Hesketh ... The British Britten?


I have heard people compare a Hesketh with the Britten. In reality, apart from both being 1000cc V-twins, there is very little similarity, apart from the fact they are both extremely rare, and are the result of idealistic engineers rather than marketing gurus with an eye for sales figures. The Britten of course is a racing machine, the Hesketh is more of a road going Vincent or Brough Superior.

The Hesketh motorcycle project was fomented in the exacting environment of a Formula One workshop, and although essentially a 70s motorcycle, the first model wasn’t unveiled until 1980. Everything about the Hesketh suggests class and exclusivity, it was never meant to be a volume seller. Lord Alexander Hesketh wanted to build a motorcycle for gentlemen, a sort of two-wheeled Aston Martin. 

Lord Hesketh is probably better known for his Formula One team in the 1970s.

My introduction to the Hesketh came in Christchurch in 2007 when an old mate, Craig Roberts, who owned a Hesketh, invited me on a ride. At the time I had first ridden a Hesketh in 1999. In fact I rode two Heskeths on that day in 2007. Craig and I took off on the two bikes and enjoyed some of those wonderful, almost deserted, Canterbury roads. 




I must confess I have a soft spot for V-twins and the Hesketh is a worthy descendent of those revered earlier British V-twins. The Hesketh motor is made up of two 500cc Weslake singles in a 90-degree V-twin configuration. It has eight valves actuated by overhead camshafts, and transmission is through a five-speed integral (or unit) gearbox. The bore and stroke is 95mm x 70mm. There are two 36mm Dellorto carburettors. Ignition is a Lucas RITA electronic system. Front and rear suspension is Marzocchi, and brakes are Brembo; twin 305mm at the front, and single 260mm at the rear. The front tyre is 110/90-V18, rear is 150/70-V17. Fuel capacity is 23 litres, weight is 240kg and the power a claimed 86bhp


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Servicing on the Hesketh is limited to changing the engine oil, checking the chain tension, and the occasional chain lube. Imagine a classic bike with low maintenance! I remember thinking at the time of the Christchurch ride that someone will say that the Hesketh is not a classic bike. However, I believe a bike that made its first appearance forty years ago, and the spirit in which it was made and developed, justifies it being called a classic. It is actually the sort of bike that a classic enthusiast would buy if they wanted a new bike, could find one for sale, and afford it. 

Craig’s bike, pictured, is a 1992 model. The second bike we had in Christchurch was a 1982 model. The difference in styling and build were minimal, although the riding position on the ‘92 was slightly higher, and the bike felt tighter. It had only travelled 12,800km at the time. The ‘82 had low kilometres too. It had spent many years standing in a museum in England, until a private buyer brought it to New Zealand. I was only the second person to ride it in this country. It was a memorable experience.


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The most extraordinary thing about the Hesketh is that from its inception in 1977 to its launch, it was developed and built in two and a half years. Not by a motorcycle company, which wouldn’t have been so remarkable, but by a company with more experience in building Formula One cars than motorcycles. The other aspect is that they, presumably because of their superior engineering skills, got more things right first time up than many British motorcycles that took decades to develop.


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In early 2014 Hesketh Motorcycles announced the upcoming release of the Hesketh 24 that would be the first all-new Hesketh model to be produced in some thirty years. It was designed and developed by Paul Sleeman, Hesketh Motorcycles’ owner and Chief Engineer. This new machine was named after the number on James Hunt’s 1976 F1 world championship winning car. It was a limited edition with only 24 built and sold internationally. Whatever the future holds for the Hesketh it will remain one of the most distinctive looking motorcycles of the modern era, and no doubt one of the most collectable.  


Article kindly brought to you by Kiwirider



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