Four decades ago, Merv Matthews first clapped eyes on the brand new British V twin and his fate was decided. He had to own one, although perhaps he hadn't quite realised what he was letting himself in for . ..
My first motorbike ride was on a FS1E in 1976 when I was 16. A couple of years later I bought a Suzuki 250 Hustler, passed my test, went straight out and bought a Triumph Trident T150. I rode this for about two years while most of my mates moved on from British bikes to thrashing their new Japanese machines. I wanted a new bike but couldn't find anything I fancied.
There was talk about a new British bike, the Hesketh V1OOOA, nd Ifollowed its development. On a cold Saturday morning in September 1980 I rode my T150 to the Alexandra Palacemotorcycle show to seethis new Hesketh. WOW! What a bike it turned out to be, elevated in all its elegance and looking gorgeous. Blackwith red pinstriping, black wheels and a bright shiny nickel frame, with stunning looking engine on full display. This was the bike for me. I talked to a salesman and asked for a reservation form . He looked at me with a wry smile and asked if I wanted a test ride. a
'No; I replied. 'I want one exactly the same asthe one on display:
Then started the waiting, and the saving. In April 1981, I received a letter from Lord Hesketh thanking me for my order and saying they would allocate me a dealer. In June I was advised this would be in Hereford , 70 miles from home . Next I was told that my bike would be ready to collect on 7 April 1982, which gave me a bit more time to save up. I still didn't have enough so needed a bank loan for the last £500. I sat opposite him my bank manager and explained why I wanted the loan. Hewas surprised what Iwas spending it on but authorised my loan.
The big day arrived; I rode to Hereford with my mate Dean on the back of my Triumph Trident. I part exchanged the Triumph and parted with a big pile of cash. Looking back wish I hadn't part exchanged the Trident!
The V1OOOWAS outside waiting for me, looking gorgeous . The mechanic went over all the things you needed to know; switches, fluid levels, etc. I took the Hesketh off the
main stand: it was quite a big lump. Ijumped on for the first time It's a tall bike and I had to lift my leg high to get over the seat. Once settled I could only get the balls of my feet on the ground. That aside, everything was great and felt right. I turned the fuel on, pulled out the choke, switched on the ignition then pressed the start button.
As I'd never seen or heard one running before, I had been looking forward to this moment for a long time. The Hesketh roared into life. There was very little engine vibration just the rhythmic boom of the exhaust note , distinctive, crisp and strong, . unlike any other V twin . Glorious. I pushed the choke in a little to get the revs down to 1500rpm, pulled in the clutch and selected first gear. First gear engaged positively, with a bit of a clunk. I gently let out the hydraulic clutch and moved off, keeping it nice and sedate.
The bike felt smooth. The suspension was firm , giving a positive feel on the road (remember that I'djust got off the Triumph). Riding it home gently there was not much need of the brakes.the gearbox was positive and everything was as you would expect. At the first petrol station I had some difficulty opening the petrol cap. Filled up for £6.50 at £1.60 a gallon. Keeping the revs below 3500 meant you could do just over 60mph in top. We took small A roads home with good road surfaces and with some tight corners. The Hesketh was gliding along, taking everything in its path, and I didn't think it was as heavy as the presssaid.
After 150miles,what did Ithink?
absolutely loved it. I fell in love twice that year, first with the Hesketh and with my new girl Lynda.we rode nearly all the miles together on the Hesketh. To run in the engine, I took the Hesketh around the valleys and coast of South Wales on familiar winding roads. Lots of corners and hills, up and down the gearbox. It missed the change from second to third occasionally, but apart from that I started to enjoy the relaxed riding position. I looked forward to increasing the revs.
With 600 miles completed the first service was due. Time to ask about the gearbox changes, the rattle from the top end and the difficulty opening the petrol cap. During the service the cam tension and shims were checked, valve clearances set at inlet 4 thou and exhaust 6. It came back a little quieter, but not much difference in top end rattle. The petrol cap now opened quite easily. Most importantly, the first stage of running in was done so I could now increase the revs to Sooorpmand use the available power. The handling was superb with the extra grip that more power gave you. The tyres were probably on the limit. Today's tyres are much better. At 1500 miles I could increase the revs again . I was settled in and enjoyed how comfortable the ride was sat upright with a small headlamp cowl, the wind was deflected over your head and shoulders. The seat is well padded. The handlebars were set at the right height and width; selfcancelling indicators were a novelty . Twin Brembo brakes on the front and one on the rear performed well much better than I was used to but a real worry started to emerge under heavy braking. The engine oil light came on. Apparently, all the oil in the sump would surge forward, away from the oil pick up, leaving it to suck air!
Then on one evening run, at 60mph and powering up a small rise, there was one hell of a clatter from the engine . Luckily, I coasted into a garage. The engine sounded bad and certainly not ridable, so I left the bike and hitched a lift home. The Hesketh was picked up by the bike shop, taken away on the back of a Mini pick up! The Hesketh looked desperately precarious with its rear wheel balanced on the tail gate. Off it disappeared.
The shop told me that the rear piston had seized (quite common, I found out later) and would be sent back to factory under warranty .They loaned me a Moto Guzzi T4 while it was repaired. But in August '82,just a few months after opening, it was announced that the Hesketh factory was closed with
my bike still in the workshop! Worried that my bike might get caught up in the sale of assets, I was on the phone to them straight away to get my bike back in whatever state of repair it was in before the receiver arrived. I was assured it would be ready for me before they invaded. Much relieved, I picked up the Vl OOO at the first opportunity and started to run it in again. This time we went for much longer runs. Touring suited the Hesketh better and, confidence restored , we planned to ride to Amsterdam.
On the Continent, the Vl Oooperformed well; fast, smooth and stable. With a 5.5 gallon petrol tank, you can cover 220 miles without stopping. The seat is so comfortable you can ride on it all day. We had a trouble free foreign tour and returned in time for the Hesketh receivers' auction . That was a sad day, seeing uncompleted bikes, engines and bits and pieces everywhere you looked, with uncaring auctioneers walking all over the stock. I bought some bodywork and a swinging arm with bearings, and became member #11 of the Hesketh Owners' Club that was being set up by Eddy Faulkner.
In 1983 I was contacted by Hesleydon, the newly formed Hesketh Motorcycle Company, offering several engine mods known as the EN10 package. This was a bit expensive and I wasn't sure they were really necessary. I contacted Mick Broom at Hesleydon for the first of many conversations we would have. He knows everything Hesketh and is always very helpful. En10was too expensive for me at the time, but I subsequently learned that mechanic Rob Sawyer from the Daventry factory was offering all the mods and was much cheaper. I decided to go ahead because oil management may have caused some of my earlier problems and this would be addressed.
So in July 1983 with the mileage at 3951 I left the Hesketh with Rob to carry out the mods and some other upgrades: baffle plates in the sump to stop oil surge; new external oil supply pipes to better supply oil to cams;clips to stop the main bearings turning in the crankcase; new oil fitment between camchain caseand
head; secondary oil pressure blow off valve and new ignition timing marks. All the work was completed quickly, and I was keen to get back on the Hesketh. Of course, I had to run it in yet again but not for so long this time.
With nearly 5000 miles done, and confidence in the engine high once again, Lynda and I set off for the Dordogne. A friend lived there and we would visit him several times on the Hesketh. The ride to Dover from home is 260 miles of motorway, where the Hesketh comes into its own. It just eats up the miles, is extremely comfortable and stable with suspension that irons out all the bumps and ripples on the road.
Then horror! When leaving the ferry in France,the oil light did not go out! I checked the oil level as it uses a about quarter litre every thousand miles but that was OK. I removed the spark plug leads, then removed the oil pressure switch. With my thumb over the hole I pressed start and confirmed that there was plenty of oil pressure. I replaced the switch, then checked the external oil supply to the cams: a good steady supply was observed. I started to suspect that the oil pressure switch had failed. I put it all back together and set off again only to stop after five miles to disconnect the pressure switch, to get rid of that damn red light on the dash.
Calaisto Bergerac was 500 miles on enjoyable A roads. Lots of traffic to overtake, but I discovered that if you gave the throttle a big double handful, opening the 36mm Amal carbs fully, there was a wonderful growl from between your legs.wejust shot off, rev counter climbing rapidly, up through the box, power all the way to 6000rpm . It was smooth, plush like velvet, just kept pulling and pulling. The Vl Ooocompleted that 1800 mile round trip without a hitch except occasionally missing second to third gear and that bloody oil pressure switch.
On one of our next trips, I went to start the bike. It turned over all right but would not fire up, and when I took my thumb off the start button there was an almighty backfire. I pressed the starter button again, only to hear the starter whirring around and not engaging: aka 'spragged'. I was stuck in a grassy field and bump starting was my only option ...
I changed the spark plugs and found two people willing to push me. I engaged second gear, a little choke and a big hand full of throttle,jumped down on the seat and let out the clutch; it fired straight away and shot off. I turned around to find my two helpers lying flat out on the ground with their arms straight out in front of them and their faces in the grass! Luckily, I had filled up with petrol the night before we arrived so didn 't have to stop on the way home.
I told Mick Broom about the problem and he kindly talked me through what to do. I bought an engine manual and a new sprag
clutch from him: time to start tinkering .The first thing to do was to drain the oil, then engage second gear. Next was to remove everything from the left side, footrests, gear change, exhaust; all quite easy, but splitting the outer cover proved difficult.
With my foot on rear brake, I undid the alternator rotor nut, removed the rotor and starter motor drive chain, and the retaining clip for the sprag and the sprag clutch itself. The new sprag was fitted, then reassembled.what joy: it started! I got pretty used to this procedure asthis problem hasoccurred severaltimes. I always carry a new sprag and used several, until swapped the starter drive in a later rebuild.
By 1992 I had covered 14,500 miles and the engine was well run in. Our next trip was to Gibraltar. With a tent, sleeping bags, cooker and a new Mot,we set off to pick up my mate who would be joining us to Bergerac. He would be riding Lynda's Xs400yamaha as his bike had been stolen. We stopped for petrol and ... I spragged it again. Fully kitted up on a hot sunny day, trying to bump start the luggage laden bike along the flat was exhausting. Nevertheless, we got it going, picked up my mate and rode all the way to Dover without stopping the engine, not even to fill up! I gave the engine as long as possible to cool down. New trick: lean the bike over against a wall at 70 degrees and all the oil runs to the right side of the engine. Then you can complete a sprag replacement without draining the oil. Task
Iaccomplished in about an hour!
This time we rode through France on motorways, smooth, easy and about 3% hours quicker. From there, with no set plans we simply rode south through rolling landscape on good country roads between 50 and 80mph. I needed to plan ahead for corners and road conditions, because a little understeer was encountered coming out of some quick corners. In the foothills of the Pyrenees we were overtaken by a GTSOO Suzuki but not by much, so I increased our speed to keep up. Following the Gtwas easy on the flat but uphill, switchback corners were a different matter. I was in first gear accelerating hard, shifting to second then giving it a big handful, quickly shutting off and changing down for the next corner. The engine braking was superb and I managed to ground both sides on alternate bends. It didn't matter how aggressive I was on the throttle or how hard I threw it about, I just ate two stroke smoke all the way to the top but it was fun. At the summit the rider of the GT was taking off her helmet off, with cascades of blonde hair tumbling out.
A few days later near Milan the back wheel twitched on a smooth right hand bend. I thought this was odd, so stopped and kicked the tyre. Everything seemed to be OK and off we went. However, it was fine on straights and left hand bends, but as soon as we banked right it twitched. We stopped
again. I had a really good look this time and found that the outside wheel bearing had collapsed completely. So we stayed as upright as possible on right hand corners and with some difficulty found a small motorcycle garage in the middle of nowhere. The only problem was that it was 12 o'clock, siesta time and 34 degrees without any shade. They were all going home. For a kip . Forthree hours!
I let the bike cool down , then removed the rear wheel for when the workshop folk returned . Lynda askedwhether they 'd havethe right wheel bearing for a Hesketh... and I had to admit that I'd brought a set and sealswith me.
Killer question from Lynda. 'If you've got them with you, then you MUST have known there was a problem. Why didn't you change them at home?'
Answer: a big shrug of the shoulders and ' It passed the MOT.. .'
Over the next couple of hours, we removed the bearing using a large screwdriver and a 12 inch adjustable spanner asa hamme r. Lynda turned the wheel and I t apped out the bearing , then tapped the new one in. We completed the wheel replacement as the mechanics returned, just in time for us to have somewhere to wash our hands!
What followed was a journey of 15 full days of enjoyable riding. Not many motorways or bypasses, only delightful roads with picturesque little villages perched on the sides. We only stopped for food, drink and to fill up with petrol. Mid afternoon we would start looking for a campsite , and travelled in this manner all the way to Gibraltar then back to Calais.at Dover in th e early morning there was very little traffic , and few speed cameras.when we hit the motorway, it was go go go . At these high speeds the headlamp fairing didn 't work quite asefficien ly as I would have liked .
We got to the Severn Bridge pretty quickly and stopped to pay the toll. Shortly afterwards the bike started fi ring on one cylinder so we stopped to have a look, but the engine was too hot to get near. Looking at the spark plugs I found that the rear plug was wet with oil. I changed the plugs and checked the petrol. It didn't make any difference, still only firing on one cylinder . It was only 15 miles home , just ride it gently . We made it home after ajourney of 4350 miles.
The next day I checked over the engine, only to discover a hole in the rear piston . I put the bike in the back bedroom and started to strip the motor, as the garage is too damp
tand cold in winter . Then Iforgot about it. Lynda and I got married and produced two beautiful children. I stayed in the HOC and, in 1994, saw they were making new exhausts. I ordered a set which needed to be collected from the AGM, held at Lord Hesketh's Easton Neston estate . What stunning grounds and what a lovely friendly bunch of people . Somehow, I was proposed as treasurer and I accepted the challenge. We started attending Hocevents all over the Ukand on the Continent, using various forms of transport but never the Hesketh.
At the 2004 Hocrally, committee member
David Sharp asked how long my bike had been off the road. It was 12 years.'would you like to ride my prototype?'he suggested . I jumped at the offer and took his bike for a spin. It put a big smile on my face and brought back my enthusiasm for the Hesketh. When I got back, another club member, Tig, offered me a ride on his Hesketh, the last one made! I had forgotten what I was missing not riding the Hesketh. David threw down the gauntlet.
'Can you get yours ready for next year's rally?' Challenge accepted! Re