“It was a horror story in there”
A labour of love stock rebuild for a late friend turned into one of the handiest (and priciest) VTRS PS has yet ridden
MATT GREENALL, 37 and modified Hondavtr1000 builder, pauses and looks into the distance. I’ve just asked him where the Firestorm thing started for him. Didn’t think it was a tough question...
“A friend called Dave got thisvtr in the late 1990s. I always liked the look of them but was into sportsbikes – I had a ZX-9R and an RGV250; I preferred full fairings.anyway, around 2007 Dave decided to strip thevtr and refurb it. But he couldn’t spend much time on it and didn’t get very far – and then it stopped when he got ill and sadly, he passed away. He left me the bike in bits; frame in one box, subframe in another, engine in another, and wheels ratchet-strapped together. It was fit for the scrapyard.” Ah, sorry mate.and this is the bike? “Yup, originally in red.and a mess.the camchain tensioner had failed on the front cylinder, which is why Dave stripped the bike. So I decided to rebuild it all.”
Using Dave’s memory for inspiration, Matt got to work.a failed camchain tensioner isn’t unknown onvtrs; the destruction included a couple of bent valves, a hole in the piston and a scrapped head. “Apart from the cylinder head, I used all-new parts for the rebuild,” says Matt. He renewed rings, big end shells, crank bearings – then put it all back together, cleaning the frame, refreshing suspension and sorting out new bolts and fasteners. It wasn’t easy: “The front engine bolt seized – it runs through the frame, then through the cases. It’s a steel bolt and it welds itself to the aluminium. I tried drilling it, using a die-grinder, used a de-burrer – nothing. So I sent it to an engineering shop who said they could remove any bolt – still wouldn’t come out. In the end I cut it out then had to get new cases – and a new bolt.”
After all that effort, Matt, importantly, kept Dave’s bike stock... for about eight weeks. So how did the modifying start?
“Well, that’s thanks to another friend, Martin. He lives in Spain and he’s got a Firestorm with some nice aftermarket parts. The more I spoke to him the more I thought ‘you know what, I’ve sorted the bike for Dave, but it could be so much better’. Honda never developed thevtr, or put effort into it. Pretty much threw them together.”
So Matt started thinking – and returned to his sportsbike roots: “I wondered if ’blade 954 forks would fit, because I used to have one of those and I loved the front end. But then, once you upgrade one part, you have to do the rest. It spiralled out of control very quickly. I spent a lot of money; I got boxes delivered to work and to friends’ houses so the wife wouldn’t see them. She knows why I wanted to do thevtr, but as it went on and got more expensive, it was harder to justify. Every day a new parcel turned up so I had to get things delivered elsewhere.
“For example,” Matt says. “I had narrowtrack PFM calipers on thevtr forks, but I didn’t get on with the clattery noise they made. So when I went to Fireblade forks I got some Brembo HPKS – told the wife I had to get them. She asked why couldn’t I just put stock ’blade calipers on? I told her it was a downgrade from the Pfms.then she asked how much they were, so I told her £900.
“She opened the box and saw the invoice was only just shy of £1800”
Unfortunately, that was just for one caliper. When she opened the box she saw the invoice was just shy of £1800... and to make matters worse, the ’blade discs wouldn’t fit theaprilia wheels I got, so that was another £450 on new discs.”
Matt’s workshop garage is a good 20 minutes drive from his house.that can’t have made things any easier either?
“No, it’s difficult. I’m AVOSA inspector, so I work weird and wonderful hours anyway. And then you have to split time between family, friends and bike.the bike comes last... unless the sun’s out. But it is hard – late hours at night and early in the morning.”
The first rebuild took seven months. But modifying has been a long process, starting in 2013 and still going today – literally. Matt fitted the Oberon clutch slave cylinder cover last night. But let’s begin at the beginning: what was the very first thing you did?
“Take the bodywork off and send it to Racepaint, sadly no longer trading, to do the Rothmans scheme,” says Matt.
“I wanted something from the 1990s, so it was a toss-up between this and other colour options – Repsol or Konica Minolta colours.”
Wow, the Konica colours are fab;tamada’s RCV from 2006 is a classic. “That’s what’s going on my next project,” says Matt. And what’s that? “AVTR1000 for my son,” he says, laughing. “But the Rothmans did it for me. It’s a good fit; I didn’t want to get the belly pan and have it fully faired, because it just doesn’t look right.”
While the bodywork was away being painted, Matt decided to change a few bits; first the cans: “They had to be titanium, and they had to be a good brand,” says Matt. He’s not kidding; he ordered a bespokeyoshimura system from Japan for £1500, and had to wait six months for it to be delivered.when it turned up, one of the cans was damaged in transit: “It went back, and I had to wait another four months.”
Meanwhile, Matt tried a pair of 1998 ’blade rwu forks and yokes, but didn’t like the look of them. So he offered up a pair of 954 forks instead: “Basically, the entire front end,” he says. “It was a pain – different size stem bearings to match the stem to the headstock (same length, different width), 954 yokes – but you can’t use 954 clip-ons because they won’t clear the fairing. I heard you could use 929 ’blade clip-ons, but they don’t fit well either.”
So Matt got his mate John to mill him up a pair of ’bar adapters and clamps, bringing the ’bars up to the right height by trial and error. “But even then it’s still tight,” says Matt, pointing to the Brembo clutch and brake mastercylinders. “They come out a lot further than the standard items.”the gouges in the fairing panels bear testament to as much error as trial.
Matt was also looking for rearsets, eventually opting for a £400 set of Gilles ’pegs, and offered up the PFM brakes before settling on a Brembo set-up. Even that wasn’t simple: “Three months after I paid for the calipers, I got an email from Brembo saying they didn’t make the adapter plates anymore. So they said I could have the brakes, but I couldn’t fit them.” Really? That’s crap service. “Yes, so I asked for the dimensions but they said they didn’t know; they didn’t actually make them.” You’re kidding. “No, but I got the brakes anyway and got my mate John to make up bespoke adapter plates to mate them to the fork bottoms.”
While he was at the front end, Matt gutted the forks, fitted Öhlins internals, got the outers anodised gold to look a bit Öhlins-ish, added a Hyperpro steering damper, and bought a genuine used Öhlins rear shock off ebay. “It had only just been serviced, but I got a new spring for my weight,” smiles Matt. He sent the subframe off for powdercoating, “...because it was crap; all corroded. It’s not ally, just mild steel.”
Matt spent more time and money adapting an R1 Brembo rear caliper to be underslung and captive to the swingarm. “That took ages; a real nightmare,” he says.then (he doesn’t make life easy for himself) he bought a pair of OZ wheels from anaprilia Mille RSV1000 R and got them painted white – without even checking they’d fit. “I’d make them fit,” says Matt. “I got some bushes made to match the front spindle to the bearings, and some spacers custom-made – but it was tricky centring the wheel with the calipers.they were meant to be used with Fireblade discs, and now it’s gotaprilia discs – I had to shave the adapters down millimetres at a time until the calipers were centred. It took three months.”
But the real problem, says Matt – as if he wasn’t already up to his neck – was the rear wheel. “THEVTR wheel is 5.5in, theaprilia
is a 6in.”the answer? New spacers to get the wheel in, and then a 520 chain with hardened ally spacers in the sprocket carrier to get the chain run lined up.
Matt now had a rolling chassis. “Next I did the dash,” he says. This is one area of Matt’s VTR I’m struggling with. It looks like the Translogic unit is nestling in a small boat.
“That’s because my lads are both boat builders, hence the fibreglass.the original clocks looked shabby, so I got this instead. But what a bastard to fit; a proper bastard,” says Matt, growling. “It was both the wiring and the mounting. I took measurements off the original clocks, drew it up, gave the dimensions to my boys. It wasn’t quite right so I had to trim it, which is why it looks like someone’s been at it with a chainsaw.”
Which finally brings us the Moriwaki motor.and it’s a proper horror story.
“So I’d heard about Moriwaki-tuned engines,” says Matt. “I started talking to someone on a forum and, in a nutshell, he sold me a lemon.a proper lemon. It was shagged. A total sack of... scrap. I was really angry. I went up to London, paid £2500 for it; promised it was a good engine with the proper carbs, stage one tune with Moriwaki, slotted hi-lift cams, valve springs, hi-comp pistons, modded crankcases, porting, super-trick Moriwaki magnesium-bodied carbs... it should be making between 125bhp to 135bhp. But when I got home I looked down the ports and it looked like someone had been in there with a die-grinder. I got worried and contacted Roger Ditchfield – the Moriwaki UK man; if it’s a Moriwaki motor, he built it.thankfully, he confirmed the engine number from his records back in the day – so he’d originally built it. I sent the
motor to him, and he gave me a full report.”
Matt frowns. “I can only assume it had some kind of failure – maybe the camchain tensioner went on this one, too. Someone had bought two new heads and tried to port them themselves, stuck them on, didn’t use Moriwaki valve springs, didn’t have the crankcase mod; all it had was Moriwaki cams, pistons and carbs. Mis-sold, I think. I followed it up with the chap – was pretty much told tough shit. Nothing else I could do. It was a horror story in there.there was a snapped-off socket driver bit in the sump, swarf everywhere, the oil pump was knackered.the rebuild bill – basically, new everything – was another £2500. So it’s a £5000 motor.” a stunning amount of money.
“But at least now I’ve got a Stage One Moriwaki engine,” says Matt, shrugging. “It’s been a massive amount of work.the bike stands me just shy of £12,000. But it’s unique.and it’s a tribute to Dave; I just wish he’d left me the money to do it.”
Righto. Better not fall off it then. “You can pull wheelies for all I care,” he says.
It’s always a nerve-wracking business, riding hand-built one-offs; usually it’s either because it’s a lovingly restored original, a highly prized modified machine or a bike with deep personal significance. In Matt’s case, his vtr has been, at some point, all three.at least it’s not raining.
THE VTR fires up instantly, settling into a steady throb.the push-button choke needs tickling to control tickover, but as the motor warms it calms down – a regular thudding from the airbox.
With ’bar risers elevating the riding position, Matt’s vtr doesn’t feel extreme and is easy to handle at low speed. after a loose clip-on is tightened up (that would have been fun on the brakes!), I pull onto a road winding across the New Forest and open its stride with big plonking-great gusts of torque firing it forward, it feels remarkably stable and neutral steering. Given the mash-up of parts – Fireblade forks with funky internals, Öhlins shock, Brembo calipers and aprilia wheels – the scope for cocking it right up is enormous. Everyone knows slinging big names at a chassis guarantees nothing; set-up is what matters. Factories use the best test riders, and spend millions, to get it right.
And yet, even with pretty much only a VTR frame and swingarm remaining as stock, Matt’s bike... works.and, as importantly, nothing rattles loose or falls off.the dash reads gibberish – it thinks the motor is revving to 11,000rpm at tickover and can’t decide if we’re doing 10mph or 100 – but the important bits work.the brakes are strong, the suspension feels expensively supple and the greabox grabs ratios with slick precision.
Confidence building, I open the taps. In first the vtr’s front pops up as the engine barks. well, Matt did say I can wheelie it.
With no tacho, it’s hard to tell how hard the motor is working as it romps through the gears.the power delivery never rolls off – it just keeps building in a honking surge – but I’m fearful of over-revving the Moriwaki parts and adding to Matt’s already steep rebuild bill. with most of the engine’s internals unobtainable, discretion is the better part of valour and I keep it safe.
After a couple of hours pratting about across the New Forest, scaring walkers with the vtr’s muted bellowing – it’s not sharply aggressive; a Suzukitl1000s on open Microns is much more deafening – it’s time to hand the Firestorm back to Matt. He’s keen to know it feels. Is it a £12,000 bike? Of course it is. Just don’t tell his wife.
Roger Ditchfield at Revolution Racing (07970 915 259, www.revolutionuk.co.uk)
John for machining, Martin for inspiration, Dave for starting it all and the wife for allowing it
“With most engine bits unobtainable, discretion is much the better part of valour. Safe, then”
The world’s most complicated bed pan
Test everything except the crash bungs please
Supple, strong engine and brakes. Lovely