Barry Taylor was the Phase 4 boss who’s Kwaka drag-bike shook Bathurst to the core
From the backblocks of Brisbane to the sweeps of Bathurst was a long way for self-taught high-performance guru, Barry Taylor. “When I was 12 around 1956, I use to go paddock bashing around Capalaba with my mate Matt Daley, who went on to win many Australian short-circuit titles in the 1970s. That’s how it all started.
“We didn’t have enough money to hot up our bikes so we learned to do it ourselves ̶ I’m a bush mechanic. I worked at Bill McGregor’s Cairns Honda dealership in 1968, then Griffith Honda at Ipswich when I bought a Honda CB750. We were always trying to make it go faster, and we came up with an 836cc engine using machined CB350 pistons. That gave me 10:1 compression, and I ground a cam up with 40-thou’ more lift/duration. I got some S&W valve springs from America, Brian Payne from Tranzac made me a 4-into-1and I ran 12-second 114mph at Surfers. We all believed that Brian was the first bloke in the world to build a 4-1 for Japanese fours in 1970, but Ross Hannan [Australia’s Yoshimura importer] always reckoned it was Pops Yoshimura.”
Barry was now running Phase 4 Engineering from his place at Capalaba. After a couple of years drag racing his Honda, Barry had his first ride on a Kawasaki Z1-900. It was an epiphany that would change Superbike racing forever. “The first person to own at Z1 in Brisbane was Karen Shearer. She let me have a fang and after running through the gears, I thought ‘this thing goes as well as our hotted-up Honda!’ It was fast out of the box, and I could see the potential to make it go real quick.”
Barry built up a number Kawasaki 900s with the philosophy of matching the best components with many hours on the flow bench. “We built ‘em for drag racers, speedway sidecars and litre sprint-car racers – but never for road racing.” By 1976, Barry had built the fastest Z900 in the world after Phase 4 pilot Neil Kelly ran an incredible 10.90/129.95mph pass at Surfers Paradise drag strip. Checking the record books in the US, Barry concluded his street-registered Kwaka was quickest in the world. With Bathurst coming up, some of Barry’s mates egged him and Neil on to enter Australia’s first-ever national Superbike race. In addition to the terrifyingly narrow, Armco-lined road course, Neil was a mere C-Grader with no Bathurst experience. He was also nursing a broken wrist. Starting from the last row, the full-time plumber was also up against some of the mountain’s best-ever riders.
Sunday’s Superbike Trophy boasted terrific Bathurst pedigree from Ken Blake to pole-sitter Garry Thomas, Tony Hatton, John Warrian and Bill Horsman to rising stars Graeme Crosby, Jim Budd, Roger Heyes, Mick Cole and Alan Hales. That’s not forgetting big, bad B-grader Dennis Neill who owned Saturday’s production race, slashing four seconds off the lap record.
“When we got to Bathurst, it was like ‘Oh my god’” remembers Barry. “We were just a bunch of hillbillies from Queensland. We didn’t know how to set up a road racer. We knew our bike was quick, and figured we might get top ten. By the time Neil had exited Mountain Straight, he’d passed all the A-graders and had Dennis Neill’s Kawasaki in his sights. When Neil came onto pit straight with the leaders, my jaw was on the ground. The race commentator had no idea who he was. He was screaming, trying to work out who this guy was serving it up to Dennis! We had street Continentals and bog-stock suspension, Dennis had a rear slick. Neil was having troubles hauling the bike down because of his wrist, so Dennis and the others began to catch him. In the end, sheer horsepower and Neil’s bravery won the drag to the line. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about it. It was incredible.”
Barry continued road racing with Jim Budd, securing second place in the ‘77 Bathurst Superbike race behind the red-hot Crosby. Jim famously decked the Phase 4 prototype in the closing, murky wet stages of the inaugural 1979 Arai three-Hour. Barry then turned his attention to the incredible drag bike career of his wife Twinkle Taylor who held both women’s and outright records.
Barry closed Phase 4 in 2000 owing to the ailing Aussie dollar. Along with Twinkle, he enjoys a very happy retirement on Russell Island off North Stradbroke, safe in the knowledge that he and Neil Kelly captured the most unlikely race win in Superbike history.
By Darryl Flack