Jack Findlay won the World FIM-F750 Championship on a TZ750B that made its way, untouched, back to Australia. 35-years later, the 120-bhp four-cylinder two-stroke was let loose at Broadford... Test: Alan Cathcart Photography: Stephen Piper
In recent Throwback Thursday editions, Alan has ridden the Roberts father and son 500s, the piston port YZR500 OW48R of Kenny Snr. and the 2000 XR89 Suzuki RGV500 winner of Roberts Jnr. This time we step back to 1975 and Aussie hero Jack Findlay’s amazing TZ750B.
When Noel Heenan acquired Jack Findlay’s FIM title-winning Yamaha TZ750B it was in essentially the same identical condition in which the legendary Aussie privateer had won the 1975 FIM Formula 750 championship with it. Thankfully, he chose to ride it not store it…
It had been on unrestored static display in private collections since it last turned a wheel on the race track in Jack’s hands, apart from a single public appearance in more than 30 years at Findlay’s home town of Mooroopna, in Central Victoria, to mark the unveiling a bronze statue of Jack in the centre of town in July 2006.
To welcome the bike’s return to Mooroopna after Heenan purchased it, the local council staged a civic reception for it, and Noel obtained a special licence in order to ride the four-cylinder racebike up and down Mooroopna’s McLennan Street main drag, just as devoid of silencers for the four stinger exhausts today as it was back then.
“It was so noisy it set off all the burglar alarms up and down the street!” recalled Noel with a smile as we stood in the Broadford paddock looking at a bike that, more than most, is true history on wheels – a timewarp motorcycle in every way. “Remarkably, nothing on it has ever been butchered,” said Noel.
“Most TZ’s have been handed down many times, whereas this bike never has been. Jack raced it for just a couple of seasons, and then it came to Australia and sat around for 30 years, without being touched by a spanner or anything.
Read Alan’s round by round overview of Jack Findlay’s 1975 season here…
I doubt Jack ever saw it again himself, because he very rarely came back to Australia. We knew his mother, who still lived here, and we’d go to her house for a cup of tea and to have a look at his trophies and everything. They weren’t big money people, and travel wasn’t like it is today where you just hop on a plane like catching a bus, so after he left Mooroopna Jack rarely came back.”
But having scraped together the steep $60,000 asking price to acquire the Yamaha, spray-painter and panel beater Heenan didn’t intend it should spend another 30 years locked up in his garage, preferring to show off the bike which took an Australian hero to world title success to today’s enthusiasts, in spite of the inevitable pressures of racing something this original and historic.
“We live in times where everything is wrapped in cotton wool, and where people are afraid to do something exciting,” said Noel. ”I was determined that Jack Findlay’s title-winner should be seen and heard in action again.”
So, since buying it he’s raced the Yamaha in Post-Classic historic racing, then took it to the UK to ride it at Classic Donington, followed by the Classic TT in the Isle of Man. This was unfortunately soured by Noel being one of more than a dozen newcomers on genuine Classic motorcycles being refused to start under the 107% rule, in spite of lapping over 90mph in practice.
It was thanks to a scorching qualifying lap put up by a modern road racer on a replica motorcycle. How sad for such a festival of Classic racing that what was unquestionably the most historic motorcycle in the entry list was prevented from racing in this arbitrary and short-sighted fashion.
“We came home with our tails between our legs, no doubt about it,” says Noel. “We did everything that was expected of us, at great expense and no small sacrifice, gradually built our speeds up to what was widely recognised as an appropriate speed for a newcomer – and were then told we couldn’t race because someone on a brand-new bike had done such a fast time.
“I and all the others found the attitude of the organisers very disappointing, and unworthy of the great traditions of the Isle of Man TT races”.
GETTING ON TRACK
Noel only began racing it after a comprehensive engine rebuild by Chris Di Nuzzo, Barry Horner’s passenger in the fearsome Irving Vincent V-twin sidecar who’s also an expert two-stroke tuner, thanks to the years they spent racing a Windle TZ750 outfit together. “Chris rebuilt the cranks with new bearings, fitted new rings to the same pistons, and replaced some of the gears that were getting worn, but otherwise did nothing else to the engine that Jack Findlay wouldn’t have done himself if he’d been preparing the bike for another season,” said Noel.
“It’s still a 700, incidentally – Jack never converted it to the full 750cc motor that came out just as he got the bike, so he won the title on a privateer Yamaha giving away 50cc to the rest. But he and his Italian mate Daniele Fontana tuned it up to get 125bhp@10,500rpm instead of the 90bhp the 694cc motor came with [105bhp for the stock 750s – AC].
So that’s why it was competitive with the bigger TZs, plus it was mega reliable – Jack almost always finished a race, which as an impecunious privateer you had to do. That’s how he won the title, even without winning a round – Sheene’s factory Suzuki was faster, but kept splitting exhausts and such.”
Speaking of exhausts, that’s the one item which Findlay used on the bike that had gone walkabout by the time Heenan acquired it, replaced by an original set of four expansion chambers mounted directly beneath the engine, a ploy which raised the motor in the frame sufficiently to give adequate ground clearance, though at the cost of flattening the mid-section of the two inner pipes.
This not only reduced power and especially torque, but also made them prone to fracture, so Findlay replaced them with a set of exhausts sourced, like the bike itself, from fellow-Aussie Kel Carruthers, who had first developed them in 1974 for the ’75 factory racers.
This sees the left-hand pipe re-routed to run up behind the carburettors, exiting beneath the rider’s right leg to give more space for an ideal conical shape on the other three exhausts, while also curing their propensity to fracture. These had gone missing by the time Noel bought the bike, but he’s since found a set of the exact same pipes that Findlay used, now fitted with silencers for Classic racing.
“We got them in America after they came up on eBay, and they were brand new,” said Noel. “A guy had got them for his own TZ750, but then had a crash that ended his career, and they were just sitting in his warehouse unused. They’re identical to the ones Jack raced with”.
This transformed the timewarp title-winning racer into exactly the way it was Back Then, with the same modifications Findlay and his Italian mate Daniele Fontana had made to the tubular steel cradle frame to fit a pair of longer-travel Koni rear shocks with variable rate springs – this was one of the older pre-Monocross twin-shock bikes – which are mounted in a slanted position compared to the more upright stock arrangement, to deliver some degree of progressivity to the suspension response.
The trio of Fontana’s trademark cast magnesium brake calipers are still there, reducing unsprung weight in the interests of superior suspension compliance, while the only non-period mod Noel has made to the bike is fitting a pair of modern floating Brembo discs which he’s upsized slightly to 298mm against the non-floating 290mm Fontana originals still to be found on his workshop shelf. “I just needed it to stop a little harder on our tight Aussie tracks,” he says.
Broadford is certainly one of those, just 100km south of Mooroopna, and I will admit to a little trepidation about riding an early TZ700 (as they’re usually known as, even though even the smaller A-series 694cc bikes were officially badged from the start as TZ750s) on such a tight, twisty circuit at the Broadford Bike Bonanza.
That’s because I’ve been fortunate to ride several TZ750s down the years, starting as far back as 1982 with former AMA road racing champion Rich Schlachter’s Bob MacLean-owned bike, a couple of Sonauto Gauloises machines, and various others.
One of these was my mate Maurice Ogier’s TZ750A, with the same 694cc engine as the one in the Findlay bike, and whereas the later full-capacity bikes were relative pussycats by comparison, that one had such a huge step in the powerband at exactly 8,000rpm when it came on the pipe, you needed to be sure of having the tyres warmed well up if you wanted to avoid a trip to highside heaven.
You can see how the TZ750 acquired such a man-eating reputation when it started out like this. But it was very, very fast, so no wonder most of those early motors ended up in sidecars – three wheels are always better than two in taming a peaky powerplant.
However, I needn’t have worried, because after a shove from Noel to send the engine crackling into life and me on my way – my half hour of riding the Findlay Yamaha in two different sessions at Broadford convinced me that this may indeed have been the nicest ‘70s two-stroke racer I’ve yet ridden.
For it has a sense of refinement and a degree of rideability quite out of keeping with the reputation of the model, perhaps as a result of Jack Findlay’s unparalleled experience gained over almost two decades of racing at the highest level.
His bike has a forgiving power delivery more typical of a four-stroke, especially by two-stroke standards of the era, with pretty meaty midrange torque, and there’s even a surprising amount of engine braking for a ring-ding road racer.
It pulls cleanly out of a slow turn from low down, which meant only lightly fingering the clutch out of one of Broadford’s several hairpins, before it came on the pipe at 5,000rpm and started to pull more strongly from 6,000rpm onwards. Thereafter it ran with a muscular rather than explosive punch of power up to the 11,000rpm mark which Noel has blue-lined it at via a strip of blue tape on the tacho.
The Findlay TZ750B motor felt like it wanted to keep on revving higher before power started to tail off, but even so that’s a mile-wide powerband by early TZ standards, and you don’t have to look far for the reason – those later pipes with the fatter expansion chambers that help deliver the extra torque.
Coupled with the ultra-precise one-down street-pattern gearchange, this made it an easier bike to ride in something approaching anger on a tight track like Broadford, in spite of what by the standards of the day was a pretty intimidating power output, especially once Fontana and Findlay had pushed it up to 120bhp@10,500rpm, at the gearbox.
Noel had it ideally geared for Broadford, too – well, he does live only an hour away, so he knows it pretty well! – using just fifth gear down the longer top straight, and I found I could space out the downshifts more than I expected on a two-stroke of this era.
Using 11,000rpm as the shifter mark on the street-pattern one-down gearchange also leaves you right in the middle of the fat powerband, but discourages wheelies because you’ve passed the peak point in the torque curve, making for a more controllable delivery in the next gear higher.
Sitting on the TZ750, it feels exactly the way you’d expect from looking at it. Bulky and power-packed, yet at the same time lithe and wiry, it’s a mixture of opposites – a sort-of two-wheeled Muhammed Ali (well, he was the same vintage!), with the muscular bulk of a heavyweight, yet the lithe speed of a welter weight fighter.
In spite of the wide, in-line engine, bulky exhausts and big 29-litre fuel tank, it seems surprisingly slim for a 750 when you’re sitting in the hot seat – and you do sit IN it, rather than on it, a confidence-inspiring posture which helps you feel a part of the bike.
Remember, this bike was created for the long haul, with every race in Findlay’s title-winning season a 100-miler or longer, so rider comfort was an issue. Even so, the riding position feels close-coupled and a little cramped, because you sit wedged aboard the bike rather than on it, yet with the footpegs set quite high.
You can’t move around much on the Yamaha very easily, and anyway, in those pre-kneeslider days riders didn’t hang off their TZ750s much – you must just use the Yamaha’s sweet steering and surprising agility for such a potent package to go with the flow through Broadford’s switchback turns.
Screaming down Broadford’s pit straight, I had room to tuck away behind a screen that was just broad enough to duct air over my shoulders, before sitting up and braking hard, hard, hard for the uphill right-hander running on the top straight, where the TZ750 stopped really well thanks to those non-period brakes and the lightweight Fontana magnesium calipers – the effective way this bike brakes is most uncharacteristic of a two-stroke of that era, and the Koni shocks help the Avon tyre to hook up well at the other side of a turn, too.
Indeed, the Findlay Yamaha was pretty tractable, with the power coming in progressively rather than fiercely, and it’s quite possible to ride the bike round slow turns off the pipe as low as 6,000rpm, then have it pick up cleanly when you wind it wide open without having to clutch it to optimise drive.
You can almost ride the TZ750 like a four-stroke, it pulls so well from low down – and there’s even some engine braking, too, as you zing down through the gears stopping hard at the end of the top straight at Broadford for the tight turn right-hander at the end..
Still, I found when using bottom gear – as I had to four times a lap on the tight Aussie circuit – it was best to zip swiftly down through the gears to second under braking, then space out the final change to just grab first as I tipped into the apex. This made for a cleaner shift, as well as getting the engine revving early, ready to drive out of the turn.
Yamaha’s largest-capacity production two-stroke racer made privateer customers into giant-slayers more than once, and none more so than Jack Findlay in 1975. It was a tribute to the TZ750’s qualities that so many riders all over the world earned a good living for the best part of a decade racing one of these bikes as the ultimate privateer tool – not only the most performance for the least money any factory has ever offered, but also, ultimately, the most dependable and user-friendly.
They don’t come much better than this…
Continue reading Alan’s story about the TZ750 here, with some history on the model and the incredible success it had over a decade and how it came into production…
SPECIFICATIONS – 1975 YAMAHA TZ750B
Engine: Watercooled transverse in-line four-cylinder reed-valve two-stroke, 64 x 54mm bore x stroke, 684cc, Hitachi CDI ignition, 4 x 34mm Mikuni VM carburettors, six-speed non-extractable gearbox with gear primary drive, multiplate dry clutch (6 steel/7 friction), 120bhp@10,500rpm at the gearbox (measured), modified racing expansion chambers, silencers for current regulations.
Chassis: Tubular steel duplex cradle frame, 38mm Yamaha telescopic forks, tubular steel swingarm with twin Koni shocks, 27º rake, 83mm trail, 1410mm wheelbase, 157kg with oil and water, no fuel, 49/51 per cent weight distribution, 2 x 298mm Brembo stainless steel rotors, two-piston Fontana magnesium calipers, single 260mm Brembo rotor, two-piston Fontana rear caliper, Borrani wire-laced alloy rims, 2.15 x 18in, 3.00 x 18in, 110/80-18 Avon AM22, 130/65-18 Avon AM23.
Top Speed: 273km/h
Owners: Noel and Victoria Heenan.