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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Johnny Brittain shares his luster with new Royal Enfield

Johnny Brittain with U.S. distributor Kevin Mahoney at Brooklands launch.
Cafe racers of the Swinging '60s looked to the road racers of that day for inspiration. But Royal Enfield's post-war racing fame came from off the beaten path — in trials and the prestigious International Six Days Trials (ISDT).

The name associated with those days is Johnny Brittain. I was star-struck to be seated near him when he was introduced at the launch of the new Royal Enfield Continental GT Sept. 11 at Brooklands.

"Johnny Brittain was the mainstay of the Enfield trials team through the 1950s and beyond, as well as performing to gold standard in the ISDT with monotonous regularity... Enfield took a good proportion of the trails honors in the postwar era and the main credit for this has to go to Johnny Brittain," Roy Bacon writes in "Royal Enfield, The Postwar Models."

Royal Enfield 500 Twin as raced by Johnny Brittain in 1953
"My ambitions were to be a good trials rider and an ambassador for the Royal Enfield Company," Brittain wrote in a Forward for that book.

His presence at the launch of the new Continental GT seemed to continue that role. In launching this new model, Royal Enfield (India!) missed no opportunity to associate itself with the long ago history of Royal Enfield (Britain). 
500 Twin has speedometer combined with tachometer; clock at left; spare lever on bars.
Positioned on the grass outside the press conference was a Royal Enfield 500 twin "as ridden by Johnny Brittain in the 1953 International Six Days Trial."

Gordon May explains the significance of HNP 331.
Another motorcycle, Brittain's "legendary HNP 331" trials Bullet, was on display for a press tour of Royal Enfields at the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham Sept. 12.

Gordon May's Johnny
Brittain documentary.
Our guide, author Gordon May, told us that Brittain used the same number for all his race bikes. Badly damaged in the 2003 fire that devastated the museum, this factory built trials motorcycle is now restored but, not surprisingly, the original magnesium crankcase was irreplaceable.

That led to a small error, Gordon said. There's a small casting on the oil filter housing Brittain always hacksawed off, lest it catch on a rock.

The machine is lightened in every way for competition, so I was surprised to see a speedometer tucked behind the front down bar, actually beneath the high mounted exhaust pipe. 

Some long-distance events required sections on roads, so you'd want to know how fast you were going, Gordon explained.

At the launch party for the Continental GT at the Ace Cafe in London Brittain was presented with a red Continental GT helmet by Siddhartha Lal, CEO of Royal Enfield parent company Eicher Motors. It was one more trophy for a man with many.

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