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Gearbox Boffin Bruce Verdon pops up in Pinetown


One of Durban's most colourful motorsport personalities of the '80s and '90s, Bruce Verdon, popped up in town on holiday last week 18 years after leaving South Africa for the UK.

Bruce, who'd qualified with the South African Railways as a millwright in the '70s set up his own engineering business in Pinetown ten years later, and started tuning and racing motorcycles at about the same time.

He was a regular winner in hill climb events on an ancient Norton Commando, and repeatedly topped the points tables on a Husqvarna in super-singles racing. He proved equally adept at winning club social events though, and his antics are still fondly remembered today by those who knew him - and some who didn't.

Bruce's life took an extraordinary turn when he abandoned the UK for New Zealand, where he established a machine shop in Hamilton. "I'd taken my machinery from Pinetown which reduced set-up costs but business was slow because I was very much an outsider. That changed when a guy from Hamilton who was building a replica 1950's Matchless G45 asked me whether I could build him a five speed gearbox and that was the spark that got me going."

During his apprenticeship on the railways Bruce had been exposed to foundry and blacksmith work so he knew what was required, and in his Pinetown racing days he'd machined various gearbox components to change the internal ratios of his old Norton gearbox, so he took the job on. "

I knew I could do it so I wasn't daunted. I made a prototype and in its first race, a big event at Phillip Island in Australia, he got pole position, two race wins and a lap record on the bike."

Within a month Bruce had orders for 30 more racing gearboxes and he's never looked back. His company, Trans Tasman Industries Limited, has manufactured around 800 heavy-duty four, five and six speed motorcycle gearboxes and sold them round the world.

"Once I had money behind us I could start developing sequential gearboxes for racing cars, and built a prototype that we gave to a local racer for a year. We followed its progress and made a few small changes and then redesigned it completely before going into production. We sold our first ten in 2009 and have moved about 150 to date, with orders increasing all the time." All entrants in the very popular NZ V8 road racing series now use TT Industries six-speed manual transmissions.

All work and no play would, of course, make Bruce a dull boy, and that would never do. He rekindled his passion for motorcycle circuit racing and started competing on classic racebikes  in Australia and New Zealand, which helped keep his blood pressure down and gearbox sales up. He's since raced his 500cc Manx Norton and 750cc BSA Rocket 3 in the USA and at the Isle of Man Classic TT, with the highlight so far being two fifth places at Daytona in October 2011. That's pretty good for a boykie from Pinetown, especially when you see that third place in both instances went to 1991 and '92 World Superbike Champion Doug Polen, and 20 times American national champion Dave Roper finished sixth both times.  

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