From the Blog

Where have all the great race bikes gone?


Hanging around on Facebook and other social media platforms allows old blokes like me several privileges. The first is the opportunity to laugh at the fecklessness of today’s youth but more importantly, it allows us to relive our youth. Is there anything from your youth that you remember with particular affection (no, I am NOT talking about that cute chick in Year 8) you can be almost sure that there will be a group that caters for your interest and which can instantly transport you back to better days. Doesn’t matter if it’s long distance underwater hockey or a long-forgotten TV series, the world is your oyster once you connect in cyberspace.

Nowhere has this been better illustrated for me than in some of the groups which I inhabit. There is a VFR Honda group, an off-shoot of the Oz-VFR forum, that keeps me up-to-date with what is happening with my favourite bike. Then there is the Booragul High School group. This is for students of the above-named school (now renamed as the Lake Macquarie High School – boo). I attended BHS from 1962-65 inclusive and those four years were the best years of my whole school life. Amazingly, there are hundreds of people in the group who chat about the things that were great about going to the school by the lake.

A good friend of mine (I must tell you his story one day) hangs out in a group about Para-Canoeing. This group is for people who have various physical disabilities but who still enjoy paddling their own canoes (bites tongue here).

Most of my favourite groups are in some way concerned with motorcycle racing, and particularly motorcycle racing from the 70’s, the era in which I first became involved in the sport. These groups are gold mines of not only stories but photographs from that time nearly 40 years ago. I’ve done my share of propagating this plant by adding my own touches. I have run and administered a web site dedicated to the long-forgotten CBX550F Honda, of which I owned several back in the day..

The joys of CBX

In 1996 I created a web site dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the late Kenny Blake, Australian road racer, killed at the Isle of Man in 1981..

Kenny Blake Memorial

And I also administer or contribute to several groups on Facebook.

While I was laid up and recovering from my accident I assiduously scanned in and published over 3000 photographs from the late 70’s and early 80’s. One of them is published above. It shows Ron Boulden on the grid at Amaroo Park in Sydney. The bike is a TZ350 Yamaha in a Maxton frame. Incidentally, the rider next to Ron in this picture is superbike hero of the era, Gary Thomas who is still actively involved in the sport and who serves as a technical examiner at World Superbikes when it comes to PI each year. The bulge on the side of the fairing on Gary’s bike has always intrigued me and there is a vague memory that he and his mechanics were trying out some sort of fuel injection system for the TZ back then. Nobody has been able to either confirm or deny this, but it’s rattling around in the back of my brain there and it refuses to come to the front and clarify itself.

And it is the memory of these wonderful old bikes that prompts my question today. Where HAVE all the great old bikes gone?

As well as hanging out in motorcycle groups I also inhabit many car racing and speedway groups and these seem to regularly include pictures of and details about old race cars that have been discovered and restored. And it prompted me to wonder why it is that I am not seeing the same thing happening with famous (and not-so-famous) old race bikes). Unfortunately, I think the answer is simple. It is much harder to dispose of a car than it is to dispose of a bike. Cars are bigger, more complex and are made up of many more parts. Bikes, however, are a frame, and engine and some wheels. Once any or all of these components have been separated, the bike has ceased to exist and the chances of finding and re-uniting the parts is dramatically reduced.

Racing bikes generally go through a series of owners as they get older, being progressively modified as this happens until they finally bear no relation to the original bike. As well as this, they become outmoded and replaced by newer models. Racing is a constantly changing situation. What is competitive this year will get blown away next year. The old saying that you are only as good as your last game also applies to racing bikes.

Now the very famous bikes were usually “works” or semi “works” anyway which means that they were either repatriated to the factory to be scrapped or put in some museum once their racing life is over. But what about the others? Well, as the above notes, most ended their lives in the scrap yard to be eventually trashed. From time to time, somebody will ask, “Where about is the ……whatever it is?” And, such is the reach of cyberspace, someone will usually have an answer. And sometimes a little bit of research and asking the right questions can yield some interesting answers.

Hindle's Maxton

Wandering around the pits at a PCRA meeting a few years ago I saw this bike. The first thing that I noticed was the number. 50 was always the number used by Aussie racing hero, Brian Hindle, who famously beat Agostini at Oran Park in 1971. The name on the fairing said, “Hindle” and it soon became clear that the rider of this bike was the son of the great man himself. But the thing that struck me even more was the “Maxton” name on the tank. A few questions later and I was able to find out that the bikes in the two pictures on this page were, in fact, the same bike. While Glenn is running an air-cooled Yamaha engine these days instead of Ron’ s water-cooled TZ motor, the rest of the bike is the same. As it turns out, the bike has had a number of distinguished riders, including Rob Madden, Jack Ahearn and Ron Boulden. And, when it was new, it was fitted with an air-cooled engine.

More research over time has uncovered some other interesting “survivors”

Leo Cash

Here is Leo Cash’s Katana from the Sheene last year. Speaking to Leo in the pits he revealed that this bike has a fascinating history. It started life, not as a Katana, but as a GSX1100 Suzuki, way back in 1981. And, it was a race bike then too. A very successful one. Amazing. Soon I got the story, partly from Leo and partly from the rider of the bike originally. You see, this is the actual bike that Bill McCulloch and Phil O’Brien rode to 2nd place in the Coca Cola 800 at Oran Park in 1981, the same race which saw the debut of the Shadowfax Kawasaki. I had the privilege of having lunch with Bill and Phil in the cafe a little later that day where they told me the story. I talk to the both of them regularly on Facebook and they are tickled that somebody remembered their great exploits that weekend (though I am sure that many do as well as I do.)

So, what about the Syndicate Kawasaki?

Syndicate Kawasaki 1 Syndicate Kawasaki 2

The WHAT? you ask. This bike was put together by a small group of Melbourne “businessmen” (the name was an oblique reference to the real occupations of the team principals) It was raced to huge success by the late Andrew AJ Johnson (the only rider game, or silly, enough to ride the thing). Producing well over 150bhp back in 1980 from a drag race tuned engine, the bike was a weapon and it took all of AJ’s legendary skill to even ride it, let alone be competitive on it.

Where is it now? Well, it still exists though it hasn’t seen the light of day for many years. Nor is it likely too as various conflicts have ensured that the bike will remain locked away.

What about all the bikes that won the Castrol Six Hour Races? They were production bikes, weren’t they? Surely there must still be some of them around? Well, actually, no. After being unmercifully flogged around Amaroo, Oran, AIR, Calder, Bathurst and other tracks, most of them were totally shagged out in fairly rapid succession. Those that weren’t were often on-sold as road bikes or converted to Unlimited Improved Production specifications and continued their racing life till they became too slow to be competitive. A few genuine Six Hour winners remain and are all in private hands and unlikely to see the light of day any time soon (unless you have VERY deep pockets).

Joe Eastmure still owns the Suzuki 315 that he famously “won” a Six Hour only to be disqualified because the bike didn’t have a horn. When the bike finished its racing life, the NSW Suzuki distributors gave Joe the bike as a thank you present for all that he had done to promote the brand on the race track.

Of course, “Spud”, Roger Arnold, still owns “The Old Girl”, the 1980 Suzuki GSX1100 on which Robbie Phillis won four consecutive Australian Superbike Championships back in the day. Robbie dares not race the bike any more as it has so much history, but he was forced to bring her out of retirement at the recent BSFoS when the preferred Katana had terminal problems that could not be fixed in time for the meeting.

So, where are the great old race bikes? Sadly, the majority of them are long gone. There are replicas around that help us to remember (a Central Coast owner has a wonderful recreation of the Budd/Heyes Z1 from the 1976 Six Hour) and there will be many great replicas on display at the Penrite Broadford Bike Bonanza over the Easter weekend. Worth going to see.

Hopefully, some more great old race bikes will continue to surface.