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Max Monk?s collection


It's a dictum that 76-year-old Max Monk lives and drives by. It could just as easily have come from Burt Munro who persisted for years with his old Indian motorcycle, turning it into the world's fastest Indian and a brilliant Hollywood movie.

Monk never raced against Munro, but he did compete on the same beaches in New Zealand and witnessed the fame and glory of the dogged backyard mechanic at close quarters.

"Burt raced in the clubman events so I didn't race against him. He was 60 then and I was just 20," says Monk. "Even at 70 he was still surrounded by 19-year-old girls."

If Munro the man impressed the young 20-something apprentice mechanic from Canterbury, his ancient Indian motorcycle left even more of an impression. "I've never seen anything like it," he says. "It wouldn't wheelstand, it wouldn't wheelspin, it would just disappear over the horizon."

So Monk became like his fellow South Islander and persisted with old machinery. Today he lives in Brisbane and drives a 1989 Saab 900i that belonged to one of his two daughters. "I bought it for $4500 six years ago and it had 350,000km on it," he says. "It's still going well and I wouldn't part with it."

He also owns a 1984 Yamaha RZ500 V4 two-stroke motorcycle he bought 12 years ago for $3500. "They are worth about $10,000 now for a good one," he says although it's obvious he wouldn't part with it.

Monk smokes as much as his beloved two-stroke Yamaha, but the wiry septuagenarian is still fit and continues to ride. "I got keen on bikes before I left school so I became a mechanic, but making your hobby your job is hard," he says.

"I started racing when I was 20. My mother didn't want me doing it, but she said I could ride on the beach because that looked soft." Little did his mother know that riders like Munro and Monk were doing more than the old ton on those beaches. Monk raced a Triumph Speed Twin, a GP Triumph and then a 350 AJS 7R for about 10 years until one "bad day."

"The bike wouldn't start and the field was long gone so I rode like a lunatic to catch up," he says. "Then the gear shift broke. The same thing happened in the second race and then I ran out of fuel in the last lap."

"When I got back to the pits my mum and wife looked 30 years older because an ambulance had gone out and they thought it was for me. I had two little girls at that stage so I quit and just tuned bikes after that. I didn't ride again for about 20 years."

In that time he worked as a car and bike mechanic, wrecker, welder, farmer, tractor mechanic, gun seller and real estate agent. "You name it, I've done it," he says. Monk moved to Australia six years ago to manage a residential development.

"The number of cars and bikes I have owned is longer than your arm," he says. "The first car I owned was a 1937 Chevrolet I found on a farm and restored," he says. "It cost 10. I had it a year and a half and most of the time it was in bits and pieces."

He then owned a series of old Chevs, Dodges and Vauxhalls. "The last one (before the Saab) was a 1984 Toyota Corolla hatchback. It was the last of the rear-wheel-drive models." You probably guessed it: "It had about a half a million kilometres on it."

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