From our Old Bike Archives – Issue 76 – first published in 2018.
Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Rob Lewis, Michael Andrews, Geoff Neild, Merv Whitelaw, Taylor archives.
It’s not uncommon to graduate from motocross to road racing, but solo motocross to sidecar road racing is rare. And to reach the top in both disciplines is rarer still. Geoff Taylor did it, while building a successful motorcycle business along the way.
Geoff grew up at Pakenham Upper, east of Melbourne, where his parents had an apple orchard, and therein lies a tale. “I used to eat apples all the time,” says Geoff, “but the acid in the apples rotted my teeth out, so I had to have dentures.” His first motorcycle was a 125cc CZ, which he purchased when just 14 years of age. Not entirely coincidentally, 14 became Geoff’s racing number throughout his entire career. “I must have had a mechanical inclination because one day I decided to pull the motor to bits to see what made it tick,” says Geoff. “Of course putting the barrel back on I broke the rings, but it was a learning curve.” Four years later, armed with new teeth and a well-used 350cc AJS, Geoff joined Dandenong club and began racing. “I was the only guy who had a car at the time. I borrowed 400 quid off the old man and still owed him 400 quid years later. I took it to the Dandenong club meeting and I thought I may as well join while I am here. I went to a few club race meetings and I thought I can beat some of these guys, so went in my first race and won it by about half a lap. It was a Gippsland Centre meeting which was no big deal but I ended up in the main race and I got third and actually led it for a while so that was quite a good start.”
The bug had bitten hard, and very soon Geoff was on the lookout for more competitive machinery, which came in the form of a B32 Gold Star BSA, purchased from road racer Dick Reid. “I won my first Victorian Championship on that BSA. Then I got picked up by Athol Patterson, who had a dealership in Springvale, to ride a 250cc Cotton while I rode for a while and had quite a bit of success on. On the Cotton I won a 500 Australian title in Tasmania. I led every race on the day at some stage but this was the only race it finished, it was a really wet meeting and it kept getting water in the works. Athol Paterson was a Rickman Metisse agent and he supplied the engine and other parts and I had to buy the chassis kit off him. I built that up over my honeymoon and I ended up winning the Grand National on it in 1966.”
By the mid ‘sixties the British bikes were under threat from the new wave of European motocrossers, and like many others, Geoff opted for a Bultaco Pursang. This was to be the beginning of a long association with Bultaco importer Bert Flood. “After I bought the Bultaco I ended up getting sponsored by Bert, who was a real character. As well as riding motocross, I also did a bit of road racing at that time on a Bultaco. I went to Bathurst and he entered me in the Production Race on a Metralla and the 250s were in with the Unlimited bikes. Bert entered late so I was at the back of the grid and it was a kick start, but at the end of the first lap I was 4th outright. It had been modified, Bert had been “into it” but I didn’t know, and it was passing every other 250 down the straight but I locked the front brake into Hell Corner and dropped it, so that was it. I did a few meetings on that bike, but it wasn’t that reliable, it seized a few times. We went to Oran Park and Bert was still riding then. He wanted me to ride the 125 Bultaco but he would only let me do one lap in practice on it, because he didn’t want to wear it out. I was on the front row of the grid with Atlee and Hindle and all these guys – I’d never ridden a bike with dropped bars before. Anyway it wouldn’t start and I was a long way behind, so it all came to nothing, but Bert was a great guy, he was a lunatic. He let me drive his Ferrari and we were on the freeway doing 120 mph and he says ‘Get into it!’ and the other time he had a GT Falcon and we were going for a drive down the back street of Box Hill where he had his shop and he said, “Get it on the second barrel!” Second barrel? I was going down these side streets and intersections! How he lived that long I don’t know.”
Still concentrating on motocross, Geoff rode a variety of machinery including a 360 Maico owned by the then-Victorian agents Modak. A 360 CZ owned by Frank Mussett, and a string of Yamahas – 125, 250 and 360 MX models. But the pressure of running his dealership in Dandenong caused his enthusiasm for off-road racing to wane and for a while he concentrated on business. Perhaps inevitably, the period of leisure didn’t last long.
“In 1972 I stopped solos. I had always wanted to race cars but it was expensive and I had the bike shop to look after then so it was pretty hard to justify it. I’d been retired from MX for a couple of years and Barry Frazer talked me into thinking about sidecar road racing. I met Barry socially and used to trail ride with him and a group of others. He used to ride passenger with a guy named John Smith before I met him. He was a good rider but was very highly stressed. We went to Sandown in about 1975 when they had a round of the Australian Road Racing titles and we watched that. So we bought a bike off Peter Campbell; it was just a chassis with no engine – one that he had raced – and we pulled the motor out of a standard Z900, a second hand bike we had on the floor, and went to Winton. The track was closed so we put the outfit under a fence and did a few practice laps. Barry was stuffed after about 10 laps, he couldn’t hang on, and that was all the practice we had, but then we went to Adelaide Raceway and got second there on the standard motor. So then we got some Yoshimura stuff into it and started doing well.”
The transition from solo motocross bikes to ‘kneeler’ sidecar outfits was a step into the unknown, but it took very little time for Geoff to adjust and for the Taylor/Frazer team to begin establishing themselves as major players in the sidecar ranks. Within twelve months they had won the Victorian Championship and were eyeing bigger things, and not just locally. In November 1975, Taylor and Frazer were part of the Australian contingent at the Indonesian Grand Prix, where they finished overall second to South Australian Alex Campbell in the two-leg Sidecar GP. There was no turning back now, and a full season was planned for 1976 that would include the six-round Australian Road Racing Championships, with Bathurst that year as the third round. The year actually began with the high profile but ultimately controversial Australian Grand Prix at Laverton, where Geoff and Barry once again played second fiddle to Alex Campbell. The pattern continued at the first few rounds of the Australian Championships at Tasmania, Mount Gambier and Bathurst. The Peterbuilt Kawasaki was quick and reliable but usually no match for the TZ750-powered outfits, but Geoff and Barry won the fourth and fifth rounds meaning they did not need to travel to WA for the final round, having already clinched the Senior Sidecar title.
When the 1977 series began in Tasmania, Geoff and Barry took the Kawasaki to a convincing win in the Senior class, but a more significant event took place in the pits. “In Tassie, Orrie Salter had his TZ Yamaha for sale. It was a Windle chassis so we bought that off Orrie. He told me the motor had done 50 miles and the first meeting we did was at Sandown and it did a crank. Mick Smith who looked after Jeffrey Sayle gave us a crank to use. However by the time of the second title round at Oran Park, the bugs had been sorted out and Geoff won both Junior and Senior classes. “We put 250 barrels on one side to give 625cc – think Alec Campbell came up with that idea – it didn’t vibrate and it was nearly as fast as the 750. The first time on the Yamaha at Bathurst we won the Junior with a new lap record, and we led in the Senior but the chain was touching the frame and it flicked the clip off.” Another double win followed at Sandown round of the Championship and following the Lakeside round where they won the Junior, both Championship classes had been sewn up with a round still to go in WA.
Geoff and Barry contested the Australian Road Racing Championships until 1983, winning a total of five Junior and seven Senior/Unlimited titles, including double titles in 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1982. They also made the trip to Bathurst each year, taking a record 14 wins in either Junior or Senior/Unlimited Classes. In their final appearance in 1983, they took two wins and established a new outright lap record of 2 minutes 27.43 seconds. Barry Frazer passed away in 1993 as a result of a brain tumour.
Although Taylor and Frazer won races all over Australia, Mount Panorama was always a favourite. “I reckon Bathurst was fantastic. A lot of people didn’t like it but we certainly did. In 1980 we bought a new Windle from Terry Windle in England and raced it as a 750 and 500, because they had changed the Junior Sidecar class from 650cc to 500cc. We used that until we stopped in 1983. My kids were starting to ride Motocross and we’d had a good run, I’d enjoyed all of it but you’ve got to call it quits at some stage. I was fortunate – I won the first race I went in and I won the last race. Having said that I did ride at PhilIip Island in 2006 when Max Hooper lent me his outfit. He asked me if I’d like to ride his bike and I said ‘If I can take it out somewhere first.’ Well that never happened, so we had no practice and I couldn’t change gears because the pedal was too far back, but we ended up coming second. I was tempted to come back but I ended up buying a Torana XU1 and did a bit of historic car racing for a couple of years then bought a Mustang for historic touring cars. My son Cameron still races in Over 40s Motocross and he won several Australian MX titles. I sold the motorcycle business at Dandenong five years ago, so since then we have been able to travel at fair bit with our caravan. I also play golf (badly). I raced bikes for 23 years and only ever broke a collarbone.”
Few have enjoyed such a success and injury-free career as Geoff Taylor. In his nine years of Sidecar competition he raced in what was a Golden Era for the three wheelers, against top riders like Alex Campbell, Stan and Steve Bayliss, Orrie Salter, Peter Campbell, Graeme Dewhurst, Greg Neal, Bob Martin, Barry Horner, Gavin Porteous, Vince Genova and Doug Chivas, to name just a few, and had the measure of all. He has the rare distinction of winning Australian Championships on both solos and sidecars, and in motocross and road racing. Possibly only the late Ken Rumble can match that claim.