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October 2009 Club News

The McPhee Bantams

This is an article that was printed in a magazine called ‘The Visor’ in November, 1974 and sent in by Des Gaze.

Des Gaze with restored McPhee BantamWhen, 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 1.49.

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 motorcycling history.

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.”

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