I discovered Rob Godwin by chance. We often visit a delightful coffee shop and bakery in Benoni, The Victorian Secret, owned by Les Godwin. We regularly admire their three-wheeler delivery bicycle, based on an old school Schwinn frame, and Les mentioned that his brother, Rob, had built it.
Les told us that Rob has a workshop in Benoni, where he specialises in rebuilding classic motorcycles and designs and builds café racers. Naturally, I couldn’t resist finding out more, and asked Les to arrange a visit to Rob’s workshop.
With photographer Jan van der Walt in tow, I headed over to Rob’s premises off Snake Road in Benoni. Performance Welding is tucked away at the rear of a small industrial complex, and the unassuming building gives away no clue as to the Aladdin’s cave of motorcycle treasure within.
Rob Godwin is one of a rare breed: a master craftsman who has lifted his welding trade to the level of an art. Born and bred in Benoni, Rob always had an interest in bikes and cars, but his real passion started during a visit to Kyalami in around 1969. Johan Boshoff was racing his two-stroke Yamaha TR2 350 motorcycle and had a problem getting it started. When he eventually push started it into action, Rob watched and heard the two stroke machine hurtling around the circuit, overtaking almost all the other bikes within a lap or two.
This passion for racing bikes, classic two strokes in particular, has never left Rob.He was a very competitive drag racer, competing at Rainbow and Tarlton raceways – in fact, he won the National Street Turbo Championship in 1981, setting a record of 11.03 seconds at 216 kph along the way. He also competed in enduros, but remained fascinated by Grand Prix racing motorcycles.
After completing his technical schooling, Rob served his apprenticeship at SAA, qualifying as an Aircraft Technician – Welding. “We were well trained in those days,” says Rob. “Standards were very high and instructors were tough – if work wasn’t up to scratch, we did it over and over again until they were satisfied.”
Much of Rob’s work at SAA involved welding engine components, fans, turbines and other fine work, rather than large items such as wing panels, for example. He eventually moved on in order to broaden his expertise, working on and managing specialised pressure vessel welding for Afrox and even working on top-secret nuclear projects at Valindaba!
During this time, Rob worked on many racing bikes of the era, such as Wynand Strydom’s Bimota SpeedPro turbo KB1 drag racing steed and Mick van Rensburg’s Chevy V8 drag racing bike. He also raced classic motorcycles in the early 90s.
As he progressed in his trade, Rob found he was doing more and more managing and supervising, rather than welding. Eventually, in 2001, he took the option of a retrenchment package and started Performance Welding. When Rob started the business, his work split was around 80% industrial and 20% on motorcycles and motorsport related projects. As time went by, though, and Rob’s reputation for meticulous work grew, more and more specialised restoration and design work began to flow in. Nowadays, most of Rob’s time is spent on these special projects.
“My friend and colleague, Mike Moloney, is a big help to me,” says Rob. “He raced bikes in the sixties, and he now machines beautiful precision components for me in his home workshop. He also helps me with precision fitting work on frames, etc.”
Rob was a founder member of the Historic Motorcycle Group back in 2003, and has owned and restored many very special motorcycles himself.
Some of the legendary bikes that have been through Rob’s hands include a classic 70s Bimota KB1A, which had a frame designed by Massimo Tamburini – the same man who designed the world beating 946/996/998 Ducatis, and the MV Agusta F4. Rob owned frame no 622, which he acquired in 1995 as a pile of parts after it crashed at the old Kyalami. Rob spent years rebuilding this bike, which was ridden by Howard Mellet at the Zwartkops “Day of the Champions” classic motorcycle event in 2010.
Another two-wheeled legend owned and built by Rob was a replica of Howard Mellet’s Texan Castrol Kawasaki Formula One bike. The original bike was built for Howard to race in the 1978 Formula One class, and won six races that season before the team lost the Texan sponsorship and the bike was sold. Rob used his 1974 Z900 Kawasaki former drag racing bike as the “frame” for his build, starting work on the project in 2009. Rob’s painstaking recreation is a magnificent tribute to the original green monster.
Yet another legendary motorcycle restored by Rob is a 1955 Norton / Triumph Triton. Rob rebuilt this 1950s classic in 2005. He also built a 1968 Yamaha V4 250 Grand Prix replica, using an original TR2B frame, sourcing some parts from the UK, and fabricating many himself.
Entering the Performance Welding workshop is a surreal experience: the first thing to catch your eye downstairs is a bare frame topped with a hand-made aluminium tank, standing on a pedestal. This frame could easily be a stand-alone piece of artwork, spot lit in an art gallery. Looking closer, you can see the perfect bronze welding on the frame and admire the hand beaten shape of the tank.
Looking around, the work surfaces are scattered with classic motorcycle parts, all immaculately prepared and polished. Specialised machines for moulding aluminium parts surround you, and a spoked rim is mounted on a stand, awaiting final measurements.
The real treasures are upstairs, though. You are greeted by a line-up of classic racing motorcycles as you reach the top of the stairs, and the walls are covered in motorcycle racing memorabilia, with many framed photographs covered in legendary signatures.
Two Yamaha two-stroke Grand Prix racers take pride of place, one bearing the legendary Ekerold name, with two of Rob’s project bikes standing in the background. Rob is busy with a very interesting build, based on a 2000 Harley Davidson 1200 Sportster. The almost completed bike has been converted into a Café Racer, with the classic lines of a Norton Manx, clip on handlebars and handmade footrests and gear lever. A second Harley is lined up for conversion.
I asked Rob to define a Café Racer for me, as this is a much-abused term and everyone has his or her own interpretation. “Café Racers were born in the 60s, particularly in the UK, where the Norton Manx bikes were giant killers on the race tracks,” says Rob. “Every street “racer” wanted his bike to look like a Norton, with clip on handlebars and a long, narrow tank with indentations for his knees. The idea was for bikes to be lightweight and fast, built for speed rather than comfort.”
Rob’s Harley Café Racer is a stunning interpretation of the genre. I haven’t ridden a bike for years, although I’ve had my bike licence longer than my car licence, and this is a bike that sorely tempts me to get back in the saddle.
Rob is incredibly humble, and modest about his achievements. I think we probably outstayed our welcome on our visit, but we could have listened to him for hours – he has so much knowledge about motorcycles, and his passion for his craft is clearly evident.
Performance Welding can do any specialised welding work – Rob has worked on many classic and exotic cars, and often builds custom exhaust systems for customers. Of special interest to many Hot Rodders is that he also offers welding courses – do take a look at his website for more info: www.performancewelding.co.za You can also give him a call on 083 256 2257