Maurie Quincey is assured of a place in Australia’s motorcycle racing history, by virtue of his domination of racing in the state of Victoria during the early 1950s. One of the best riders to come out of Australia during that period, Maurie was almost certainly destined for International stardom. All that came to an abrupt end during the 1955 Senior TT when a connecting rod failure caused him to crash and sustain serious injuries. If not for this unfortunate accident, there is little doubt that he would have taken his place among the likes of Ken Kavanagh, Keith Campbell and the other Australian riders who went on to achieve Grand Prix and World Championship success.
Born into a Melbourne motorcycling family on 10 May 1929, Maurie’s father Perce had raced on dirt circuits before the war, it was therefore almost inevitable that the Quincey offspring would eventually turn to motorcycle racing. He duly made his racing debut in the Clubman’s races at Victoria Park Ballarat on 7 April 1947. His mount was a home tuned 350cc Triumph 3T twin, with just high compression pistons and a TT carburettor to boost it’s performance, on which over the next two years he became a regular winner in the Clubman’s series.
In 1949 Maurie decided to buy a 500 single cylinder Matchless to replace the Triumph and struck a deal with Milledge Bros, the Victorian Matchless agents on a competition model G80C. This was later replaced by the rear sprung version G80CS with which he began to achieve some good results. This incidentally did much to boost the sales of Matchless machines in Victoria. Encouraged by Maurie’s success with this machine, Milledge Bros imported one of the famous Shelsley Matchless engines. However the increased performance with this engine only served to show up the inadequacy of the standard Matchless brakes. To cure this problem twin leading shoe brake assemblies were turned out by Ron Hunter of Hunter Engineering, builder of the 125cc Hunter racing machines. On the Shelsley Matchless Maurie recorded several wins during 1950/51 at Darley, Ballarat airstrip and Flinders Naval Depot and was 2nd in the Senior and Unlimited Victorian GPs at Ballarat at the end of 1950.
The acquisition of a new Mk8 KTT Velo in January 1950 proved to be the turning point in Maurie’s career and at Bunbury Western Australia in April that year, he recorded his first Australian Championship wins in the Junior and Senior TTs. As Maurie explains, “ The KTT was a 1948 model that had been originally ordered for Les Deiner, who rejected it in order to wait for a later model with the larger inlet valve.” He was at pains to point out that there was nothing special about his KTT, that remained perfectly standard. However he attributed it’s performance to a chance meeting with the legendary Don Bain, ex racer and tuner, who stripped the engine down and rebuilt it with meticulous care. The result was an engine that was not any faster, but was much smoother and had better acceleration During 1950 and 1951 Maurie was virtually unbeatable in Victoria on the KTT, winning numerous 350cc State GPs and TT Championships. Just to prove that his success was not confined to Victoria; on his first visit to the famous Bathurst circuit in 1951, on the KTT he won the NSW Junior TT from established New South Wales stars Ernie Ring and Harry Hinton Snr.
After leaving school, Maurie had worked in his fathers electrical contracting business until 1948, when he enrolled in a cadet-engineering course with the Victorian Electricity Commission. In 1950 with help from his Dad, he opened his first motorcycle shop in Ascot Vale before moving to Moonie Ponds shortly afterwards. He was then nominated as a member of the Australian team for the 1951 TT, but declined to go because he felt he was too young and because he wanted to concentrate on his new motorcycle business. His place in the team was taken by another Victorian rider, Ken Kavanagh, who ironically went on to gain international recognition as a factory rider for Norton and Moto Guzzi and became the first Australian rider to win an Isle of Man TT.
At the end of the 1951 European season, Ken Kavanagh returned to Australia with a pair of Featherbed Nortons, which he sold to Maurie in December. Riding his newly acquired machines in the Victorian Grand Prix at Ballarat on New Years Day 1952, Maurie made a clean sweep winning the 350 and 500cc races. He also won the 125cc race on Eric Walsh’s incredible BSA Bantam on which he went on to dominate the 125cc class during 1952. New South Wales seemed to have more than it’s fair share of top class riders such as the Hinton family, Jack Forrest, Jack Ahearn, Sid Willis and so on. However on his visits to Bathurst Maurie was more than capable of holding his own against such formidable opposition. Although he had some bad luck there in 1952, in 1953 he was 3rd in the 350 TT behind Harry Hinton Snr, and New Zealander Rod Coleman both riding ex works machines (Norton and AJS respectively) and in the 500cc TT he was 2nd to Hinton Snr despite falling off on the last lap.
In the meantime Maurie had married his girl friend Betty Selby in November 1952. Betty was to play an important supporting role in Maurie’s career, becoming his constant travelling companion to race meetings in Australia and later on in Europe, when in addition to her domestic duties, she looked after the paper work, shared the driving and was responsible for keeping the bikes in pristine condition. In 1953 Maurie was nominated as a member of the Australian Isle of Man team for 1954, together with Jack Ahearn and Laurie Boulter. At the age of 24 he was the youngest rider to date to be selected and he now felt confident enough to embark on the next stage of his career.
The Quinceys arrived in England in February 1954 and headed for Bracebridge Street where they picked up a pair of new Manx Nortons and a Dominator 88 for personal transport. With the help of Bob Collier they also acquired a second hand furniture van, which they later converted into a race transporter with living accommodation. They then set off on the Dominator for the Isle of Man. They were met by travelling marshal Bertie Rowell, who took Maurie round on a preliminary tour of the circuit during which he passed on many useful tips. Maurie then commenced his detailed study of the circuit splitting it up into short sections each day, but the weather was still very cold and he had to contend with banks of snow on either side of the road on the mountain sections.
His first race was at the Silverstone ‘Saturday’ meeting where he finished a creditable 9th in the 500cc race, but in the following 350 race, his new Norton seized at the very fast Abbey curve and threw him off. Fortunately he only sustained minor abrasions and on stripping his engine down it was discovered that the gudgeon pin had seized in the con rod due to insufficient clearance during manufacture. As a result all new short stroke Nortons were modified by the factory. Just over a week later he rode at Blandford Camp where he was 3rd in the 500cc race and won the Invitation race. The Quincey entourage then set off for the Continent where they raced at Mettet, St Wendel and Hockenheim before returning to the Isle of Man for the start of TT practice
The chosen path to fame for Commonwealth riders in those days, was to achieve good results in the TT and the World Championship GPs, which would then hopefully earn them a ride on a factory machine with the possibility of a permanent place in a works team. This had been demonstrated by riders like Harry Hinton, Rod Coleman, Ray Amm and Ken Kavanagh. Maurie’s personal goal was to get himself a place in the Norton team. This was no easy task, given that the British and Continental works teams were already well stocked with top class riders, while among the hopeful contenders for a works ride, were many talented riders from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
Maurie’s TT debut was marred by a retirement on the first lap of the Junior TT due to a mechanical problem. In the controversial Senior TT which was stopped after four laps due to bad weather, he finished 10th. The next round in the World Championships was the equally wet Ulster Grand Prix, where he was lucky to survive a practice incident. Maurie relates the story. “ I was on my 500 on the approach to the left kink before Wheeler’s corner, Ray Amm drew up on my right and as we banked over Rudi Allison tried to go round both of us. This put him completely off line for the right handed Wheeler’s corner and he ran wide onto the adverse camber and hit the wall on the left. His Norton cart wheeled across the road in front of me and almost fetched me off.” Rudi Allison suffered serious spinal injuries that ended his racing career and his works Norton ride was taken over by Australian Gordon Laing. Maurie distinguished himself by finishing 4th in the 500cc race and was the first privateer behind Gordon. Unfortunately due to the fact that the race was stopped before the full distance, the results did not count towards the World Championships and Maurie lost his well-earned points.
Then it was off to the Continent for the rest of the World Championships rounds and some of the other minor Continental Circus meetings. Riding on the GP circuits for the first time, Maurie was usually among the top ‘privateers’ battling for places behind the works bikes and he frequently found himself engaged in race long battles with riders like fellow Australian Jack Ahearn, New Zealander Peter Murphy and Belgian Auguste Goffin. He particularly recalled some encounters with the wily Jack Ahearn who often refused to respond to attempts to get him to lead the pack, preferring to stay in someone’s slipstream until the final lap before making his move. At the German GP on the Solitude circuit that puts a premium on riding ability, Maurie finished an excellent 4th in the 350cc race.
As most professional riders in those days knew only too well, it was absolutely essential to ride in some of the many other non-championship continental events, where the pickings were generally easier in the absence of the factory teams. More importantly however was the fact that financially these meetings were a far better proposition. Maurie recalled that some of the German meetings in particular were quite lucrative For example at Feldberg he was paid £125 Australian start money, £100 in prize money, received a Castrol bonus of £26 and was also given a camera. In marked contrast at the Dutch TT his total takings came to less than £70. In terms of results too, he did quite well in some of the non-championship meetings, with a 2nd in the 500 race at Feldberg ahead of Walter Zeller’s BMW, a 2nd to Ray Amm in the 500cc at the Norisring and a 3rd in the 500cc at the Schottenring behind Zeller’s BMW and Amm’s Norton. Maurie also pays due respect to Ray and Jill Amm who were helpful to the Quinceys during this period and who came across as genuine and unassuming people.
Before the end of the season the Quinceys had to return to Australia because Betty was expecting their first child, a son Ray, named after Ray Amm. Although he had not made it into the Norton team in his first year, Maurie felt confident that he had shown he had the necessary talent as a rider. An insight into his character reveals a very organised and disciplined person. His machines were always spotless and well prepared and when out of his leathers, he was always neatly and formally dressed. Although he came from a fairly well off background and could afford good equipment, his bikes did not have any extra special parts. Among his fellow competitors, he may also have been regarded as being a bit standoffish but this was due to the fact that he was quite a shy person. While racing in Europe, he seldom hung around for post race celebrations and was packed and away as soon as possible after racing. This was due to forward planning not snobbery. Consequently he was always first in the queue at Nortons to have his engines overhauled and always arrived early at circuits with time to learn them before official practice began. He was in fact the antithesis of the typical Colonial rider.
Back in Australia he had a successful 1954/55 summer season during which he racked up more wins on his Nortons and finished 2nd to Geoff Duke on the Gilera at Bandiana and Fisherman’s Bend, before setting off back to England for his second year. While en route to the UK, Maurie and Betty were saddened to hear about the death of Ray Amm at Imola.
On the first morning of TT practice Maurie set the fastest Senior lap on his private Norton in spite of poor visibility on the Mountain. This obviously did not go un-noticed and the promise of a works Norton finally materialised when he tried out one of the spare works 350s. Joe Craig was obviously hedging his bets regarding his choice of riders and Maurie was only given a 500 on the final and wet morning of practice, during which he completed just three laps. Riding what was only a second string works machine, he was 5th in the Junior TT at 90.20 mph, just 50 seconds behind Norton works rider John Surtees and ahead of the other works rider John Hartle.
Next came the fateful Senior TT, which started in ideal weather conditions. Maurie’s bike was not in fact a genuine works bike, but had a standard production engine with a works cylinder head and barrel in a works type frame. It was however faster than his private machine and although he was still getting accustomed to it, Maurie held 8th place for the first four laps moving up to tie for 6th place with team mate John Hartle at the end of the 5th lap. Having commenced his descent of the mountain section to complete his 6th lap, he had safely negotiated Windy corner and was well tucked in and flat out in top gear as he heeled into the gentle right hand curves on the approach to the 33rd Milestone, when in an instant his engine locked up, the connecting rod had broken and Maurie was cast off at high speed. Miraculously he did not hit any solid objects and was rushed unconscious to Nobles hospital in Douglas, suffering from severe concussion, facial injuries and a broken wrist and ankle. He remained in hospital for several weeks, anxiously watched over by Betty who also had to look after their now seven month old son Ray. When they eventually returned to Australia, Maurie’s dream of International fame had ended and he never came back to race in Europe.
It was not however the end of Maurie’s racing career and approximately seven months after his TT crash he made his racing come-back at Bandiana on 29th January 1956, where he finished 2nd to Bill Lomas’ works Guzzi in the 500cc race. At the Fisherman’s Bend circuit in February he had two 3rd places on his Nortons behind Lomas and Dale on the works Guzzis and split them to finish 2nd in the ‘All Powers’ race. During 1956 and 1957 he continued to add to his impressive record, with wins at Darley, Bathurst, Longford in Tasmania, Fisherman’s Bend and Phillip Island. His last race was at Phillip Island in December 1957, when in a rare crash he badly damaged his left hand and decided to retire for good.
During his career Maurie won a record 9 Australian TTs, 26 State TTs and 3 State GPs, with a total of 98 wins and 57 places to his credit. His decision not to return to Europe in 1956 was mainly due to family and business commitments. He has however some slight regrets about that decision and feels that on the basis of his pre-crash performance in the TT, he still had the potential to reach World Championship status. While he undoubtedly had the potential, the withdrawal of the Norton and AJS teams from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1955 had made it more difficult to find a ‘works’ ride that was essential to World Championship success. In the final analysis his decision was probably the right one anyway. Maurie and Betty now live comfortably in retirement in the leafy Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe East and no doubt look back with some satisfaction at their time spent in the exciting and dramatic world of motorcycle racing.
Story: Chris Pereira • Photos: Independent Publications archives