Whatever Happened to... Lord Hesketh?

Will this be the next reborn British brand?

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Alan Cathcart Archives

After a short stint as a stockbroker in San Francisco and then a shipbroker in Hong Kong, Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh founded his Formula 1 racing team in 1972 at the ripe young age of 22. Lord Hesketh, along with team manager “Bubbles” Horsley and driver James Hunt, became legendary for excess, commuting to the races via a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, trolling the paddock in a Rolls Royce, and quaffing champagne.

They won some races, too, culminating in Hunt’s fourth-place finish in the ’75 world championship behind the wheel of the team’s own Hesketh 308 racecar. Eventually even Lord Hesketh’s deep pockets dried up, and after that season he sold the team to Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf. With the F1 effort discontinued, 308 designer Harvey Postlethwaite—a huge motorcycle enthusiast—persuaded Hesketh to develop a high-performance motorcycle. The Hesketh V1000 was conceived as a two-wheeled Aston Martin: a classy, expensive Gentleman’s Express powered by an air-cooled, 90-degree V-twin with four-valve heads and twin overhead cams. Production began in ’81 with the intention of producing 2000 motorcycles per year, but an underdeveloped product, spiraling costs and a collapsing global motorcycle market sent Hesketh Motorcycles into receivership in ’82, having producing just 139 bikes.

After a near-30-year hiatus, Hesketh is about to be relaunched by British entrepreneur Paul Sleeman, who plans to restart production of the Hesketh V1000 both in traditional, air-cooled, 90-degree V-twin form, along with an all-new, liquid-cooled, 72-degree V-twin. Prototypes should be running by the end of this year, with a limited production run of 24 commemorative models (denoting Hunt’s F1 number) planned for 2012.

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