On October 5, 2012, in Southport, near Liverpool, England, Terry Shepherd finally lost his battle with cancer at age 81. His funeral was held on October 19th. His death was noted and mourned in motorcycle racing circles, especially in Great Britain.
But across the Atlantic here at Cycle World, Shepherd’s passing hit us particularly hard, because, as Paul Dean, our own Hall of Famer, put it, “Terry was instrumental in two of the biggest participatory journalism pieces any motorcycle magazine ever published.” Those were stories I had the privilege to write, but they were based in large measure on Terry’s leadership as Team Cycle World’s Team Manager. He oversaw and directed our 1987 Isle of Man racing effort when I rode an ’87 Suzuki GSX-R750 in the TT, then performed the same guidance the following year when Paul and I rode that very GSX-R in the Arai 500 endurance race at the famed Bathurst (Mt. Panorama) circuit in Australia. Terry’s team stewardship continued that same weekend when I rode the Suzuki again, this time in the Production 750 TT class, after which Paul sloshed it through the rain in the F1 race.
Terry’s involvement with Team Cycle World was my doing. I’d known him since 1970 and couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to ramrodding our effort in the IoM TT and the Bathurst races. When introducing Terry to American readers in 1987, I tried to frame his astonishing career with academic metaphors: He’d gained his spurs racing in the 1950s for Norton and MV; did post-graduate work as a competitor racing F3 cars in Europe after a terrible, career-ending van accident nearly killed him; and surely earned the nonexistent but appropriate RR.D.—Doctor of Road Racing—status for designing, fabricating and tuning two-stroke racing motorcycles for decades thereafter.
I met Terry more than four decades ago after reading about his work on getting then-young and up-and-coming scratcher Martin Carney onto a Kawasaki A1-R 250cc GP bike, which Martin promptly took to the front of many a grid. I owned a similar bike when I was transferred to an Air Force base in England in 1969, and Terry was one of the very few who understood the rotary-valve two-stroke Twin well enough to eke out sufficient power to duel with the Yamaha TD1s and TD2s that dominated 250cc GP racing at the time.
In my interaction with him as my tuner, Terry became a good friend and great mentor. But a much less well-known side of him emerged slowly over the decades as I learned how intelligent and well-read he was. He was knowledgeable about art, science and literature, and well-versed in world history and culture, as I discovered when I offered to pay him for some engine work with fine art I had painted. My favorite artist and inspiration was J.M.W. Turner, and Terry knew all about Turner’s work, as well as that of his contemporaries. His favorite poet was Rupert Brooke, and he read scientific and technical journals with the same facility as most motorcycle enthusiasts manifest when reading bike magazines.
Born and raised near Liverpool, Terry was about 10 when he was smitten with motorcycle racing, in part because of the stories his dad told him about the great prewar TT races. By the time he began his British National Service in the Royal Air Force at age 18, he was a committed motorcyclist and started the first motorcycle club on his RAF station, an activity that led to his finally going roadracing. He was immediately recognized as a very, very fast, smooth and natural racer, riding in the tough Irish and English races held on public roads as well as on closed circuits. Soon he was racing for Norton, then MV. But by the end of the ’50s, when Terry was approaching 30 years old, disaster struck with the van crash that ended his motorcycle racing—though it did introduce him to a nurse who became his life’s love, his wife Marion.
Though Terry loved four-stokes and his personal favorite was the Manx Norton, he read the writing on the Grand Prix pit walls in the 1960s and focused on learning how to improve two-stroke performance. By the time I met him, he’d become widely known as one of the few in England who could get two-stroke Japanese bikes to reach their potential.
As Terry’s bikes did well, his name became more widely known, and in the 1970s, he decided to build his own cast-aluminum monocoque frames and power them with engines based on Suzukis—although with so many of his modifications, those two-strokes might as well have been new designs. When I visited Terry in 1975, I rode a prototype of these bikes that had been brilliantly done. He had become a master.
Subsequently, and fittingly, Terry became an FIM official. And as the two-stroke’s reign on racetracks ended, he smoothly took his tuning business back to four-strokes.
Always cheerful, full of droll humor in the uniquely Liverpudlian “scouse” style, Terry was the classic English autodidact, a former boy from the trades classes who could easily have gone to Oxford had he wanted to do so. But he preferred the life of action on racetracks. And he found it there, for himself and for many, many more through his remarkable career of tuning, mentoring, teaching and building.
Without a doubt, Terry Shepherd was a man in full. The world is poorer for his passing.