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Where are they now? Patrick Bruce | Columns | Gassit Garage

Patrick Bruce - merchant seaman and motorcycle racer

There are precious few examples of men who were motorcycle racers and merchant seamen. John Warrian was one. Melburnian Patrick Bruce was another, with the added memory of half a season helping Australian international Kel Carruthers in Europe.

Patrick Bruce is now 81 and happily retired in Hastings, Victoria with wife of nearly 50 years Patricia. They have “four fantastic daughters and 11 grand children, and I am now spoiled rotten.”

His motorcycling introduction was riding a 1948 Matchless 500 single 20km from his home in Mitcham to North Richmond, where he served an apprenticeship in fitting and turning. “One of my workmates, Bernie Coleman, did the same daily ride. He started racing on a 1952 Norton International, before switching to speedway,” Bruce said.

“We both met Jack Findlay at the Nunawading MCC and he had an Inter as well.  Jack went to Europe in 1958 and I decided to go to sea as an engineer in 1959. I came home in 1960 with pounds in my pocket and bought the ex-Ron Robinson Matchless G45 twin racer. The magneto on that gave lots of trouble, so I sold it to Bill Horsman and bought an ex-Trevor Pound 1962 Manx Norton, which I raced for about three years. I was now in the Preston Club and had met Kel Carruthers, because all the Preston guys stayed at Kel’s place when we raced at Oran Park.

In 1965 Bruce went back to sea and in 1967 he caught up with the Carruthers family (Kel, Jan and two children) at England’s Mallory Park.

“Kel asked if would I could help him for rest of the season with the bikes and also Len Atlee with his Norton in the Senior TT. It was quite an experience. I met Jack Findlay again after not seeing him since he left Australia in ’58. He crashed a Bultaco at the bottom of Bray Hill and suffered 28 foot fractures, so he asked me to drive his van until he was fit enough to ride again.

“Kel had a Rickman Metisse-Matchless 500 that did not handle well at the TT, so he had his Norton shipped up from London in a hurry. I drove Jack to Assen, where he was a spectator, and joined up with Kel again. Something that stands out in my
mind was helping Mike Hailwood, Bill Ivy and a few others was carry (England’s)  Dan Shorey asleep on his stretcher out onto race track at Spa-Francorchamps in the middle of night, where woke up not very happy. Jack cut the plaster off his foot and finished fourth in the 500 race, after pushing off last using his right foot.

“One thing about travelling with Jan and Kel was how they looked after me. It was fantastic and I enjoyed myself the whole time. It was always a job getting across borders. We went to Jicin (Czecho), then East Germany, a hill climb in West Germany, up to Imatra in Finland and then a huge drive down to Monza for the Italian GP.

Bruce racing at Victoria Park in Ballarat, and more recently in the garages at Phillip Island

“The Matchless needed a new piston after that and the 350 Rickman-Aermacchi broke a head stud, so I took one out of the spare engine. During practice the Honda team was having trouble with one of the bikes and they asked Kel to have a look; so he fixed it and we had a look at one of the 250cc sixes that was apart on the bench – a fantastic piece of machinery.

“From Monza we back to the UK and had the caravan repaired, as the rough roads had caused the body to come away from the chassis. The Ulster GP was next. Kel finished fourth on the Aermacchi 350 and had another great race with Dave Simmonds to take fourth on the 125 Honda. We did some races at Brands Hatch and Cadwell Park, and we stayed in London for a while.

“I flew home from there with the intention, after having a great time in 1967, of returning in 1968. But I met this wonderful girl named Patricia and we were married in 1969.”  Patrick Bruce sold his last motorcycle, a BMW R 1150 RT, a few years ago.

by Don Cox