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Bob Brown Robbed In Belgium 1957

Submitted by on December 16, 2009

Picture this. You’re an Australian rider, lining up for your second premier-class works Grand Prix ride – nominated by a four-times world champion. But just minutes before the start, your Italian teammate’s machine has ignition trouble. .

The new team manager steps in. He orders you off you bike. So you watch as your allocated machine wins! In fact it’s the only Italian works machine that goes the full 211km race distance.

It couldn’t happen? It did to Bob Brown on July 7, 1957, when his Gilera 500-4 was commandeered before the Belgian GP at Spa-Francorchamps. More galling, it was best chance the laid-back Sydney motor mechanic ever had of a GP victory. He spent the remainder of his 500 career on private Nortons, becoming the world’s top GP private entrant in 1959.

Brown had ridden for Gilera in the ’57 Isle of Man TT, at the recommendation of injured team leader Geoff Duke. He finished third in the 350 and 500 events.

Injury to double TT winner Bob McIntyre saw Brown recalled for the Belgian GP, to support Libero Liberati.

Also on fully streamlined Italian bikes were Australia’s Keith Campbell (Moto Guzzi V8) and 1956 champion John Surtees (MV-Agusta).

But when the Gilera mechanics went to warm-up Liberati’s machine, it would not start.

Gilera’s new team boss Roberto Persi immediately ordered Brown off his machine, sending Liberati to the line on a machine that still carried Brown’s race number.

Another Australian, Keith Bryen, was on a private Norton. He described Persi’s actions to the author as “treating Brown like dirt”.

Geoff Duke was, to quote his book In Pursuit of Perfection, incensed and argued with Persi.

More than that, the action was totally against the rules of the day. But officials allowed Liberati continue, even when a protest was lodged during the race!

Bizarrely, FIM sporting commission president Piet Nortier approved the decision by the Clerk of the Course to let Liberati start.  – contrary to his commission’s own rules.

The first half of the race belonged to Campbell. He fired past Liberati and Surtees on the first 14km lap and set a new outright lap record at 190.827km/h before the Guzzi broke its crankshaft.

Surtees also retired. Liberati won, from tough veteran Jack Brett (Norton) and Bryen.

Liberati was stripped on the win on protest, but in January 1958 he was reinstated by the FIM and the result stands to this day.


Bob Brown was killed in July 1960, while practicing for the West German GP on a Honda 250.

He was remembered at subsequent Easter Bathurst meetings with the Bob Brown Memorial Trophy — for the most successful motorcycle club team.

Don Cox

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