Waste not, want not.
Using components collected over many years, Tony Fitzpatrick has built a stunning and potent motorcycle with a rare and unusual powerplant.
The Fitzpatrick family have a strong motorcycling presence in the Newcastle region. Father Cliff, who passed away in February 2018, raced on the local speedways and was a prolific collector of motorcycles from an area that has always been a treasure trove of classic machines. Tony Fitzpatrick, whose BSA/Nourish special is the subject of our story, was a formidable competitor in the ferociously competitive and often ruthless sidecar ranks of the local dirt track scene, which at one stage boasted around half a dozen circuits in the Hunter region alone. Since his racing days ended, Tony has restored several of the incomplete machines rescued from early graves by his father. His brothers Peter and Terry are similarly entrenched in motorcycles, the former with a shop in Maitland and Terry with an enviable collection of solo Dirt Track and Speedway bikes. There was no hotter bed of competition than the Newcastle/Hunter area post war, with a breed of hard-as-nails racers on two and three wheels plying the tracks, which ranged from the speedway style circuits like Heddon Greta and Salty Creek to the vast Muswellbrook one-mile hillside circuit, as well as numerous others. Such was the depth of the sport that there was a meeting on somewhere in the region almost every weekend, and the leading riders like Norm Fraser, Dave O’Brien, Herb Jefferson and Jack Davies collected considerable prize money. In the sidecar ranks, the action was even more frenzied and aggressive. Jack Pearce, John Dunscombe, Gordon Hellyer, George Watson and Joe Cox all
excelled in this often rough-and-tumble form of the sport. In the early ‘seventies, perhaps the most consistently successful of all the ‘chairmen’ was Alan Rae, known to his friends as ‘Radiator’, another Hunter local who raced a lurid orange outfit with Robbie Keevers and later Peter Trappel in the sidecar. The Rae outfit, a device hardly knee-high, was conceived and built by Alan in conjunction with a bunch of mates and local enthusiasts, notably Stan Watkins, who built the 650cc Triumph engine. Running on alcohol and with careful but not extreme preparation, the engine was fast and very reliable. Tony Fitzpatrick says, “It was a bit of a community effort. Stan did the motor, Bill Rawlinson built the frame, Gordon Hellyer (Tony’s father-in-law and the 1960 Australian Sidecar Champion) cut down the BSA forks and fitted a 12-inch wheel from a scooter, and Alan Rae made the tank and mudguards.” To get the plot as low as possible, the top section of the BSA swinging arm frame was simply lopped off and the steering head repositioned. Rae and Keevers won the 1971 Australian Junior Sidecar Dirt Track title at Ipswich (Qld) in 1971, then both the Junior and Senior titles the following year at Amaroo Park in Sydney.
When Rae retired from riding, the outfit passed to Stan Watkins who reckoned an increase in power was needed to stay competitive with the new breed of outfits powered by multi-cylinder Japanese engines. Following a trip to England to take in some racing from the booming British grass track scene, Watkins returned with some rather overweight luggage. Packed inside several suitcases was an 850cc Nourish/Weslake twin engine. This power unit was actually conceived by the Rickman brothers, who had Weslake Engineering design an 8-valve cylinder head conversion for the venerable 650cc Triumph engine. The Rickmans planned to use this engine, which gave a healthy 20% increase in power from 700cc capacity, in their road going Metisse chassis, but the early versions were chronically unreliable – the Triumph bottom end repeatedly failing with disastrous results. Rickmans abandoned the idea but Weslake pressed on, producing their own engines in 500cc and 750cc form from 1971 with their own bottom end. These units proved strong and reliable, and later an 850cc version was added, with the choice of 360 or 180degree crankshafts. In 1977, with Weslake concentrating on their successful 500cc single cylinder speedway engines, Dave Nourish took over production of the twins at his factory in Leicestershire, and the 850, now called NRE (Nourish Racing Engineering) became the power unit of choice for British grass track racing. It’s an impressive unit, with a one-piece billet crankshaft machined from heat-treated nitrided steel, forged alloy con-rods with EN24 steel forged end caps, and lightweight racing pistons. Stan Watkins planned to replace the ageing Triumph engine in the Rae outfit with the NRE, which was completed in time for the Australian Dirt Track Championships at Seymour, Victoria in 1979, where it was ridden by Mick Farrell. Tony Fitzpatrick takes up the story. “It just wouldn’t run right, would not rev. George Watson rode it and hacked around with it, but he couldn’t get it to go either. Jim Gilbert fiddled with it and changed the cams. No-one wanted to ride it, they all said it was a heap of crap. I had a broken leg at the time and I was starting to come good, and Stan knew my old man really well. He said. ‘What’s your young bloke doing, tell him to come over and get the bike’. So I brought it home and I had a pretty good idea what was wrong with it, so I asked him if I could cut the mufflers off it and put a new set on because I reckoned there was too much fibreglass in the mufflers and that was what was wrong with it. He said ‘I think you’re barking up the wrong tree but do what you want because I’m over it’. So I cut the mufflers off it and took it to Cameron Park and it went like a rocket, so Stan says, ‘It’s yours now,’ and I’ve had it ever since. Once we got it going it just overtook all the four cylinder bikes”. The ex-Alan Rae outfit was modified to stay competitive, with leading link forks and larger wheels, but as Dirt Track racing waned in popularity, it was retired to the shed. Then when Rae’s former racing passenger Rob Keevers passed away, Tony Fitzpatrick was asked to display the outfit at the funeral, and decided to put the Triumph engine back in the frame to make it as original as possible. That left one NRE 850 engine sitting in the workshop, and a plan was hatched for its second life, a less stressful one away from the race track. Tony’s well equipped shed contains a trove of BSA components, so he decided to build a ‘Special’ to house the NRE engine. “It was built out of what I had – it’s just a bitza really. It has a standard A7 BSA frame, with a swinging arm from a FT500 Honda. I cut the end off the swinging arm and shortened it to achieve the same wheelbase as a Redline flat tracker. The rear hub is from a late model Triumph hub which I widened to suit the wider swinging arm. The rear disc rotor is from a Suzuki with a small Japanese caliper, but I tried not to use much Japanese stuff. The front forks are Ceriani from a Laverda, the rear shocks are Koni, and the front brake is a racing Lockheed which I got from Ian Cameron, for whom I worked for 20 years in Maitland. This brake came out from UK in a Rickman rolling chassis that was built to take a Honda 4. The tank is fibreglass in a Gold Star pattern. I bought a fibreglass seat base and had it upholstered locally. The engine has the 180 degree crank which makes it sound weird compared to normal Triumphs and BSAs with 360 degree cranks. It has 36mm Mk2 Amal Concentric carbs and it makes 85 horsepower at 7,500 rpm. The Norton AMC box has a belt drive primary. I did the paintwork myself and the chrome was done by Hamilton Chrome in Newcastle.” When the NRE engine was in the dirt track outfit, it ran a Lucas Rita ignition system with a total-loss battery, which would see it through a day’s competition on a single charge. In Tony’s creation, a Lucas Norton alternator was fitted inside the Norton primary cases to provide a reliable charging system. It bolted straight on and has been trouble-free. Tony’s ‘bitza’ was completed in time to be displayed at the annual Coalfields Classic Motorcycle Show in Greta in 2015, where it collared a major award. In fact, Tony has made rather a habit of winning trophies at this charity event, having won six years in a row with six different motorcycles. These include two vintage Harley-Davidsons, a Rudge Speedway bike and a 1929 Douglas that he restored for a friend. And there are plenty more to come from the Fitzpatrick workshop – watch this space!
“It was built out of what I had – it’s just a bitza really... standard A7 BSA frame, with a swinging arm from a FT500 Honda.”
Alan Rae and Peter Trappel on the original Triumph-powered Dirt Track outfit. The Alan Rae outfit as it is today, fitted again with Triumph engine. Tony still has the original front forks and wheels.
Paint is all Tony’s work. Fibreglass BSA style tank.