Cust was known throughout New Zealand as the home of, and place where, the New Zealand Grand Prix Motorcycle races were held.
The start finish was situated on the front straight where a cairn is now on the Terrace Road. This is below a natural hill which was for a grandstand. Cars were parked in the paddock nearby. The pits were also in this area.
The Senior race was over a distance of 152.5 miles (25 laps) while the Junior (under 350cc) was first over 97.6 miles (16 laps), then reduced to 10 laps after the war. Other classes for races were introduced in later years, Light weights for under 250cc (6 laps) which started 4 minutes after the Juniors, Clubmans Open Handicap (4 laps) and a two-stroke class of 3 laps. In 1951 a Rangiora Handicap race was introduced over 3 laps and attracted 23 assorted models of motorcycles.
In 1950 over 20,000 spectators lined the course to see riders reaching 100 miles per hour on the front straight (Terrace Road) and on the back straight, jumping the sunken bridge halfway along Catherwoods Road.
For the record nearly 3,000 gallons of waste oil was sprayed on the track that year. This crankcase oil was collected from garages throughout Canterbury during the year in 44 gallon drums and stacked near the start. Oil was used on the track to solve the problem of dust after the first race in 1936 and enabled the riders to see where they were going.
In 1952 alcohol fuel was legalised for road racing and several North Island riders used it, but they found machine reliability suffered. Members of North Canterbury St John were spaced around the track along with Rangiora’s first ambulance. There were few major accidents except in 1939 when a rider died from injuries after he hit a fallen machine with broken forks, on the track.
There were many riders who became legends both here and overseas, including representing N.Z. at the Isle of Man T.T. race. A local hero Jim Swarbrick (The flying milkman) was first selected to represent N.Z for this race in 1948. He rode at Cust from 1939-1958 and won the Senior race 3 times.
Burt Munro raced at Cust 6 times and came 2nd in 1938 on his Velocette.
The McCleary family were associated with the races for their entire period with Tom senior the organiser from 1936-1951 and A.C.U. Steward 1951-1952. His sons Tom junior and Kevin, were prominent riders between 1948 and 1963. Tom won his first race, the Lightweight in 1948, when aged 17. He then had an amazing run of successes in all classes over the next 15 years.
From 1960 the course was shortened to the middle road (Gardiners) so spectators could view more continuous action.
The smell of Castrol racing oil, Stevenson’s pies, soft drink in returnable glass bottles, vanilla ice-cream in tubs with a wooden spoon, hot water boiled in a copper and the roar of engines when the races started, are no longer. When the Canterbury Car Club opened a sealed track at Ruapuna Park the NZ Grand Prix was transferred to a new venue, thus ending the Cust era.
Reunion meetings were held on the track in 1983, 1986, a Jim Swarbrick Memorial meeting in1989 and a “Past Masters” Reunion meeting in 1993.
The Cust Historical Society now features this unique event in their museum with former cups and memorabilia, programs, photos, the original Start / Finish banner, posters, etc.
The racing leathers and boots used by Mick Holland are worn on a manikin. Also depicted is a large photo of Mick riding his motorcycle jumping the sunken bridge. He rode at Cust between 1947 and 1963 and won the Senior race in 1956 and 1958. There is now a memorial to Mick by the sunken bridge on Catherwoods road.
A booklet compiled by Ian McGregor in 1993 lists all the riders throughout the years, their race numbers, makes of motorcycles and cc ratings, placings, press cuttings, copies of programs and other information on the races.
The Society is interested in further items pertaining to the races for display. As well they would like a motorcycle of the era for permanent display.
When the museum opened their display in 2007 a special feature for the day was a 1949 G.P. Triumph motorcycle that was raced at Cust in 1950 by Syd Jenson and then in later years with a BSA motor, by Basil Chambers of Rangiora. The Triumph was given to Syd Jenson by the Triumph Company after he came 5th on it, in the Senior T.T. Isle of Man race in 1949. This was the highest placing ever for a Triumph in this race. Basil Chambers purchased the bike without a motor from Bob Burns in 1958 and Basil and his son David have restored the Triumph back to its original condition.
Tram Road Monument. Unveiled 1975 near the Browns Road intersection.
This section of the Tram Road was used on July 2nd 1955, to break two motorcycle world speed records on a Vincent 1000 cc. The riders were Russ Wright, solo, 185 miles per hour and Bob Burns with a sidecar, 162 miles per hour.
Burt Munro also did speed trials on this section of the road. His Canterbury records with his Munro Special Indian are:
Flying half-mile, Road, Unlimited Class, 99.45 mph. 27/1/1940.
Flying half-mile, Road, Open Class, 120.8 mph. 27/1/1940.
Flying half-mile, 750 cc Class, 143.6 mph. 13/4/1957.
The South Eyre Road near “Claxby” has also been used for car and motorcycle speed trials.
The Christchurch Corsair Social Club
From the early 1930s the motorcycle section of this club ran hill climb events, races and sports days on a track on the North Moeraki Downs at Kennedys Hill, near Springbank. This track was still being used for motor cross races in the 1970s.