Inducted into MNZ Hall of Fame: 2004
Rod Coleman was born into the world of motorcycle racing. His father was Percy “Cannonball” Coleman, who was ten times New Zealand Champion in the 1920s.
Riding various machines, Rod Coleman would have success all over New Zealand, such as the Patea road race in South Taranaki where, in 1950, he won both the Junior (350cc) and Senior (500cc) feature races. The same year he was third in the New Zealand Junior TT at Waiheke Island. In 1951 and 1952, Patea was becoming Coleman’s playground with victories both years.
The successes continued. In 1953, Coleman won the Hamilton 100 road race, took a double victory in the New Zealand TT by winning the Senior and Junior titles, then repeated the feat in 1954, along with the New Zealand Airfield championship and a Halswell 100 victory.
Along with his successes nationally, he also had an accomplished international racing career in Europe.
In 1951, he secured a works contract with British AMC factory, which produced AJS and Matchless machines. He rode to eighth in the Isle of Man Junior TT that year and finished 12th in the 350cc World Championship. The following year saw him place fourth in the Senior (500cc) TT and third in the Junior, and finish fourth in the 500cc world standings. In 1953, he took fourth in the Senior TT and was leading the Junior TT until a broken chain forced him out. Coleman went on to finish 10th in the 500cc and sixth in the 350cc World Championships.
In 1954 Coleman made history, becoming the first New Zealand rider to win an Isle of Man TT, the Junior (350cc) race. He failed to finish the Senior TT that year but would go on to take third in the 350cc World Championship. This was also the year his employer, AMC, stopped racing. Of his 26 international starts, Coleman took one win and eleven podiums. His last international race was the 1956 Ulster 250cc Grand Prix.
Coleman continued racing after returning to New Zealand, winning the New Zealand 500cc Road Race Championship in 1955.
After retiring from racing, he and his brother Bob ran the family motorcycle business in Wanganui. They were the New Zealand Suzuki importer until Suzuki Japan bought the company in the 1980s. The Colemans were major sponsors of many of New Zealand’s top riders of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s in both off-road and road racing.
Prepared for the MNZ Hall of Fame by Ian Dawson, Fast Kiwi Media