Vale Bob Mitchell
Bob Mitchell, Australia’s most successful sidecar racer at world championship level, has died from liver cancer on the Gold Coast aged 75.
Mitchell was fourth in the 1956 world sidecar championship, using a Norton 500 engine.
He twice finished on the podium in world championship sidecar Grands Prix, finishing third in the 1955 Dutch TT and the 1956 Belgian GP.
He also finished fourth in the 1956 Isle of Man Sidecar TT.
Bob Mitchell was born in Violet Town in rural Victoria in 1931. He took up motorcycling, building his own machines out of junk parts, in his final years of school – when the Mitchell family moved to Melbourne.
Mitchell served an apprenticeship at Sampson Bros as a motorcycle mechanic and was apprentice of the year. His first “new” machine was a BSA Bantam.
After dabbling in solo scrambles, Mitchell took up sidecar racing, winning his first race.
Mitchell went to Europe in 1954, on the strength of winning the Australian Junior (600cm3) Sidecar TT in 1952 and 1953. Just one month after making his international debut, he won the sidecar class at the Zandvroot meeting in Holland against a fleet of then new works BMWs.
Mitchell’s time in Europe coincided with a golden period for Australian international racers. His contemporaries included Ken Kavanagh (his racing hero in Melbourne as a young man), Keith Campbell, life-long friend Jack Ahearn, Bob Brown and Eric Hinton.
The life of a private entrant could be knife edge in the 1950s – one minute enjoying a night out after a win, another time living on canned food until the next payday – and racing on circuits with little concession to safety.
Bob Mitchell continued to race Nortons through 1954, ’55 and ’56.
He met his wife of 50 years Jean while visiting Norton Motors in Birmingham to buy spare parts.
However, by the mid 1950s it was clear the engine to have in GP sidecar racing was a BMW twin.
Unable to secure a BMW, Mitchell returned to Australia late in 1956 with his wife and young son. In the next 18 months he rode his 500 Norton outfit to 21 consecutive victories.
That run included doubles (600cm3 and unlimited classes) in the 1956 Australian TT at Mildura, the 1957 Australian GP at Bandiana (near Albury) and the 1957 Easter Bathurst meeting.
Mitchell made a brief racing comeback in 1959, but thereafter concentrated on his business interests.
Bob Mitchell is survived by wife Jean, his sisters Beris and Margot, children Mark, Karen and Janine, and eight grand children.