers Stan of the race. “It was embarrassing.” The pair finished in ninth place, destroying not only the 250 class but also the 350, 500, and 600 classes above it. They were never officially caught. Stan admits, “It went down in history as one of my more extravagant cheats”.
Verdict: guilty


7 - Revenge by big-bore
Rob McElnea was sick of being beaten by what he surmised was the heavily-tweaked Kawasaki of John Reynolds, and the rule-defying Norton rotary – “both f**king missiles” according to McElnea. So come the end of the 1992, it was time to strike back. McElnea won’t confirm what – or indeed if – anything happened, but it’s rumoured he and his chief mechanic embarked on a big-bore counter-attack, taking his 750cc Yamaha to 836cc and a pride-restoring pair of victories, at Kirkistown and Brands Hatch. Immediately after winning the first race of the season-ending Brands Hatch round, however, McElnea’s bike was impounded by scrutineers, preventing the team from altering it but allowing them to finish the final two races. A full strip down would confirm the scam. But McElnea appeared to have no intention of letting that happen. After breaking down, the bike was hastily wheeled into a van, the team absconding from the circuit.


6 - Honda fills its boots
In the 1980 TT Formula 1 race rules stipulated a maximum tank size of 24 litres, necessitating two stops for fuel in the six-lap race. Race-winner Mick Grant’s Honda RS1000 had a considerably bigger, endurance-spec item, which appeared to enable him to stop just once. Not that they filled it all with petrol, as Mick explains: “We had a bigger tank and a standard tank, but for some reason the man from Honda wanted the bigger tank on. But [Team manager] Barry Symmonds put the tank down to size by putting ping pong balls or something in it. We didn’t use more than 24 litres, but because the tank was very thin and lightweight, going down somewhere Brae Hill full of fuel it wouldn’t take much of a bump to actually increase the volume of the tank. So I was told a thump on the last lap would ensure it was under the 24 litres. I was supposed to do it on the way down to Governor’s Bridge but I forgot. So it wasn’t until I was coming up the winner’s track that one of the mechanics reminded me. I gave it a thump and people saw. I can put my hand on my heart and say we did not cheat.” Protests weren't upheld, leaving Honda with the victory and Suzuki’s Graeme Crosby trailing by 11 seconds. Crosby says: “There’s no bloody way they could have run three laps with only 24 litres of fuel. And the excuse about the tank expanding – durrr! That’s because you pushed 28 litres into it!”
Verdict: not proven


Click here for the greatest scams, cheats and hoaxes part 2 >>

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