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Santiago Herrero: OSSA’s favourite son

Submitted by on March 17, 2010

OSSA, the fabulous Spanish motorcycle brand is back. After closing in 1985, the firm is back with an innovative Trials bike, the stunning TR280i.

The companies popularity and commercial success boomed in the mid to late 1960’s with a raft of sporty on and off road models. However it was Eduardo Giró, the founders son, who designed the revolutionary OSSA 250 monocoque Grand Prix bike. It was with this motorbike that a certain Spanish rider wrote one of the most thrilling chapters in Grand Prix history and helped to create the OSSA legend.

Santiago Herrero is synonymous with the shamrock brand and will always be remembered as one of the best riders in history, who tragically, never won the world championship.

He was awarded his racing licence in 1962 and raced for Derbi and was his own mechanic. He then switched to a Bultaco Tralla 125 and later the Spanish make Lube hired him for their competition department. In 1964 and 1965 Herrero came third and second respectively in the Spanish 125 cc Championship, but soon after Lube went bust.

Herrero friendly manner, super talent and mechanical skills made him an attractive proposition to the OSSA factory and Giró offered him a job developing the OSSA 250cc race bike.

He worked harmoniously and effectively with Eduardo Giró on the development of the OSSA monocoque, which featured a 6 speed rotary valve engine and together they began to surprise the motorcycling world.  On the OSSA 230 cc bike with no fairing and 30 HP, they won 250cc Spanish Championship in 1967.

The combination promised to be highly competitive, so for 1968 they stepped up to 250cc Grand Prix racing.

Although the single cylinder Ossa had 20 HP less than the powerful V4 Yamahas of Phil Read and Bill Ivy, the OSSA was a massive 20kg lighter and its monocoque frame was much stiffer, giving it superior cornering and braking ability. The Yamaha’s swept the championship but, Herrero left the GP paddock in no doubt that the little OSSA was quick and dependable. He finished seventh in the championship and claimed a third place in the final race of the season at Monza. He would once again take the 250cc Spanish National Championship.

With the OSSA 250 magnesium monocoque the team was confident they could challenge for the 250 cc World Championship in 1969. That year Herrero won three Grands Prix, ahead of the previously unbeatable Yamaha’s and finished an impressive third at the Isle of Man TT. The last of those three wins came at Spa where he found himself leading the championship. Then he crashed in the rain at the Ulster Grand Prix and suffered a broken left arm, seemingly ending his title hopes, but a gritty fifth on his return at Imola saw him still in with a title shot.

At last race of the season in Yugoslavia, he held a one point lead going into the final race. He started the race in the lead but crashed on the seventh lap, ending his championship hopes. He would finish third in the World Championship behind winner Kel Carruthers of Australia. There was small consolation in winning the Spanish 250cc champion for a third consecutive year.

The 1970 season began well winning in Yugoslavia and again he was leading the championship, then the  Tourist Trophy race came round.

On the final lap of the race Herrero was lying in third position. At the 13th milestone (Westwood corner) he lost control of the number 10 Ossa on a left hand bend, tangled with Stanley Wood and fell heavily.

Wood’s injuries were not life threatening. However Herrero’s unfortunately were, and at just 28 he passed away two days later in hospital, leaving behind a wife and child.

His loss affected the company so much that it pulled out of racing.

Images: santiagoherrero.com

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