Almost wherever you go in the BMW world, Peter Clark will get a mention. Many have never met Clarkie but his reputation is wide-spread.
While the skills of an experienced mechanic are largely circumvented by modern diagnostic equipment, ‘stick it on the machine and see what’s wrong’ doesn’t always work.
“We had a HP4 in here recently which stopped on its owner without notice,” he said. “The machine tested all okay. Gave it back. It stopped again. A series of components were replaced and eventually the problem went away. Another HP4 came in – same issue – no, the fix for the other bike didn’t solve the problem.”
Peter cut his teeth on motorcycles by racing a T20 Suzuki which he modified. He was living in Hurlstone Park with others who raced. It was a great experience and he became very proficient with two-strokes.
It was the ’70s and he went to WA where he used his van to clean up building sites. In those days, the Nullarbor had sections of dirt. He tells of mud up past the door sills. The building industry turned sour in the early ’70s and Peter eventually scored a job with Mortlocks in Perth doing Suzuki, then Triumphs and Nortons and, later, the first Suzuki jeeps to come to Australia (two-stroke, of course). Later, someone from Shacks in Fremantle offered him more money to come and take care of their Hondas as well as the occasional Holden which was the main part of the dealership.
After a time, he headed back east with his West Australian wife. The logical route was via the Top End and back down to Sydney.
In those days, mechanical qualifications were for cars only (Certificate in Automotive Engineering). He answered a couple of ads and, in November 1974, he made contact with Don Wilson of Tom Byrne Motorcycles.
Wilson was the workshop chief at Tom Byrne. It was Don who fettled the BMW assault (and win) at the Castrol Six-Hour. Clark learnt much of his skill from Don, “a tough man whose judgement you didn’t doubt”.
If you wanted it done properly, you took it to Donnie.
Peter didn’t immediately fall under the dreaded spell of the Bavarian steeds. The dealer also sold Jawa, so, with his two-stroke experience, he was kept busy with those. Don introduced him to the German twins and singles. “It’s now bloody 41 years of BMs! What was I thinking?” he says.
These were the days of pressed-up cranks for the R50/R60/R69S range. “Don would do it once and the assembly would turn smoothly on the V blocks.
“Mine were less successful. It’s almost a forgotten art – something you need to have a ‘feel’ for.”
There were mundane jobs such as swapping out a batch of gearboxes.
You got good at it – 16-19 minutes to remove a Slash Six gearbox. As the technicians were paid by the gearbox, time was critical.
IN THE KNOW
Byrne always looked after other traders. Peter recalls Tom saying: “We need them. Without our support through slow and busy times they may fail.”
Stalwarts were Jack Allen (metal repairs), Star Enamel (paint) and, later, Keed’s Premier (chrome) and Rider Wheelworks (which could roll and repair spoked wheels – a forgotten art).
Peter stayed at Byrnes for 15 years as service manager, a stressful job. He eventually followed Don Wilson to the business he’d set up in Punchbowl in 1990 for a couple of years.
Things got a bit quiet there and, with Don’s approval, Peter was approached by Ed Byrne to go back to Tom Byrne as service manager, which he eventually agreed to.
Peter stayed until January, 2001 but left with the intention of becoming a postie. Immediately after leaving, he was approached a number of times by David Killeen to work at Southbank Motorcycles in Melbourne. He agreed to go on a three-month trial and ended up staying six before returning to Sydney.
“Rob at Motohansa had already told me if I came back to Sydney to see him and so I started there and stayed until late 2004. By then, the new models with CANBUS technology had arrived and I was approached by Peter Lucas on behalf of Procycles to return to St Peters where Phil and Anne Harris’ Procycles, now Anthony Katters, emerged from the demise of Tom Byrne Motorcycles. I realised that, with technology changing, I needed to return to a dealer,” he says.
He now resides at Procycles St Peters some days a week – out the back doing what he does best – fettling BMWs.
It’s rare that he emerges from his lair. “I’ve done the workshop manager/customer liaison bit and it’s not me,” he says.
He is frustrated by owners who do their own servicing, muck the system up and then bring the bike in to be fixed. “Quite simply, if you don’t know what you are doing, don’t touch it.
“If the manufacturers spend millions on training and sophisticated diagnostic equipment, it is unlikely you will crack the code with a set of tools and a test light. Even the early twins require some know-how.”
Clarkie (like his teachers) can often diagnose a fault in an old twin by simply listening to it, kicking it over or identifying the cause based only on the symptoms. Sometimes I think he just gives the machine a steely glare and it hops back into tune.
Peter is a BMW master technician. He is one of the few who remains on the tools. He nominates a past master technician, Brian Waugh of Munich Motorcycle, as someone who knows a great deal about the old models. Mark Muscat, of Procycles Hornsby, is another who he greatly respects.
Peter reckons the great thing about BMW Australia (apart from keeping the legendary Steve Adcock employed for so long) is the amount of training and support it provides and the staff dedication to the product.
The introduction of the master technicians program is a good example. We’re fortunate Peter is still working as his like is getting rare.