'How I bagged a Britten'
25 January 2013 07:00
Britten owner and dedicated biker, Kevin Grant, bought his first bike aged 15, then got into racing and collecting bikes.
How did you come to own a Britten?
I picked it up in 1996, or '97, I think. It was just a quirk of fate really.
We were going to a jubilee meeting at Assen, and I was trying to organise all the Kiwi riders. I wanted to make a team approach, look professional, and so I contacted Bob Brookland, who was a Britten Director but also had a company that made T-shirts, race shirts and stuff like that.
We went through the list of stuff I needed - jackets, T-shirts for all the team, around 200 bits of clothing all together, and we were chatting for ages, and he said ‘bloody hell Kev, is there anything else I can do for you?’ and I said, tongue in cheek, ‘Well you can sell me a bloody Britten.’
He paused and said ‘Well the best one has just come available!’ It was one of those heart-stopping moments I can tell you. I knew I was going to own it.
Dare I ask how much you paid for it and where from?
Sure you can ask, I bought it direct from the factory, from the Britten Motorcycle Company. It had just won the World BEARS championship in ’96.
I got a deal because I said it would stay in NZ and they could use it for a few years at demonstrations and such like, but it was the price of a house - a good house.
Which bike is yours?
Mine is the World Championship winning bike, which won the World BEARS title. It won at Daytona, then took 2nd at Monza and then won at Thruxton, Zeltweg, Brands Hatch, and then Assen.
The Britten was first and second that year in the World Championship, not many people know that.
How have you kept the bike running with no parts?
I’m fortunate I’m from NZ and have a relationship with former mechanics and technicians who worked on the original bike.
Mike Bros was the original mechanic from way back, he does all the servicing on my bike. Mark Franklin does all the ECU stuff, he is still around but not working on bikes.
Tim Stewart was probably the best race mechanic they had and he prepped it before it went to the TT in 2005.
There were many guys who worked on the bike, around five at any one time, so if I need some work doing on the carbon fibre for example I know who to call, most are still around doing their own thing.
What’s the hardest part to keep running?
Crank cases are the hardest. You can machine cranks, make pistons but the crank cases are the hardest I think. I have a spare set coming but as you can imagine they are hard to get.
The earthquake in Christchurch in 2011 took away lots of spares and patterns; we lost lots of parts in that quake.
We nearly lost three bikes in that quake. The boys got in, in between the quakes and got the bikes out. The first one hit in September, the next in February, and they weren’t supposed to be in the building.
They got the bikes out, and if they hadn’t we’d have lost three bikes in the second quake. We lost drawings, patterns, the odd display parts, huge amount of research and development data - it took a lot of history.
Do you know where the other bikes are?
There’s the one in Christchurch, which they call the factory bike as it's number one, ‘the Cardinal’.
One in Wellington at the Kiwi museum, one in South Africa which is actually over here getting serviced at the moment. There is the CRS bike, which is in Italy.
There is one in the bike museum in Birmingham Alabama in the USA, one in a Californian collection, Jim Hunter has one in the US, he is a collector, and there’s another hidden away by a private owner, who I know.
But mine is the only one doing displays, running at tracks and being used, hopefully providing motivation and inspiration, it’s art that works. It shows what the Kiwi’s can achieve.
Thanks for letting me ride it.
You’ve joined a very select group of riders, the original riders, Hugh Anderson, Paul Smart, John Surtees and now you, you lucky bugger.