Rex McCandless, Northern Ireland man who changed face of motorbikes, to get blue plaque

Rex McCandless invented the Featherbed motorcycle frame after the Second World War
Rex McCandless invented the Featherbed motorcycle frame after the Second World War

NI racer Jeremy McWilliams will unveil a new blue plaque later this week to commemorate a talented Co Down engineer who excelled in both motor sport and aviation.

An Ulster History Circle service to mark the achievements of Rex McCandless – inventor of the Featherbed motorcycle frame in 1949 – will take place on Thursday at 10.30am at WAC McCandless (Engineering) Limited on the Limestone Road, Belfast.

Jeremy McWilliams will unveil the blue plaque on Thursday

Jeremy McWilliams will unveil the blue plaque on Thursday

Richard (Rex) McCandless was born on May 21, 1915 on his father Joseph’s farm at Culcavy, Hillsborough.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the family moved to Belfast and eventually Rex and his brother Cromie set up the excavator and heavy repair business. Their business associate was Irish road racer, Artie Bell.

Both brothers had always been motorcycle enthusiasts, and Rex owned several machines. The Second World War intervened and it was not until peace was declared that the sport was revitalised and became very much part of Rex and Cromie’s lives.

By 1949 Rex, who always thought that the pre-war machines with their hard frames and suspensions that broke easily were difficult to handle over the rough roads, had invented and developed a frame which set new standards in steering and roadholding.

Jeremy McWilliams who will be unveiling the blue plaque

Jeremy McWilliams who will be unveiling the blue plaque

It was this creation that changed the face of motorcycle racing for the next 25 years, and the first time the bike appeared in 1950, it won the TT races. The ‘Featherbed’ name came from a remark made by a Norton works rider, who said the new bike was so comfortable it would be possible to go to sleep on.

Not only did Rex McCandless invent and create, he also won several road races and hill climb championships with his car.

Rex’s talents did not stop at the motorcycle – he was also a developer of the gyroplane and had workshops at Crumlin and Newtownards.

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: “His talents were endless, and his achievements have been largely forgotten in the world of modern technology. His creativity and inventiveness play an important part of our history, with motorcycles, four-wheel drive racing cars, brick making and gyroplanes.”

Rex died in 1992 and is buried in Killough, Co Down.

The historic McCandless Racing Car and a vintage Featherbed Norton motorcycle will be on display at the unveiling.