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Motocross Legend Gibbes

Motocross Legend Gibbes

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Australian Motocross Legend Tim Gibbes

Tim Gibbes before the start of the Austrian round of the World 500cc MX Championship at Sittendorf, Vienna
Tim Gibbes racing motocross in a Grand Prix in Europe
Tim Gibbes - 500cc International Challenge winner at the 1960 European motocross Grand Prix in Czechoslovakia

Photo: [Left to right] Tim Gibbes before the start of the Austrian round of the 1960 World 500cc MX Championship at Sittendorf, near Vienna in Austria;  Gibbes’ very first International Grand Prix  was at this circuit in 1956, where he finished sixth overall; and winning the 500cc International Challenge at the 1960  European 250cc Championship round in Prague, Czechoslovakia (Tim Gibbes Collection)

Tim Gibbes – One of Australia’s earliest international motocross pioneers

Australian Tim Gibbes is one of the earliest pioneers of the sport of motocross, or scrambles, as it was known in the early days. His influence was world-wide both on and off the track.

Gibbes was the first Australian to win the International Six Day Trial then added motocross and road racing to his repertoire to help fund his travels across the United Kingdom, Europe, the Iron Curtain and later the United States.

He was immediately successful in motocross and went on to have an eight-year professional International career, representing Australian in several 250 and 500cc European Motocross Grand Prix events – finishing in the Top 6 and winning the two 500cc International Challenges in 1960 – in Czechoslovakia (22 May) and Poland a week later.

While in Europe, Tim was even employed as a stunt rider in the famous American World War II movie “The Great Escape”.

Tim helped the Japanese motorcycle factories design their breakthrough lightweight two-stroke motocross and off-road machines and train local riders.

And if that is not enough, Gibbes introduced international motocross to both New Zealand and Australia in the late 1960s.

In 1985, Gibbes was made a “Gold Life Member” by the Motorcycle Federation of All Japan for his contribution to the industry, then in 2016 he was inducted into the Motorcycle New Zealand Hall of Fame for his contribution to motorcycling.

 

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Tim Gibbes motocross life story

3M promotional trailer: Tim Gibbes’ motorcycling achievements

30M documentary: Tim Gibbes motocross life story

Growing up in New South Wales and South Australia

Tim Gibbes as a child in Longueville, near Sydney in New South Wales
Tim Gibbes riding his first motorbike - a 1925 model 300cc sidevalve JAP engine New Imperial

Gibbes as a child in Longueville, near Sydney, and riding his first motorbike – a 1925, 300cc JAP engine New Imperial

Tim Gibbes was born on 12 October 1933 at Longueville, near Sydney in New South Wales.

From an early age, Tim was fascinated in motor vehicles. While studying at an Agricultural High School, his mind was on designing transmission systems for cars and bikes.

But as cars were too expensive for a young lad, he opted for a motorcycle and bought his first bike in 1947. He paid 10 quid ($Au20) for a 1925 model 300cc sidevalve JAP engine New Imperial.

In 1949, at age 16, Tim left school to work on farms so that he could be involved with engines – cars, trucks, tractors and motorcycles.

In 1953 he moved to Adelaide to work for an earthmoving company, to get him closer to the motorcycle scene.

After taking up enduro racing, he got the racing bug and set off for England on 29 October 1955 (as a 22 year old) to check out the international motorcycle world.

At the time, only one Australian motorcyclist had preceded him in Europe – Victorian scrambles rider Les Sheehan two years earlier.

Landing in England and a Gold ISDE medal

Exactly two months after landing in England, Tim managed to land a dream job as a prototype test rider for AMC – the A.J.S. and Matchless factory.

Riding around 450 kilometers a day through the British winter traffic gave him lots of experience on a variety of English-made bikes, including Matchless, A.J.S., D.O.T. and Ariel machines.

The Scramble events in England paid handsome prizemoney, so Tim started racing this branch of motorsport to boost his wages, so he could take time off to ride in events like the Scottish 6-day Trial, Welsh 3-day trial and other major observed trials.

AMC competitions Manager Hugh Viney noticed Tim’s talent and provided him with a factory ISDT (International Six Day Trial) bike and made him a member of the factory team for the 1956 ISDT.

Tim won a gold medal at this event – becoming the first Australian rider to achieve this.

The win bought him attention and opportunities, where the prizemoney enabled him to buy his own car and become independent, rather than relying on others to get to events.

1956 ISDT @ Garmisch, West Germany. Tim's 1st Gold medal & AJS Team member with trials tyres

In 1956 Tim Gibbes became the first Australian to win a Gold Medal at the International Six Day Trial

Tim Gibbes testing bikes in England

On arrival in England, Gibbes landed a dream job testing bikes for the A.J.S. and Matchless Factory

Tim Gibbes meets the Duchess of Gloucester at the opening of the Earls Court Motorcycle Show

After winning Gold at the 1956 ISDE, Tim met the Duchess of Gloucester at the opening of the Earls Court Motorcycle Show

Tim Gibbes first car – 1949 Austin A40 Pickup

Prize money from the ISDE and motocross enabled Tim to buy his first car – a 1949 Austin A40 Pickup

Racing international motocross in the United Kingdom and Europe

Tim Gibbes competed with success at high profile international events and world championship Grand Prix’s between 1955 and 1963.

Over the next two years Tim recorded wins at all levels.

In 1960 Tim compete at the Czechoslovakian and Polish European 250cc Motocross Grand Prix rounds, as well as the 500cc International Challenge, which he won at both events.

“In Czechoslovakia and Poland in May 1960, Gibbes  won the 500cc International Challenge at the European 250cc Grand Prix events, finishing fifth in  250cc Polish Grand Prix”

These races were grueling – with the Grand Prix events run over two races of 45 minutes, plus 2 laps, with some internationals run over three.

That year Tim also won two International events -in Mistlebach (Austria) and Lavoux (France) – also winning the Sussex Motocross Grand National in Great Britain.

It was during this time when Tim first met New Zealander Joan Cleghorn, who he would later marry. Ken Cleghorn’s mother, father and sister Joan travelled to England to watch Ken race motocross, where Tim was also competing.

Starting line-up for the 1958 Italian 500cc World Championship MX Grand Prix - Tim Gibbes 21 on Ariel 500

Tim Gibbes (No.21, Ariel) on the starting line for the 1958 Italian 500cc World Championship Motocross Grand Prix

Tim Gibbes takes Premiere 1st place position with his factory 500cc AJS, 6th August,1961, Lavoux in France

Gibbes takes the premiere first place position on his factory 500cc A.J.S. bike in Lavoux, France on 6 August 1961

New Zealander Ken Kleghorn in Europe

Gibbes travelled across Europe with New Zealander Ken Kleghorn in Europe.  He would later marry Ken’s sister Joan

Racing behind the Iron Curtain

While in Europe, Gibbes also raced behind the Iron Curtain – motocross, grass track, and enduro events in East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

His first venture into the “Russian Red Zone” was in June 1957 for the famous Teterow grass track meeting in East Germany. 

Tim travelled more than 1,000 kilometers from his last international event at Niort in France to compete there. 

That period was during the “Cold War” between Russia and the United States.  

In Communist countries there was no freedom and crossing borders was tense and extremely dangerous for Westerners.  

No photos were permitted, there were long delays, barriers were in place to prevent “drive throughs” and escapes, plus there were sniffer dogs, vehicle inspections and incessant questioning.  

After much interrogation and having his English motor cycle magazines confiscated, Tim was eventually allowed to enter East Germany but had to be accompanied by a KGB officer.

Amongst the International riders were two Aussies who Tim already knew – Roy East and Les Fisher from New South Wales.  

Les and Roy went really well and would return to this major annual race for some years with another Fisher “Ray” winning the race in 1963.

Tim Gibbes at the Teterow border crossing in East Germany

Gibbes with other Australian riders at the border crossing in Teterow, East Germany

More than 100,000 spectators were at the famous Teterow Grasstrack meeting in East Germany

More than 100,000 spectators were at the famous Teterow Grasstrack meeting in East Germany in 1956

Tim Gibbes, Les Fisher and Roy East

The Australians in the rider’s paddock at Teterow [L-R] Roy East, Gibbes, and Les Fisher

Iron Curtain - Tim Gibbes, Les Fisher and Roy East racing at Teterow in East Germany

Les Fisher (27) leads the Aussie riders at Teterow – ahead of Roy East (26) and Tim Gibbes (25)

Tim Gibbes, Les Fisher and Roy East at he welcome ceremony at Teterow in East Germany

Roy East, Les Fisher and Gibbes at the rider’s welcome ceremony at Teterow

Gibbes' US racing experiences

In late 1959, after several years in England, to escape the British winter Tim headed to the United States to race.

On 5 November he departed Southampton on the “Queen Mary” bound for New York.

Despite Having won three Gold ISDT medals and many scrambling wins on the continent, Tim could not get an AMA Pro license. Amazingly, he was told to join a local club to get some experience first.

Needless to say, at his first event he won the first heat, then the final on a borrowed Royal Enfield drag bike fitted with knobby tyres for the day.

While in America, Tim won the 1959 Hesperian (Californian) Trials Championship, ahead of Bud Ekins, who he would later work with as a stunt rider in The Great Escape movie. 

He also competed in many desert races, including the Big Bear Run in Orange County MC, Lucerne Valley, California, the Crater Bowl Scramble and Checkers National Hare Hound.

Tim Gibbes won the Hesperian - Californian Hare Scramble

Typical Mojave Desert “Big Bear” country – Bud Ekins and  Tim Gibbes preparing for the 1960 “Big Bear Run”.  Gibbes rode a 650cc Matchless Indian twin loaned by the Indian Company.

Getting hitched, back to Europe and working as a stunt rider

Tim Gibbes and Joan Cleghorn at wedding reception in 1961

Tim Gibbes and Joan Cleghorn at their wedding reception in New Zealand in 1961

At the end of the 1961 season Tim travelled to New Zealand where he rekindled his relationship with Joan Cleghorn.

The couple married on 16 December 1961, ten days after the first ever real motocross event in New Zealand at the now famous Woodville circuit, which is the venue for the country’s Motocross Grand Prix.

The newly-weds, Tim and Joan, travelled together to Europe where Tim continued racing motocross for another two years.

“In 1962 Tim Gibbes teamed up with close friend and US desert racer Bud Ekins to be the stunt rider in the classic movie The Great Escape.”

The World War II Hollywood movie was filmed in southern Germany that year and was released in 1963.

Ekins was hired as a stand-in for a then fresh-faced young actor called Steve McQueen and Tim helped plan all the motorcycle stunts, while performing some himself.

Back in England, on 14 October 1963 Tim was a member of the winning side that beat the British in a one-off test match at Pembury, near Brands Hatch.

The winning Australian team also included Charlie West (WA), Kelvin Franks (SA), Bob Walpole (VIC), Ray East (NSW), Ray Fisher (VIC) and Jack Pringle (NSW).

The Great Escape - Tim Gibbes with Steve McQueen

Actor Steve McQueen with stunt rider Tim Gibbes on the set of The Great Escape

Actor Steve McQueen about to try to make a break for freedom in The Great Escape

Steve McQueen, who plays an English POW, about to try to make a break for freedom on a stolen motorbike

The Great Escape - Tim Gibbes with Steve McQueen after the bike stunt

The stunt where McQueen (playing an English POW) steals the bike and uniform of Gibbes’ (German soldier) after setting a trip wire across the road

1963 victorious Australian Team at Pembury in England

The 1963 victorious Australian Team at Pembury in England. [L-R] Charlie West (WA), Kelvin Franks (SA), Bob Walpole (VIC), Ray East (NSW), Ray Fisher (VIC), Jack Pringle (NSW) and Gibbes.

A new beginning in Japan

At the end of 1963 Tim and Joan decided to settle in New Zealand, and stopped over in Japan on the way to attend the he 10th Tokyo Motor Show – covering it for the British press.

The Japan stopover proved to be the start of a new beginning with Tim landing many jobs. 

He formed new relationships and returned to Japan for many years running motocross and enduro training camps for the Japanese riders.

Tim also helped lay the foundations for the Japanese motorcycle factories to design and build the new innovative lightweight, two-stroke machines, which were about to take the world by storm.

In 1985, the Motorcycle Federation of All Japan made Tim a “Gold Life Member” for his contribution to the industry.

Tim Gibbes with Japanese factory staff

Tim made many trips to Japan in the 1960s running motocross training schools and helping the Japanese factories develop their new innovative lightweight motocross and off-road machines

Settling down in New Zealand

Tim Gibbes motor cycle shop

Tim Gibbes established a motor cycle business in Manawatu, New Zealand after retiring from international motocross in Europe and the US

After eight years as a professional racer in Britain, Europe and America, Tim Gibbes and his wife Joan made Manawatu in New Zealand home.

Tim, who co-founded the Woodville Motocross Club and established the New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville, got involved with this club and event – which has been held every year at the same grassy farmland each year since 1961.

Woodville now stands alone as the biggest and best motocross in New Zealand, second in significance only to the nationals. Gibbes played a pivotal role in making the Woodville motocross what it is today.

In September 1965 Tim opened up his own motorcycle shop in Manawatu, but in the early seventies moved to Palmerston North New Zealand, where Joan’s family lived.

Introducing international motocross down under

In 1964 Tim established the Gold Leaf International Motocross tour of New Zealand, bringing over three international riders from England and Europe – George Hauger (Germany), Authur Harris (England), and Max Morf (Switzerland).

In December 1966 Tim extended the International Motocross Tour to include Australia. He also competed in these events.

Herne Hill (WA) was the first round, then Snake Gully (SA), Christmas Hill (VIC), followed by Woolongong (NSW) before crossing the Tasman for seven more events at different venues across New Zealand.

These tours were extremely popular and successful – attracting thousands of spectators and boosting the sport and in Australia and New Zealand.

Gold Leaf Series in New Zealand

In 1964 Tim Gibbes established the Gold Leaf International Motocross tour of New Zealand

Gold Leaf Series in New Zealand - Posters

Promotional materials for the NZ Gold Leaf International Motocross tour

1966 Acrobatics from Tim trying to control his 250 MDS Greeves during the International MX Series

1966 Acrobatics from Tim trying to control his 250 MDS Greeves during the International MX Series

1966 Australian NZ International Tour in New Zealand - on the road in the eastern states

1966 Australian NZ International Tour in New Zealand – on the road in the eastern states

Life after motocross

Tim continued to ride motorcycles until he was 60 years old.

Amazingly, he had an enjoyable injury-free career and won six Gold ISDE Gold medals and a heap of international motocross races.

Since retiring from racing, he continued organising various motorcycling events, including motocross, enduros, trials and road racing, as well as taking up car racing and rallying.

During the 1980’s to 1990’s Tim became the team manager for the New Zealand teams competing in the World Motocross of Nations and International Seven Day Enduro.

In 2016, Gibbs was inducted into the Motorcycle New Zealand Hall of Fame.

Tim Gibbes rode motorcycles until he was sixty but continued racing rally cars

Tim Gibbes rode motorcycles until he was sixty but continued racing rally cars

Tim Gibbes and his wife Joan contributed to many motorsports

Tim Gibbes and his wife Joan contributed to many other motorsports, including road racing

The Great Escape display at Triumph Factory visitor's centre in England

In 2019 Tim was invited to England to participate in a special rerun of the 1963 film “The Great Escape”

Tim Gibbes inducted into New Zealand Hall of Fame

Tim and Joan in 2016 proudly celebrating his induction into the Motorcycle NZ Hall of Fame

Gibbes' motorbike career highlights

Tim Gibbes' medallions

1957 to 1963 (Europe and America)

  • Winner of six Gold Medals as a member of the Australian and British ISDE teams
  • Winner of two European Motocross Grand Prix rounds in 1960
  • Winner of two International motocross events in 1960
  • Winner of the Sussex Motocross Grand National
  • Winner of the US Californian Trials Championship

1985
Made a “Gold Life Member” by the Motorcycle Federation of All Japan

2016
Inducted into the Motorcycle New Zealand Hall of Fame.

 

 

Video gallery

TIM GIBBES MOTOCROSS STORY – 3 min promotional trailer: Summary

TIM GIBBES MOTOCROSS STORY – 3 min promotional trailer: Hollywood movie stunt rider

TIM GIBBES MOTOCROSS STORY – 30 min documentary of Tim’s motocross career

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3 Comments

  1. Well done John to record so much Australian MX History. A beyond human amount of research & communication to collate all this information, photos & videos for the Australian MXers.
    Thank you & greetings to riders & supporters of a great sport which has developed throughout the world & not surprisingly Australian riders feature everywhere too.
    Greetings to you all. Tim

  2. A stunning recollection of Tim’s (and Joan’s) colourful life of motorcycles. I hope he realises just how many of us throughout the world he has assisted & inspired. A true legend. Thanks, Collie-dog.

    Colin Cooper
  3. Hi Tim, I am producing a movie about the Eltham & District MCC here in England and I believe you worked with Jim Walby and others as AMC test riders. I know from my research that Jim inducted many of the Aussie employees into the club and that some of them appear in your Pembury photograph on the website. I was wondering if you were ever a member of the Eltham Club at any time? I have a wonderful shot taken, I believe, at Jackson’s Gully featuring Jim with Graham ??, Jack Pringle, Roy East, Ray Fisher and Al Nelder (these were named by Brian Slark and Len Walby – Jim’s son). It almost seemed to be a right of passage for Aussie and Kiwi visitors to work at AMC and thus associate with the Eltham Club and even extended to Bud Ekins, too. I would be fascinated to hear any of your thoughts if you were one of those. Sorry to have bothered you if none of this is relevant to you. Kind regards, Paul Duffett

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