Meet John Renwick

Born in the late 1930’s, the motorcycle-oriented career of John Renwick has spanned several decades of the custom build revolution. John gives us a quick and honest standpoint into what made the Café Racer and Custom Build scene into the lifestyle that it was back then.

Date
April 16th 2014

Born in the late 1930’s, the motorcycle-oriented career of John Renwick has spanned several decades of the custom build revolution.

Racing on the roads since aged 16, his first bike was a 125cc, gradually rising through the power ranks until taking ownership of his first Vincent. This modified ‘Black Shadow’ took him to his first race at Silverstone in 1960 – and was the same bike that saw him win the British Motorcycle Racing Club Championship in his first season.

Across this career, he has become a specialist in all things Vincent, estimating that he has built about 50 custom bikes within the walls of the workshop he built in his West Sus­sex home in 1979.

35 years later, it houses a myriad of industrial power tools, a whole lot of metal, and John’s collection of ground-breaking creations. These include the ‘Renwick Wedge’, which completely overhauled the face of World Championship Sidecar Racing and ‘Al­tometheus 1’ with which he broke the National Land Speed Record in 2008 on the Bon­neville Salt Flats - at the age of 70.

While Café Racer culture only really gathered speed in the 50’s, the first British Speed Trials event in Brighton goes back long before then. He asks us to guess what year. We estimate 50’s or 60’s. He’s delighted to prove us wrong revealing that they began be­fore 1910. John gives us a quick and honest standpoint into what made the Café Racer and Custom Build scene into the lifestyle that it was back then.

What year was it when you started racing, and how old were you then?
An old man really in racing terms; I was 22. Nowadays they start at 9 or something don’t they? So - I was an old man… basically because I did a full engineer­ing apprenticeship from 16 to 21, which kept me poor. Very poor.

Do you remember people wearing Barbour International around the tracks in those days then?
Oh certainly, a wax Barbour International suit was the thing to be wearing. The all in one.

We bet there’s probably nothing you don’t know about a Vincent and could build a bike with your eyes shut?
Pretty well, but things of course improve… new technology and materials and so that means was what was a 45bhp motor can now be made into 200. And I’m a member of the Vincent Owner’s Club of course.

And the Vincent Owners Club adopted the Barbour International jacket as their official uniform at one time, am I right?
Oh yes, the archive people have got a history of everything, all of that. But I’m not an historian

But do you go to the Vincent meetings still?
Sometimes. I’ve been to the big Annual General Meeting each year for the past three to four years, because every year they award me a trophy. This one here is awarded by the Vincent Owner’s Club, for the man putting in the best per­formance in a straight line.

And that’s you?
Yes, you’ll see the name once or twice there…

It’s nearly ALL your name!
Nah, no, no!

Yes it is!
Well, only recently yes.

You have to be proud of what you’ve done John. Your name’s all over that cup.
It’s no big deal. Anyway…

John Renwick’s contributions to the custom building scene are nationally recognized, and contrary to his own claims that he never made it as a champion, the trophies lining his walls, and the passion that still glints in his eyes, are an indication that this simply isn’t true. A well deserving Barbour International Hero.