Guy Martin's recent trip to the Bonneville salt flats, the place that gave Triumph's most famous model its name, got us thinking about all the other motorcycles that have been named after after race tracks – and to what success? Here’s our pick of the 10 best…
AJS may be a historic British motorcycling name and one associated with some of the greatest racing motorcycles in history (the V4 and Porcupine to name but two) but, despite appearances, the current incarnation doesn’t have much in common. The AJS brand lives on in the UK but is now applied to Chinese-built, largely budget 125s. Its latest offering is named after the historic circuit in Lincolnshire, Cadwell Park, and is its most stylish bike yet. Claimed to be designed and engineered in the UK but manufactured in China, it’s another air-cooled 125cc single in a fairly basic tubular steel frame. Following the current fashion, however, it now has ‘50s/’60s café racer styling which suits its old school mechanicals well.
The all-new retro-roadster Thruxton and (higher spec) Thruxton R are the stars of Triumph’s 2016 line-up boasting lively, engaging 100bhp performance from its modern but classic-styled parallel twin – but its name actually dates back to the 1960s. ‘Thruxton’ was first applied to limited edition (just 52 were built) production racer based on the then Bonneville that competed with great success in the Thruxton 500 production race, hence the name. Understandably they are hugely collectable today. The name was revived in 2004 under the current Hinckley regime as a café racer version of the now retro-roadster Bonneville and lives on to this day.
Moto Guzzi Le Mans
Arguably the historic Italian firm’s most famous model of all, the original Le Mans debuted in 1976 as a further development of the 1971 750cc V7 Sport which in turn had been created to be the first five speed, 200 kg (440 lb), 200 kilometres per hour (120 mph), production motorcycle. The Le Mans, enlarged to 850cc and with new disc brakes and racy styling was, when launched, one of the world’s best performing motorcycles and grabbed the public’s attention. Today, a Mk 1 Le Mans is one of the most collectable of all Italian bikes. Six further models followed, Mk II, Mk III, Mk IV, Mk V and, most recently, the V11 Le Mans (pictured), which went out of production in 2004.
Honda FT500 Ascot
The only Honda to ever adopt the name of a race circuit (as opposed to a race event – so the CB900F Bol d’Or doesn’t count) was the 1982 FT500 Ascot – although even that’s tenuous. In the UK, the flat track-styled (hence the ‘FT’ name) 500cc single was called simply FT500 and, despite the popularity of its CB250RS little brother, was no a success. Unfortunately it didn’t fare much better in its target market of the US where it also assumed the ‘Ascot’ name in honour of the famous California dirt track. Within two years its XL500 trail bike derived engine was replaced by the VT500’s V-twin and it still failed to sell. Today it’s a quirky future classic.
While the UK in the mid-1970s got the Laverda Jota, as famously suggested by UK importers Slater Bros., the important American market got not just the Jota but also, in 1978, the Jarama, named after the race track in Spain. Effectively it was identical to the 3CL 1000cc triple as offered to most of Europe but with a different name. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell as well as the Jota so some dealers uprated the Jarama to Jota spec resulting in machines some call ‘Jarotas'. As a result, good, original examples are rare – especially in the UK.
Yamaha RD400F Daytona Special
US-only machine built to mark the end of Yamaha’s two-stroke twins on the American market (due to tightening emissions regulations) and intended also to commemorate the bike’s racing success the previous year. As such, not only was the 1979 Daytona Special, effectively a familiar RD400 twin but with pre-LC curvy styling and white/red racing livery, sold only in the US it was also the last street two-stroke sold there. As a result, the succeeding and hugely popular RD350LC was conceived as a Europe-only machine.
Moto Guzzi V50 Monza
Moto Guzzi may be more famous for its Le Mans (see above), but the junior version, the similarly inspired, sporty V50 Monza was arguably almost as important. After De Tomaso took control of Moto Guzzi in 1973, although its big V-twins were prized, commercially the company was in financial trouble. One solution was a new, small-displacement family of its characteristic transverse V-twins. The V35 and V50, in 1976, were the result. Unfortunately, they were only partially successful so, to generate further interest a sporting version of the V50, with slightly more power, Le Mans-inspired styling and a similar name taken from a race track was launched in 1980: the Monza. Less well known is that a sporting V35 was also created. That bike was called the Imola.
Hinckley Triumph’s modern Daytonas, now reduced to just the popular and potent 675 supersports version (750, 900, 955, 1000 and 1200cc variants were built through the ‘90s into the early Noughties) are well known. Less familiar is that the use of the Daytona name actually dates back to American racer Buddy Elmore’s victory in the 1966 Daytona 200 aboard a works special Tiger 100 – Triumph’s first win in the prestigious event. To commemorate the fact, a performance-orientated, 500cc, twin cylinder roadster, called the Daytona, was launched the following year remaining in production at Meriden until 1974.
As with compatriot Moto Guzzi, which followed its successful Le Mans superbike with a little ‘brother’, the Monza, so Laverda similarly attempted to follow-up the success of is superbike Jota with a middleweight spin-off. In 1977, Laverda launched a new, 500cc, twin cylinder eight-valve entry-level machine named the Alpina (soon changed to Alpino). This was followed in 1978 by an improved Alpino S and Formula 500 racer to support a single model race series. Then, in a similar fashion to the Jota, British importer Roger Slater then persuaded the Italian factory to produce a road legal version of the racer. Dubbed the Montjuic, again after a Spanish race track, though expensive it was briefly one of the most exotic middleweights you could buy.
Ducati 750 Imola
The story of British racer Paul Smart’s victory in the Imola 200 in 1972 aboard a factory Ducati racer based around the firm’s new 750 GT V-twin tourer (the Italian firm’s first ‘Desmo’ V-twin engine) has passed into legend but is worth repeating here. That success – Smart didn’t just beat team leader Bruno Spaggiari into second but also Giacomo Agostini aboard the works MV Agusta – effectively cast Ducati onto the sporting V-twin path it continues to great success today. First, though, they began selling a replica production version, called, inevitably, the Imola.