Motorcycling Australia Museum

Laurie Boulter’s 1936 Ariel Red Hunter

Boulter's all-rounder

Like many aspiring racers, the war robbed Laurie Boulter of perhaps his best years. But despite being on the wrong side of thirty, the South Australian resumed his career after the war and had a solid claim as Australia’s best road racer after Harry Hinton. Laurie opened his own motorcycle business in the Adelaide suburb of Torrensville and switched to road racing with a 500 Ariel and the pre-war Rudge that had served him well on hill climbs, beach races and scrambles 500 Rudge. He quickly established himself as South Australia’s leading rider, and soon the racing tackle was upgraded with a 350 KTT Velocette and a 596cc OHC Norton. In his home state Laurie was well nigh unbeatable, but he also ventured to neighbouring Victoria when time permitted, collecting wins at Fishermans’s Bend and Ballarat against the cream of the country’s tar men. His big break came when he took delivery of a new 500 ‘Featherbed’ Manx Norton in January 1952, and at Bathurst a couple of months later, finished a brilliant second to Harry Hinton in the Australian Senior Grand Prix.

The success encouraged him to take some time away from his business – just enough time to contest the 1953 Isle of Man TT. Taking his 500 Norton with him, Laurie purchased a 350 in England and headed for the Isle of Man. He rode as a self-funded private entrant, outside the official Australian team, and began well with 26th place at 81.10 mph in the 350cc Junior TT. But better was to come. In the Senior TT, Laurie powered to a brilliant 11th place, at 85.52 mph – one the best-ever performances by a TT newcomer. Six months after he left, he was back in his shop in Adelaide, and professed to have no further plans, despite his sensational performance, to race overseas. But two factors changed his decision. The first was a great win in the Victorian Unlimited GP at Ballarat on New Year’s Day, 1954, and the second was his successful nomination, along with Maurie Quincey and Jack Ahearn, to officially represent the Commonwealth of Australia at the 1954 Isle of Man TT. The nomination brought with it a modest financial bonus, and the friends he had made at Norton Motors the previous year ensured that he would be able to obtain the latest production equipment. It was too good a chance to pass up.

It was here that fate dealt its cruellest blow. Laurie was out on a road-going Norton, circulating the 60-kilometer TT course at a modest clip in order to memorise the myriad bends, bumps and landmarks. Rounding Handley’s Corner, about halfway around the lap, Laurie spotted fellow Aussie Ken Kavanagh standing on the side of the road and turned to give him a wave. He only took his eyes off the road for a second, but it was enough for him to collide with a car which was reversing around the blind corner. The impact fung Boulter, who was not wearing a helmet, high into the air and onto the roadway, where he died within minutes.

The tragedy was a terrible shock for Laurie’s wife back in Adelaide, who had to struggle on with the business as well as raise a young family.

Laurie’s son Graham grew up with only dim memories of his father, but went on to a racing career of his own – in Holden HQs, not motorcycles – and conducts a successful motor dealership in Adelaide. He has carefully preserved many items from Laurie’s racing career, including his much-travelled Ariel. Based around an iron-engine Red Hunter of approximately 1936 vintage, the Ariel was a handy piece of kit – fast and reliable. The chassis was nothing too sophisticated, being a rigid rear end with girder front forks, but it was always superbly prepared by Laurie’s good friend Nat Saunders. With road races few and far between (and eventually banned altogether) in South Australia, the Ariel also did sterling service on local scrambles and grass tracks, with little more than a change of tyres from tar to dirt.

It has been preserved in its final racing specification, which included substituting Matchless telescopic front forks in place of the original girder forks. For some years the bike, along with some of Laurie’s trophies and riding gear, was displayed at the Lobethal Motorcycle Museum, but when this closed in 2002 it was transferred to the National Motor Racing Museum at Bathurst – beside the circuit where Laurie Boulter made such an impression in 1952.

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