South Australia ingenuity
Adelaideís Les Diener was South Australiaís leading 250cc exponent from the time racing resumed after World War Two until the mid 1950s. In that time he also showed he could hold his own with the best anywhere in the country. One of the first major meeting after the war was the Victorian TT at Ballarat on Easter Monday, and Diener cleaned up the opposition in the Lightweight TT.
When future World Champion Fergus Anderson toured Australia in 1949 with works 250 and 500 Moto Guzzis, Diener comprehensively trounced the star at Woodside. Virtually unbeatable in his home state, Les also took out major titles at Ballarat, Fishermenís Bend, Bandiana and at Bathurst, where he won the NSW Grand Prix in 1950. In doing so he defeated the two home-track specialists, Harry Hinton and Sid Willis. Lesí successes to date had been achieved on a fairly standard looking 250cc MOV Velocette of 1935 vintage, highly modified internally and running on alcohol. Fast though it was, the pre-war rigid frame and girder forks were well out of date as the 1950s dawned, so Les decided on a complete change of tackle. This was to become known as the Eldee Special and to earn a special place in Australiaís racing history.
Using the pushrod MOV engine as the basis for the special, Diener designed a double overhead camshaft top end, then made the patterns for the cylinder head and rocker box himself, retaining the original 68mm x 68mm bore and stroke. Unlike his arch-rival Sid Willis, who used a bevel drive to the camshafts on his home-brewed 250 Velocette, Denier chose a train of nine spur gears, housed in another special casting to drive the camshafts. The engine and the close-ratio Velocette gearbox were fitted into a neat duplex cradle frame based on the Manx Norton but considerably smaller and lighter. Modified BSA forks and wheels were used with a streamlined seat and tail fairing.
The Eldee quickly became even more invincible than its predecessor. At the ultra-fast 6.5 kilometre road circuit at Mildura in December 1954, Diener trounced the opposition to win the 250cc race. Two years later at the same venue, he scored his greatest-ever triumph.
The1956 Australian TT Ė the official national title - was due to be held over public roads at Little River, near Melbourne, but at the last minute police refused to sanction the event. A similar attitude had seen road racing completely banned in South Australia. The event was switched to Mildura, on a sweltering hot day with ferocious mid-summer winds. Diener expected tough opposition from the pair of ex-works NSUs to be ridden by the Hinton brothers, Eric and Harry, but the German machines failed to arrive, leaving Les with little opposition. Despite the conditions, he cruised home to win his first national title, recording 186 km/h through the electronic speed trap, the amazing top speed due to the full streamlining he had fitted. It was triumph for his engineering brilliance as much as his skill as a rider.
Les finally hung up his helmet a few years later and the Eldee Special was sold. It passed through a number of hands and was partly destroyed by fire before being purchased by a Japanese collector.
In 1987, Les was able to acquire many of the patterns from the original Eldee and decided to produce a replica. The completed Eldee Mk2 was similar in most respects to the original, with more modern brakes and wheels. Tragically, Les suffered a fatal heart attack while riding a 175cc Gilera given to him by his lifelong friend Keith Hamilton. The second Eldee has survived however, in a private collection in Melbourne.