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Eric Hinton’s Bathurst bitsa | Columns | Gassit Garage

What do you do when your brother’s bike doesn’t arrive for the Bathurst races? You build him a race winner from cobbled-together bits

Suppose there was a racing machine that did just 26 laps in one weekend under its intended rider, yet won two Australian Grand Prix races and set two lap records. As it happens, such a bike did exist, and now its former rider would like to find it.

The machine in question took Rob Hinton to a GP double at Bathurst on Easter Saturday in 1976, winning the 350 and 250 events, with a quick-fire engine top-end change in between.

Elder brother Eric Hinton built the bike up from a wreck and only finished it on the Friday afternoon, giving Rob just two practice laps as a 350. Yes, two.

Rob did 24 race laps, eight each in the 350, 250 and Sunday’s 500 GP. After Easter it was sold to Sydney racer Sedge Deste, who rode it for a year and reckons it was excellent, but can’t recall the next buyer. 

The Hinton bike was one of a group of successful specials at the 1976 Easter meeting. There was also Warren Willing’s Chris Dowde/Peter Campbell cantilever-chassis Yamaha TZ750 that recorded the first 100mph lap, Ray Quincey’s

Rod Tingate-built cantilever-chassis Yamaha that placed second to Hinton in the 350 GP, the Kevin Cass Kawasaki KH125-based racer on which Dave Burgess dead-heated the 125 GP with Geoff Sim’s Cass-prepared Yamaha TA125, the Peter Campbell-built Kawasaki sidecar that Geoff Taylor raced to his first Bathurst podium finish, and Barry Taylor’s Phase 4 Kawasaki that Neil Kelly rode to victory in the Superbike race.

“Ian Scattergood and I put in orders for 350 C-models at (NSW Yamaha distributor) McCulloch months in advance,” Rob Hinton said, taking up the story of his 26-lap special. “Ian put his money down, but only two 350s came into NSW and another dealer exerted some pressure to secure the second bike for his rider. I was promised the next bike to arrive, but it wasn’t due until after Easter, so I cancelled the order. Putting it politely, Eric became very upset and decided to build me a bike, so it was karma when I won.”

Eric had one month to complete the build, but he was uniquely skilled. A former international racer, and a toolmaker by trade, he’d been around racing machines his entire life. He had built specials before, too, including a three-cylinder Yamaha 500.

Rob Hinton’s 350 GP opposition included the highly fancied Gary Coleman and Japanese ace Sadao Asami

“Eric built it from a bike that had been crashed at Cattai Curve, the fastest corner at Amaroo Park. Dennis Alderton straightened the frame and Eric made a jig for the swingarm. He designed and made the exhaust pipes. It had a fibreglass tank, works Norton forks, a pair of Boge-Mulholland shocks with soft rebound, hard compression and 78-pound springs, and a Tony Henderson rear wheel and disc brake set-up.

“It was a rocket ship and, Eric being Eric, the first time I sat on it everything was just in the right place. It was a testament to Eric’s ability to make a bike up from a complete write-off that gave me confidence to go flat out from the get-go. It was made up from bits and pieces he had under the house, alias ‘The crypt’.”

Finishing touches included TZ350C cylinders and cylinder head borrowed from Scattergood’s spares kit, and a Spanish Femsa ignition.

Just as well the bike was right first time, because Eric only finished it in the Bathurst paddock on the Friday afternoon. Rob had practiced on his Yamaha TZ750, so he had sampled the circuit upgrades, including the resurfaced Conrod Straight. He took the new bike out in 350 form in the final all-in practice session, completing two laps before the session was red-flagged due to a shocking accident – Victorian Ross Barelli had crashed at Murrays Corner.

At 11am the following day, the Hinton special with its white Vesco-style fairing and Vesco seat was wheeled to the grid for the 350cc GP. The final jetting, according to Rob’s amazing memory, was 310 mains. It’s a tribute to his circuit knowledge that he was only briefly headed in the race, by Ray Quincey.

Rob streaks across the top of the Mountain on his way to winning the 1976 Australian 250 GP on the bike built by his brother, Eric Hinton

Rob’s mechanic was NSW Railways fitter Mick Smith, who later worked in the factory Suzuki squad and managed the Honda Australia team. Smith reckoned he’d never seen a rider more confident at Bathurst than Hinton, “a circuit where you have to ride where you can’t see, due to the blind corner entries.”

Hinton won the race from Quincey and Yamaha test rider Sadeo Asami, setting a new lap record at 2m28.02s on a weekend when 13 of the 15 lap records fell. The next phase was over to Eric – to convert the bike to a 250. That meant switching pistons, cylinders and exhausts.

“The changeover was a bit of a worry, mainly because I had to have it measured as a 350 as well, between races. Luckily (scrutineer) Vic Lyons came down to our pit and did it as all the bits were coming off.

“Eric and Big Mick did a pretty good job changing it over with all the audience and me hovering over them; in fact Eric told me to piss off a couple of times.

Murray Sayle debuted Team Kawasaki Australia’s tandem twin KR250 at Bathurst in 1976

“I had to borrow a tank from Len Atlee, as the 350 one was fibreglass and the 250 ran on methanol, as well as a pair of 250 exhaust pipes from Laurie Turnbull.”

Among the ‘audience’ was 20-year-old Mark Mitchell, son of 1950s Australian international sidecar racer Bob. Mark still marvels at Eric’s work that lunchtime. “It was an honour to be able to hand him a spanner,” he said.

Now Rob Hinton had to race a combination he had not practiced at all. He nonetheless took the race lead from Quincey before half distance and trimmed two seconds from his 1975 lap record, leaving it at 2m33.0s. Quincey finished second on his Yamaha TZ250, with Murray Sayle third on Team Kawasaki Australia’s recently arrived KR250 tandem twin.

Hinton on his TZ750, here pictured at Oran Park

Hinton then switched to his Yamaha 750, finishing second to works Yamaha rider Ikujiro Takai in the International Unlimited race on a bike that also featured some of his brother’s handiwork.

“We fitted Kawasaki H2 or Z1 fork yokes and 36mm forks, giving the bike 5mm more offset. In 1975, you’d get to the drive-in gates and it would go into a tank-slapper that you would only sort out by the first hump. In 1976, I could go down the straight with two fingers on the handlebars.”

Hinton rode the special as a 350 in Sunday morning’s Australian 500 GP, finishing fifth behind three Suzuki RG500s and Quincey’s 350. Then it was back to the 750 for the Unlimited GP.

“Bathurst 1976 was probably my best meeting,” Rob said, ‘‘winning the Junior/Lightweight double, taking second in the Unlimited race on the Saturday, and running third to Takai and Warren Willing in the big one, until I arrived at XL Bend with a flat front tyre. You couldn’t tell on those bikes that a tyre was flat until you tipped it into the corner…”

Rob Hinton continued racing his 750 during 1976, but a serious ankle injury sustained at Hume Weir forced his retirement. He still owns and prepares a Yamaha TZ350 for historic events.

Hinton accepts the plaudits of the crowd after winning his second GP in one day

Words Don Cox

Photography Phil Aynsley & Rob Lewis