Not a gear out of place: The world according to Gyro
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Not a gear out of place: The world according to Gyro

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By OldBike - 05 October 2016
Words: Jim Scaysbrook Photos: Robin Lewis Technical Descriptions: Collete Roberts 

Graeme Carless’ world is black and white – he’s a BMW man through and through. “I had the usual stuff; Enfields, Nortons, Triumphs, then I got hold of a BM and I thought, this is the way it really works! You get all these things over and done with early. I realised I was heterosexual, then they wanted me to vote, and wanted to send me to Vietnam – so I’m a Labor voter, I drive Fords and I ride BMWs – by the time you’re 19 you need to have it all sorted.” Get the picture? With Mr Carless, what you see is what you get – a straight-talking, no-nonsense, larger-than-life figure that has no truck with pompous officials, zealots of any kind, or by the sound of it, Liberal-voting Holden drivers.

Of course, few people know the man as Graeme Carless. Around the age of 14 his mate Dave Millington branded him Gyro, after the crazy inventor Gyro Gearloose in the Walt Disney comics, and he has been Gyro ever since. He’s still mates with Dave, who has made many of the exquisite exhaust pipes for the seemingly never ending line of ECCO BMW specials that have appeared for decades.

For a while, Gyro worked in Darwin – he made his first trip there in 1969 and is still a regular visitor. He enjoys the lifestyle, and the hunting, and has a lot of friends in the Top End.

Along the way, Gyro opened his own business, ECCO Engineering in Coburg, as a general engineering firm. “I soon found out there was no money in general engineering, after employing nine people for a while. The only ones I was making happy were those nine people, not me, so I built V8 engines for a while – sports car engines and racing engines”. One product that will always be associated with Gyro and his firm are the ECCO cast alloy and magnesium wheels – pioneering efforts in the days when spokes were still king.

In 1977, Gyro built a radical BMW based around a R75/5, punched out to 900 cc with beautiful alloy bodywork by Rod Tingate and with Kenny Blake in the saddle. In Gyro’s words, “It never won a race, but it handled really well and Blakey enjoyed riding it. Without doubt, the spectators enjoyed the sight and sound of the ECCO BMW in its appearances at Hume Weir, Winton, Adelaide Raceway and Calder. In the days of the disappearing two strokes and the howling Japanese fours, the BM made beautiful music and Kenny always got the maximum out of it.

In the early eighties Gyro had a brief period away from BMWs, as one third of the famous, or perhaps infamous Syndicate team that built, maintained and ran the fire-breathing Syndicate Kawasaki Superbike with Andrew Johnson at the controls. These were the fledgling days of the local superbike scene, when the big four strokes were in the process of taking over the mantle of the nation’s premier class from the 500 cc GP class and the withering FIM 750 class. The Syndicate Kawasaki locked horns with Robbie Phillis on the Mick Hone Suzuki in many memorable battles in the NGK Superbike Series, with Phillis’ smooth style usually getting him the verdict over the hard-riding Johnson. 

It was also, sadly, the time w Kenny Blake lost his life in the Isle of Man.

The other rider in Gyro’s line up “(“I’ve only ever had three riders – Blakey, Ajay and Johnno”) is Greg Johnson, another name seemingly welded to the Melbourne motorcycle scene through his business, Johnson Cycletune. Greg’s rise to stardom began in the early 1970s with a Kawasaki H1RA, then a series of TZ350 Yamahas, RG500 Suzuki, and the ex-Warren Willing TZ750 Yamaha. On the latter bike, Greg set the all-time motorcycle lap record for the original Phillip Island layout (before it was shortened in the 1988 track rebuild). When Historic racing began to become established, Gyro had a shed-full of ready made machinery, and a talented jockey in Greg Johnson. The stable included a 1938 R51SS for the pre-war class, a 1960 R50SS, and a 1959 R69 taken out to 680 cc for the Unlimited class.

Nowadays, Gyro is semi-retired, although ECCO Engineering is still very much in operation. He spends much of his time tinkering with his own race bikes and increasingly, undertaking customer work on a wide range of BMW projects. The heavy work is done at the factory in Coburg, and the assembly work in his immaculate and well-appointed workshop at his home in the western extremities of Melbourne. In his living room is an immaculate 90 ci Offenhauser speedway engine in a glass case – Gyro is an expert on these too and has rebuilt quite a few for the vintage speedcar scene. Adjacent to the workshop is a line-up of all the ECCO BMW specials, “I kept all my mistakes, “Gyro says with alarming frankness.

A trip through the Gyro factory.

R51/3 BMW Drag Bike.

“I wanted to go drag racing as a kid,” Gyro says of the incredible looking fore-and-aft twin. “It’s only a 500 with a Norton gearbox. We made every mistake, Peter Curran and myself – we poured our own cylinders by melting down old pistons, but we didn’t know about de-gassing. We made the frame, used an old JAP fuel tank, through-bolted the motor – it runs on just under 10:1 with 25% nitro, did 13.8 seconds with me on it. I guess it was OK for those days.” The bike was built as a ‘foreign order’ at Stanco in Melbourne in the early 1970s.

Frame  Designed & modified by Kal Carrick
Engine bore & stroke  68mm x 68mm 490 cc
Cam timing: Exhaust opens @ 30º closes @ 70º Inlet opens @ 70º closes @ 30º
Comp ratio: 12.1
Fuel: Alcohol
Ignition Timing  (std) 40º
Wheels:  Front  Honda Step Through  Rear unknown
Final drive ratio: 3.3
Gear Box: Norton 4 Speed
Top Speed: 106mph
Best Time: 13.83 standing quarter mile.
Rider:  Gyro (The human wind brake!)

 

1970 R75/5 Superbike

All shining aluminium – the work of craftsman Rod Tingate – the ECCO BMW was an attempt to create a non-Japanese superbike for the fledgling class in Australia, at a time when alcohol fuel was permitted. It looked and sounded superb, but was no match for the power of the four cylinder bikes, despite Blake’s brilliance in the saddle. It ran from 1976 to 1978. It used Moto Mozzi one-piece two piston calipers, brought into Australia by Ron Angel. These pre-dated the Scarab and later Brembo types.

Frame: 1970 R75/5
Engine bore & Stroke:  90mm x 69mm
Cam timing: Exhaust opens @ 82º closes @ 52º  Inlet opens @ 52º closes 82º
Capacity: 885cc
Comp ratio: 14.2:1
Fuel: Alcohol
Ignition & Timing:  Kroeber – 32 Degrees
Forks – BMW Ecco modified
Brakes: Moto Mozzi Scarab callipers, Ecco Discs
Wheels:  Front and rear Ecco cast alloy  
Final drive ratio: 3.4 to 2.6
Wins: 2
Rider: Ken Blake

 

1938 R51SS Race bike

Clearly one of Gyro’s favourites, the pre-war racer had an amazing run of success with Greg Johnson aboard. “We were never beaten by a legal bike,” Gyro says, referring to some rather dubious machines that have run in the Pre War class, “and it took lap records at every track we raced on. It took three years and 500 cans (of beer) to build with the help of my crew and my good friends Alex and Bill. Greg Johnson detailed the bike (and the other two racers bearing his number 5) and were a credit to him and a sight to behold. We didn’t have the correct wheels as used on the factory bikes, but we used the full width single or double leading shoe which was legal depending on where you raced. “

Frame: 1938 plunger rear suspension
Engine bore & Stroke:  68mm x 68mm
Cam timing: Exhaust opens @ 75º closes @ 41º Inlet opens @ 40º closes @ 77º
Capacity: 500cc
Comp ratio: 14.0:1
Fuel: Alcohol
Ignition & Timing: Kroeber – 38 Degrees
Forks: R51 BMW
Wheels:  Front and rear 1938 BMW 
Final drive ratio; 3.4
Wins  - 26
Rider -  Greg  Johnson

 

1960 R50SS Race Bike

Raced by Greg Johnson in the Period 3 (Pre 1963 class, the BMW was never a match for the Manx Nortons and Matchless G50s but Gyro recalls one memorable win at Eastern Creek. “ It was a three round 500 race, and Dave Cole and the other favourites all had some sort of problem in a round, but Greg just kept at it and kept finishing and won overall. That was quite satisfying.” The bike uses Carinae front forks with a front brake from an AJS 7R. “That brake works very well if it’s set up right and you use the right linings, which are impossible to get these days.” 

 

1959 R69 Race Bike

“This is my favourite bike. An absolute giant killer – there’s nothing it hasn’t done. We used a Fontana double-sided front brake in NSW where it was legal, but they wouldn’t let us use that brake in Victoria. Bernie Willetts did all the alloy work. I reckon it’s beautiful but Greg (Johnson) hated the fairing – he reckoned it look like the engine cover off a Vespa.” Bernie (Willetts) liked it too, he was very happy with the way it turned out. Poor Bernie hasn’t been too well in recent times, but he’s still working, thank Christ, and he still does work for me and it’s still great. I will say here I had a great team of friends over all my years playing with the BM’s that have enjoyed the bikes as much as I have.

Davo did the Pipes on most of the bikes, Roy Bogner the same with all the paint work (and his father before him), my good friend Bill Frost in the pits at every meeting helping in every way possible. Alex (no longer with us) did so much of the engineering work, he was my right hand man. Kal Carrick helped me build most of the Frames and helped with the straightening of them through the years.”

 

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