Brook Henry - In His Own Words
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Brook Henry - In His Own Words

My Name is Brook Henry. Well Carl Carisbrook Henry in fact. Been Brook all my life. I am told the “Carisbrook “ was the name of the ship my ancestors emigrated to New Zealand on. No idea where Carl came from but Brook is fine.

I was born in 1954 and grew up in Cambridge New Zealand with 2 brothers and 5 sisters. I believe I have grown up and lived in a time never to be repeated in regards to change and general development on this planet.

My grandparents used a candle to light the dinner table. There was no power. My parents had a phone in the hallway of our family home and it was used to call people when you really needed to speak to them or actually wanted to communicate about things that meant something. You never considered calling anyone at mealtimes. Just not the done thing. I was 10 years old before we got our first family car. A 1936 Austin 12. 

That is a huge gap to what is going on in 2020 and I know experiencing many of those changes make me how I am today. 

 

I have no idea why, but I just could not stop checking our new car out especially the engine. I remember climbing under it and getting my sister to work the brake pedal, clutch pedal, hand brake, gear leaver etc so I could see what moved what. I was just mega intrigued with stuff that moved other stuff and how the engine revved up when you pushed the accelerator. 

Interestingly after studying the throttle linkage I worked out that it was worn, sloppy and the bit that connected to what I know now to be the carburettor.  That linkage was not going as far as it could. Hmmmm I was thinking. Maybe this bit should move a bit more and it would rev more. Even go faster! Well I worked out it had things called turnbuckles on the linkages and yep I could adjust those and Yee Haa it was reaching the throttle stop! Had to be better. Well that was when I was about 10 years old and I have spent the rest of my life one way or another working out how to make engines rev harder, faster and better. 

 

I am afraid my Dad’s rotary hoe with a Briggs and Stratton pulled so may revs with the governor disconnected the con rod decided to exit the crank case. His lawn mower suffered a similar fate. I was not so popular at the time. 

 

At about 12 or 13 I was the proud owner of the fastest slab of 4X2 timber in the street. Kids made trollies for fun back then out of pram and lawnmower wheels and bits of wood. I decided to mount the whole drive unit off an old reel type lawn mower on mine. 

Somehow I managed to (lets call it enthusiasm) mount quite a large Villiers engine off a big saw bench onto the mower drive assembly and held that onto my wooden trolley with fencing wire. Had to start it on blocks and then roll it off. Interesting concept. I also grafted the steering column from a Ford 10 onto the front and connected that to the steering bar. Only problem was when you turned the steering left it went right and vice versa. 

No problem.  I could deal with that. So two bricks under the back end. Me in the seat and my mate pulls the starter rope and the back wheels are spinning in the air ready for contact and launching. I rock that plank of wood off those bricks and I am off! What a sensation. Down the drive, past the Austin 12 and decide to turn onto the front lawn. OOPS! Left is right. Straight though the vegetable garden. Over correcting the wrong way every time I turned the wheel and doing zig zag maneuvers completely out of control at full throttle until crashing into the house. Oh well, I need a rethink here. My mates were rolling on the ground in fits of laughter. I guess it would have looked pretty entertaining although not so much from where I was sitting. 

Things did improve. 

 

My Two older brothers had decided they wanted motorcycles and both purchased a bike. That became two bikes and seemed to multiply from there.  All English bikes. Norton’s, AJS etc. They were into modifying things and started working on these bikes to make changes to the appearance and engines. They made touring bikes into Café Racers and the like. Many of the parts they needed had to be imported. Dunstall Norton parts etc. They decided there was a market for re selling these types of parts and started a small shop called “Henry Bros“ working on peoples bikes and selling parts . 

 

I was still at school but spent all my spare time at their workshop watching and helping where I could. My Brothers shop grew and they became agents for Honda, Kawasaki, Norton and BSA. They sold these bikes new and I helped un crate and assemble them ready for customers. There was also warranty and modification work to be done. I was completely infatuated with everything going on in the workshop. 

 

In 1967 my brothers decided they should look at finding a brand of motorcycle to import into New Zealand themselves. They had seen Ducati Motorcycles advertised in English motorcycle magazines  and decided to contact the Ducati Factory about importing them into New Zealand. 

 

By this time I had turned 15 and was able to get a drivers licence for both car and bike. I did my motorcycle test on a 600 19S Norton Single. It had a side car fitted that was just a platform with a metal channel up the middle that was used for picking up and delivering bikes. We used to put an old lounge chair on it and strap it down with rope when we needed to take a passenger. It was one of those huge old chairs with big sides on it and bits of polished wood to sit your cup of tea on the arm rests. 

 

I’ll never forget the morning I was going to sit for my motorcycle test. I put the armchair on the side car and roped it down. You could get a permit to drive or ride to the testing station back then so off I go with my permit to the testing station, sit my written test and get a pass. Time for the practical. The Traffic Policeman doing the testing was on a police motorcycle so he gets his helmet and gloves on as I do. We walk outside and I say to him that he can go on the chair no problem and told him I put it on specially for him. I’m not sure if he wanted to laugh or cry. Whatever, he wasn’t getting in that lounge chair I can tell you. So off we go me on my 600 Norton with a lounge chair held on with rope and old mate the copper following along behind on his 650 Triumph Bonneville.

Like I said things have changed. That happened 50 years ago. It was a normal thing to do. There was no issue with the legality of my side car set up. I just don’t think he had taken anyone for a motorcycle licence using a side car.  Wasn’t sure if he should sit beside me as he would in a car or follow behind as he would with a bike. Crazy stuff whatever way you think about it. 

 

My Bothers were successful in securing and becoming the New Zealand importers for Ducati and they formed a new company called Continental Motorcycles. The first bikes to arrive were 450 Singles. These all sold but every single one of them blew the big end to bits in less than 100 miles. Warranty? What Warranty. Eventually we were supplied with 25 crank shafts with a new piston connected to it. We had to retrieve all the bikes and fit the new crank and piston assemblies. Never received a cent for any of the labour etc. Plenty of promises that it would be forth coming. Still waiting. 

 

Then we received two of these crazy looking Vee Twin 750 cc touring bikes. What an amazing sound these things made. Shame all the oil leaked out overnight because the crank cases were porous. Never mind worrying about warranty. Just pull them to bits and fix them. So, the first time I saw the inside of a Bevel Vee Twin was 1972. Seen a few since then trust me. From this point on I was passionately hooked. In Love if you like. The way the engine felt when you rode the bike. The visual impact of the whole machine. The smooth and masculine raw torque. Something very special if you can connect with it.

 

By this time I was ready to leave school. I was hardly there anyway because I was at the shop playing with and test riding any motorcycle that needed riding after servicing etc. Kawasaki, Honda, Norton, BSA, Ducati. Mack 3, S1 and 2 Commandos, Rockets, Honda Fours, 750 Ducati GT’s and Sports. Why would I be at school while all of these bikes and lots more where being worked on, serviced, modified or whatever. They all needed test riding and my Brothers were so busy they were happy for me to do as much of that as I could. Thinking back I was incredibly fortunate and these years formed my future without any doubt. 

 

When the time came to officially leave school my parents made it very clear that I was not going to work in my Brothers shop. I had to find some sort of apprenticeship on my own steam. Complete the apprenticeship and then I could do whatever I wished. Not exactly what I had in mind however I looked around to see what may be available. So, I applied for this Toolmaking apprenticeship and secured the job. Unbeknown to me this job would set my course for the rest of my life and train me in a way never to be seen again. I started with 4 other apprentices and was put in what they called the Nursery. 

 

This department had a tradesman dedicated to looking after and training 4 apprentices full time in their own area with their own machinery. We stayed there for 12 months learning every aspect of engineering known to man. We learned how to use hand tools and machines. We made our own engineering equipment. We were then moved around a few months at a time to Milling, Turning, Grinding, Welding, Hardening, Drawing, Boiler making and Material Stores. 

 

In New Zealand (and I think Australia) it was very common for companies like the one I was apprenticed to (a large plastics company) to not only make the tooling for production but to make the actual moulding machines as well. Maybe these machines were hard to import for some reason. Maybe they were too expensive. Whatever the reason my apprenticeship not only taught me the art of toolmaking but we manufactured all the Injection Moulders, Blow Moulders, Roto Moulders, Printing machines, Granulators (for chopping up scrap plastics). We learned hydraulics, Pneumatic logic systems, water cooling and heat transfer, electric trimmers, motors and gear box’s. I just thought this was normal. I soon realised when I started to travel that this was far from normal and I had been incredibly fortunate to have been shown and taught these skills.

 

All the tradesmen were the best from the UK, South Africa and Europe who came to NZ on what they called an Assisted Passage. NZ had no tradesmen to speak of so the Government imported the best tradesmen they could find to build the engineering industry. I was trained by some pretty amazing tradesmen trust me. When I think back and compare those guys to what is around these days I am just so lucky. I am sure the Australian Government imported trades people the same as New Zealand did. I see evidence of this in many machine shops around Australia.

 

In those 5 years or so I also spent a huge amount of time at the Continental motorcycles showroom and workshop. I basically had two jobs. My Apprenticeship as a Toolmaker and the Motorcycle Business. There were many projects from a 1912 Curtis Bi Plane replica to go karts with 450 Honda engines. The Biplane flew like a bird powered by a Honda 100 engine. Another story for later. The Aviation department were not impressed! 

 

Although I spent those years of my apprenticeship learning Toolmaking, I was applying what I was learning to playing with Vee Twin Ducati engines. We raced bikes in production races to promote the Ducati name. We modified engines to try different things always looking for a way to improve reliability and performance. I have been working on these things since I was 13 years old. Must be something I like! 

 

Once I finished my apprenticeship in 1976 I did what every Kiwi did and went to Oz. Planned to go around the country but never did. Still want to do it one day. I worked for an engineering company in Perth for a year or so then in 1977 I went to Europe, lived in London and worked as a toolmaker at the KLG / Smiths factory for a couple of years (interestingly this factory in Putney is where Donald Campbell’s Blue Bird Car was assembled. There were parts of it still there. Bet they are not there now.) 

 

I was in the UK in 1978 and could not get my camper onto the ferry to the IoM so decided not to go. How Ironic is it that I was in London in 1978 and did try and get to the IOM. Of course as it turns out it is arguably the most iconic IOM event of all time. Hailwood having his comeback after being retired for 12 years and returning to the Island to smash the lap record and set a new overall race time record on a 900 cc F1 NCR Ducati and now this very bike and that very race being such a huge part of Vee Two and my life today. I was not to know at the time. How the wheel turns in life.

 

At the end of 1978 I returned to Australia and decided to go back to Perth where I had household equipment stored with a plan to set up and Engineering business. This I did with a friend by the name of David Webster. Thus Webrook Engineering was formed. Shortly after David decided to take a teaching job and I continued on. 

 

I owned a 1972 750 Sport that I’d stored when I was traveling. It had a blown up big end so I went to buy a new one off the then WA importer. The price was ridiculous and being one of those Kiwi type guys I just thought I would make one. No big deal. So two weeks later the bike was running with a new big end. 

 

The rest is history. Once that information got out there I was being asked to make big ends and recondition Bevel engines more than I could handle. I changed the name to Vee Two Australia and took on another partner (a Kiwi from Auckland) Stuart Barrowclough. Stuart helped me with the Alchemy project before going back to the fast food industry in 1994. 

 

In 1987 I came to NZ with my then race bike and Hugh Anderson rod this in NZ BEARS. Stuart was good friends with Ken Mackintosh from his youthful days in Auckland and we approached Ken during that racing season Mid 1987 to look at developing our Mono Shock Race bike. The Alchemy emerged and the bike was developed in West Australia over the next 10 years. It raced in Daytona in 1989 and 1992 and finished top 4 both times.

 

In 1994 Alan Cathcart Rode our 870 cc Round case racer (white bike in photos) at Bathurst Mount Panorama Circuit to win the Post classic Senior TT. Alan was so amazed at the power and acceleration of the bike that he shipped us his 1974 750 Green Frame and we made this into a 750 Imola race bike. 

 

In 1995 We went to Daytona with both the Vee Two Classic racer and Alans 750. Alan won the Formula 750 by miles and this was the first time a Ducati has ever won the Daytona F1 750 race. The 750 Honda Guys were just blown away. This win probably put Vee Two on the world map more than any other win. Business thrived world wide.

 

Alan and I raced for another 10 years until I sold the business in February 2005. We won races all over the world on the two Bevel Classic bikes. Alans Supermono raced in Vee Two colours. A 900 DB2 Bimota also in Vee Two colours. This was a Vee Two / Bimota Joint Venture and we won the world Bears Serries with this bike. Bimota’s only world championship series win to date. 

 

In 2005 I moved to Nannup after selling the business. Set up a small workshop to tinker with Bevel Ducati based projects.  and I was asked approached and asked to manage the maintenance department of a large winery less than a kilometre down the road. Very interesting job and I thoroughly enjoyed working in this different environment solving engineering problems and keeping pumps and machinery working.

Meanwhile the new Vee Two management struggled and realised they were not achieving what they had envisaged with the business. In 2013 they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in re purchasing the business at a reduced price. I said no not likely. At the time I had managed to purchase all the tooling and drawings for the production of The NCR endurance racing engine the Factory had designed for NCR to race endurance with. This was also the engine used in Mike Hailwoods bike for his return to the IoM in 1978. 

I planned to make a few engines for myself to go racing. However, after reconsidering the offer made to me by the then management of Vee Two I decided if I could purchase the Vee Two business back at a good price and join the NCR engine project with Vee Two then I could possibly build engines for sale.

 

Interestingly this was the reason I started Webrook Engineering back in 1978. I wanted to build my own Vee Twin engine. Well, 41 years on and the wheel has turned full circle. My Ritorno Engines are in production.

 

I re Started VeeTwo in Nannup in 2013 Amalgamating 34 years of experience in Ducati Bevel Drive engines and the manufacture of both race and standard parts with the Factory drawings and original casting patterns of the most developed Bevel Vee Twin the factory designed but never put into production. 

Over the past 40 odd years through the development of my business I have travelled to many counties and met many Ducatisti people. There are a few things I have come to understand about myself and the difference between what Vee Two Australia is compared to other motorcycle workshops and resellers. 

The fact is that I am not a motorcycle mechanic as such. I am an Engineer and was lucky to be trained by some of the best trades people in the world. If they were not in that category they would never have passed the screening test by the new Zealand Government to allow them to immigrate to NZ on an assisted passage. 

 

I am also a bit of a “Fact“ man. Building and tuning engines is something that has many avenues to explore. There are simply hundreds even thousands of opinions on varying subjects in this field. However, I see and read statements made by people that are actually opinions stated as fact. I have no problem with that and am interested in most people’s opinion on such things. 

 

I sometimes consider this somewhat irresponsible of those who are guilty of such. When statements are made and put in print many people believe them to be true. They argue about them. They defend them. What they don’t realize is that it is often just someone’s opinion. It is perfectly fine to have an opinion and to make it public. However, it is very important to make it very clear that it is an opinion and not proven fact. 

 

There has been millions of dollars spent and scientific testing done to prove theories on engine tuning. There are also basic engineering principles that have been proven. Time after time I see and hear statements made that are opinion but stated as fact. I have done it myself in the past although these days I am very mindful to point out if what I am saying is my opinion or an engineering fact or principle. The development of our Ritorno engine and Vee Two products are all based on these principles. I certainly have my own ideas and test and try them to come up with new and better products.

 

This Vee Two website will contain articles in the future on many areas of Ducati Bevel engines, products, tuning principles and modifications to improve areas that could be improved over original. That improvement may come from the availability of better materials or information learned in racing and testing. Even inventions from the Aerospace Industry. Some great stuff to come from this industry. And all proven engineering fact. Those guys don’t mind spending money on research. Why would we not use that information to make our motorcycles work better for us. Some will be engineering fact and not debatable as such. Other will be opinion and based on findings from our experiences and testing. You can decide what you think on those. That will be your opinion and that is just fine. 

 

I look forward to sharing our information and knowledge be it fact or opinion. Rest assured you will be aware of what side of the line the statements fall.

 

Thank you for giving me your valued time and the opportunity to give you the story of my background and where I am coming from. I believe that my background and experiences are what have become the DNA of the Vee Two Australia business and will be the backbone of future projects.

 

Best regards.

Brook Henry

 

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