First Person - Mick Broom

Mick Broom has spent the last three decades building motorcycles for the eccentric millionaire Lord Hesketh’s company. Last month, he finally retired...

Having qualified as an apprentice I started working as an engineer, mainly so I could use the company’s facilities to modify engines and go racing. Then I moved onto racing motorbikes full time. If anyone would give me the right bike and the right amount of money I’d race for them. I didn’t bother too much what it was, I’d give it a go and hand it back if it was too dangerous! Then the wife came along and I decided to change my lifestyle, wives and racing don’t seem to get on together, so I decided to set up a boat trip business. While I was waiting for that to get going I got two phone calls, one from Norton and one from Lord Hesketh.

Norton wanted me to look at making a 125 for them, Lord Hesketh wanted me to come and sort his bike out for him. I looked at them both and knew that Norton knew what they were doing but had no money, while Hesketh hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was doing but had more money. I decided to come down for about three months in 1979 and I’m still here!

It sounds strange but Hesketh building a motorcycle was a natural progression. He was into F1. With James Hunt driving, his team was the last privateer team to win a F1 GP. He didn’t have any sponsorship, just his own money. That obviously drained his pocket somewhat and as it was slowly winding down he had a shed full of engineers who were responsible for designing and running the race car. He wanted to re-direct them and see if he could use the facilities in another way. A lot of F1 people are into bikes so it was a natural thing to think, ‘let’s build a bike.’ You have to remember in the 1970s there was nothing. Triumph was struggling and the British bike industry was dead so he thought it was a grand gesture to save the British bike industry by making a sort of Vincent equivalent.

We were based in the stable block on his estate, I was employed as development engineer and we steadily lurched on from disaster to disaster from then on. The Hesketh was going to be the superbike of its time, so we chose a big V-twin as it mirrored the Vincents and Brough Superiours. The top end was a four-valve head, loosely mirrored on the F1 technology of the time, while the bottom end was in essence designed around 1930s or ‘40s technology. It gave us a bike with its own characteristics.

It took about three months to put the first bike together, but the design was already done beforehand. We launched the bike in 1980, outside the big house. Mike Hailwood was there along with all the world’s press. They loved the bike and thought it was what the country needed, but the fact was we launched it so we could find someone to invest in the project. We didn’t have the manufacturing skills, only the design ones. But no one came out of the woodwork to back us. Then the city launched its venture- capital scheme and was looking for companies to back. They gave Lord Hesketh the backing.

They spent a lot of time and money setting up the factory but it didn’t work, they were basically under-financed and the motorcycle market was contracting. I think about 100 bikes were made in total, there was a big demand for them. It was an exciting time to live through. When the factory closed we set up a company to look after the customers who had already purchased their bike.

The Hesketh was expensive, each one cost about £4,000, when the top of the range BMW of the time was half that. It was an exclusive machine and we wanted to provide owners with backup. We set up in the laundry room at the estate and thought it would only last a few months, that was in 1982 and we are still doing it now. Although now I’ve just retired. I’ve probably built about 250 bikes and I’m still in contact with many owners. There isn’t a typical Hesketh owner, they can be anything from dustbin men to Lords and Ladies, and we have sold bikes from Alaska to New Zealand. I don’t think there’s one in Russia or China but that’s about it.

Now I’ve got lots of things to do. I’m currently building a 1/3 scale steam traction engine so I can go down the pub on it. I’ve no regrets working for Hesketh for 30 years, it’s been a great life. We had a lot of champagne in the early days and it was a completely unique experience. We designed, built and sold a British motorcycle from a Lord’s estate. I think of it as a free range motorcycle, everyone else has factory-farmed ones!