Never a dull mo­ment

At the end of 1962, Ron Robin­son was at the cross­roads. He’d been rac­ing in Aus­tralia since 1955, and had honed his skills to the point that he had been of­fered sup­port to race at the Isle of Man in 1963 – the ful­fil­ment of a life­long dream.

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scays­brook Pho­tos Keith Ward, Charles Rice, Ron Robin­son, FoTTofind­ers.

Near­ing 30 years of age, he fig­ured it was now or never. He’d had a suc­cess­ful sea­son, win­ning the 350cc event at Hume Weir and the same class at the fast and dan­ger­ous pub­lic road cir­cuit at Long­ford, Tas­ma­nia. But late in that same year, he had un­der­taken a tour of New Zealand for a race se­ries – four events in each is­land – and he had been made a tempt­ing of­fer by none other than Burt “World’s Fastest In­dian” Munro. “I went over by boat and my bike went as my work tools”, re­calls Ron. “The last race of the se­ries was at Tere­tonga, at In­ver­cargill at the bot­tom of the south is­land. I won a race there and I met Burt Munro and he in­vited me to try out his In­dian at Oreti Beach. It was the test ma­chine with no stream­lin­ing. There was a black line down the cen­tre of the sand and they said, ‘Just fol­low that. Don’t watch where you’re go­ing, just watch the black line’, so that’s what I did. It only had three gears, and no brakes, and they had to push me un­til I was do­ing about 120 km/h un­til I could pull away from the push­ing ve­hi­cle. So then Burt put the en­gine in the other chas­sis with stream­lin­ing and we took it out on the Mon­day and with stop­watch tim­ing they reckon I got it up to just over 300 km/h in the end. I only weighed 62 kg. Burt was pretty im­pressed with that and he said to me, ‘Come to Amer­ica with me and you can ride it, we’ll set a world record’. I thought pretty se­ri­ously about this but nei­ther of us had much money. I would have had to put money in it, and also walk away from my plan to race at the TT, so in the end I de­cided on Europe.” He took with him a 500 Manx Nor­ton that he had pur­chased in Mel­bourne. It was an ex-works 1954 short stroke model that had been raced by top rider Alan Trow. It was al­most com­plete – one vi­tal miss­ing com­po­nent be­ing the cam box. Ron con­tacted the Nor­ton fac­tory and was told they would build up a cam box and bring it to the Isle of Man in time for prac­tic­ing. It was in­tended to be a short ex­er­cise – maybe a cou­ple of years sim­ply to sat­isfy the urge to ex­pe­ri­ence the ‘ big time’. How­ever, it would be 42 years be­fore Ron re­turned to his na­tive Mel­bourne, and only then be­cause his mother had passed away and he needed to set­tle her affairs. That trip back to Mel­bourne would change his life, and not for the bet­ter.

It was the 1955 Vic­to­rian TT at the pub­lic roads cir­cuit at Lit­tle River,

be­tween Mel­bourne and Geelong, where Ron had made his rac­ing de­but, aboard a well-worn bronze head KTT Ve­lo­cette. That ma­chine gave way to an equally well-used 7R AJS, on which Ron con­tested his first Bathurst meet­ing in 1958. The 7R, an early 1950s long stroke model, was well out­classed and Ron de­cided he needed some more com­pet­i­tive equip­ment. Driv­ing to Queens­land, he pur­chased the 500cc G45 Match­less that had been im­ported by Mark­well Brothers in 1955 and raced by Royce Nixon. While up north, Ron con­tested the Queens­land TT at Lowood, a for­mer air­field cir­cuit near Ip­swich and twice fin­ished se­cond to Kel Car­ruthers on his Vin­cent Comet-en­gined Nor­ton. As Ron dis­cov­ered, while it was fast, the G45 had a de­served rep­u­ta­tion for un­re­li­a­bil­ity. “The main prob­lem was the ex­haust cam pro­file, which was too rad­i­cal. It had triple valve springs which put too much pres­sure on the seat, and it used to snap the mount­ing pil­lar in the head. I welded up th­ese pil­lars, changed to dou­ble valve springs and re-pro­filed the cam, and I had no more trou­ble. I could go to 9,000 rpm with no trou­ble.” He also dug deep into his sav­ings and ar­ranged for Olympic club mate Ron Miles to buy a brand new 350cc Manx Nor­ton in Eng­land and bring it home for him in 1960. “I worked for Ed­die Thomas, who had a speed tun­ing shop in Caulfield and we had our own cam grinder. I put a 500 Manx carb on the 350 Manx and made my own cams with ex­treme over­lap, which was nec­es­sary to run the big carb. It was very quick in the high range.” Al­though he was listed as A-Grade in Vic­to­ria, the Bathurst or­gan­is­ers ac­cepted his en­try for the Ju­nior Non Ex­pert Divi­sion 2 at Easter 1961, and he sim­ply dis­ap­peared, putting nearly half a minute be­tween him­self and se­cond place at the che­quered flag. “That Nor­ton was a fab­u­lous bike, I should have kept it and taken it to Europe with me. But I had a new one on or­der so I let it go to Ron An­gel. When I got there the fac­tory said they couldn’t de­liver, so I was in a panic. Then I met Mike Hail­wood at Doll’s guest house in Shep­herd’s Bush (Lon­don) and he told me where his last 350 Nor­ton was – it was a Bill Lacey tuned bike – so I went up to Durham (north east coast) and bought it. Mike took me out to Brands Hatch and showed me the way around. In the race it rained and six of us fell off.” At the Isle of Man TT he took things con­ser­va­tively, fin­ish­ing 34th in the Ju­nior and 33rd in the Se­nior. As it turned out, the promised cam box for the 500 ar­rived scarcely in time for the fi­nal prac­tice ses­sion on the Fri­day. “I had qual­i­fied for the 350 and 500 races on the 350 Manx and it was very quick, a good run­ning mo­tor. I just changed the num­bers and went out in the 500 ses­sions. Then on the last prac­tice on the Fri­day af­ter­noon I fi­nally rode the 500, boy that thing was quick.” His first race in Europe was the 1963 Bel­gian Grand Prix, but he looked like fail­ing to qual­ify, and says that Jack Ahearn put him in his van and drove around the cir­cuit many times to show him the line. “If Jack hadn’t shown me the way, I would never have got the hang of that track. I fin­ished 32nd, and 8th the next year. His first win came in Septem­ber at Lax­en­burg, near Vi­enna. De­spite crash­ing in the ear­lier 350 race, he came through the field to win the Se­nior by 9 sec­onds from lo­cal rid­ers Ed­die Lenz and Rudi Thal­ham­mer. An­other win came at Zolder, Bel­gium in the 350cc class, with se­cond in the 500 on the G45 Match­less he had also pur­chased in Eng­land. The re­sults led to an of­fer from the Bu­dapest club to com­pete in their races around a street cir­cuit, which came with cer­tain con­di­tions. “They wanted the lo­cal champ, Ge­orges Ku­rucz, to win the 500 race, and we would share the money equally. I won the 350 and could have done the same in the 500, but I hung back to let him win. I had an ex-works G45 Match­less then, and I was go­ing to make sure he worked hard for the win, but I locked the front wheel and dropped it and broke my col­lar­bone. This was a real han­dling prob­lem with the G45 and I was go­ing to change the steer­ing head

an­gle to stop it do­ing this. The Bu­dapest club wanted my G45, but un­der the Com­mu­nists this was tricky, so we did a deal. They had a 7R and so they al­tered the num­bers be­cause I needed to get out over the bor­der with the same stuff that I’d brought into Hun­gary, so the club put the G45 en­gine and frame num­bers on the 7R and painted the tank like the Match­less and I took that out in­stead. When I got back to Vi­enna I re­ceived a let­ter from the doc­tor who looked af­ter my shoul­der which said ‘Please don’t come back to Bu­dapest be­cause they will put you in gaol’. Some­body squeaked. I went back af­ter the com­mu­nists were gone and no­body said any­thing!” Ron’s wife, Magda, whom he met in Mel­bourne, was Aus­trian, so he based him­self in her home town of Vi­enna where he at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Hans Hess, who had a suc­cess­ful car­pet busi­ness and who agreed to spon­sor him. “Hans went to the casino in Vi­enna and won enough to buy a 305cc Honda CR77 pro­duc­tion racer, as well as a CR72 250. At one meet­ing on the Salzburg au­to­bahn, I was eas­ily lead­ing the 250 race when he hung out a sign say­ing ‘mo­tor de­fect’. This puz­zled me be­cause the bike was fly­ing and then I re­alised that I had gone out on the 305 in­stead of the 250, so I dropped back just out of the ma­jor plac­ings. Hans reck­oned he could per­suade Honda into sell­ing him a 500 class bike, but he went to the casino again and this time he blew 140,00 Dm, so that was the end of that.”

His rac­ing am­bi­tions re­ceived a jolt – lit­er­ally – in 1966 when he was hit by a car; the in­juries putting him out of rac­ing for a while. At the end of the 1955 sea­son, Du­cati had in­vited him to test ride their 4 cylin­der 125 at Ri­mini. The test went well, but Ron sug­gested mod­i­fi­ca­tions needed to be made to the chas­sis as the steer­ing head needed repo­si­tion­ing. “When Du­cati in­vited me back for a se­cond test on the mod­i­fied 125, I had a has­sle with the ACU of Vic­to­ria over my li­cence re­newal so I ended up tak­ing out a Ger­man li­cence. I was pre­par­ing to fly from Vi­enna to Bologna. I went out to the trans­porter, I had my new Ger­man li­cence, and I was get­ting my bag with my leathers and gear out to fly to Bologna, and I’m lock­ing the trans­porter door when a hoon came round the cor­ner out of the main street and into the side street too fast and ran over me and split my head open. I had frac­tured ribs, a bro­ken col­lar­bone, and my hand was messed up, but the big­gest prob­lem was that I lost my mem­ory. It took a long time for my mem­ory to come back and doc­tors were wor­ried I had a blood clot in my head and were fright­ened to op­er­ate so I couldn’t race.”

It was a ma­jor set­back for his promis­ing ca­reer, which had also seen him test ride works 50cc and 80cc rac­ers from the Yu­gosla­vian To­mos fac­tory, as well as sev­eral rides on 125cc and 250cc Bul­ta­cos. “My Ger­man spon­sor Hans Hess was do­ing con­cret­ing work in Iraq at Hil­lah, 100km out­side Bagh­dad, so I used to go down there with a big Mercedes truck and pick up loads of ce­ment and act as me­chanic for their ma­chin­ery. When we needed spares he would just put me in an aero­plane and fly me back to Ger­many – the ma­chines were op­er­a­tional 24 hours a day. Hans had con­tracts to build an ex­ten­sion to a mil­i­tary cloth­ing fac­tory and looked like get­ting the con­tract to build the run­way for a new mil­i­tary air­port. Then we found out that Iraq was about to go to war against Iran and all the Ger­mans and Ital­ians work­ing there pulled out. It was while I was out there in the heat that my mem­ory came back.” With his in­juries healed and mem­ory re­turned, Ron stepped back into com­pe­ti­tion, rid­ing 250 and 350 Aer­ma­c­chis with some help from the fac­tory. In an ef­fort to keep the Ital­ian sin­gles com­pet­i­tive, he took his ideas on chas­sis de­sign to the Rick­man Brothers in Eng­land, who con­structed a frame to his spec­i­fi­ca­tions for his 350 en­gine. “We took the Aer­ma­c­chi with the Rick­man frame – un-plated in bare metal – to Thrux­ton and tested it, and it went very well so we pulled it apart and had the frame nickel plated and I took it back to Ger­many.” But the two-strokes were com­ing and Ron could see the writ­ing on the wall. He pur­chased an air-cooled Suzuki TR500 twin from mul­ti­ple Ger­man Cham­pion Lothar John, and this ‚

was soon joined by a 250cc TD2 Yamaha. “Ev­ery time I raced the Suzuki at Hock­en­heim it would burn a hole in a pis­ton and we couldn’t work out why. Lothar had made the heads him­self and they were sand cast and were por­ous and the sand holes would glow, so go­ing through the pine for­est in Hock­en­heim with more oxy­gen in the air it would burn a hole in the pis­ton. I’d led sev­eral times at Hock­en­heim on this 500, I had it go­ing real quick.“By now, Ron had set up in busi­ness for him­self in Vi­enna, sell­ing Du­catis and duty-free Tri­umphs im­ported from Eng­land, which he flogged to the US ser­vice­men sta­tioned in the area. He branched out into café racer equip­ment, im­port­ing big quan­ti­ties of ac­ces­sories like fuel tanks, ex­haust pipes, rear set footrests and seats from Paul Dun­stall. The busi­ness boomed, and he be­gan sup­ply­ing agents, hav­ing much of the Dun­stall-in­spired gear made lo­cally, as well as English-made con­trol cables which he bought by the thou­sands. “I was sup­ply­ing Aus­tria, Ger­many, plus Padua and Mi­lan in Italy. I had a Ford Tran­sit van that I put a V6 in with a hot cam and three dou­ble We­ber carbs, and a Zepher gear­box with over­drive. I could cruise at 200, blow a Porsche off. I was go­ing back and forth to Eng­land via the south of France, where all the per­fume is made. I’d buy the per­fume in big 2 litre bot­tles, and then I’d buy hun­dreds of lit­tle de­canter bot­tles and stash them away in the trans­porter and take them to Eng­land with me and some of the whole­salers in Birm­ing­ham would buy it from me and de­cant it for the cus­tomers’ wives. It was good busi­ness.

Cus­toms of­fi­cers in Bel­gium would get their bot­tle of whisky, I would stop in a mo­tel and write in­voices and send those to my cus­toms agent in Vi­enna. The cus­toms of­fi­cers on the bor­der would get a box with a thou­sand tea bags in it. I had the rack­ets go­ing!” Ron eased off rac­ing and opened a busi­ness in Man­heim in 1973, but later be­came in­volved in a Ger­man se­ries for 500cc Four Stroke bikes. “You could ride any­thing as long it was a four stroke un­der 500cc. I had a friend from BASF Chem­i­cal works who en­tered me on a VF500 Honda twin. It was quick but the oth­ers all had stream­lin­ing and I didn’t. I rode that up to the end of 1996. In that 500 class I tu­tored a cou­ple of rid­ers and one of them won the cham­pi­onship”. By now Ron was 63, but as en­thu­si­as­tic as ever when it came to mo­tor­cy­cles and mak­ing them go faster. At Man­heim he had a small busi­ness work­ing on Porsches, su­per­bikes and Honda tur­bos. He con­tin­ued his no­madic ex­is­tence by es­cort­ing, and some­times driv­ing, heavy mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles in north­ern Europe. The work in­volved mov­ing gi­gan­tic equip­ment across the con­ti­nent, which had to be done at night to avoid traf­fic and lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems by day. The work was tough and the hours long – he says he still has trou­ble sleep­ing nor­mal hours af­ter do­ing all-nighters for so long. “I did over a mil­lion kilo­me­tres at night – the au­thor­i­ties wanted you off the roads in the day­time. An English com­pany would ring me and I would meet them at Aachen on the Dutch/Ger­man bor­der. I had a tele­fax in the car and put the pa­pers into the fax to my boss – I op­er­ated on the move. I es­corted tank trans­porters and con­voys from ‘96 through to 2006.” Aus­tralia seemed a very dis­tant mem­ory by late 2006, when he re­ceived the news that his mother had passed away in Mel­bourne. Tem­po­rar­ily (he thought) clos­ing his busi­ness in Man­heim, Ger­many, Ron headed home to sort things out. “When I came home that was only go­ing to be for a few weeks to or­gan­ise my mother’s affairs be­cause I had to get back to my busi­ness. I stayed a bit longer be­cause I’d lent some money to some­body. I had a rally Porsche 924 Turbo 932 in stor­age and the peo­ple were away so I bought this Du­cati 905 Paso. I was do­ing a bit of diesel gen­er­a­tor ser­vic­ing and I’d just take my tools and jump on the Du­cati”. While vis­it­ing Phillip Is­land, Ron took the Du­cati from Cowes to the bay side town of Rhyll – a nar­row road that had once formed part of the mo­tor­cy­cle grand prix road cir­cuit in the ‘twen­ties. “A wallaby jumped out of the scrub and hit me fair in the hip, which was badly bro­ken. It just knocked me off the bike and the po­lice could find no traces of the wallaby, so I don’t think they be­lieved me – but I had the bruis­ing.” The in­jury had se­vere reper­cus­sions, with com­pli­ca­tions aris­ing which needed ex­ten­sive and ex­pen­sive treat­ment. “The doc­tors said that the bruis­ing on the leg was likely to cause a blood clot if I flew back to Europe. I got some very bad ad­vice and had in­cor­rect drugs pre­scribed which have caused me no end of pain and prob­lems. It is my great­est dis­ap­point­ment in life that I can no longer ride mo­tor­cy­cles.” Due to this strange twist of fate, the ac­ci­dent was to sig­nal the end of his time in Europe. Had it not been for an er­rant wallaby, Ron may still be rac­ing, or at least rid­ing in His­toric events. Or he may have re­turned to his adopted home of Ger­many and con­tin­ued his busi­ness in­ter­ests – he was never short of an idea for a money-mak­ing scheme. Th­ese days Ron’s mo­bil­ity is se­verely re­stricted but he is oc­ca­sion­ally to be seen at events like the Broad­ford Bo­nanza, and al­ways en­joys a chat about his rac­ing days in Europe, the bikes he has had a hand in de­vel­op­ing, and the char­ac­ters that he met over half a cen­tury trav­el­ling the length and breadth of Con­ti­nen­tal Europe.

With the ex-Alan Trow 500 Nor­ton in 1964. Work­ing on his 7R AJS at Dar­ley, circa 1958. RIGHT Aboard the G45 at Sym­mons Plains, 1960.

Com­ing off the bridge at Long­ford on the G45 in1960. A change of pace. On a 300cc Lilac twin in 1960 in the Dar­ley Pro­duc­tion Race.

Lead­ing Kel Car­ruthers’ 25-4 Honda at Mal­lala in 1960.

Show­ing nice style on the 350 Nor­ton at Vic­to­ria Park, Bal­larat in March 1961.

TOP Head­ing for vic­tory at Bathurst in 1961. ABOVE On the 350 Nor­ton at Long­ford, Tas­ma­nia in 1961. BELOW Ron (right) con­grat­u­lates win­ner Ge­orge Kurutz in Vi­enna. BOT­TOM Ron (left) en­joy­ing a vic­tory lap at Lax­em­burg, Aus­tria.

ABOVE Ron at the bot­tom of Bray Hill dur­ing the 1966 Ju­nior TT. BELOW On the TR500 at Hock­en­heim, 1974. ABOVE Ron’s TR500 with lo­cal me­chanic. RIGHT Rac­ing a TD2 Yamaha in 1974.

TOP Last lap. Ron on the VF500 Honda on which he con­tested the Ger­man For­mula 500 se­ries. ABOVE Rob Robin­son, with his char­ac­ter­is­tic cheeky grin, in 2015.

LEFT Ron on the TR500 Suzuki at Nur­bur­gring in 1972. RIGHT On the 80cc WMS (Willi Metscher Spe­cial) in 1985.

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