Track test at the Basse TT public roads course in Holland of the original Drixton Honda 500 raced by Australian privateer Terry Dennehy in 1969/70 500cc Grand Prix seasons
It’s very unlikely that any other Japanese-engined Classic era road racer has been replicated as frequently around the world as the twin-cylinder Drixton Honda. Created back in 1968 by Aussie Terry Dennehy and his mechanic mate Ralph Hannan to go 500GP racing affordably in the heyday of the Continental Circus, this privateer concoction entailed their tuning up a stretched twin-cylinder CB450 Honda K4 motor, and wrapping it in a frame made in Italy by Swiss man-of-many-parts, Othmar ‘Marly’ Drixl. A rider himself of no mean ability, Marly is best remembered for the small series of Drixton frames which he produced in the late 1960s for Aermacchi and Honda engines, originally under the aegis of the then British Aermacchi importer and former Norton works rider, the late Syd Lawton.
“Marly was one of those people who always made it his business to know what was going on,” recalled Lawton in an interview we made together before he passed away in 1997. “But despite this, and the fact that he always seemed to have some deal or other on the go, he was also just about permanently broke! I first came across him in 1964, not long after I began importing Aermacchis. Marly was working on the production line at their factory, and living with his wife and young child in a van parked up by the nearby lake. He turned out to be the perfect intermediary for me in dealing with the people there, since I didn’t speak Italian and he did, as well as English and practically everything else even though it soon became obvious he was mainly interested in getting me to sponsor him to go racing!”
After their meeting Drixl did indeed race quite a bit in Britain on an Aermacchi with some help from Lawton, and it was on one of his visits to the UK in the mid-‘60s that the two discussed a problem which had recently arisen. The manufacturers of Avon tyres had pulled out of racing, and the new triangular Dunlop tyres which were a Hobson’s choice replacement for them proved quite unsuited to the already fingertip handling of the standard Aermacchi frame. “Marly said he could make an Aermacchi chassis that would be much better suited to the Dunlops,” says Lawton, “if only I would provide him with the necessary materials. Well, I knew that if I gave him the money to buy enough steel tube to make a dozen frames, he’d probably end up only making one! Marly wasn’t dishonest, but cash burnt a hole in his pocket, which was why he was usually broke. Anyway, I staked him enough to build the first three frames, which he did in the Baroni engineering workshop in Milan, then he sold them through me as Drixtons – standing for DRIXl and LawTON chassis.
Around 25 Drixton Aermacchi frames were built from 1965-69, some of which were snapped up by leading GP privateers such as John Hartle and Aussie Kel Carruthers, who finished third in the 1968 350cc World Championship on such a bike behind the MV Agusta and Benelli fours. Not bad for a pushrod single – but the assured handling of the Drixton frame was a key element in this success. Many of the Drixton Aermacchis built back then are still around today, thanks perhaps to their sturdy but somewhat agricultural construction. “‘Marly not only taught himself to weld on those early frames, he also built them without a set of engine cases, so that afterwards it was usually impossible to line everything up!” recalled Syd Lawton. “However, he did persevere, and eventually got it more or less right, although the main reason in my view the bikes handled quite well was the excellence of the Baroni forks he fitted to them.”
One of Drixl’s customers for the Drixton Aermacchi frame had been Australian Continental Circus privateer Terry Dennehy, who was based in Milan, 50km from the Aermacchi factory. In Easter 1964 at the age of 19, he’d quite remarkably won his first ever motorcycle race by riding his standard Honda CB72 road bike to victory on the challenging Bathurst circuit in the Australian TT’s newly-instigated Lightweight Production class, after which he and his mechanic mate Ralph Hannan, both from Sydney, took up the racing game seriously. The Honda was turned into an Open-class 350cc racer which took Dennehy to second place in the 1966 Australian TT at Bathurst, after leading until the final lap when the cam chain tensioner broke. Then with the Honda in 500cc guise he led the following year’s Phillip Island TT convincingly until the primary chain broke, and he crashed. Time for the two 22-year olds to join the exodus of Aussie up-and-comers to Europe, and become part of the Continental Circus.
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