The Guzzi invasion

Bike Profile

Lomas (3) gets the jump in the Junior at Mildura, chased by Mick Dillon (17), Keith Campbell (21), and Noel Cheney (10).

The publicity generated by reigning world champion Geoff Duke’s ‘Down Under’ tour in 1954/55 did not go unnoticed overseas.

Duke made noises about a repeat performance for the summer season of 1955/56 but when this failed to eventuate, George Lynn, the tour promoter and energetic editor of the Victorian Motor Cycle News, cast around for a replacement. After consultation with various clubs and individuals, he secured the services of the Moto Guzzi works team of Englishmen Bill Lomas (the 350 World Champion) and Dickie Dale. The Guzzi factory, which had tried to establish a local market for their products several times previously (notably with Fergus Anderson’s tour in 1949), took a bit of convincing, and would only release two complete machines: a 500 and a 350 version of their fabulous horizontal-single GP bikes, plus a spare engine for each.

Dickie Dale on the 350 Guzzi, leads team mate Bill Lomas on the 500 at Bandiana.

The riders arrived in Perth aboard the SS Himalaya on December 14, 1955, where a large turnout of local enthusiasts welcomed them ashore. Their first appearance was just four days later at a hastily-organised airstrip meeting outside Perth, where Dale won the 350 race and Lomas the 500 without difficulty. While a lorry carted the Guzzis overland to Mildura, the riders flew to Adelaide where they were met by Rex Tilbrook. The Boxing Day meeting was heavily promoted as Australia’s fastest road races, with a special £100 prize for the first 100 mph lap of the road circuit. Lap record holder Keith Campbell was expected to challenge the Guzzi duo, but retired in the 500 race with magneto trouble, leaving Dale a comfortable winner over Jack Ahearn and Bob Brown. Lomas cruised home in the 350 race to win from Roger Barker and Mick Dillon, but strong head winds prevented the establishment of the ton-up lap.

Norton-mounted Maurie Quincey (8) split the works pair in the 500 race at Bandiana. Here he chases Lomas (1).

As the new year chimed in, so did a six-month suspension for Campbell over his part in the infamous riders strike at the 1955 Dutch TT, so he was sidelined at the next leg of the tour, the Victorian TT at Ballarat. As it turned out, Dale and Lomas were absent as well, claiming they could not afford to race unless more money was forthcoming. The finances were sorted out in time to allow the pair to suit up for the Australia Day races at Bandiana Army Camp, and this time it was Maurie Quincey who took the fight to the visitors, despite the lingering effects of a high-speed crash at the Isle of Man the previous June. Once again the visitors diced amongst themselves to entertain the big crowd, and after the meeting Lomas sampled the famous Walsh-Bantam BSA that Ken Rumble has ridden to victory in the meeting. Lomas confessed to be amazed by the performance of the tiny machine, which he described as ‘not your average Post Office Bantam!”.

The speed of the Walsh Bantam astounded Lomas when he tested it at Bandiana.

One week later the troupe arrived at Mount Druitt, where Lomas controlled the 350 race until a downpour flooded the circuit and the Guzzi’s magneto, letting Keith Conley’s 7R AJS through for the win. Two further appearances in the space of one month at Fishermen’s Bend completed the trip, although Lomas flew to Bathurst to inspect the Mount Panorama circuit and tried to convince the Guzzi factory to allow him to race there. But the lime-green Guzzis were already crated and on their way to the European season-opener at Imola, so it was not to be. Dale had thoughts other than racing on his mind, becoming engaged to a girl he had met in Mildura.

Photographs Charles Rice

This article first appeared in Old Bike Australasia Issue 2.