When, early in 1956 Jim McPhee rebuilt a
rigid-frame BSA Bantam for use in his Fremantle shop neither he nor
anyone else had any idea that a partnership had been formed which was
to change the entire history of 125cc motorcycle racing in WA and make
the name McPhee Bantam a by-word throughout the sport.
The performance of the shop model was considerably above standard,
but Jim McPhee had no idea at this stage of building a road racing
machine. Then one day son Ronald, then about 11 years old, brought home
several model aircraft engines. Tinkering with the aircraft engines,
Jim got to thinking about adapting some of the characteristics of these
miniature power units to the Bantam.
Just what he did is not revealed but Jim modestly says: “A machine
was prepared for road racing and proved successful at its first
appearance.” That was in May, 1956 and the performance was repeated in
October of that year.
The McPhee era may be said to have properly begun in March, 1957,
when a McPhee Bantam was entered in the State Championships at
Mooliabeenie. The afternoon before the event a pebble somehow went
through the carburettor of the Bantam and Jim and his team worked all
night to repair the badly damaged motor to race next day. They did and
it did, finishing second.
In September the following year Bill McDermott
rode the McPhee Bantam to a convincing win in the State Championships
at Caversham, lowering the 125cc lap record by 2 seconds to 1.55.
In the Australian TT at Albany the following
year Ken Russell and the McPhee Bantam easily won the 125cc from
Victorian Max Brumhead who was riding a 1200 pound (think he means
quids not weight - web ed) works MV Augusta. Later that day ken placed
the Bantam second in the 250cc title event.
A second machine had by this time been added to
the first and these two Bantams dominated the 125cc field - and very
often the 250cc class - for the next four years, winning four State
Championships in succession and lowering the Caversham lap record to
In 1962 “just to keep interested” as Jim puts
it, the Bantam engines were fitted to two go-karts. Driven by Des Gaze
and Les Power, the karts placed first and second in the Kart
Championships at Cockburn in October of that year.
Although there were only two of them the McPhee
Bantams have justly earned a place for themselves among the “greats” of
Announcing his retirement, Jim McPhee said: “I cannot recall any race meeting at all over the 8 years of road racing, that the riders did not place in one or more events. From September 20, 1958 to November 5, 1960 McPhee Bantams were unbeaten in all scratch races and recorded fastest times for all handicap events over this period.”