Not forgotten – Eric Hinton | Columns | Events | Gassit Garage
You need to look beyond the stats to appreciate the greatness of this Aussie racer
If you want to appreciate Eric Hinton’s career, dig deeper than the world championship Grand Prix results. He won four non-championship GPs in Europe, highlighted by the 1959 Czech 500 GP on the Brno public-road circuit.
Hinton raced the Continental Circus for nine seasons, four in the 1950s and another five in the ’60s, competing with world champions Keith Campbell, Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Gary Hocking, Tom Phillis and Jim Redman. He witnessed the Italian factory battles of the mid 1950s and Hailwood trying to tame the evil Honda 500/4 around Spa-Francorchamps in 1966.
In Europe, Hinton did everything from fixing an electrical problem with his teeth to befriending MV Agusta’s then 500 GP rookie Giacomo Agostini in 1965, as the future superstar sailed from Liverpool to Douglas for his first Isle of Man meeting. The Italian never forgot and 35 years later would cross a room to talk to Eric as soon as he saw him.
Hinton was part of a part of two thriving international eras for Australian riders. His 1950s contemporaries included Bob Brown, Campbell, Ken Kavanagh and sidecar ace Bob Mitchell. He credited Campbell and 1956 travelling mate Richie Thomson with teaching him the ropes as a private entrant.
Eric returned to Europe in 1965 with younger brother Robert as his mechanic. He spent the next four years touring with wife Kathleen, and sons Peter and Tony. They shared the paddocks with, among others, Kel Carruthers’ family, Jack Ahearn, Jack Findlay, John Dodds and Barry Smith.
In a domestic career spanning two decades, Hinton was an Australian TT and GP winner at Southport, Mount Panorama, Longford and Phillip Island. He took an Australian TT double at Southport in 1955, earning selection in Australia’s 1956 Isle of Man team. His last national-title race podium was at the Phillip Island in 1970.
People who saw Eric Hinton ride the Mount still comment on his style and firmly set jaw.
The Hinton family was synonymous with Norton in the ’50s and early ’60s, but Eric also raced Bultaco, Kawasaki, NSU, Yamaha and even Lambretta scooters. He was the first rider to win an international race in Europe on a Kawasaki.
A toolmaker by trade, Hinton was a technical innovator. He grafted another cylinder onto a Yamaha twin to create a 500 triple and built the machine that Robert Hinton rode to a Bathurst double in 1976. He made composite magnesium wheels, created a Rotax 250 racer for son Tony and a pair of Husqvarna four-stroke single-cylinder racers for his boys. Even when suffering Parkinson’s disease, he was still busy in his garage machining parts for his 1950s Norton and NSU racers.
Eric was a historic resource too, with an encyclopedic memory. If he didn’t have an answer to your question, invariably he’d have the number of someone who did. His photo collection and recollections helped inspire two books. But he wasn’t welded to the past, with telling observations on modern GP races.
It is now 60 years since Hinton’s European debut as a 21-year-old, winning at St Wendel in the Saarland (Germany) the first time he rode his new Manx Nortons. But his most striking victory was at Brno in 1959. You can see two minutes of footage on YouTube by typing in: Grand prix of Czechoslovakia – motorcycle racing (1959).
Here is the background to that race…
The secret weapon was a 1956-model Norton 500, one of two factory team machines Hinton had bought from Norton Motors two and a half years earlier. After experiments in England during 1959 with a twin-sparkplug cylinder head, he had reverted to a single-plug head and the machine was flying. Rivals hadn’t seen much of this machine in 1959, because he had contested very few races that season following the death at Imola of elder brother Harry Jnr. But in early August the bike had taken top-three placings against quality company in Britain and now he was about to ride it on a big, fast road course. The boys were not going to like it.
The six riders on the front row of the starting grid included top private entrants Paddy Driver, Gary Hocking, Hinton, Dickie Dale and Jim Redman, with Tom Phillis on the second row. That made three future world champions and five riders who had been or would go on to be works riders. All were on Nortons, save for Dale on a Rennsport BMW. But the race wasn’t even close, with Hinton winning by almost a minute from Hocking and Dale, and raising the outright lap record to 144.9km/h.
Eric Hinton died in Sydney on December 17, 2015, aged 81, after being in care for several years with dementia.
By DON COX