One of the most innovative and original motorcycles ever created, Britten's legacy has now spanned the globe
Hand-crafted in a small workshop in New Zealand by engineering genius John Britten, only 10 bikes were ever built between 1991 and 1998, making the Britten one of the most desirable motorcycles on the planet. Sadly, John Britten lost his battle with cancer in 1995 so we never got to see his full engineering potential.
Production started 1991
Production ended 1998
Number built 10
Value now £250,000+
What was so special about the Britten?
It was built entirely by hand – even the engine (a 999cc water-cooled, fuel-injected, 60-degree, four-stroke V-twin), in a shed in Auckland. It had no frame, instead using the engine as a stressed member, the bodywork was carbon fibre, it had titanium valves and conrods, double wishbone front suspension, the radiator was under the seat, it had a dry clutch and programmable engine mapping (remember, this was the early 90s!) and it pumped out an impressive 166bhp while weighing a startlingly light 138kg. Top speed was 188mph – the fastest ever recorded at Daytona Speedway. And the bike was stunning to look at, too. No other motorcycle has ever looked like the Britten. It truly was a work of art.
Who was John Britten?
Born in 1950, Britten didn't let dyslexia get in the way of his studies to become an engineer. He designed off-road equipment and heavy machinery for Rowe Engineering in New Zealand before becoming a fine artist, designing and making elaborate glass lighting before getting involved in the family property development business. He created the Britten Motorcycle Company in 1992 but died of inoperable skin cancer just three years later.
Was the Britten a successful race bike?
The V1000 was designed solely for racing as it was too elaborate to produce in large numbers as a production bike. In 1992 the Britten won the Dutch round of the Battle of the Twins series and in 1994 it won the BOTT race at Daytona with Kiwi Andrew Stroud at the helm. Stroud went on to win the Daytona race four times for Britten. In 1995 he also won the BEARS (British, European and American Racing) world championship and the following year Stroud won the New Zealand National Superbike Championship on one of the bikes. Brittens also set several world records including the world flying mile record (1000cc and under) at 188.09mph, the world standing start quarter-mile record (134.61mph), the world standing start mile record (213.51mph) and the world standing start kilometer record (186.24mph), all set in 1993.
So where are the 10 Brittens now?
The number one bike, nicknamed The Cardinal, is still owned by Britten Motorcycles of Auckland, New Zealand. Number two is on display in the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, three is owned by Roberto Crepaldi in Milan, four is owned by Jim Hunter in Massachusetts, USA, five is owned by Dr Mark Stewart in Michigan, USA, six is in the hands of Kevin Grant in Auckland and is the only one which is still running and used for track displays (MCN's Adam Child rode this bike in 2013), seven is on display at the Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum in Alabama, USA, eight is owned by Michael Canepa in California, Gary Turner of the Netherlands has number nine, and number 10 is in the hands of Michael Iannuccilli in Las Vegas, USA.
So how much is a Britten worth?
At the time they were built, the bikes cost around £60,000 but it's almost impossible to estimate how much a Britten would fetch if it came up for auction now. It was John Britten's wish that 10 bikes should be built and after he passed away, his small team fulfilled his wishes. Each of the 10 machines have a different history which would affect their value, and it's more likely they would be sold privately so we would never know the asking price but they must be worth at least £250,000 each. But given that there are only 10 in existence, and no-one seems to want to part with one, an owner could pretty much charge whatever price he wanted! And if you do want one, you'll also have to fight off Guy Martin who has a Britten at the very top of his wish list!
Words: Stuart Barker Photos: Bauer Archive