It’s the 24th February, just a few days earlier I had written to Mark Smith, Son of the legendary racer Bill Smith, who has over 50 TT replica trophies to his name. I received a very nice response back informing me that Bill was very happy to see the pictures and had passed me his number so that I may call him. Feeling slightly nervous I call up and Bill’s Wife answers the phone, “Ah yes, he’s been expecting your call”. Then Bill comes on the line and it’s an absolute honour to meet him, albeit only through the telephone. That unwritten Biker code cuts straight through everything, immediately there is a feeling of comfort, like straight away we’re on that same wavelength and the conversation just flows naturally.
His first question before anything else is confirming my heritage. “Italian, I thought so, good Italian name that” he says. Meet Bill Smith…
On the 3rd of June 1978, Bill Smith guided a Yoshimura Bimota Suzuki SB2 prepared by Dixon Racing Ltd around the Isle of Man for the Formula TT F1 race. The very same race where Mike Hailwood made his widely exalted ‘big comeback’. If it wasn’t for a pesky failed cam chain tensioner, history may have been somewhat different! For competing against Hailwood’s Ducati, was this slippery Bimota, and it was fast.
“As soon as I saw the fuel system I knew it was the bike, it’s definitely the one I rode around the Isle of Man”… just like that…Wow! I feel relief wash over me with those words, it’s been a roller coaster journey, from buying a bike with no history whatsoever to piecing together the most interesting back story of any bike I’ve owned, it has been fascinating for many reasons and spooky at the same time with so many coincidences along the way. It has been an emotionally draining and yet rewarding journey and this is the absolute icing on the cake. The SB2 has always been the “unicorn” bike for me and this one’s provenance has gone from zero to hero, going from a lovely bike with an unknown background to quite possibly, one of the most significant SB2’s on the planet as Chris from Lusso Veloce (who sold it to me) nicely put it upon finding out. Sat here speaking so casually with such an experienced racer, a man who was racing this bike around the Isle of Man almost to the day after my second birthday is awesome. He is such a personable, interesting and genuinely down to earth man with a fabulous sense of humour and so many tales. He has lived through the golden era of motorcycling and racing and stood shoulder to shoulder with all the greats, himself the TT F3 champion in that same year.
According to Bill it was “Very very fast but it was a bloody handful that’s why it got the name “Whispering Death” because there was a bloody big ‘if’, that ‘if’ you came off it, you’d kill yourself.”
Having just turned 86, there is nothing at all wrong with Bill’s memory. He continues, “I took it easy on the first lap to make sure it was all working ok and limited it to 11,000rpm, I was running fourth on the road at the time and it came in at just under 106mph average. On the second lap I wound it up to 13,000rpm and went for it, I was running third on the road then and I reckon it would have been a 112-114mph average lap if that chain tensioner hadn’t gone, leaving shrapnel everywhere, I had some very bad words to say to Mr Yoshimura, told him it was unreliable. It was a shame for David Dixon, he was a great man and a good friend too.” I ask if he felt his and the bikes pace could have challenged for a podium… “It would have been a top three for sure”. It was an opportunity wasted for everyone, David Dixon, Fujio Yoshimura (who had flown from Japan to work on the bike and fitted the experimental camchain tensioner the night before), for Bill and the whole team and of course for Bimota and Suzuki. Bill’s pace was strong and the bike had fantastic speed. The drama’s with the fuel system meant he only ended up with 2 laps of practice while they messed around rectifying the fuel range. To demonstrate Bill’s pace at the event, he won the TT F3 race and the Championship later that week.
To emphasise the speed the bike had, Bill goes on to tell me that the next race was at Silverstone. There he took the lead on the first lap passing everyone down the long straight it was that fast. He wasn’t so fond of the riding position though, “It was like sitting on the edge of a bathtub”!
Bill has been working on his autobiography, he tells me that he has written a paragraph on the Bimota and chuckles as he tells me “I put you were a wealthy Italian”. It’s a wonderful touch for him to mention something about our exchange in his autobiography and I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to have this conversation. It’s a difficult time in this Covid world but he would love to see the bike again and I would love to facilitate this once things settle, in the meantime there is an open two way invite between us should either of us be in the others vicinity.
Now that the history is more or less settled and the bike reunited with its past, I owe it to all of the custodians and those whose hands the bike has been through, those who have worked and toiled on it and of course Bill who pushed it so convincingly around the TT, to make sure I restore the bike to it’s full potential and keep the legend of “La Morte Sussurrante” (that’s Italian for the “Whispering Death” Bill 🙂 ), alive and kicking for many more years to come!!!
This is a huge “Thank you” to each and every one of those who have helped me to get to this point in uncovering the story behind this SB2 #00094.