Alan Cathcart looks back at the Britten V-1000 and its legendary creator, John Britten.
Claimed power: 135hp @ 9,500rpm
Top speed: 173mph (Daytona, 1990)
Engine: 999cc liquid-cooled DOHC 60-degree V-twin, 94mm x 72mm bore and stroke, 13.5:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 306lb (139kg)
The words “genius” and “tragedy” are often overstated, but it is beyond question that New Zealander John Britten was an engineering genius, and that his death from cancer 20 years ago in 1995, aged 45, was a tragedy for the world of motorcycling.
John Britten’s achievements have received just acclaim the world over. The motorcycles he developed, with their technological excellence and avant-garde engineering, would have been sufficient by their very creation to ensure his name was remembered. The fact that they also won races around the world by defeating the products of established manufacturers with far greater resources only adds to the caliber of his achievement.
John was an innovator, and throughout the 10 years we knew each other, I stood beside him many times as he examined another constructor’s handiwork in a race paddock. The ones he admired most were those displaying mold-breaking design features. He had the eye of a critical observer, and was on a constant quest for knowledge to fuel his flow of radical ideas. Knowing John was a stimulating experience, for talking to him about bikes or houses or flying or wine or any of his myriad other interests rewardingly forced you to re-examine your own accepted beliefs.
I first met John in December 1987, on a grass bank overlooking Manfeild race circuit on New Zealand’s North Island during the winter I spent racing in the New Zealand BEARS (British European American Racing Series) championship. We were both in our racing leathers, having strolled out from the paddock to watch practice. John had become one of New Zealand’s demon vintage bike racers aboard a pre-World War II Triumph Tiger he’d built and tuned himself. He was already collaborating with another local engineer, Bob Denson, in the manufacture of a methanol-burning 1,000cc engine for sidecar speedway racing, the Denco. John had already put the double overhead cam 8-valve 60-degree V-twin design into the first in the series of Britten road racers. But it was the chassis format of John’s new BEARS racer that made it truly attention-grabbing, as it used a Kevlar/carbon monocoque chassis, a modular design that allowed the White Power upside-down forks and fuel cell to be unbolted from the stressed engine and rear swingarm.
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