Brian Collins Speed­way and busi­ness

For Brian Collins, now a fit and healthy 83 year old, the path to be­com­ing Syd­ney’s largest mo­tor­cy­cle dealer be­gan with a sim­ple de­ci­sion. “I was 34, I was earn­ing $100 a week and pay­ing $21 in tax, and with eight chil­dren, we were liv­ing on the smell of

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scaysbrook with as­sis­tance from Brian Darby (www.vin­tage­speed­way.com) Pho­tos Brian Darby, Rob Lewis, Brian Collins.

Brian was called up for Na­tional Ser­vice while still in his teens. “I was part of the 8th In­take for the RAF, sta­tioned in Can­berra. I can still re­mem­ber rid­ing a Tri­umph down there (from Syd­ney) on a Sun­day night in the middle of win­ter. It was cold as hell”. Af­ter com­plet­ing his ser­vice, Brian’s work­ing life com­menced be­hind the counter with Wool­worths, but it was a very short space of time be­fore he be­gan a rapid climb up the com­pany lad­der to be­come a store man­ager at just 22 years of age. “To be­come a man­ager, it was nec­es­sary to

un­der­take a train­ing scheme, and usu­ally it took two years for ju­niors to com­plete the course and six months for se­niors. I was 20 but I got onto the se­niors course and by the time I was 22 I was man­ag­ing a store. I’ve al­ways main­tained that Wool­worths didn’t teach me any­thing, but I learned a bloody lot off Wool­worths. At the time, ev­ery hun­dred po­ten­tial man­agers they put on the scheme, 96 fell by the way­side. It was a tough, tough place. They had this men­tal­ity that the harder they thumped you, the bet­ter you are. It was their way of forc­ing you to be a com­pany man.” He took up the first of six store man­ager po­si­tions with the com­pany in Mos­man (on Syd­ney’s lower north shore), although he lived clear across the other side of town at Sefton.

Back­track­ing just a lit­tle, there was one other in­ter­est in Brian’s life, or two ac­tu­ally; speed­way and his girl­friend and soon-to-be wife, Betty. The in­ter­est in speed­way stemmed from a visit around Christ­mas in 1946 to Cum­ber­land Oval, which now lays be­neath the be­he­moth that is Par­ra­matta Foot­ball Sta­dium. He was im­me­di­ately hooked, and be­gan an achingly slow process to save the price of a speed­way JAP, which he even­tu­ally pur­chased in 1952 for £125 from Dick Seers. At the age of 18, Brian made his speed­way de­but on 14th Fe­bru­ary 1953 at the Syd­ney Sports Ground, but it was a tough school and the ma­chine was tired. Even­tu­ally he pur­chased a new frame from the 1952 Aus­tralian cham­pion Keith Ryan and this turned his for­tunes around – his first win came in De­cem­ber 1954. He never missed a meet­ing, rid­ing at both the

Syd­ney Sports Ground and the neigh­bour­ing Show­ground as well as Cum­ber­land Oval and West­mead, both at Par­ra­matta, but he and Betty did find time to get mar­ried and es­cape for a short hon­ey­moon aboard a Vin­cent Rapide with a Tilbrook side­car, which was sold soon af­ter. “I was madly try­ing to sell the bike, with ba­bies com­ing and all that sort of thing, but got no tak­ers, so I sold the Vin­cent to Col Crothers, who had sev­eral deal­er­ships at Par­ra­matta, for one hun­dred pounds. I think he sold it within a cou­ple of days for one hun­dred and fifty pounds. I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I do that? This deal­er­ship idea must be a good idea’, so I stuck that in the back of my head.” In 1956 Brian took out the NSW Ju­nior Cham­pi­onship – ‘Ju­nior’ in the sense that it was a sec­ond-tier di­vi­sion and fe­ro­ciously com­pet­i­tive. An in­vi­ta­tion to join the Lon­don club Wim­ble­don fol­lowed but Brian was not tempted, pre­fer­ring to con­tinue his ca­reer with Wool­worths and look af­ter his in­creas­ing fam­ily com­mit­ments. In the Se­nior ranks, he racked up a string of top placings in the 3-lap NSW Cham­pi­onships and fi­nally stood on the top step of the ros­trum in 1960 when he de­feated Scot Ken McKin­lay at the Show­ground. Later in the sea­son he also won the 4-lap Cham­pi­onship at West­mead. Such was his form at the big Syd­ney Show­ground, Brian was a reg­u­lar mem­ber of the Aus­tralian side in the an­nual test matches against Eng­land, and in 1961 de­feated for­mer World Cham­pion Jack Young and emerg­ing New Zealan­der star Ivan Mauger to take a third NSW ti­tle. On his home track in 1965, he fin­ished sec­ond to his close friend Bob Sharp in the Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onship. Amaz­ingly, in a speed­way ca­reer that spanned 15 years, he never raced out­side New South Wales, and in an era of the sport that was des­per­ately danger­ous, he suf­fered no in­juries, apart from bruised ribs when he was hit by a rid­er­less bike. “I worked six days a week and had a large fam­ily to sup­port – I couldn’t af­ford to hurt my­self. I never had a day off work or a ride in an am­bu­lance from speed­way rac­ing or mo­tor­cy­cling gen­er­ally.” On 10th Fe­bru­ary, 1968, Brian had his last ride at the Syd­ney Show­ground. It was the end of a long and suc­cess­ful ca­reer, but the be­gin­ning of a whole new chap­ter in his life. “I wanted to get into a busi­ness of my own of some sort, and the Ja­panese bikes were com­ing in and there was this com­pany in South Granville, McCul­loch, so I went and saw them and said, ‘What’s the chance of get­ting a fran­chise?’. They asked where, and I said Par­ra­matta. They replied, ‘Thank God for that. We’ve been try­ing to get into Par­ra­matta but no one will go there be­cause of Barry Ryan (the long es­tab­lished fam­ily busi­ness Ryan’s of Par­ra­matta). So I found an ex-butcher’s shop at 8486 Church Street, just down the road from Ryan’s. There had been a fire and it was gut­ted, so I got into it with a few blokes and we did it all up and painted it and put mir­rors on the walls, new lights and put car­pet on the floor with a new shop front. The lit­tle

old lady that I rented it off, Mrs Snape, who lived in an old place a few doors away, was re­ally wor­ried and I promised her that if it didn’t work I would put it back the way it was! I had a few Woolies’ shares, sold them, got my hol­i­day pay and my sev­er­ance pay and went to the bank and bor­rowed $2,000 against our house. When I opened the shop in 1968 we were $300 in the red, we had eight kids, and I’d never sold a bike in my life. “As much as I had raced speed­way and had mo­tor bikes I am not a me­chanic and re­ally don’t know much about mo­tor­cy­cles. So we opened up and I sold 30 new Bridge­stones in the first month, 29 the sec­ond month and 43 the third and 32 the fourth, so by the end of the first quar­ter I was the big­gest Bridge­stone dealer in the coun­try and out-sell­ing Barry Ryan two-to-one. McCul­loch were very good to me, and they said to help me get started they would give me three months credit free, and on day 90 I walked in with a cheque for $17,193 and plonked it on the desk of Mr Ricks (McCul­loch MD). We had been sell­ing bikes through CAGA (Com­mer­cial and Gen­eral Ac­cep­tance) fi­nance for about four months and one day this bloke walks through the door and says ‘I’m sorry for be­ing so late with this,’ and dumps this cheque on my desk for two or three thou­sand dol­lars. I said, ‘What’s this?’ and he said it was com­mis­sion for all the busi­ness we had been putting through CAGA – I didn’t know we were get­ting com­mis­sion! Then an­other bloke walked in the door – amaz­ingly enough – the store man­ager at Wool­worths in Mos­man who had left when I took over – who was now work­ing for Western In­surance, with a cheque for two or three grand for com­mis­sion on the in­surance poli­cies we’d sold. I’d made more money in those six months than I did at Woolies in two years – I had money stick­ing out of my ears!” Then we deal­ers went to a meet­ing at the Syd­ney Show­ground, of all places, in the Roth­mans Pavil­ion. McCul­lochs told us that Bridge­stone was go­ing out of the mo­tor­cy­cle busi­ness, and we’d only been in the game for seven or eight months so I thought, ‘Here we go’. But then they wheeled this Bridge­stone out the door and wheeled this Yamaha in and said, ‘As of now you’re Yamaha deal­ers’. Sens­ing the Bridge­stone move, McCul­loch had gained the NSW Yamaha fran­chise from Tom Byrne, with an ef­fi­cient dealer net­work al­ready in place. So with a sim­ple change of sig­nage, Brian Collins Yamaha opened its doors in Par­ra­matta and typ­i­cally be­came a ma­jor player in a much larger and more com­pet­i­tive dealer net­work. So com­pet­i­tive, that soon Yamaha’s main ri­val was knock­ing on the door. “Honda weren’t go­ing very well at all. Their dealer in Par­ra­matta was Rolls Mo­tors, a car dealer, and one day Stan Buck­ing­ham from (NSW Dis­trib­u­tor) Ben­nett Honda walked in our door and said hello to ev­ery­one in his usual happy-go-lucky way, and af­ter a bit of small talk he sat down and of­fered us the Honda deal­er­ship. In those days you couldn’t have Honda and Yamaha to­gether, but for­tu­nately Mrs Snape had an empty shop next door, so we rented that, ren­o­vated it and put Honda in there un­der the name of Par­ra­matta Mo­tor Cy­cles. My brother Den­nis, who was also a Wool­worths man­ager, left them and came to work for me.” With the two top brands, the sky was the limit for Brian Collins and his ever-ex­pand­ing team. Brian formed a spon­sor­ship al­liance with Brian Hin­dle and with as­sis­tance from Yamaha, supplied him with a fleet of rac­ers from 125 to 700cc on which the quiet Syd­ney chemist scored in­nu­mer­able vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing a fa­mous win over Gi­a­como Agostini’s works MV Agusta at Oran Park. With the ac­qui­si­tion of the Honda fran­chise, Brian and Den­nis en­tered a CB750K2 in the 1971 Cas­trol Six Hour Race, which was be­ing broad­cast live on ABC tele­vi­sion for the first time. Rid­ers Hin­dle and Clive Knight prac­ticed at Ama­roo Park al­most daily in the lead up to the race, work­ing out ex­actly how fast they would need to lap to reach the fin­ish line first. It was a typ­i­cally thor­ough op­er­a­tion, both in the pits and on the track. By half dis­tance the team was two laps in front, with Hin­dle cir­cu­lat­ing with metro­nomic pre­ci­sion, con­serv­ing fuel and cru­cially, the rear tyre. At the che­quered flag, the win­ning mar­gin was three laps.

Brian kept in close con­tact with his for­mer speed­way ri­val Bob Sharp, a builder who car­ried out much of the ren­o­va­tion and con­struc­tion work on the shops and later built a new house at nearby North Rocks for Brian and Betty and their large fam­ily which had reached the round fig­ure of ten chil­dren.

“I’d made more money in those six months than I did at Woolies in two years – I had money stick­ing out of my ears!”

It was Sharp who came up with the idea of at­tempt­ing an as­sault on Aus­tralian Land Speed Records on Lake Le­froy in Western Aus­tralia – a salt flat near Kal­go­or­lie, 51 kilo­me­tres long and 19 km wide. Sharp had his twin-en­gined Tri­umph drag­ster on which he aimed to break 200 mph, and with some sup­port from CAGA, Yamaha and TAA, Collins as­sem­bled a squad of three Yama­has for Hin­dle, plus a 50cc Yamaha built from a JT1 mini bike for him­self. Sharp was aim­ing to bet­ter the World Fly­ing Kilo­me­tre record of 293.92 km/h, and in the process, beat Jack For­rest’s Aus­tralian mark of 238.51 km/h, set on a 500cc BMW way back in 1957 on a nar­row, bumpy coun­try road near Coon­abarabran. As it turned out, Sharp’s Tri­umph gave all sorts of trou­ble and he failed to com­plete a run. Hin­dle, on the other hand, gath­ered records from 125cc up, and in the fi­nal mo­ments of the third and fi­nal day on the 350, man­aged to nar­rowly eclipse For­rest’s time with an av­er­age run of 240.48 km/h. Aboard the tiny 50cc stream­liner, Collins him­self gath­ered a clutch of new records in the 50, 75 and 100cc classes.

Back in the real world, Collins con­tin­ued to ex­pand his mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ship em­pire, build­ing a new show­room at Kingswood to add to the Par­ra­matta stores, an­other at Pen­rith, and a replica of the Par­ra­matta show­room at Black­town – in mo­tor­cy­cling terms, he con­trolled the en­tire western area of Syd­ney with its bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion. With son Mark at the helm, an­other store and a wreck­ing busi­ness was es­tab­lished in Dubbo in cen­tral western New South Wales. A for­mer Holden show­room at Kingswood was also ac­quired with a plan to sell Honda cars from the site.

Collins’ ap­proach to sell­ing mo­tor­cy­cles rev­o­lu­tionised the busi­ness, at least in New South Wales. For gen­er­a­tions, mo­tor­cy­cle shops had been dingy, dirty places with lit­tle thought as to pre­sen­ta­tion, and even less to cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion. All the Collins deal­er­ships were bright, airy places, with car­peted floors and fa­cil­i­ties to en­cour­age cus­tomers to rel­ish the ex­pe­ri­ence. An ex­am­ple of his in­ge­nu­ity and sense of tim­ing was the open­ing in 1972 of the some­what cu­ri­ously named Trail Pad as part of the Par­ra­matta com­plex. Trail bikes were boom­ing and Collins saw the dual-pur­pose ma­chines as a seg­ment in its own right, with an iden­ti­fi­able cus­tomer pro­file. For the of­fi­cial open­ing, he sent in­vi­ta­tions to lo­cal and state gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials as well as ra­dio and tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ties, with the Mayor of Par­ra­matta present and the NSW Min­is­ter for Trans­port, the Hon. Peter Cox MP per­form­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony. “In our big­gest month, we sold around 450 new and used mo­tor­cy­cles from the deal­er­ships. My sons Peter, John and Mark all worked in var­i­ous shops at some stage, and John moved to Nerang in Queens­land where he opened his own Yamaha shop.” But the eco­nomic cli­mate was chang­ing, and a defin­ing mo­ment came in 1983 with the de­val­u­a­tion of the Aus­tralian dol­lar by the Hawke La­bor gov­ern­ment, and the sub­se­quent float­ing of the cur­rency. In­ter­est rates soared, real wages dropped, and for busi­nesses like the Collins chain of mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ships with mort­gages and bank loans to ser­vice, it was a crip­pling blow. A ma­jor

set­back oc­curred when the promised sup­ply of new Honda cars failed to ma­te­ri­alise, forc­ing Collins into im­me­di­ate ac­tion with his St. Marys site. “I had been promised at least 15 cars a month by Honda and went ahead on this ba­sis. For rea­sons I won’t go into, all I got was one Honda car a week, and com­bined with the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion it was a disas­ter. I owed the bank $65o,000. Across the road from our site was a McDon­alds which was do­ing great busi­ness, so I rang up Pizza Hut and told them I had the per­fect site for them – high­way frontage, per­fect en­try and exit ac­cess, an es­tab­lished precinct for fast-food cus­tomers and so on. I told them I wanted $650,000, take it or leave it. They were ini­tially scep­ti­cal but came out for a look and de­cided im­me­di­ately to buy it. But clos­ing ev­ery­thing down wasn’t easy. I had around one hun­dred peo­ple work­ing for me and I was de­ter­mined to look af­ter them. They had worked hard for me and had their own fam­i­lies to pro­vide for. So even though I had de­cided to get out of the busi­ness, it took longer than it should have, all of which cost me a con­sid­er­able amount of money. I was 65 by the time I closed the last shop in 1999, so it was time to go.” When Brian Collins got into the mo­tor­cy­cle game, bikes had no for­mal or­gan­i­sa­tion in the mo­tor trade. Some re­tail­ers were mem­bers of the Moto Traders As­so­ci­a­tion, but the wages and con­di­tions awards ap­plied only to the car trade. With prompt­ing from the MTA pres­i­dent Don Hol­stock, Brian set up the Mo­tor­cy­cle Deal­ers Sec­tion and re­mained its chair­man for 18 years. He even­tu­ally be­came Metropoli­tan Vice Pres­i­dent with a seat on the coun­cil, which he held for six years. There were also no rules as to used mo­tor­cy­cle war­ranties, and when the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment cre­ated the Con­sumer Af­fairs Depart­ment, Brian was asked to look af­ter the mo­tor­cy­cle side. He put in place all the sys­tems and in­fras­truc­ture which served the in­ter­ests of both con­sumers and deal­ers. “I de­signed it the way I thought it should be, ba­si­cally for my own busi­ness, but I thought if it worked for me then it would work for ev­ery­one,” he says on re­flec­tion. He was also in­stru­men­tal in look­ing af­ter mo­tor­cy­cle in­ter­ests on the Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Re­pair In­dus­try Coun­cil – all these po­si­tions served while he was run­ning his own ex­ten­sive busi­ness chain. Fol­low­ing his re­tire­ment, Brian and Betty have bus­ied them­selves with their fam­ily, which now ex­tends to more than 30 grand­chil­dren. Son Mark also carved out a name for him­self in the same field that had made his fa­ther fa­mous – speed­way. Ini­tially as a solo rider, Mark em­u­lated his fa­ther by be­com­ing NSW Ju­nior Cham­pion, as well as NSW Un­der 21 Cham­pion, both in 1979, and raced in the British League from 1980 to 1982. He later switched to Go Karts, then to Com­pact Speed­cars, win­ning the state ti­tle in 2000, and then to full-on Speed­cars, win­ning a 20-lap Fea­ture at Par­ra­matta City Race­way – a feat not achieved by many driv­ers in their ca­reer. He went on to serve as Chief Ste­ward at Par­ra­matta City Race­way from 2005 – 2007.

To­day Brian main­tains the ac­tive life­style that has kept him fit and healthy. “I was 10 stone 2 when I left Na­tional Ser­vice and I am still ten stone two.” As a com­peti­tor he was ded­i­cated and de­ter­mined, but also con­scious of the need to stay in­jury-free to meet his fam­ily and work com­mit­ments. As a busi­ness­man, he brought a new level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try. And for a man who was for a con­sid­er­able time the largest mo­tor­cy­cle dealer in Syd­ney, with a Rolls Royce to get him about, he is re­mark­ably com­fort­able these days driv­ing a well-trav­elled Toy­ota Avalon. “A rel­a­tive of mine was a cab­bie and put 1.7 mil­lion kilo­me­tres on one of these cars, so I thought that’ll do me. I sup­pose I should get rid of it and get some­thing else, but it does ev­ery­thing I need very well.”

Bob Sharp on his twin-en­gined Tri­umph prior to the Lake Le­froy record at­tempts. Den­nis Collins, Clive Knight and Bryan Hin­dle af­ter win­ning the 1971 Cas­trol Six Hour Race at Ama­roo Park.

LEFT On his Brian Collins spon­sored Yama­has, Bryan Hin­dle was the man to beat in the early ‘seven­ties. ABOVE Bryan Hin­dle and team at Lake Le­froy, with the TR2-B Yamaha on which he broke Jack For­rest’s Aus­tralian Land Speed record.

‘Collins Cor­ner’ the last of the Par­ra­matta show­rooms. In­side the Trail Pad – a unique and timely ven­ture opened in 1972.

Brian Collins at the Cum­ber­land Oval track in Par­ra­matta. LEFT Brian re­ceiv­ing the NSW Cham­pi­onship tro­phy from ACU ste­ward Harry Bartrop.

A for­mi­da­ble trio; Bob Sharp, Brian Collins and Jim Airey, come up to the tapes at the Syd­ney Show­ground.

Ad­dress­ing the fans af­ter an­other win.

Brian in his Par­ra­matta deal­er­ship.

ABOVE A young Brian Collins in his im­mac­u­late black leathers. RIGHT A model of con­cen­tra­tion at the Syd­ney Show­ground, where he won two NSW Cham­pi­onships.

Brian and Betty Collins, 2017.

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