There possibly isn’t another more perfect representation of Kiwi shed-built ingenuity than the career of Steve Roberts, who was instrumental in building and designing some incredible racing machinery in the seventies and eighties that competed at Grand Prix level, took Isle of Man TT victories and was the brains behind the legendary Plastic Fantastic.
Working in collaboration with the legends of Kiwi motorcycle racing, names like Rod Coleman, Keith Turner, Ken McIntosh, Robert Holden and Dave Hiscock, Steve originally landed in Wellington after moving to NZ from the UK, where he was an apprentice for Aston Martin. It wasn’t long before his passion for two wheels combined with his engineering and mechanical skills saw him build a bike for himself, with the Triumph-powered Spartan so impressive that he was soon building and selling them to other riders. He reckons he made 20, all of which are regarded as highly collectable today.
But it was his freehand fabrication skills to make anything from tanks to fairings (and often alloy bodies for classic cars) combined with expertise when it came to frame making that saw Steve’s shed career take off, with the frame he made for Keith Turner’s 500cc Grand Prix bike taking him to second in the world championship behind MV works rider, Giacomo Agostini, and in the eighties saw Steve work with Dave Hiscock on the full aluminium monocoque chassis F1 bike that set a standing start lap record of the Isle of Man.
Steve’s skills have led to worldwide recognition as a legendary restorer, with bikes sent from across the globe for the Wanganui local to return to better than original condition. With moulds and patterns scattered around his shed for the bikes of yesteryear, Steve is a master of fabrication and has built many tanks (or anything else metal) for Ken McIntosh and his Manx Norton restorations. And that’s not all, as Steve’s skill for working with metal has seen him rebuild bodies for many vintage and extremely valuable classic cars, from Rolls Royce to Ferraris and many others.
With Steve now in his eighties and recently suffering a stroke, Rod Trott sat down with the legend in his shed and recorded a series of interviews discussing his career highlights and how he managed to achieve so much from a shed in Wanganui. The 8-part doco is well worth a look and you can find the videos on YouTube (www.youtube.com/@whanganuiphotography).
Achievements like this just don’t happen nowadays and it’s brilliant that Steve Caudwell and Rod Trott have got together to record this incredible part of NZ’s motorcycling history on video before it’s lost forever. If you’ve got a bit of spare time, make sure to head for a look.