Bill Ivy is maybe one of the lesser known British motorcycle heroes perhaps because, despite his very obvious talent, he didn't have time to reach his full potential due to his untimely death in a crash whilst practising for a race.

Ivy was born in August 1942 in Maidstone in Kent and - like many of us - became obsessed with motorcycles from a very early age, leaving school at the earliest opportunity to take a job working as a mechanic at his local motorcycle dealership. One thing led to another and at just sixteen he became fascinated by motorcycle racing, leading him to make his race debut at Brands Hatch in 1959 on a 50cc Itom motorcycle. His talent was evident even at this stage and he immediately gained third place.

Once he had the motorcycle racing bug it really took hold and in 1962 he raced (DNF) in the 50cc class in the Isle Of Man TT going on the following year to gain 7th place. Anyone who knows the TT will know what an achievement this is for anyone, and it was really just the start for Bill Ivy.  


Physically he had a small light build, weighing in at only 50kg (under 8 stone in old money) and because of this he had to work extra hard, even in the125cc class. Despite this he had fortitude and skill and through sheer hard work and persistence, overcame any difficulties his stature might have given him.

After the 1965 IOMTT his potential was spotted by the Yamaha Team and he was selected as a stand in for the injured Yamaha rider Mike Duff in the Japanese Grand Prix, finishing fourth in the 125cc class and third in the 250cc class. From then on he became a regular Yamaha team racer.

By 1966 he had really begun to flourish, and won 4 125cc victories gaining a ranking of number two.  In 1967 he took the World Championship title after notching up 8 victories out of a total 12 races.

In 1968 Bill Ivy and his Yamaha team mate Phil Read really owned the 125cc and 250cc championships and Ivy became the first 125cc racer to lap the Isle Of Man Mountain Course at over 100 mph, no mean feat!

As the season continued Yamaha instructed team mates Read and Ivy to tie on points. Ignoring this, Read went for personal glory and came in the winner on points, upon which Ivy said he was quitting motorcycle racing and moving into Formula Two car racing instead.

Two's Company

Bill gained impressive results in Formula Two car racing looking like a natural, but sadly had to go back to motorcycle racing when invited by Jawa in 1969 in order to earn enough to fund his car racing. The motorcycle racing season started well for Bill and he took two second places on 350cc machines, only beaten by the outstanding Giacomo Agostini. Then, through no fault of his own, disaster struck. During practice on the Sachsenring Circuit in East Germany on the 12th of July 1969, his engine seized. What had happened was that the lower left hand con rod bearing cage had broken up inside the engine. When the engine seized Ivy was thrown from the bike and his helmet came off. He sustained terrible head injuries in the crash, fractured ribs and lung puncture. Tragically with a really promising career still ahead of him he died from his injuries aged only 26.

Who knows what he would have gone on to achieve had he been able to continue racing - such a tragic accident for one so young and with so much potential. Respect to such a skilful and talented rider.

Posted by Lucy England
for Wemoto News on 08 April 2020 in Events



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