Once upon a time in a land far far away there was an inventor who decided that he would challenge the big boys of motorcycle racing, take on Daytona international speedway and beat them at their own game, and yes, it did really happen!
Twins with a different birthday
That inventor was called John Britten and he showed signs of being different from the herd at the tender age of nought when he was born, just ahead of his twin sister, just before midnight and she was born just after - pretty unique for twins to have a different birthday! At school he was dyslexic and needed to have questions read out to him and his answers written down, none of which prevented him from becoming a brilliant engineer.
Something from nothing
John Britten hailed from Christchurch New Zealand. He was a mechanical engineer and, working from his home garage in the late 1980's and early 1990s he set out to build a motorcycle. In those days New Zealand did not have readily available parts for everything, so when they needed something and couldn't get it, New Zealanders historically just made themselves one instead! John Britten was no exception, and from humble beginnings making a go kart, restoring an old Indian Scout and mending a truck which he had pulled out of a swamp, he went on to restore his house, turning it from a stable into a fantastic home. When he didn't have what he needed, like a door handle for example, he just cast one out of scrap metal. All this practice at making something from nothing, meant that he was not at all daunted when he decided to build a motorcycle!
Out of the blue
He started work on his bike in his garage in the early 1990s, first doing the drawings for it himself. He then collected sand from the beach and sand-casted the engine case in a kiln and, laboriously bit by bit, he built the very first 1000cc, 60-degree V-Twin Britten motorcycle. The four-valve engine was said to produce about 155 horsepower at 12,000 rpm and was known as the precursor engine. The bodywork was of carbon fibre and most of the 3,000 components of the bike were handmade in the garage. Once completed John Britten was ready for the ultimate challenge and shipped two of his handmade bikes to Daytona International Speedway in 1991. Coming out of the blue his beautiful motorcycles, painted a distinctive blue and pink, sped past the opposition to take second and third place in the battle of the twins! Unbelievable!
Back home in New Zealand after his triumph at Daytona, John Britten continued developing his engines and a second generation engine was fitted with girder forks which he fitted himself. A year later in 1992 he returned to Daytona but on race day disaster struck, and the battery died due to the rectifier being wired the wrong way. Undeterred by this set back John took his bike back to New Zealand where he started winning races and breaking speed records. In 1995 he returned to Daytona and this time he took the victory - an incredible achievement on a unique motorcycle.
|Parade Lap at the Isle Of Man TT. Photo: Jeremy Gray|
Made to measure
Because John Britten's bike was not off-the-peg he was able to stuff it full of great and unique ideas and really break the mould (not literally though!). It had an ultra light carbon fibre frame which forced the air underneath to hold the bike down and girder style adjustable front forks, not only for rake and trail but dive - different from conventional forks. It had a radiator which was streamlined so that it didn't present an un-aerodynamic face to the air and helped the bike to achieve incredible speeds upwards of 185mph. The Britten V1000 was a total crowd stopper.
|photo: Jeremy Gray|
Race against time
John Britten was motivated by his desire to race against the best in the world but he knew that he wasn't going to beat the factory teams at their own game, so he decided to come at the problem from a different angle and build a better bike than they had, and that is exactly what he achieved!
His bike had the sleek good looks of the beautifully engineered machine and drew attention wherever it went.
But tragically John Britten was taken ill and died at the age of 45 leaving production of his last 10 motorcycles for his factory to finish without him.
Now his amazing motorcycles sit in museums and private collections around the world, a testament to a great individual who took on the establishment and won. John Britten's story gives hope to anyone who is resourceful and imaginative enough to have a go - you never know what you might achieve.
There is a documentary about John Britten and his amazing achievements on DVD called 'One Man's Dream '