John Britten

Last updated

John Kenton Britten
John Britten.JPG
Born1 August 1950
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died5 September 1995 (aged 45)
Christchurch, New Zealand
NationalityNew Zealander
OccupationEngineer, Designer
Known forMotorcycle creation
Property Management
Notable work
Britten V1000

John Kenton Britten (1 August 1950 – 5 September 1995) was a New Zealand mechanical engineer who designed a world-record-setting motorcycle with innovative features and materials.



John Britten was born to Bruce and Ruvae Britten at Christchurch at 10 minutes to midnight. His twin sister Marguerite was born just after midnight, so although they were twins they celebrated their birthdays on different dates. Being dyslexic, he needed to have exam questions read to him at school and during his tertiary education, and his answers recorded by a writer, but that didn't stop him from developing into a remarkable engineer and architectural designer.

His childhood heroes were notable fellow New Zealanders, Richard Pearse (pioneer aviator), Bill Hamilton (father of the jet boat), Bruce McLaren (champion driver and founder of the McLaren Formula One Team), and Burt Munro (world record motorcycle speedster and subject of the film The World's Fastest Indian ). In his own short lifetime, Britten was regularly and favourably compared with all of his heroes.

Britten completed a four-year mechanical engineering course at night school before joining ICI as a cadet draughtsman, giving him a wide range of work experience including mould design, pattern design, metal spinning and various mechanical engineering designs.

Britten travelled to England where he worked for four months with Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners on a highway design linking the M1 motorway to the M4 motorway.

Back in New Zealand he was design engineer for Rowe Engineering, designing off-road equipment and heavy machinery. In 1976, he built glass kilns and went into business as a fine artist designing and making hand-made glass lighting, later joining the family property management and development business. In 1978, Britten and his wife bought a historic residence in Matai Street, Riccarton, that they spent the next six years renovating. As of 2018, one of their daughters lived in the house with her family. [1]

In February 1995 John Britten was elected to the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (now Engineering New Zealand) as an Honorary Fellow, "in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the advancement of the science and profession of engineering". [2]

Britten designed

Britten worked on motorcycle design for some years, developing innovative methods using composite materials and performance engine designs. He created the Britten Motorcycle Company in 1992 to produce machines to his own design made of light materials and using engines that he had built himself, which became famous around the world.

His Britten motorcycles won races and set numerous speed records on the international circuits, and astounded the motorcycle world in 1991 when they finished second and third against the factory machines in the Battle of the Twins at Daytona, United States of America.

One of Britten's motorcycles is on permanent display at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington, New Zealand. [3]


Diagnosed with an inoperable skin cancer related illness, he died on 5 September 1995 just over a month after his forty-fifth birthday. His funeral at Christchurch Cathedral was attended by over one thousand mourners and he was widely mourned throughout New Zealand. [4]


Britten V1000 during a parade lap at Signpost Corner in the Isle of Man during 2005 TT races period BrittenIOMTT2005.JPG
Britten V1000 during a parade lap at Signpost Corner in the Isle of Man during 2005 TT races period

There are only 10 Britten V1000 and Britten V1100, not including 1 prototype motorcycles that were ever constructed.

Britten's designs included:

Non-Britten Components:

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  1. Fletcher, Jack (3 October 2018). "Inside the $2.5m rebuild of John Britten's Christchurch home". . Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  2. Beck, Jennifer (2010). John Britten, The boy who did do better. Auckland New Zealand: Scholastic New Zealand Ltd. p. 37. ISBN   978-1-86943-548-6.
  3. Britten motorcycle at Museum display Retrieved 26 March 2019
  4. Price, Felicity. "The Making of John Britten". New Zealand Geographic. Retrieved 18 December 2018.