This series of 26 images were taken in March 1993 by Matt Thompson and his family, on a special birthday trip to the Britten workshop near Christchurch in 1993. These photographs been completely unseen by anyone other than Matt and his family for the past 26 years.
1993 was a big year for the John Britten and his young company, the remarkably advanced superbike that he’d designed and built was taking the world by storm – it had a dry weight of 138 kilograms with 166 hp and a top speed of 303 km/h. These are impressive numbers today, but in the early 1990s they were jaw-dropping.
John Britten and the Britten V1000
In 1993 the Britten V1000 would set the fastest top speed at the Isle of Man TT, it took the New Zealand Grand Prix Title, it set the world record for the flying mile (1000cc and under) at 188.092 mph, the world record for the standing start 1/4 mile (1000cc and under) at 134.617 mph, the world record for the standing start mile (1000cc and under) at 213.512 mph, and the world standing start kilometre record (1000cc and under) at 186.245 mph. And those are just the highlights, not the full list of results.
Amazingly when John Britten received a phone call from a young New Zealander (who had looked him up in the phonebook) hoping to do something special for his friend’s brother on his 21st birthday, John found the time to help. In fact he gave them all unfettered access to his workshop including permission to take whatever pictures they wanted – so long as they agreed to keep them secret. Just imagine any motorcycle manufacturer agreeing to that nowadays.
Matt gives the full story himself below in his own words, it’s a great read and it gives a unique insight into the Britten company and into John Britten himself.
– How did your visit to the Britten workshop come about?
I grew up in Christchurch, NZ. Found an interest in motorcycles in my mid teens and started getting interested in sports bikes and following SBK/MotoGP. Christchurch has a pretty active race scene and NZ often hosted BEARs racing at Ruapuna. While the Britten bike was still considered fairly big news at home we got to see quite a bit when it was racing during the summer. In New Zealand the 21st birthday is the one we typically make a big deal about. I turned 21 in March 1993 and one of my brothers friends decided he’d just ring up John Britten on the phone and see if he could do something.
So he basically looked up “Britten, J” in the White Pages and talked to him about it. I didn’t know about any of this at the time. My brother’s friends picked me up after work that month and we went to the workshop. I spent around an hour talking to people and taking some photos. Everyone was really friendly and at the end they moved one of the bikes outside so we could take some photos of me on it. Apparently the friends were trying to convince them to leave one of the bikes in my parents garage overnight so they could prank me with it the next day, but we had around 200 people coming and going throughout the day so they were understandably nervous about it.
– Did you meet John Britten? If so what was he like?
He wasn’t at the workshop but he asked me to met him in his office the next week. We printed one of the photos and while I was there he was more than happy to sign it. We talked for a bit and when I mentioned I was a software engineer he said they could of used me last weekend in Sydney because they had issues with some of the bikes software. I know he was being nice but I’ll take it ! He was very friendly, down to earth, easy to talk to and not full of himself in any way.
– Do you know the day/month/year of your visit?
Not sure of the day but it was a weekday in March 1993.
– How many hours were you there?
I was there for about an hour or so. The workshop was near the Christchurch CBD and was fairly modest (ie small). I got to speak to the various people that worked there and was given pretty much free reign to take photos provided they weren’t distributed. At the time the front end, and some other bits, were still bit of a mystery to outside people and they wanted to keep that stuff under wraps.
– Could you tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up In Christchurch NZ and lived there until my 21st. Then I spent 3 years in Singapore and returned to NZ living in a couple of places until we’ve now settled in rural Nelson. Great place to finish raising our 4 kids (adults nearly now). I’ve owned a number of sports bikes over the years. RG250, VFR400 & FZR400RR in my youth, then a CBR900 when I returned to NZ and a couple of MV Agustas after they relaunched in 2000.
Mainly interested in Italian bikes (MV Agusta and Ducati mostly) but like pretty much anything bike related. Have the Isle of Man TT on my bucket list and have become interested in converting a Ducati Monster S4RS into a Cafe Racer. I’ve worked in IT since I was 18 and currently work as a Solutions Architect which means I’m helping a government agency in NZ with expanding and extending its IT infrastructure.
– And finally, could you tell me a little about the race track scenes at Ruapuna in some of the images?
I’m not 100% sure but most likely the racing was a BEARs event around the Christmas holiday period 93-96. From memory it was when I was home from Singapore for Christmas so probably 94 or 95 because I was using an SLR I got from Singapore. I didn’t see any Britten specific track testing (as in closed circuit) but with all the activity at Ruapuna there were classes it could fit into.
Also, in 2015 one of my sons (Cameron) arranged for me to visit a motorcycle museum in Nelson that happened to have a Britten on display. He wrote a letter to the museum and the museum got permission from the Britten family for me to sit on the bike and get an “updated” photo. Bike still looks good but I’ve certainly gained a few pounds!
Editor’s Note: Scroll to the bottom to see this current day image of Matt on a Britten V1000.
All images copyright ©2019 – Matt Thompson
May only be re-published with permission.