Now in its 36th year, the New Zealand Classic Motorcycle Register’s Festival returned to its spiritual home of Pukekohe Park Raceway. It was quite a return.
Kevin Grant, NZCMRR President, wanted a real Kiwi theme to the event and a headline-grabbing spectacle to celebrate its homecoming. As a result, crowds were treated to the sight and sound of Andrew Stroud and Stephen Briggs riding their 1995 BEARS World Championship-winning Brittens on track.
With only ten Brittens ever made, it’s quite something to pull off. It’s also a little heart-stopping when you think how much these bikes are worth. Kevin owns the World-Championship winning Pink and Blue bike, which he cannily bought off the team when it was retired. It cost a sum Kevin describes as ‘About the same as a good house’ but he admits it was probably a fine investment. The yellow and black bike, which has recently been ‘hibernating’ (Kevin’s description) in Italy, was bought by American Bob Robbins for around €600,000 (nearly NZ$1 million) prior to an extensive and no-doubt expensive restoration to race-readiness. Kudos to Bob Robbins for allowing it to be shown and ridden at the Festival.
While seeing two legendary Brittens, in the hands of two legendary riders, was undoubtedly a thrill, there was plenty of other rare, valuable and storied machinery around the paddock. The sheer number of beautifully restored and re-manufactured Nortons was impressive and Ken McIntosh had two very special bikes on display. Alongside Bruce Anstey’s race bike, returned from the Isle of Man Classic TT, was the very first ‘Featherbed’ race bike from 1950. The only serving ‘Works’ bike from that year, the 500cc bike is the result of years of detective work and patient rebuilding. It had been accepted that all the 1950 race frames were destroyed until this one turned up at the Beaulieu Autojumble 25 years ago. After the purchase of a matching 1950 Works motor, Ex-pat Kiwi owner Peter Bloore began a worldwide search for parts that culminated in its reappearance at the Goodwood Revival in September last year.
At an event like this, just wandering the paddock is a huge part of the fun. The rare, the beautiful, the tatty and the occasionally bewildering were all in supply. And the friendly atmosphere means having a chat with the owners is easy.
This unusual Ducati single caught my eye. There was something very ‘right’ about it, even if its provenance was somewhat head-scratching. A chat with owner and builder Andy Gourlay revealed the bike is a ‘fusion’ of half a 900 top end, a 750 bottom end (with custom balanced crank), the front part of a ST2 frame with fabricated rear, a 916 tank and various other Ducati, bespoke and universal parts.
Returning the event to Pukekohe was not without its problems. The circuit had lost its MNZ permit for motorcycle racing after the track was extensively remodelled for the V8 Supercars. Controversy surrounded the track’s ringing with concrete barriers, but Kevin Grant worked hard with the riders and MNZ to gain permission for the event. This included declaring the races non-points scoring, to take a little heat out of the competitiveness. With a successful weekend out of the way, it has likely paved the way for a return of motorcycle racing to the historic track.
Some other things we learned over the weekend:
Stephen Briggs is back in New Zealand full-time, having completed his stint in the ‘States developing and publicising the Gibbs Quadski. Incidentally, this was Briggsie’s first time back on a motorcycle since he and I raced together in the 2012 ‘Bucket Enduro’! Stroudy reckoned Briggs was ‘slow’ in Friday practice. He certainly wasn't by Sunday afternoon…
The Kevin Grant-owned Ducati TT1 that Briggsie was riding in Senior Pre-‘89 caught fire on Friday. Hence the ‘half-faired’ look for the rest of the weekend.
Ken McIntosh is likely to be at Goodwood later this year, but plans are yet to be confirmed.
Andrew Stroud is seriously considering writing a Biography. Matters such as whether to involve a ‘ghost’ writer and whether to self-publish are the subject of some deliberation.
The Festival attracted 184 entries in the various classes by 113 separate riders.