At Daytona in 1990, John Britten sits on his creation, about to use the rollers and a rental Ford van to start Gary Goodfellow’s V-1000. At Daytona in 1990, John Britten sits on his creation, about to use the rollers and a rental Ford van to start Gary Goodfellow’s V-1000. Photo by Colin Fraser

Britten Stories - Part 1

Written by  on Friday, 15 February 2013 17:18

At the recent International Motorcycle SUPERSHOW near the Toronto airport, race announcer and columnist Frank Wood hosted his usual interview/stage production, chatting with various Canadian two-wheeled authorities, from up-and-coming youngsters to famed veterans. 

One of Frank’s guests was George Morin, Canada’s first Pro Superbike National Champ back in 1980. Morin was successful in almost every class of racing before concentrating on Superbikes with Kawasaki and Suzuki. After he retired at the end of the 1983 season, Morin helped manage the careers of several riders, including Michel Mercier and Steve Crevier.

During their chat on stage, Wood proved his research capabilities by asking Morin about his involvement with the famous Britten v-twin. The 1000cc ‘one-off’ racer was the brainchild of designer John Britten of New Zealand. 

Morin was friends with Gary Goodfellow, the famous 1980s Vancouver-based bike shop owner and GSX-R era superbike class pioneer. When Goodfellow signed on to ride the largely unknown, prototype Britten in Battle of the Twins action at Daytona International Speedway in 1990, Morin and his friends got involved – more than they expected!

An entertaining storyteller, Britten was a man well ahead of his time. He was relentlessly curious when it came to bike design and specifically packaging, and implemented a host of design breakthroughs that were far too radical for the regular (read Japanese) race designers of the era.

Many of Britten’s ideas forced him to make things himself, since the designs he envisioned required parts that no supplier could provide. This no-compromise approach mostly required a completely custom fabrication, and that sometimes was at odds with the conservative, time-sensitive nature of typical racing development.

Britten was more interested in constant design evolution than frequent racing, and the Britten race bikes always seemed to be a work in progress. Back before the internet, we would hear about his plans with the latest updates when rumors eventually arrived from New Zealand, and then occasionally a bike would surface to compete – often at Daytona.

Remember this was the era of the Battle of the Twins, and the various classes in the AMA Pro Twins division. While the average AMA National Round didn’t feature much in the way of exotica, the Daytona season opener always attracted a crazy variety of frequently half-finished designs from around the world. 

For instance, the first time most media types learned about the Erion Brothers was at Daytona, when they produced an air-cooled Ducati design complete with Honda four-valve heads!  

Canadians knew a little bit more about the Britten since former Euro Grand Prix motocrosser Goodfellow spent part of each winter at his birthplace of New Zealand.

The Britten made its Daytona debut in 1989, ‘Goodie’ showing some potential but the bike suffering a variety of teething problems. At this point, the chassis/engine layout was what they now refer to as the “precursor” version of the V1000, the first incarnation to utilize the full-on Britten engine design.

Daytona 1989 was tough for the Britten squad, partly because the bike had only run once previously, in an aborted tune/race outing at Ruapuna in New Zealand. When the small squad got to Daytona, it discovered that it would need to fabricate a muffler from various found items, including a bean can, to pass Sound Tech!

From there, most of the issues surrounded the sorting of the fuel injection system, a new technology very much in its infancy back in 1989. The bike did just a few laps in qualifying, and it wasn’t until race day that a street-riding session, with the designer at the controls, sorted out the major problems.

In the actual Twins race, Goodfellow made it as far as the first turn before the Britten once again coasted to a halt with F.I. gremlins.

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Last modified on Friday, 15 February 2013 17:28
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