At the speedway during the early seventies there was no shortage of colour and sparkle. In fact it’s remarkable what enthusiasts still recall, as if it were yesterday. The era of the sixties was a distant memory, but city tracks were plentiful and the race equipment had hardly changed. The sweet exhaust aroma – remembered by many to this day – was still there and the unmuffled noise was still just as deafening.
For a few years yet, the sidecar wheel (and most of the bike) wasn’t covered by fibreglass so that you could still see the rider and passenger do their stuff on the track. Blue and white were the colours of Triumph supremo Doug Tyerman at Sydney Showground. Similarly Doug Robson ˆ “The Old Fox” – wore white with a red cross on his chest. His sidecar wheel had a cross on it too while Gary Innis, who ran a butchers shop, wore black with white stripes. In later years his brother Glenn’s colours were opposite – all white with black stripes. It was all very showman-like; good for the crowd and good for the promoters!
Before the speedcars had their turn on the program, all eyes would be fixed on the bikes as they came out from the pits under the huge open air stand. This was a time when you could still see wires hanging around the track, supporting what looked like bedside lampshades, holding bulbs that, occasionally, blew when hit by flying dirt. Scenes such as this were echoed around the country at venues like Claremont in Perth, Adelaide’s Rowley Park or the Brisbane “Ekka”. Something which stood out was the chrome, gleaming under the lights. It could be seen from way across the other side of the stadium, from the Members Stand beneath the clock tower.
Nearly 40 years ago Ray Andrieux’s sidecar was fast and, being a Vincent, it was the trike of choice. His took some beating too, when it came to appearance. Smart, it stood out with its polished chromed frame, bright red alloy fuel tank and stainless steel sidecar wheel. Rider and passenger wore bright red and the bike gleamed – at least it did before its first race of the evening.
Andrieux (pronounced ‘Ondrio’) began his sidecar career aboard a Triumph. Along with Stan Lawrence they practiced at the Nepean training track and on Saturday nights they would troupe into town to the Showground, in a forlorn hope getting a ride. It proved to be tough going as most of the best riders had an HRD Vincent. Although the technology was a quarter of a century old (prehistoric by today’s standards) this was the machine of choice if a team were to cut it.
Eventually Ray got his hands on one of the V-twins, and from 1970 Andrieux’s Vincent (originally a road-going 1952 Rapide) served him well. It had been converted into a speedway sidecar, designed and built by fellow racer Geoff Grocott in 1962, a decade prior to his revolutionary Australian Championship-winning effort aboard a Kawasaki. After an earlier career, this Vincent was bought by Garry Innis, then on-sold to its next rider, Lee Fieldsend, who crashed it before the old English machine was again put it up for sale.
Said Ray, “Gary Treloar, Darrin’s dad, used to drive a taxi in those days and often dropped by my Golden Fleece garage at Lane Cove. He told me of the damaged bike and within a week I’d bought it, spending the whole winter repairing and preparing it for the 1970-71 season.”
And prepare it he did, progressing to the 80 metre mark in handicap events. Andrieux also appeared in scratch races, competing with moderate success against some of the best riders in the country.
The pace was hot and you had to be good – very good – to win a sidecar scratch race at the long, notoriously narrow Sydney Showground. Said Robson recently, “One thing I sure remember is that I had to use all of my riding skill to beat Ray. He was a good, safe rider and I remember he rode very well. He should have done better, but in those days there were a lot of very good riders and it was very hard to crack it into the big time.” Indeed Robson, Grocott, Innis, Graham Young and Bob Levy were all ace riders and each a national champion at some stage.
In 1973 Stan Lawrence departed, deciding to drive a speedcar, and Greg Griffiths took up the swinging duties. Andrieux also set a new standard, opting to for a McGee fuel injection unit (the first such instance on a Vincent sidecar) to replace his twin Del’orto carburettor set up. He’d picked up the idea from solo riders Jim Airey and Greg Kentwell.
A novel move Andrieux made, at least at first, was the use of “hot dog” mufflers, as riders had been urged to respond to increasing noise protests. It may have looked quieter, but did little to quell the roar the massive 1000cc engine. “Sure, we used them,” says Ray.” I slid them over the top of the straight-through pipes and left it at that! That is, until the authorities brought decibel meters in.”
Most of us took it for granted: the smell of burning oil mixed with methanol and the tremendous noise. At the starting line the ground would shake whenever four Vincents lined up and shot away from the tapes. From the other side of the fence, those standing nearby could feel the vibrations through their feet.
Next came a wider, flatter rear tyre which looked more suited to a car than a motorcycle. Ray again: “The tyre proved much grippier than a standard 18 inch wheel, particularly when the track was slick.”
Still, even this couldn’t stop the inevitable onslaught of the Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Honda brigade. At the end of 1974 the old red Vincent was sold into the hands of Victorian rider Jack Walker. But the old girl was never to race again, pushed aside anonymously into a corner of Jack’s shed and progressively being stripped for parts.
In the meantime Andrieux moved on and bought himself a 750cc Suzuki “water bottle”. He raced that at the Showground until October 1975, when a serious accident and a badly broken leg curtailed his career. He made successful one-night return, in 1986 at the Newcastle Motordrome, but then decided he’d had enough.
What was the difference in the two? “The Vincent was a very stable machine; rigid, as the engine was an integral part of the frame. It is basically a road bike with a sidecar wheel simply bolted on. Whereas with the Suzuki it was lighter and faster, but being a two-stroke it didn’t have the compression breaking and took a bit of getting used to. It used to run on and move around a bit, but the frame had modifications which helped the handling characteristics.
By 2007 Andrieux had resettled on the Gold Coast and met up again with Jack Walker, during the June annual Veterans Classics Day. Said Ray, “Jack wasn’t sure at first but he still had the complete bike, which was in pieces, minus the engine. He was thrilled to find all of these parts and after 30 years couldn’t wait to donate them for the restoration. He even brought them up on a plane as cabin baggage, with the sidecar wrapped in vegetable boxes.”
Andrieux located an almost-identical engine, but finding an original McGee fuel injection would be a harder nut to crack. “Phil McGee (now in America) remembered making the Vincent fuel injection and was excited to hear of its restoration. They then passed on the location of the original castings, and after it was bench-tested it completed the bike just as I used to race it.”
Ray is a member of the Historic Speedway Racing Association and rides his bike on club days and proudly takes part in various static demonstrations. As he says with a touch of understement, “I get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of my Vincent!”
Story and photos: Steve Magro.
* Thanks to Garth Robertson, Jack Walker, Doug Hodson (ex-McGee), Phil Pilgram (Union Jack Cycles), Terry Prince (Classic Motorcycles), Geoff Hayton (Mark Barns Engineering). The Len Bowes-built Suzuki is now in the hands of Greg Griffiths who intends on restoring the 750cc bike back to how it was in 1975-76.