This month marks the 50th anniversary of a huge moment in the short but stellar career of Australian racer Tom Phillis. In May 1961 he became the first Australian to win two GPs at the same meeting: the 125cc and 250cc GPs in France for the Honda factory. The next month he became the first rider to lap the Isle of Man at an average 100mph using a pushrod engine (something BSA had been trying to do for years with their Gold Star singles).
I always liked the look of this low, lean machine but it wasn't until I was at New Zealand's Pukekohe meeting in the 1990s that I came across one.
It was running in the Factory Built class and giving the Manxes a run for their money.
The rider and builder, Ray Breingan, and his helpers Eddy Grimshaw and Chris Haley, just seemed to be having so much fun without breaking the piggybank.
It transpired that Ray used to work building frames for famous Norton tuner Sid Mullarney in the
in the 1960s. UK
Digging around also jogged my memory of the factory Norton Domiracer of that era.
In 1961, Australian Tom Phillis came third in the Isle of Man Senior TT behind Mike Hailwood and Bob McIntyre, who were on highly-developed Manx Nortons. The Phillis bike wasn’t an exotic Grand Prix racer but a modified production Norton 500cc Dominator twin engine in a lower, lighter, narrower version of the Manx Featherbed frame. Lapping at 100.36mph gave Phillis, legendary engineer Doug Hele and Norton plenty of headlines in the motorcycle press. Later the Domiracer was run in the Ulster Grand Prix, so becoming a GP racer. The long-term plan of Doug Hele was to offer the Domiracer as a budget Grand Prix racer to privateers but Norton was in financial trouble and the project was sold to Paul Dunstall. Hele used much of what he learnt on this project to turn Triumph's Daytona twin into a race winner.
The original Domiracer builders had a network of parts suppliers a short drive away from the
factory in 1961. Decades later the vintage racing scene is so strong that a Domiracer can also be built from the ground up using all-new parts (except the engine cases, barrels and heads). This time, however, the parts are gathered from around the world. My complete chassis (with tanks, seat and swingarm) came from Birmingham frame builder Ray Breingan, the front forks and yokes from Ken McIntosh, along with a set of close-ratio Manx gears. Rear suspension and the engine’s steel Carillo conrods are from the U.S. Sourced from the New Zealand through South Australian British bike importer Murray Johnson was the low-mileage genuine SS engine that provided the basis for the race project. It is now fitted with a one-piece steel Nourish crankshaft (that has Commando-sized journals), Mick Hemmings valves and S&W springs, plain and roller bearings sent over from the U.S. . It runs a Scitsu electronic tacho and BTH electronic mag (both highly recommended). The pistons were made in UK . Wheels and brakes were sourced in Italy , as were many other detail parts. Australia
The bike is a faithful copy of the original but runs the 1962 Manx double-sided twin-leading shoe front brake system for added safety. It cost me a bit over $20,000, which meets my ambition of building one for about half the price of a new Manx. People expect that I got a discount on parts because I write for Classic Racer but this simply isn’t the case.
I was surprised at the attention the little Domiracer gets when I bring it out, until one onlooker told my wife that he thought the bike was so beautiful because “it was a simple design and the owner hasn’t overchromed and polished it”.
So keep it real and true to the original seems to be the message here.