Peter Ni­col

WA all-rounder

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scaysbrook Photos Peter Ni­col; In­de­pen­dent Ob­ser­va­tions.

One such was Peter Ni­col, born in South Fre­man­tle in 1931, and still fit, healthy and ac­tive to­day. Peter’s fa­ther, Alf, acted as me­chanic to lead­ing solo speed­way rider Jack Sharp, so it was not sur­pris­ing that a teenage Peter joined the team at Clare­mont Speed­way, where he acted as Sharp’s “pit­boy”, clean­ing and re­fu­elling the bike be­tween races. Peter wanted to take up mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing to fol­low his dream of em­u­lat­ing his rac­ing heroes, how­ever his mother re­fused to sign his li­cence ap­pli­ca­tion for speed­way and he was forced to­wards scram­bles and road rac­ing. He joined the Coastal MCC at 16 years and was el­e­vated to Club Cap­tain at 20 – a rare hon­our for one so young. His as­so­ci­a­tion with the club con­tin­ued over many years and it was no sur­prise when he was elected a life mem­ber. Peter’s first bike was an an­cient 1928 AJS. At age 17 Peter gained his com­pe­ti­tion li­cence and im­me­di­ately showed his class, rid­ing the AJS stripped of its road gear. So im­pres­sive was he that he soon found him­self un­der the at­ten­tion of spon­sors, one be­ing the Royal En­field dis­trib­u­tor Car­lyle and Co. Not only did they sup­ply a new

350 En­field com­pe­ti­tion model, they paid a hand­some bonus for race wins. His other spon­sor was the Cas­trol Oil Co. 1951 saw Peter take out both 350cc and 500cc West Aus­tralian Scram­bles Cham­pi­onships, as well as the highly pres­ti­gious and ex­tremely rugged Har­ley Scram­ble run over a huge cir­cuit at Mos­man Park, now one of Perth’s most pres­ti­gious sub­urbs. He was the youngest-ever win­ner of the event and would go on to win it a to­tal of five times. The En­field did ser­vice both on and off road, and as well as nu­mer­ous scram­bles, he com­peted at round-the-houses races like Yanchep Park and Kala­munda. His grow­ing stature soon at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Mort­lock’s who were the Match­less and BSA agents and im­por­tantly, the sup­port of Aus­tralian Land Speed Record Holder Harry Gib­son. Peter freely ad­mits that be­ing in­volved with the Gib­sons was a golden op­por­tu­nity, a case of “be­ing in the right place at the right time.”

“I rode for Car­lyle’s for two and half years in mainly scram­bles un­til I re­ally got the road rac­ing bug, then the Gib­son broth­ers took me un­der their wing into their race team. Harry coached me in road rac­ing, and I was rid­ing in scram­bles for Mort­lock’s. I wouldn’t have at­tained the suc­cesses in road rac­ing with­out Harry Gib­son’s coach­ing, but what­ever he said I had to do it, he was a tough bug­ger, dry as you like, but he was smart. He was one of three broth­ers who built their busi­ness in Perth called Gib­son’s Con­fec­tionary. They were sec­ond only to Plais­towe’s (founded in 1895 in Perth and now part of Nes­tle). He was great mates with Clem Dwyer and they used to race cars to­gether be­fore they got into bikes. Harry bought me a 350cc MK8 KTT Ve­lo­cette – he ac­tu­ally bought it from a farmer who had hardly used it, and I paid him back, he fi­nanced me and on it I fin­ished sec­ond in the Aus­tralian TT at Long­ford, Tasmania in 1953. I fin­ished sec­ond to Vic­to­rian Mau­rie Quincey. That was the first suc­cess I had in­ter­state, and Ge­orge Lynn (founder and ed­i­tor of the Vic­to­rian Mo­tor Cy­cle News, also known as the “Green Hor­ror”) wrote me up as a young rider from Perth that was go­ing places. Mort­lock’s had or­dered one of the new Match­less G45 twin road rac­ers, with the ar­range­ment that Harry Gib­son would tune it and look af­ter it if I rode it. That was an­other big break for me at the time. “Harry owned an old model Vin­cent stock stan­dard Rapide that he planned to de­velop into a speed record breaker. He had a large work­shop where he and Clem kept their race team bikes, cars and race toys. From the age of 18 to 24 that was where I spent most of my spare time. Harry and Clem had pre­vi­ously built a 500cc Tri­umph twin bike with a su­per­charger fit­ted, to set a WA speed record of 126 mph. In 1953 Jack Ehret of NSW set a new Aus­tralian record of 141.5 mph rid­ing a Vin­cent Black Light­ning and Harry, af­ter some dis­cus­sion with his friend and Vin­cent De­signer Phil Irv­ing de­cided to at­tempt to bet­ter that speed. Harry then to­tally stripped the old Rapide and com­pletely re­built the frame, sus­pen­sion and mod­i­fied the en­gine to in­crease the power re­quired. He then set up a road test­ing pro­gram over 3 months. For­tu­nately, we were able to use a sec­tion of a lit­tle used nar­row coun­try road called the Muchea 6 mile straight, part of the old Ger­ald­ton High­way, now re­placed by the then-new Brand High­way. We con­ducted sev­eral test days there, be­fore the at­tempt. I’m not sure how Harry ar­ranged this, he must have had a friend in high places. On test days we would set up the tim­ing equip­ment. I would do most of the rid­ing and Harry and helpers would change and set car­bu­ra­tion, ex­haust sys­tems, tyres and aero­dy­nam­ics. I would do a run and come in for Harry to record re­sults. Af­ter ad­just­ments were made I would set off again for the next run. When things were work­ing well Harry would take over and test run the bike to check the im­prove­ments. On an av­er­age test day, I would do ap­prox­i­mately eight

or 10 runs be­tween 140 and 150 mph up wind and down­wind to record an ac­cu­rate av­er­age speed. The of­fi­cial record at­tempt took place in April 1953 on the Muchea straight. Harry Gib­son set a new Aus­tralian speed record for mo­tor­cy­cles at 144.9 mph and Clem Dwyer set an Aus­tralian stand­ing start ¼ mile record of 12.5 sec on the Vin­cent.

Af­ter the suc­cess­ful record at­tempt, Harry de­cided to con­vert the Vin­cent to road rac­ing specs for me to race af­ter mi­nor changes to the frame, sus­pen­sion and brakes. Harry and Clem had re­designed the rear sus­pen­sion to swing­ing arm pre­vi­ously. I started to road race the Vin­cent and af­ter a few meet­ings we were able to im­prove the han­dling ex­cept for the Vin­cent brakes. They were just not good enough for a 140mph road racer and I reg­u­larly ended up down the es­cape roads dur­ing prac­tice. Harry then de­cided to fit a pair of Manx wheels and brakes that he was able to ac­quire from a contact in Syd­ney. I think we set lap records at all the WA cir­cuits we raced the Vin­cent dur­ing the 1954 sea­son; Caver­sham, Moo­li­abee­nie, Bun­bury and Kal­go­or­lie. In one meet­ing in Bun­bury I crashed in prac­tice. I took off over a hump bridge and be­cause of my scram­bles ex­pe­ri­ence those sort of jumps did not worry me but on this oc­ca­sion I landed heav­ily and when I ar­rived at the next bend the steer­ing locked and I went down. What had hap­pened was that when I jumped and landed, the bot­tom al­loy damper cast­ing on the Gir­draulic fork had cracked and bro­ken. Harry took the bro­ken parts into Bun­bury where an engineer friend opened up his fac­tory and made up a steel bracket to hold the bro­ken parts to­gether and the bike was ready to race that af­ter­noon. In 1954, the plan was to take the new G45 Match­less to Bathurst for the Aus­tralian TT but the ma­chine failed to arrive from Eng­land in time. Nev­er­the­less, Peter was de­ter­mined to com­pete at the Na­tional Cham­pi­onship with the hope that he could go one bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous year’s result in Tasmania. He still had his trusty KTT Ve­lo­cette, on which he had scored nu­mer­ous suc­cesses, but Harry Gib­son ve­toed that plan. “Harry did not want me to ride the KTT Velo at the chal­leng­ing Bathurst cir­cuit for my first ride there. He sug­gested we should try to get a Featherbed frame Manx Nor­ton that would han­dle bet­ter and have bet­ter brak­ing. The KTT Velo en­gine was faster, but the frame de­sign and brakes were older. So, I ended up go­ing to Bathurst with a 350 cc Manx that Harry bor­rowed from a friend. Harry knew where all these good bikes were. The deal was he would re­build the en­gine with mod­i­fi­ca­tions be­fore re­turn­ing it to the owner.” For the Bathurst meet­ing, Peter de­cided the best means of get­ting there was by sea as he was able to ar­range a spe­cial freight cost through con­tacts in Fre­man­tle.” Get­ting two bikes to Bathurst was very dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive, so I de­cided to go by ship. Ge­orge Lynn used to keep in touch and ring me oc­ca­sion­ally; he was a real char­ac­ter and en­thu­si­ast. When the ship docked in Mel­bourne, we’d only been there about 15 min­utes when there was a call for me to go to the Purser’s Of­fice and there’s Ge­orge Lynn. He said ‘How about you jump into the car and come up to Bathurst with me? You don’t know your way around up there and I can show you some of the towns on the way’. I wasn’t too sure, but he in­sisted so I packed my bags, told the Purser I was leav­ing the ship and stayed at Ge­orge’s home in Mel­bourne that night. Next morn­ing at day­break we were about to set off and he jumped into the pas­sen­ger’s seat and sug­gested I drive be­cause his eye­sight was so bad he could not see well enough, so the penny dropped, but it was an en­joy­able trip, he was a great guy.” In Syd­ney, Eric McPher­son, who was a good friend of Harry Gib­son in­tro­duced me to Rod Cole­man from New Zealand, who was an I.O.M. T.T. win­ner the pre­vi­ous year. Eric and Rod had met when we were rac­ing on the con­ti­nent and both rode for the AJS works team, so they be­came good friends. Eric in­vited me to stay with him and his wife Ruby in Syd­ney and I found Rod was stay­ing with them as well. So, we went to Bathurst and I shared a ho­tel room with Rod and he helped me so much to learn the cir­cuit. For three days we went out on the cir­cuit

and he showed me the best lines and so on. We would have din­ner at night and talk about it and we’d get in the car and drive around the cir­cuit in the dark. The NSW guys were help­ful to me but they all said I’d have to race there a cou­ple of times be­fore I could ex­pect to do any good. Af­ter prac­tice I was on the front row and at the start of the Ju­nior GP, Rod leapt away, and I jumped in be­hind him with Bobby Brown right on my tail. Rod had a works 7R AJS which was much faster than my Nor­ton and I started to drop back and had to deal with Jack For­rest who had taken over Harry Hin­ton’s bikes af­ter Harry crashed in prac­tice and broke his col­lar­bone. For most of the race, Jack and I diced be­hind Bobby Brown, but he would al­ways steam away down Con­rod Straight and I fin­ished up fin­ish­ing fourth”. The new G45 Match­less fi­nally ar­rived in mid 1954 and Peter made good use of it at lo­cal meet­ings. Then in Jan­uary 1955, World Cham­pion Ge­off Duke, the su­per­star of Euro­pean mo­tor­cy­cling, ar­rived in Perth for the first meet­ing of his Aus­tralian Tour. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing Duke was his me­chanic Gio­vanni Fu­ma­gali and a pair of the all-con­quer­ing works 4- cylin­der Gil­era rac­ers. Ge­orge Lynn was very in­stru­men­tal in man­ag­ing the tour and also ar­ranged for the Gil­eras to be ac­com­mo­dated at Harry Gib­son’s work­shop dur­ing their stay in Perth. The race meet­ing was at Moo­li­abee­nee, about 70km north of Perth, where a dis­used US-built WW2 airstrip with a 1500 me­tre main run­way ex­isted. Like nearby Caver­sham, the airstrip had been pressed into ser­vice post-war as a mo­tor rac­ing fa­cil­ity but was rudi­men­tary in the ex­treme, with the only ac­cess via a rough gravel road through the scrub. By us­ing the perime­ter roads and the main strip, a lap of 2.5 miles had been cre­ated, but with a very rough and abra­sive sur­face. Peter had set a new lap record at a pre­vi­ous meet­ing and was sec­ond fastest in prac­tice to Duke. In the race Peter (who Duke de­scribed as ‘a promis­ing rider with a nice style’) gave chase to the scream­ing Gil­era but the G45 soon de­vel­oped a mis­fire and had to re­tire. In 1955 the Aus­tralian Scram­ble Cham­pi­onships were al­lo­cated to Western Aus­tralia and held in con­junc­tion with the Har­ley Scram­ble at the Rope Works cir­cuit at Mos­man Park. Mort­lock’s had or­dered a new 500cc Gold Star BSA for Peter to ride in the event, how­ever the bike did not arrive in time and Peter was given a 350cc Gold Star off the show­room floor with the in­ten­tion of try­ing to win the 350cc Cham­pi­onship and to gain the best plac­ing pos­si­ble in the Open Cham­pi­onship by rac­ing the 350cc bike against the 500cc ma­chines. He faced stiff op­po­si­tion from Les Shee­han, who had rid­den for the AJS Works Team in Europe and was rid­ing an ex-works 500cc AJS. Shee­han won the first one-hour leg from 112 starters, with Ni­col 22 sec­onds be­hind in sec­ond place, but the Vic­to­rian re­tired with a bro­ken frame in the sec­ond leg leav­ing Peter to take the win out­right by 30 sec­onds and win both the 350cc and the Open Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onship in front of a crowd of 15,000. The fol­low­ing year in 1956 New South Wales hosted the ti­tles at the Moore­bank cir­cuit, and a big con­tin­gent of West Aus­tralians made the long trek across the con­ti­nent. Peter re­tained his 350cc Cham­pi­onship with a con­vinc­ing vic­tory over top Vic­to­rian and lo­cal rid­ers. Twelve months later he made an even longer jour­ney to con­test the Aus­tralian Scram­bles Cham­pi­onships at Heit Park, Am­ber­ley in Queens­land. Soon af­ter his ar­rival he came down with the flu and was un­well for most of the meet­ing. On a speed­way style track with a 110km/h main straight, Peter fin­ished sec­ond to Vic­to­rian Ge­orge Bai­ley in the Un­lim­ited ti­tle and third in the 350cc class. While Peter was in Queens­land he was con­tacted by the or­gan­is­ers of the NSW Mo­tocross Cham­pi­onships who of­fered to trans­port his bikes to Tam­worth the fol­low­ing week­end, to which Peter agreed. The Tam­worth cir­cuit was one of the first man-made mo­tocross tracks. Peter won the Se­nior NSW Cham­pi­onship from lo­cal Harry Pyne and Ge­orge Bai­ley from Vic­to­ria. He won the West Aus­tralian 500cc Cham­pi­onship in 1958 and con­tin­ued to com­pete in lo­cal scram­bles un­til 1959.

It was a very busy time in Peter’s life, for not only was he rac­ing fre­quently, he had opened his own shop in Welling­ton Street Perth sell­ing and ser­vic­ing BSA, Match­less and Ve­lo­cette. Sens­ing a change in the market, he opened a sec­ond shop in the city on the cor­ner of Hay and King Street to sell mo­tor

scoot­ers pre­dom­i­nantly to fe­male customers. His road rac­ing re­sults had earned him the nom­i­na­tion to be the re­serve rider in Aus­tralia’s Of­fi­cial Team to the Isle of Man TT but his busi­ness com­mit­ments, plus his im­pend­ing mar­riage to Beatrice led him to de­cline the nom­i­na­tion.“As it turned out Lau­rie Boul­ter, who was one of the nom­i­nated team rid­ers, was trag­i­cally killed two weeks be­fore the T.T. meet­ing and I re­ceived a tele­gram from the ACCA ask­ing me if I wanted to take up the po­si­tion. But I re­alised that I did not have time to get to Eng­land and pre­pare for the TT and the Con­ti­nen­tal races, so I had to pass that up and that was as close as I came to rac­ing in Europe. Mak­ing a com­plete break from mo­tor­cy­cling, Peter sold his deal­er­ships and re­turned to sail­ing as a sport and as a busi­ness, op­er­at­ing a marine bro­ker­ing busi­ness in Fre­man­tle, and built a 34 foot ocean racer that he raced af­ter he re­tired from bikes. “I was then of­fered a crew po­si­tion as re­lief helms­man on a Syd­ney-owned yacht in the World One Ton Cup se­ries held in France, fol­lowed then by join­ing the Aus­tralian Team com­pet­ing in the Ad­mi­ral’s Cup races at Cowes, Eng­land on the same trip. Soon af­ter ar­riv­ing home I was asked if I would sail the 50 foot

Pana­muna and I went on to race in ocean and river races in Perth from the Royal Perth Yacht Club. The owner of Pana­muna then ad­vised me he had sold the boat to a club mem­ber Alan Bond, a well-known prop­erty de­vel­oper”. Peter was in­tro­duced to Bond and agreed to teach him the finer points of sail­ing a big ocean racer and in fairly short or­der he be­came part of Bond’s plan to con­test the Syd­ney to Ho­bart race in a brand new 60 foot yacht de­signed by Ben Lex­cen. Peter skip­pered the new yacht Apollo. “We were still putting bits on the boat as we went out to the start, but we were sec­ond out of the heads be­hind the big English boat Cru­sade and by the time we crossed Bass Straight we had about 3 or 4 mile lead but we then hit light winds. Grad­u­ally Cru­sade got into the lead and we ended up abreast as we came into the Der­went in the dark. We then stopped, no wind. We just drifted to the fin­ish line and Cru­sade crossed the line nine min­utes ahead of us for the Line Hon­ours win”. Peter was also in­volved in Alan Bond’s first chal­lenge for the Amer­ica’s Cup with the yacht South­ern Cross in the 1970s.

Peter looks back on his mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing ca­reer with ad­mi­ra­tion for the char­ac­ters in­volved, but says peo­ple to­day have lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the dif­fi­cul­ties that faced com­peti­tors from Western Aus­tralia. “We had good tal­ent in the West with rid­ers like Ge­orge Scott, Jeff Leisk, Char­lie West and oth­ers, but it was tough to get into the na­tional scene and it was ex­pen­sive. We’d get one shot a year at it and if you had trou­ble you’d blow your chances. I was a bit lucky be­cause I used to get fi­nan­cial help from the West Aus­tralian Mo­tor Cy­cling As­so­ci­a­tion for Na­tional Cham­pi­onships, but if you wanted to get recog­nised or achieve your next step you had to do it – race in the Eastern States.” Peter’s son Ge­off, born in 1958, moved into mo­tor sports with help from his fa­ther via go karts and ended up as a top driver in open wheel­ers, even­tu­ally rac­ing in the USA. Peter is a Life Mem­ber of the Coastal MCC and an ac­tive mem­ber of the Vin­tage MCC of WA and in 2010 rode in the An­nual Hill Climb at Al­bany. Peter was in­ducted into the Mo­tor Cy­cle Rac­ing WA Hall of Fame in 2013 in recog­ni­tion of his con­tri­bu­tion to the sport in WA to­gether with his abil­ity and per­for­mance at the high­est level. In all Peter amassed 14 State Ti­tles, one NSW ti­tle and three Na­tional Cham­pi­onships.

Win­ning the Ju­nior race at Kala­munda on the KTT Ve­lo­cette. First road race, on the 350 Royal En­field at Yanchep in 1948. The rush into Hell Cor­ner at the start of the Ju­nior GP at Bathurst in 1954. Win­ner Rod Cole­man on his works AJS heads Peter Ni­col (14).

Peter with men­tor and spon­sor Harry Gib­son and Harry’s highly de­vel­oped Vin­cent at Caver­sham in 1953. Note the mod­i­fied rear sus­pen­sion. The stan­dard brakes were later swapped for Manx Nor­ton com­po­nents.

On Harry Gib­son’s Vin­cent. Harry Gib­son and Peter about to dis­turb the peace with the Vin­cent.

Peter’s G45 lead­ing Jack Rowe’s Nor­ton at Moo­li­abee­nee in 1955.

Gold Star BSA mounted at one of the West Aus­tralian roundthe-houses cir­cuits.

ABOVE Peter on the G45 chas­ing Ge­off Duke’s Gil­era at Moo­li­abee­nee. LEFT Ge­off Duke’s Gil­era at Harry Gib­son’s home in 1955. Peter (left) next to works me­chanic Gio­vanni Fu­ma­gali (over­alls) and Harry Gib­son (sec­ond from right).

Look­ing com­pletely ex­hausted af­ter more than an hour’s rac­ing, Peter takes the che­quered flag to win the Aus­tralian ti­tle and the Har­ley Scram­ble in 1955. LEFT Peter on his 350 BSA lead­ing Les Shee­han’s 500 AJS in the 1955 Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onships in Perth.

Peter Ni­col with the ed­i­tor at the 2018 Phillip Is­land Clas­sic.

ABOVE Peter Ni­col blasts past a very young Kel Car­ruthers at the 1956 Aus­tralian Scram­bles Cham­pi­onship at Moore­bank, Syd­ney.

ABOVE Af­ter win­ning the 350 Aus­tralian ti­tle at Moore­bank in 1956.

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