There have been many, many words written (and at least one film produced), about John Britten and his wonderful creations. I’ll let the images do the talking here and just note that this is one of the early (1992) bikes and originally had the 003 engine number. Those crankcases were later fitted to another bike and cases stamped 002 were then fitted to this bike (before the present owner obtained it in 1997).
The achievements of this bike include:
1993 – Four first places in NZ, first in the Bathurst BEARS race and second in the Formula 1 race.
1994 – 119 mph lap at the IOM, first in the BOTT at Daytona (with the highest top speed recorded there of 189 mph/304 km/h).
1995 – First in the inaugural BEARS World Championship with five wins.
The bike makes 166 hp at 11,800 rpm (12,500 rpm safe maximum) and weighs in at 138 kg. Top speed is 304 km/h.
It was truly a privilege to be allowed to spend a day photographing it! And moving it around by myself is one of the most terrifying things I have ever done!!
For those that like their British motorcycles “sporting” here is an excellent example of the breed. This Rickman Rocket III would be quite a rare machine. Only some 1000 BSA Rocket 3s were built in the final year of production, 1972 (although the motor did live on for a few more years in the Triumph T160) – and this engine number indicates it was from around August of that year. Then the fact that Rickman made very few Rocket III frames (all in ’72) adds to the rarity.
Brothers Don and Derek Rickman began selling motocross frame kits in 1960 then followed up a few years later with road-racing and street designs. Before that they built off-road bikes from a mixture of BSA, Triumph and Norton components. The resulting bikes being named “Metisse”, French for “mongrel”. A very visible trademark of their frames was the nickel-plated finish. The brothers took on a lot of bespoke work, most notably with Weslake in 1972 to produce and sell a eight-valve conversion for the Triumph Bonneville.
The following year the Rickman Intercepter was released which used some of 200 Royal Enfield 736 cc twin motors they had picked up on the cheap.
The basic early Rickman frame was made in lower, short wheelbase versions for racing with longer frames for street use. The geometry was pretty much the same with different sized alloy plates used to house various motors such as Norton or Triumph twins.
The company then went on to produce fames to house numerous Japanese engines – the Honda CB750 being the best known.
The history of this particular bike (owned by the National Motorcycle Museum in Nabiac) is not known but it is likely is was constructed in the late 1970s, if only due to its use of Amal Mk II carburettors which were released in 1978. Another factor pointing to a later build date is the use of different Betor forks to those supplied with the original Rocket III kits (which were from the company’s Competition Replica range). The Ceriani-looking forks on this bike more closely resemble the forks fitted to the later Japanese engined kits.
Ceccato (Italian bike builder number 586 you’ve probably never heard of), was founded by Pietro Ceccato in the mid 1930s and manufactured industrial equipment. After WW II they started producing clip-on engines for bicycles and small capacity motorcycles.
In 1953 they bought the design for a DOHC 75 cc engine from a certain Fabio Taglioni (who went on to fame elsewhere!), who had originally offered it to Mondial.
While five of these DOHC race bikes were built, the modified SOHC Corsa version was the mainstay of the company’s racing efforts due to its lighter weight being more suitable for the long distance road events such as the Giro d’Italia.
Over 500 racers were constructed before motorcycle production ceased in 1961 (last bikes sold in ’63). Argentina was a major market with the bikes bearing the “Zanella Ceccato” name.
The SOHC 75cc Corsa made 7 hp at 10,500 rpm and had a top speed of 110 km/h.
Ceccato is still in business today as the world’s largest producers of car and train washing equipment.
Ceska Zbroiouba was founded in 1918 as an armament manufacturer but didn’t turn to motorcycle manufacture until 1932. It wasn’t until Jaroslav Walter, one of the sons of the founder of Walter G.m.b.H. which produced bikes from 1903-42, joined the company in 1948 that CZ began road racing in earnest.
Jaroslav had designed both OHV 250 cc and OHC 350 cc racers in 1938 and 1939 respectively and these, together with a new OHC 350 cc design were taken over by CZ and raced with some success on the continent, particularly in Austria, up until 1954. While not as competitive as the 350 Manx Norton it can be seen as the forerunner of CZ’s long 4-stroke road racing history that continued up until 1972.
This particular bike is a Type 851 350cc that was campaigned by Austrian champion Leonard Fassl and on which he won the 1953 350cc national title.
Aprilia designer/engineer Jan Witteveen was the first to take advantage of the rule change which allowed twin-cylinder bikes to have a minimum weight of 105 kg, compared to four cylinder bikes’ 130 kg. Honda later followed suit (in 1996) with their NSR500V.
Aprilia began its premier class campaign in 1994 with a bike that was basically their RSV250 V-twin enlarged to 410 cc with Loris Reggiani as the rider.
For 1996 a dedicated chassis was employed, not a modified 250 cc frame, the capacity grew to 430 cc, then to 460 cc half way through the ’97 season. The motor architecture precluded any increase past 460 cc.
It was for this reason the company sat out 1998 while a completely new 498 cc motor was developed. This first saw action in 1999 with Tetsuya Harada as the pilot. He was joined by Jeremy McWilliams for the 2000 season.
The RSW-2’s (and the NSR500V’s) main problem was despite being theoretically capable of faster lap times than the heavier four cylinder bikes, in reality the horsepower advantage of the fours (usually around 50-60 plus hp) provided greater acceleration, meaning the twins weren’t able to use their superior cornering speed to get past the fours. Good results were thus rare.
Reggiani finished the ’95 season in tenth (with seven top ten places), Doriano Romboni 19th (two top ten places) in ’96 followed by nine top ten finishes in ’97 including the bike’s first podium – a third at Assen, and tenth overall for the season.
Harada came tenth in 1999 with six top ten places including two thirds. McWilliams and Harada between them scored eight top ten places in 2000 (including two thirds by McWilliams) for 14th and 16th overall.
By 2000 the bike was making over 145 hp at 12,000 rpm and was fitted (since ’99) with RAVE electronic exhaust valves and indirect fuel injection.
The bike seen here is Romboni’s 1997 bike that he scored the third at Assen on, and produced 125 hp with a dry weight of 110 kg.
A bit of a look back at the first year of World Super Bike – 1988. The Oran Park round. I’ve recently been informed about a lot of the behind the scenes machinations by a very well placed, on the spot scrutineer at the event which makes for some interesting background!
The Marlboro Team bikes of Doohan and Dowson were actually FZR750R ‘U’ models of which five had been sent from the US to Australia. These used an alloy frame as opposed to Pirovano’s steel framed FZ750, with its handlebars mounted above the fork yokes as per homologation and all 200 FZR ‘U’s made were homologated for AMA racing in the US, which is where they all had been sent.
As a result these bikes were not homologated for WSBK as Yamaha had not made the necessary 1000! This put the FIM technical steward Hans Von Der Marwitz and the rest of the officials in a rather difficult position if they were to avoid a riot in the pits by excluding the team’s bikes.
While they were contemplating their response “information” came to hand that Yamaha had not yet supplied Bimota with 200 engines for their YB4! So how could the FIM allow the Bimota team to continue racing with what in effect were un-homologated bikes, in the championship that Davide Tardozzi was leading at that point (it seems that the FIM inspectors had been shown the same 25 bikes numerous times in-between coffee breaks with the build plates being changed while they were relaxing)…
In a case of “two wrongs making a right” both teams were allowed to race with Mick Doohan and Micheal Dowson finishing 1-2 in both legs and the lap record being broken 21 times over the weekend…
In the last column (link) I made brief reference to the two 500cc parallel twin designs that Ducati had briefly flirted with in the ‘60s. I was lucky enough to be able to photograph one in the bowels of the factory, pretty much literally in fact as I was set up in a disused part of one of the 1940s era buildings at the Bologna HQ.
Before we get to the 1968 bike I shot I should make brief mention of its 1965 predecessor that debuted at that year’s Daytona Show – which gives you an idea of the market it was aimed at. It was a 360º OHV design which employed such advanced features as an electric starter and a five-speed gearbox. However it only produced 36 hp at 6,000 rpm, which together with a weight of 190kg resulted in very modest performance. It quickly disappeared from view.
Three years later this almost completely revised version was shown. While the motor was still a pushrod design the totally new crankcases were more compact and power was up to 38 hp. More importantly weight was down to 173 kg resulting in a more acceptable top speed of 165 km/h.
The exhausts were tucked in much closer to the motor providing a big improvement in ground clearance. The mufflers were originally Silentiums but as they had disappeared at some point, much later Lafranconis are now fitted.
Despite these improvements the design did not progress past this prototype which vanished into the factory store rooms for many decades until it was displayed at a show around 2013.
I happened to see photos of it online and after some asking around, discovered that it had come from the factory rather than some private collection. The Ducati Museum’s curator, Livio Lodi, graciously made it (and another rarity, more on which in a later column) available when I visited in 2015.
The oil crisis of 1973 convinced Ducati’s management of the time that a new, cheaper range of models were required and they decided that these bikes needed to be parallel twins.
This was despite Ducati’s great record of achievements from their single-cylinder motorcycles followed by Fabio Taglioni’s success with his 750 V-twins and the work he had already completed on what was to become the Pantah.
Taglioni would have nothing to do with the development of the parallel twins which saw Ing. Tumidei overseeing the design which stressed reduced manufacturing costs as a primary goal.
While Ducati had shown prototypes of two different 500 parallel twins in 1964 and 1968 the new design had nothing in common with them. Originally conceived with a 360º crankshaft, this was soon changed to a less 180º crank for less vibration.
However the massive crankcases, built to house large counter-balancers were retained. Chain-driven valve-spring SOHC heads were used for the GTL models with both 350 and 500 cc versions being debuted in 1975. Almost an afterthought, the Sport Desmo versions weren’t available until almost two years later.
The GTLs shared the same basic Giugiaro styling as the 860GT and were just as unloved!
In addition to the styling the bikes suffered from poor reliability – the main problem being the oil feed to the camshaft. They also suffered from very modest performance, especially the 350.
The bikes handling however was very good.
Only 1,105 500s and 930 350s were built before they were replaced by the GTV in 1977. This employed the successful (Tartarini) styling of the Sport Desmo and the Darmah but retained the valve-spring heads of the GTL. The oil feed problems were largely remedied in these later motors.
Given Australia was Ducati’s largest export market during the ‘70s we received quite a few parallel twins – 208 GTLs, 36 GTVs and 224 Sport Desmos. Very few are still on the road. This particular 500 GTL was restored by SCR Ducati in Morisset and has since covered over a thousand kilometres.
The 500GTL made 35 hp at 6,500 rpm and had a dry weight of 170 kg, while top speed was 170 km/h.
Yamaha only produced a customer racer version of their 500cc GP bike for three years – the ‘G’ in 1980, the ‘H’ in ’81 and the ‘J’ in ’82.
The bikes were the company’s response to Suzuki’s RG500 that had become the privateers staple by the late 1970s and were based on the previous year’s factory 0W racers, suitably modified for cheaper construction and maintenance.
This ‘H’ model was originally delivered to Yamaha Holland but was then sent on to Malaysia were it was campaigned in the domestic 500 cc series, wearing this Marlboro livery.
The team received a degree of factory support and as a result the bike features a range of modifications from the standard TZ500H, including cylinders with larger ports, 0W spec expansion chambers (Ron Tingate replicas now fitted), nylon (not alloy) tops on the carburettors, 0W48 wider section swing arm and three-piece mono shock, 0W magnesium front calipers fitted on machined out carriers with oversize rotors, Morris magnesium wheels & 0W hubs, heavily braced frame around the steering head with two of the coils repositioned as per the 0W and ‘J’ bikes.
The customer TZ500s were never quite as competitive as the RGs of the time and never dominated the privateer ranks as the Suzukis did. Standard ‘H’ model specifications were 110 hp at 10,500 rpm, with a dry weight of 138 kg.
The Yankee 500 Z was the product of the Yankee Motor Company based in Schenectady, New York. Founder John Taylor was the US Bultaco importer in the early ‘60s, then the Ossa importer, so turned to them when he decided he wanted to produce what would, decades later, be known as an adventure bike. The prototype was first shown in 1967 but it took until 1971 for production to begin.
The bike was very much a US/Spanish collaboration. The well known American racer Dick Mann designed the TIG-welded frame, which was made from the very exotic at the time 4130 chrome-moly steel. Smith and Wesson produced the forged triple-clamps.
Conceptually the 488 cc motor was basically two Ossa Pioneer 250 cc singles siamesed together, although the actual engineering wasn’t that simple with an extremely robust crankshaft assembly and complex primary drive that had a four-row chain driving a jackshaft then a gear drive to the dry clutch.
The most unusual aspect of the motor however was that the standard 360º crankshaft timing could be fairly easily changed to a 180º firing order if the rider preferred. To accommodate this feature two 6V Motoplat alternators were fitted (one on each side of the motor), together with two seperate coils for the electronic ignition.
Lubrication was by pre-mix and output was 40 hp but around 70 hp was possible with the factory supplied optional exhausts and carburettors.
The innovation didn’t stop with the motor, the swing arm used oval section 4130 tubing and the rear disc brake was the first fitted to a production off road motorcycle.
A six-speed gearbox was used, while another example of Taylor’s drive to produce an exceptionally rugged and well built machine was the fitment of 42 mm front forks (by the Spanish firm Telesco), when 35 mm units were the norm at the time.
The penalty for all this ruggedness was a weight of 158 kg (with half a tank of fuel). Together with the devaluation of the US dollar at the time (which doubled the cost of the imported components), the result was only 760 Yankee 500 Zs were produced over a two year period.
Back in Spain Ossa, being stuck with their newly developed motor, built a road going version known as the 500SS. Output was increased to 58 hp at 7,500 rpm by using cylinders with port timing from the Stiletto motocrosser, larger 32 mm carburettors and much more free-flowing exhaust system.
The 500 Z’s frame design was used with suitable modifications, although in mild steel, not chrome-moly. A 12V electrical system replaced the Yankee’s 6V system. A single Brembo disc brake was fitted to each cast alloy wheel. Weight was 180 kg. Not many were produced and they are quite a sort-after rarity now.