Dirt De­mon and fre­quent flier

Like his con­tem­po­rary Bert Flood, Char­lie Ed­wards was an in­no­va­tive en­gi­neer as well as a gifted racer, with 13 Aus­tralian ti­tles to his credit.

Old Bike Australasia - - CHARLIE EDWARDS - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Ed­wards col­lec­tion, Ray Smith and Gary Reid.

When I was just start­ing out in rac­ing,

Char­lie Ed­wards was al­ready a leg­end, but also some­what of an enigma. Here was this bloke from the bush who made his own car­bu­ret­tors and tuned his en­gines to fever pitch, then rode them like he was im­mor­tal, to­tally obliv­i­ous to the po­ten­tial for in­jury from crash­ing, which he did fairly of­ten.

It’s one thing to be a fast and com­mit­ted racer, but more of­ten than not, ta­lent be­hind the han­dle­bars is not enough. In Char­lie Ed­wards’ case, prob­ing for the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in the work­shop was also paramount; con­stant ex­per­i­men­ta­tion pro­duced suc­cesses as well as oc­ca­sional fail­ures, but his bikes were al­ways fast – very fast. Char­lie was born in San­dring­ham, Melbourne, in 1937, the son of a pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer, and with his el­der brother Bill, at­tended Wes­ley Col­lege. It was while at col­lege, aged just 12, that he built his first en­gine – a 12cc model air­craft mo­tor. The lessons he learnt in con­struct­ing that en­gine were to serve him well. “My first taste of com­pe­ti­tion was ac­tu­ally not mo­tor­cy­cles,” he re­calls, “it was in a row­ing eight at Wes­ley and I was the cox be­cause I was so skinny. When they won, which they did too many times, they used to throw me into the Yarra which was full of bro­ken bot­tles and rub­bish.”

Af­ter his sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, Char­lie found work in the in­dus­try he has al­ways loved, air­craft. “I started an ap­pren­tice­ship at Ma­jor Air­craft at Moorab­bin Air­port and that was go­ing to be my ca­reer, but he went broke so I took a job im­me­di­ately as an ap­pren­tice with Steven­son & Jones (SJ Mo­tor­cy­cles) at Dan­de­nong. I was al­ways dead keen on planes, and I got my pri­vate pi­lot’s li­cence at 16, fly­ing Tiger Moths, Chip­munks and Cess­nas. I had to ride my push­bike there be­cause I wasn’t old enough for a driv­ing li­cence.” Work­ing around mo­tor­cy­cles soon aroused his in­ter­est in that sport, but there were two small prob­lems; his age, and his par­ents’ op­po­si­tion. “You didn’t have to pro­duce your birth cer­tifi­cate to get a road li­cence – I think it was 18 you had to be – and I must have gone there at 17 be­cause I needed a mo­tor­cy­cle li­cence to get a com­pe­ti­tion li­cence. So I fibbed about my age but then I hurt my­self and there was hell to pay when my fa­ther found out. He banned me from rac­ing, but I be­came great mates with Ken Rum­ble, and when he didn’t have ac­cess to the Eric Walsh Ban­tam he rode my Ban­tam – he got an Aus­tralian ti­tle on it while I was still 17. Peo­ple didn’t recog­nise my bike from Eric Walsh’s be­cause we both used what we called a “pow­der­horn” ex­haust which was just a short open mega­phone. I got to know Eric Walsh as he would come to SJ Mo­tor­cy­cles to pick up re­bores for Fin­lay Bros. I was young and I an­noyed him ask­ing ques­tions of how he got his Ban­tam go­ing so well. He never helped me in the early days. He was quite rude in a strange way and un­for­tu­nately he caused me to be­come very se­cre­tive dur­ing my tun­ing days.” Once Char­lie was able to race legally on his Ban­tam he took to the grass tracks in the War­ragul area and to scram­bling. The big­gest an­nual scram­ble was the Mud Bat­tle at Kor­wein­gu­boora, near Dayles­ford, and keep­ing the water out of the electrics was a key to suc­cess. “A lot of bikes would hit the cold water and stop be­cause the mo­tor con­tracted and drew water into the electrics. Most of the bikes were on points, but be­cause I was so keen on model air­craft I de­signed the Ban­tam to have a glow plug, not a spark plug. Peo­ple never re­alised why I had a 2 volt bat­tery be­side the bike to start it, and as soon as it started I took it off and it worked on a plat­inum coil, the same as a model air­craft mo­tor. You can ad­just the ad­vance by the thick­ness of the plat­inum wire. I had wire drawn out in Melbourne in all dif­fer­ent thick­nesses and I just wound it into a nor­mal spark plug. As soon as it heats up you re­move the 2 volts and the com­pres­sion and the methanol keeps it go­ing, and so I never snuffed it in the creek and no­body knew. It wasn’t that I was se­cre­tive but it was a

com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. I went onto twin ig­ni­tion af­ter that but the glow plug was a re­ally in­ter­est­ing con­cept.” Life changed slightly when Char­lie was called up for Na­tional Ser­vice and spent six months at Am­ber­ley Air Base in Queens­land. Be­ing around air­craft suited him fine un­til it was time to re­turn to nor­mal du­ties. Fol­low­ing his ap­pren­tice­ship, Char­lie opened his own busi­ness, the Dan­de­nong Two Stroke Re­pair Com­pany, which went well enough to pay for his rac­ing, and to keep his fly­ing hours up. “I was hir­ing a Cessna 172 be­long­ing to a farmer, who kept it at Moorab­bin air­port. He wouldn’t take any money for the fly­ing I was do­ing in it, and I kept say­ing that I should be pay­ing for it be­cause I was us­ing it and tak­ing my friends up. Then he said, ‘Would you con­sider com­ing to work for me?’ be­cause he didn’t have a fly­ing li­cence but he had two planes. This sounded in­ter­est­ing to me so I put a man­ager in the Two Stroke Re­pair busi­ness and I went up to his prop­erty Burrabo­gie Sta­tion in Hay in 1959, a 46,000 acre sheep prop­erty which was very fa­mous for rams, and I liked it. I was more a me­chanic be­cause be­ing a pri­vate pi­lot I wasn’t en­ti­tled to fly for a liv­ing so I just flew him when he needed to go some­where. It was still a bit il­le­gal but that’s how we got over it.” The sta­tion had plenty of sheds and pieces of equip­ment, one be­ing an old lathe. It was ac­tu­ally a wood lathe but had thread cut­ting gears, and Char­lie be­gan to use it to make parts for his rac­ing Ban­tam, one such was his own car­bu­ret­tor, the cast­ings for which were made from melted down scrap alu­minium ob­tained from the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany in Melbourne. He even­tu­ally made five of the ‘CE’ carbs – one for his great friend Les Lewis, another for Les’ son Les­lie, and three for him­self. The think­ing be­hind the carb was that con­ven­tional rac­ing carbs like the Amal GP and TT were overly long, with the main jet at the bot­tom of the carb. “You had to put the carb at an an­gle to miss the crank­case on a Ban­tam or a Bul­taco, and this was wrong be­cause the gas has to come down at an un­usual an­gle and then come up through the trans­fer ports. So the beauty of this carb was we could get a very low pro­file by tak­ing the main jet from the bot­tom and putting it in the side, and it was ad­justable with your fin­gers. This was a bit dan­ger­ous be­cause in prac­tice you could just reach down and ad­just the main jet as you’re fly­ing down the straight. It was a ta­pered nee­dle and when you got the right set­ting I just tied it off with a fine bit of wire and it worked very well and we got the per­fect an­gle for a two stroke. There’s noth­ing magic in a two stroke, it’s just all the lit­tle things that add up, and this is just one of the many things.”

Char­lie with Bill More­house and the Hagon/Bul­taco – the first two-stroke Hagon chas­sis to be built.

LEFT Char­lie in his role as Cox for the Wes­ley Col­lege Eighth Crew, 1951. RIGHT Char­lie dur­ing his stint at Am­ber­ley Air Force base in Queens­land.

Char­lie on his Hagon Bul­taco dic­ing with Herb Jef­fer­son’s ESO. Salty Creek 1968: Char­lie out­side Kevin Fraser and Greg Prim­mer.

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