History of Difazio Motorcycles
the tough days of the early twentieth century the young Pascal made
the long trip to England from his family home in central Italy;
times were hard and much of his journey was made on foot. After
crossing the channel to Falmouth he eventually arrived at the market
town of Frome where soon after in 1914 he opened a shop at 25
Catherine Street selling and repairing bicycles. In the same year
his son John was born and very soon the business expanded into
motorcycles, the new bikes delivered from the huge Midland
motorcycle factories by train into Frome station.
Very soon Difazio's were selling all the major British makes including BSA, Triumph and Brough; the latter made by George Brough and ridden by the famous T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia); two men who John recalls visited the shop in the middle nineteen twenties.
Ed: Possibly Difazio sold both Brough and Brough-Superior, related but very different marques.
Shortly after his sixteenth birthday John started grass track racing on a BSA Blue star and soon began to make a name for him self on the British single. Later he progressed to a Rudge Ulster; a bike which both pre and post war he campaigned with great success.
Incidentally it was during the time he began grass tracking he became known as Jack so not to create any confusion John and Jack Difazio are the same person.
By 1947 Pascal was looking to retire so John – who was by then working for Pinks in London – returned to take over the family business.
When post war racing started again John was again one of the top racers of his era although by now he had progressed to BSA’s and was successful on both two and three wheels. Ever mindful that the race bikes could be improved he explored many ideas and carried out numerous modifications over the standard set up. These included a duel sided front brake on the solo and home made leading link axle forks on the outfit.
Not one to sit on his laurels John looked at ways of improving on the standard front fork set up and in 1956 the first hub centre steered machine appeared. A radically different machine which used a Reliant type swinging arm grafted on to the front of the BSA and incorporating the front brake drum from a Ford Prefect car. It immediately showed a vast improvement over the conventional telescopic forks but it would be twelve more years before he would be able to take his idea another stage forward and incorporate hub centre steering into a solo.
In the bread and butter side of things the shop continued to thrive and Difazio’s became agents for all of the big British manufacturers of the time; BSA, Triumph, Ariel, Velocette, Norton, Francis Barnett and James; all of which were sold in large numbers. As in earlier days these bikes were delivered to Frome station by train; the job of taking them to the shop entrusted to the young Richard aboard the businesses ‘works’ BSA and float sidecar. Richard joined the family concern on leaving school in 1957 and after two seasons spent as grass track passenger to his father began road racing in 1959 on a Gold Star and later progressed to a brace of very potent Manx Norton’s.
It was the start of thirteen very successful seasons; ones which saw the young Difazio achieve many podium finishes in National meetings. This usually aboard the Manx Norton’s prepared by his father although by the early seventies the ageing British single was replaced by a Difazio hub centre steered Suzuki twin.
It was the concept of hub centre steering which took the name of
Difazio to a wider audience and during the next decade over fifty of
these unusual machines would be constructed from the labyrinth of
workshops at the rear of 25 Catherine Street. The whole of the
construction process carried out by Jack and his small team which
usually comprised of Pat Hooper, Trevor Burridge and Tim Tucker.
As tests carried out by the University of Manchester proved hub centre steering offered many advantages over the conventional telescopic front forks. It was undoubtedly a great step forward but sadly major manufacturers were slow to embrace the idea and it would be two more decades before the hub steered Yamaha GTS 1000 appeared.
For the first fifty years the business concentrated on selling and servicing British bikes but by the early sixties the first Japanese machines started to appear and in 1962 Difazio’s became agents for Honda’s; the bikes supplied via Len Meredith’s in Bristol. Honda’s were followed the following year by Suzuki and two years later by Yamaha.
The ruggedly constructed Suzuki two stroke triples and twins proved to be ideally suited to both road and race use especially when fitted with hub centre steering. Several were put through some searching tests by period motorcycle journalists; many who reaped high praise on the unusual looking bikes from Frome. Special mention was made of essentials like enclosed chains, a decent luggage carrying capacity and top notch handling and braking, items sadly lacking on most production machines of the period.
Suzuki, Honda, Triumph and several BMW twins received the hub steering makeover but with no major manufacturer picking up on the idea the operation was gradually run down and during the nineteen eighties the business turned its attention to specialising in the sale and repair of BMW twins.
As personal touring transport Richard had covered many thousands of miles touring on the Bavaria twins; experiences which quickly allowed Difazio’s to become one of the UK’s leading independent BMW dealerships.
During the last twenty years countless numbers of BMW’s have been through our well equipped workshops and - as from the early days of the business - their riders have become friends and not just customers.
If you are looking for spares or a rebuild for your BMW then please give us a call on 01373 462913 and speak to Richard; we are open most weekday mornings but please check if travelling a long way as we close most afternoons and also at the weekend.
Text by Andy Westlake andrewwestlake <at> yahoo.co.uk
It was impossible to maintain the momentum and over a period of time
production was gradually wound down and by the early nineteen
nineties the old workshops were facing the developers hammer. The
moulds, machinery and all of the attendant hubs and spares could
have been consigned to the local tip and hub steering to the history
books but thankfully all was not lost. John Ransome - who had worked
for Difazio’s during the heyday of hub production - now ran his own
motorcycle and car garage in the town and acquired all of the
‘relics’ although at that stage for what he wasn’t clear. He was
pleasantly surprised to find that many of the original machines were
still running, indeed several of them were still owned by those who
had commissioned them including local enthusiast Kevin Charles and
his BSA Rocket three. With his cache of spares - allied to an
upsurge of interest in hub centre steering in the classic press –
John has now built two recreations of ‘70’s racers, a 500cc Suzuki
twin and the huge Laverda powered ‘Nessie’ endurance racer. [by Meade and Tomkinson. Ed]
I’ve been lucky enough to ride both of these on the race track and can vouch that he’s done a superb job. Obviously building something from scratch with little more than a few photographs to work from would be extremely difficult but not a problem when the man who originally made them is still around. Not only is Jack a walking reference library his vitality and enthusiasm should an inspiration to us all. He regularly drives himself to John’s workshop. Not to dwell on the past but to talk about the future - like addressing the technical problems of alloy welding – when affixing a hub to a Honda Fireblade: Jack Difazio was and still is at 93 a man of vision: As for the ‘problem’, yes it still exists!
It’s an unashamed privilege to call Jack and his son Richard good friends and acknowledge in print how much they’ve have influenced my own motorcycling career. Big thanks also to Kevin and John for their ongoing enthusiasm and to all of the owners for their time and help in compiling this article.
The Survivors: the owners and their bikes
Kevin Charles BSA Rocket three
The only Rocket three to be fitted in a hub steerer - although there were four Triumph Tridents. Kevin has owned the bike since 1975 although he sold it in 1977 as a deposit on his first house but managed to buy it back 18 months later. Originally badged as a Triumph – later discovered to be a BSA of 1971 vintage- it was originally finished in white but following an accident when a myopic van driver reversed into it is now in the red sported by BSA racers from the early seventies. Regularly ridden on the continent its seen track action at Coupes Moto Legende and also at Cadwell Park for the BSA/Triumph triples annual rally.
Dave Ayesthorpe Honda Gold wing
One of only two Gold wings converted to hub steering its now covered well over 100,000 miles and all but 900 of them have been with Dave. He bought it in 1977 but it wasn’t until 1985 it was fitted with hub centre steering, two years later it was involved in an accident which almost destroyed it (the other vehicle was) and a second hub fitted in 1987. With the four into four exhaust system it’s probably one of the fruitiest sounding wings in existence and gets ridden in a very spirited manner. Occasionally has a change of tank and side panels so you can be never too sure what colour it’s going to be next?
John May BMW R90S
John’s started life fitted with one of the huge Falcon touring fairings but when he bought it was all a bit tatty and in need of refurbishment’. Incidentally he told me that such was its weight and complexity it took him and a friend three hours to remove it from its mountings! The Falcon might have been effective but it was not particularly pleasing to the eye and it’s now been replaced by a non standard - but very much in keeping – seventies style top half fairing and finished in silver with gold pin striping it looks superb and has proven to be an excellent mile muncher.
Andy Westlake Suzuki GT550
Originally made up from a written off standard GT550K in 1973 it was first owned by RAF fitter Roger Margetts and featured in a Bike magazine article in 1974. The fairing which is a half way house between the giant Falcon and the sports is perhaps the best fitted on any hub steerer although the colour –which is original- is something of an acquired taste! Bought over the telephone for £1,500 when it came up for auction in 2005 it had only covered 17,000 miles from new and only required a new master cylinder to get it back on the road. Since recommissioning it’s covered 4,000 trouble free miles in the last year.
Text by Andy Westlake andrewwestlake <at> yahoo.co.uk
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