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Hesketh Vampire

1984 Hesketh Vampire

By the late 1970s it was obvious to all that the British motorcycle industry had been in terminal decline for some time. So when it leaked out that someone was preparing to invest substantially in a completely new model, it was greeted with enthusiasm from many sides.

Tha man behind the machine was Lord Hesketh, a fully fledged baron with an impressive estate in Northamptonshire, In 1973 Hesketh, then aged just 22, ran a Formula One car-racing team and in 1975 came forth in the World Championship. Financially, however, things were not going well and in 1974 Hesketh decided to develop a motorcycle to capitalise on his racing record and supplement the company's income.

Several ideas were floated, including buying the near defunct Norton factory or making frame kits for Japanese bikes. But motorcycle sales were enjoring a boom and European twins were growing in popularity. In 1977, Hesketh began talks with engine specialists Weslake that would result in the development of the company's own 1000cc V-twin, a classically British type of engine that was proving to be a great success for Ducati.

Unfortunately the project soon ran into trouble, much of the trouble stemming from the conflicting demands of Hesketh's largely car-based team of designers with Weslake's own engineers. But restrictions on the design meant there had to be many compromises.

Despite the problems, an enthusiastic press launch went ahead in the spring of 1980. The bike was traditionally styled, with a small cockpit fairing and handsomely plated frame. Its layout was similar to the contemporary Ducati 90 degree L-twin, although at over 500 lb, its chunky looks were a world away from the little Italian. As no existing factory was able to take on quantity manufacture, Hesketh set up his own at Daventry and the process of V1000 production began.

In 1981 press reports criticised the clunky gearchange, engine noise, handling and price. Urgent revisions were put in hand, but Hesketh was short of money and only 100 or so were sold before the company was wound up in August 1982.

The postscript was not long in following. Hesketh and partners had formed a new firm, to sell a package of modifications for the existing machines, at the same time developing a new fully faired tourer, the Vampire. But the gearbox faults, which included a host of false neutrals, persisted, while the engine was noisy and the fairing restricted the turning circle without giving any adequate protection.

After a couple of years only a handful had been sold, and there were further lay-offs. While members of the enthusiastic team continued their own development work, it was the end for Hesketh himself and yet another last hope for the British industry.