The Brit­tens

Classic Racer - - WHAT’SINSIDE - Words: Terry Steven­son Pho­to­graphs: Don­ald­tustin, Steve Green, Chris de Beer andterry Steven­son

Terry Steven­son takes a look at the story and the legacy of one of the most in­ter­est­ing mo­tor­cy­cle con­cepts of all time, and why it’s en­dured with such a unique sec­tor of rac­ing rev­er­ence amongst rac­ing fans.

A to­tal of 10 Brit­ten mo­tor­cy­cles were pro­duced out of a small work­shop in Christchurch, New Zealand, not for­get­ting the ear­lier Du­cati-pow­ered Aero-d-zero, the Denco Aero-d-one, or the two Brit­ten-en­gined Pre­cur­sors. To race a Brit­ten was an hon­our, but the end game was to cross the line first – to win on race day and stand on the top step of the podium. Here many lucky rid­ers share their best mem­o­ries of rac­ing the iconic Brit­ten.

An­drew Stroud – the bat­tles

An­drew Stroud would have won on de­but at Day­tona in 1992, but for a bat­tery fail­ure just be­fore the flag. Stroud re­calls: “My first ride was in Fe­bru­ary 1992. I did about 15 laps. I went to Rua­puna and the first time I saw the bike was when Chris Hal­dane rode it and the front-end had snapped off it. When the wish­bone broke and Chris broke his col­lar­bone, John asked me to ride it.” Stroud notched up five Day­tona vis­its on the Brit­ten. “The first one, when the doc­u­men­tary was on it, the bat­tery went flat and stopped with two laps to go! Pas­cale Pi­cotte and I were out in front, the Brit­ten was faster than the Du­cati and I felt like I had him cov­ered be­cause the slip­stream was such a big fac­tor at Day­tona. I thought I had him well sorted out so I could pass him be­fore cross­ing the fin­ish line. “I didn’t go in 1993, but in 1994 it set the fastest top speed of any mo­tor­cy­cle that had ever been to Day­tona. It went through the radar gun fastest at 189mph, faster than the fac­tory Su­per­bikes. “I won both races there, the Battle of the Twins and BEARS. I won it again in 1995, 1996 and 1997. The first one I rode at Day­tona was an 1100 – that was the fastest out of all of them.” Stroud en­joyed an epic duel with the Du­ca­ti­mounted Robert Holden at Rua­puna, Christchurch in early 1996, where both rid­ers re­peat­edly passed each other. “In the 1995/96 sum­mer se­ries Robert Holden brought the Du­cati back from Eng­land and that was a very good bike. We had some great bat­tles and I had to push the Brit­ten a lot harder than I wanted to. I re­mem­ber at Rua­puna I’d done hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands of laps, and on the Brit­ten the best I’d ever done at Rua­puna was a low 1min 33sec. “In the sec­ond race, when Robert fell off and hurt his leg, on the first lap around I saw a 33.4 lap and I thought that’s not bad for a first lap and then I saw a 33.1. I looked back and Robert was a bit closer then, so I re­ally put my head down. Then the next lap around I saw a 32.6 and Robert was a bit closer again – he’d just done a 32.4 – which was the lap record! Then I re­ally pulled it all out, I just chucked it on its side super-hard and re­ally pushed it way harder than I thought I’d get away with. Then I came around with a 32.0 lap and I looked back and Robert was gone – he’d lost it through the esses. There was no muck­ing around, it was se­ri­ous rac­ing – we had it all on the line!”

Stephen Briggs – mag­i­cal

Stephen Briggs raced the Roberto Crepaldi-owned CR&S Brit­ten (Num­ber Three) in Europe span­ning 1995 to early 1996, and then for a sea­son in New Zealand the fol­low­ing sum­mer. Briggs got the call-up but had never raced a V-twin be­fore, nor had he tested the 1000cc Brit­ten and, in­cred­i­bly, he qual­i­fied on pole in Bri­tain! “I didn’t even get to ride it first – I was thrown straight into the Battle of the Twins race at Thrux­ton,” Briggs ex­plained. “That was the first Euro­pean race, in 1995. I’d never rid­den it be­fore, so I jumped on it and I just rode it! Fun­nily enough, I ended up with pole po­si­tion on the Brit­ten! An­drew (Stroud) was right next door to me on the grid on the blue and pink fac­tory Brit­ten. “It was just mag­i­cal. I was run­ning around in Europe driv­ing from meet­ing to meet­ing with the team with that Brit­ten and ev­ery­where it went it had a mas­sive fol­low­ing. My­self and An­drew did the World Su­per­bikes at Brands Hatch on it, it was an­other round of the world BEARS and Battle of the Twins. There were some­thing like 65,000 to 70,000 people packed into that place and all the en­gi­neers from all the fac­tory teams all came up and wanted to look at the Brit­ten! It couldn’t have been bet­ter. It was so far ahead of its time and it’s not re­ally un­til you look at bikes now with even the simple things like fuel in­jec­tion and car­bon fi­bre, and the way he ad­justed the trail and steer­ing head an­gle and the swingarm pivot. Ev­ery­thing about it was a step in front of ev­ery­thing else at the time.” Briggs fin­ished sec­ond in the 1995 world BEARS cham­pi­onship, be­hind Stroud, to make a Brit­ten one-two. Un­for­tu­nately, in New Zealand Briggs didn’t achieve the re­sults he was ex­pect­ing on the CR&S ma­chine. “I think every prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing I was like fastest, I felt on top of the bike, I felt re­ally good with it, but come race time – the first race, the gear­box cracked it­self. Then it poured down with rain and be­cause the bike had no gear­box we grabbed the pink and blue bike (Num­ber Six), which was on dis­play at the time!” Stephen says laugh­ing. “We had to quickly grab it, throw some wets on and then did a race on it!”

Gary Good­fel­low – early days

Gary Good­fel­low raced the Aero-d-one and then the Pre­cur­sor. Good­fel­low takes up the story: “John in­vited me down to test his bike, so I went down and hung out at John’s place and tested the bikes – I prob­a­bly stayed there for like three months. But when I got there the bike hadn’t been built! It was in like a thou­sand pieces, you wouldn’t be­lieve it. ‘But no, it’s go­ing to be go­ing in three days’, you know – like old John.” John re­tired the Denco-pow­ered Aero-d-one in 1988 as he had a big­ger thing in mind “which was the Pre­cur­sor, so he built that, I did the de­vel­op­ment rid­ing, and then I raced it. I raced the Pre­cur­sor in Ja­pan, Canada, the US, New Zealand, Europe, all around the world re­ally.” Con­quer­ing Day­tona be­came a huge chal­lenge for John Brit­ten, be­gin­ning in 1989, when Good­fel­low found the Pre­cur­sor could out-ac­cel­er­ate the fac­tory Du­catis. It per­formed well in the race un­til ig­ni­tion fail­ure put it out of ac­tion. A year later Good­fel­low and his fel­low Kiwi Robert Holden placed third and fifth re­spec­tively in the Day­tona Battle of the Twins race. Good­fel­low con­tin­ues: “The next year I rode Day­tona with the ‘An­gry Ant’, Paul Lewis. In be­tween those two years I kept the bike in Canada.” Liv­ing in Van­cou­ver, Canada, Good­fel­low raced at tracks along the US west coast and Day­tona. “Most of the time it stopped on (out-braked) ev­ery­thing pretty well. I raced the Brit­ten and I also had my own Suzuki Su­per­bike. I was spon­sor­ing guys, so Wes Coo­ley came up to race my Suzuki and Steve Cre­vier raced it a lot, while I raced the Brit­ten against them. Cre­vier beat me once!”

Chris Hal­dane – first time around

Chris Hal­dane was the first and last rider to race a true Brit­ten, a Pre­cur­sor be­ing his first ride: “I was the first rider on a com­plete Brit­ten, chas­sis and en­gine,” Hal­dane says. “We’d be rid­ing the bike pretty much every day. On Tram Road (near Christchurch, New Zealand), with the big long straight, we spent quite a bit of time there. We just wheeled it out, had a bit of a recce run and tried not to hit any­thing. No one knew what it was then any­way. I was this crazy guy with this crazy dream and it didn’t re­ally have any his­tory at that point. “We did the NZ Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship on it for the first time and had a few is­sues, as you’d ex­pect. I think it was 1989.” A one-off test ride in 1992 at Rua­puna ended up very dif­fer­ently than ex­pected af­ter a wheelie broke off the front end of the bike. “Halfway through the NZ Su­per­bike ti­tle John in­vited me to ride the bike be­tween the Rua­puna and In­ver­cargill rounds. That is when the front end broke off and hurt me – it broke my shoul­der re­ally badly. Not like a show pony, it was out of the hair­pin, just a small wheelie up the straight to­wards the right-han­der and when I put the wheel down, it just folded un­der. I had night­mares about it for years.” In his new Marl­boro Yamaha con­tract Hal­dane wasn’t al­lowed to race any­thing else. “I said, ‘Look, An­drew (Stroud) has got noth­ing sorted. We’ll come down, do BEARS to­gether to in­tro­duce you and I can help An­drew un­der­stand things a bit’ and then An­drew took over from there.”

Nick Jef­feries – the is­sues

When New Zealand-based English­man Ron Grant heard that Nick Jef­feries’ Honda Bri­tain ride was over, he rang John Shand, who got in touch with John Brit­ten. “And the next thing I knew I got a call from John Brit­ten!” Jef­feries ex­plains. “The idea was to ride in the North West 200 and the Isle of Man TT. We also did a Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship race at Don­ing­ton Park. I don’t think many people know that, in late June 1994.” The ul­tra-fast North West 200 was Jef­feries’ first race pick­ing up an eighth and a sev­enth on a dif­fer­ent Brit­ten to the TT bike. The 1994 Isle of Man Brit­ten team was Jef­feries, who won the 1993 For­mula One race, Robert Holden, who de­cided not to race it and Mark Farmer, who was trag­i­cally killed dur­ing prac­tice. “It was mas­sively un­der­de­vel­oped, he was amaz­ingly in­no­va­tive, the rear sus­pen­sion we broke in prac­tice, the front sus­pen­sion was un­der­de­vel­oped, there was a cool­ing issue that meant the bike over­heated, the one long cam drive belt sys­tem con­stantly broke – that was the one of the main prob­lems in prac­tice, we had trou­ble get­ting a lap in, which sadly was, I think, the root cause of why Mark died.”

His in­cred­i­ble Isle of Man ex­pe­ri­ence counted for noth­ing as the bike failed to fin­ish the For­mula One or the Se­nior TT. “The one ex­cit­ing thing that hap­pened was when the rear sus­pen­sion arm snapped go­ing down Bar­regar­row. It was a steep de­cent taken in top gear at the Isle of Man do­ing in ex­cess of 160mph. At the bot­tom is a re­ally bad bump where the bikes still dig in now.” For­tu­nately, Jef­feries slowed as he caught a new­comer be­fore the dip, do­ing some 120mph. “When I hit the bot­tom the rear sus­pen­sion broke. It smashed the back wheel through the mud­guard and the seat and I came to a halt with the bike like a hobby horse – with the back wheel up against my back­side! Had I been go­ing down there full noise when the sus­pen­sion col­lapsed, I wouldn’t be here now!” A rear sus­pen­sion back-up stop wasn’t fit­ted. Nick fondly re­flects back on his Brit­ten ad­ven­ture. “I am truly priv­i­leged to be as­so­ci­ated with the bike, I was very proud that John en­trusted me to ride it.”

Shaun Harris – Foggy sur­prise

Shaun Harris raced Brit­tens around the Isle of MANTT and in Europe. Harris said be­fore his race crash that in­jured him at Ti­maru in 2016: “I de­buted it at the Isle of Man in 1993 and started test­ing at Monza in Italy. We broke down every sin­gle prac­tice lap, so it was not the best. Com­ing up to a pit stop we were up to fifth po­si­tion in the race, which was bril­liant, but then a cou­ple of miles down the track, un­for­tu­nately a part broke (oil fil­ter), that caused oil spillage ev­ery­where and we had to stop. Whether we would have fin­ished the race any­way, in hind­sight, we don’t know. “We went to Spa in Bel­gium, raced it at Don­ing­ton as well, which was bloody in­ter­est­ing be­cause Carl Fog­a­rty was there, it was the year that he started as a pri­va­teer on Du­catis in the World Su­per­bikes. Com­ing onto the back straight at Don­ing­ton he came in un­der­neath me and we came on to the back straight side by side, I wheel-stood all the way down the straight just be­cause of the mo­tor of the Brit­ten and Carl was look­ing at me and I was look­ing at him the whole way down the straight – he could go nowhere on a bike that he was get­ting top 10s in World Su­per­bikes on! That’s how fast the Brit­ten mo­tor was then com­pared to ev­ery­thing else.” Harris re­turned to the Isle of Man in 1995 to race the CR&S Brit­ten. “That was the only time they fin­ished a race (at the Isle of Man), but we fin­ished way down be­cause all sorts of stuff had gone on and we couldn’t get it go­ing in the pits, it just wouldn’t go. We had to push it up and down pit lane three times to get it go­ing!”

Paul Lewis – quick at Day­tona

Aus­tralian Paul Lewis was an ex­pe­ri­enced 500cc Grand Prix racer who took a Brit­ten Pre­cur­sor to sec­ond place dur­ing the 1991 Day­tona US Battle of the Twins race. “John con­tacted me be­cause there was no one quicker at Day­tona than me or prob­a­bly Marco Lucchinelli,” Lewis says. “That was when Steve Cre­vier rode one and I was on the other, with John there. We got along like a house on fire! “In prac­tice we had some is­sues with fu­elling and stuff, but it was awe­some. We were rac­ing against Doug Poulan on the fac­tory Du­cati, and Poulan that year won the World Su­per­bike cham­pi­onship on that bike! Steve and I qual­i­fied on the front row, we took off and I took the lead, dic­ing with Poulan. We gave Doug a bit of a Brit­ten sand­wich for a lap or so. “Steve broke down on the first or sec­ond lap and it was just me and Doug, and we were fly­ing.” How­ever, the en­gine started run­ning on one cylin­der mid-cor­ner, al­though the problem dis­ap­peared at full throt­tle! “It was a big battle be­tween Doug and I, and Doug won me over in the end, but I fin­ished sec­ond. When we pulled in I could see John at the horse­shoe jump­ing up and down be­cause he was very ex­cited to get his first ros­trum. When they pulled the gear off, the rear fuel in­jec­tion stack had come un­done. I think if we had two cylin­ders I don’t think they would have known which way we went. It was awe­some.”

Chris Hal­dane – drift­ing

“Tim Ste­wart had just built Num­ber Nine and they’d made lots of changes and made the bike a lot bet­ter in a lot of areas,” Hal­dane said. “It had been a few years since I’d rid­den a Brit­ten, the Girder bike, and it was a lot more pow­er­ful and a lot more sorted, you could get your head around it a bit more. So that bike was boxed up that night and air freighted to Ja­pan. “Tsukuba had this re­ally fast back straight with a big sweeper back onto the front straight. The worst thing for the Brit­ten was that ex­act cor­ner and it had this hor­ren­dous pat­ter that I had to ride around. “For the race, on the start it broke the slip­per clutch as I fed the power on and let the clutch out and it just went chug, chug, chug, and I got away dead last. I thought ‘Well I’m not go­ing to pull in’ so I just got stuck into it and nor­mally it had a re­ally beau­ti­ful slip­per clutch and you’d drift the back com­ing into tighter cor­ners, so I had to get my head around chang­ing without a clutch. I came right through the field, broke the track record, the fastest lap of the race, and fin­ished fourth! “I’ve never signed so many au­to­graphs in my life – they sold a record amount of mer­chan­dise! “Then we went to Ger­many. We did a good amount of test­ing and the bike was em­bar­rass­ingly fast. There was an ex-ger­man su­per­bike cham­pion rid­ing a Honda-sup­ported SP1 and we cleaned up big time, got the hole shot and in the first lap we had 50m on them. Yet again the times that we did would have put us on the front row of the last round of the World Su­per­bikes there, so it was pretty im­pres­sive. That was the last race ever for the fac­tory Brit­ten.” John Ken­ton Brit­ten, de­signer, en­gi­neer, artist, achiever, passed away from can­cer in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Septem­ber 5, 1995.

Ja­son Mcewen – wicked

“John asked for a rider and An­drew put my name for­ward, and that’s how it started. My first ride was in 1992 when the World Su­per­bikes were at Man­feild. It was wicked!” Mcewan said. “The first time on the 1100, it had just come back from Day­tona, it was far from nice to ride, and it was pretty grov­elly, but it was still good. I think I would have qual­i­fied on the sec­ond row of the grid in the World Su­pers at the time, I did a 1min 8sec lap and way back then I think they were do­ing high sev­ens. “I quite liked it, in cer­tain areas. It han­dled awe­some, but John chose wisely with rid­ers be­cause it’s def­i­nitely not the sort of bike that would suit a lot of people – it’s a beast. It would scare the f…. out of ev­ery­one! “John rode the bike at Rua­puna one day. He came back af­ter a cou­ple of laps and was shak­ing his head. I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly what he said but he was laugh­ing and he said to Stroud and my­self: ‘You two are crazy rid­ers’. It was a full-on V-twin! “When we put the slip­per clutch in it made a leap for­ward in front end han­dling. “My best mem­o­ries would def­i­nitely have to be do­ing a few laps of the Isle of Man on the bike that Robert (Holden) was rid­ing. He opted not to ride it and I got the nod.” Rid­ing a Brit­ten, Mcewen shared the fea­ture race win with Robert Holden (Du­cati 888) at Wan­ganui’s Ceme­tery Cir­cuit in 1992, and was the sole out­right win­ner in 1994. Mcewen backed those re­sults up in 1996 with three vic­to­ries on the day on the Num­ber Six Brit­ten to win the in­au­gu­ral Robert Holden Me­mo­rial tro­phy.

Left: An­drew Stroud – cruise con­trol with Brit­ten Num­ber Six.

CHRIS DE BEER

Stephen Briggs, CR&S Brit­ten and An­drew Stroud rac­ing in Europe.

Kevin Grant and Nick Jef­feries, Isle of Man, 2005.

STEVE GREEN

Gary Good­fel­low, Brit­ten Pre­cur­sor, 1990 Sound of Thun­der.

ALAN HURFORD

Above: Sean Harris rac­ing a Brit­ten on the Isle of Man.

STEVE GREEN

Chris Hal­dane on a Brit­ten V1000, Pukekohe, 2001.

STEVE GREEN

Robert Holden lead­ing Ja­son Mcewen at the World Su­per­bike event, Man­field, 1992.

Left: An­drew Stroud Brit­ten burnout.

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