Thomas Edward Phillis

World 125 motorcycle Champion


Tom Phillis from Marrickville in Sydney and son of an army despatch rider, started racing bicycles but abandoned them for motorcycle trials, grass track racing and scrambles, now known as MotoX.

Aged just 20 and already married to Betty, they jointly bought a BSA Gold Star.

But a two year old Manx Norton let him show his form better, at the Fisherman’s Bend track in Melbourne, such that, a year later, in 1958, he and Betty sold up in Australia and headed to Europe.

Competing against international greats such as Jim Redman and Mike Hailwood, he won the first world championship motorcycle grand prix for a Japanese brand (and therefore also for Honda). And he gained Honda’s first world championship, the 125, in 1961.

The same year he was second to Mike Hailwood in the 250 class. And he was the first to lap the Isle of Man at better than 100mph average on a pushrod engined bike. In 1961, Phillis won six GPs, four 125s, two 250s.

Like Keith Campbell, Phillis died the year after becoming world champion. For Phillis it came at Isle of Man.

He’d taken third in both the 125 and 250 races over nearly four hours but then crashed and died in the 350 race.

His death so upset the defending 500cc world champion, Gary Hocking, that he immediately retired from bike racing.