The Unique Lynton Racer

Colin Lyster isn’t a household name, unless you’re a hardcore café racer fan, in which case, he’s a demigod on par with Dave Degens and the Rickman brothers.

Paul Brothers and Colin Lyster, whose partnership created the Lynton racer. The pair display their ultralight frame and Hillman Imp-based motor in 1968

A former Rhodesian road racer, Lyster moved to Britain in the early 1960s, and set about re-framing Triumphs and Hondas to reduce weight and improve chassis stiffness.

The sole surviving Lynton racer, from the H+H web page. Not the Weber DCOE side-draft carb, racing AMC gearbox, and triple discs - in 1968!
The sole surviving Lynton racer, from the H+H web page. Not the Weber DCOE side-draft carb, racing AMC gearbox, and triple discs – in 1968!

His frames were ultra-rigid and half as heavy as the comparable Norton item; he typically discarded the lower frame rails, using the engine as a stressed member, and thinwall tubing of smaller diameter than considered prudent for a street machine. Still, hotshot riders can’t resist a road racer with lights, and a few Lyster-framed roadsters can be found in books on the café racer craze.

The drive side of the Lynton, with single-plate diaphragm clutch a lá the Norton Commando (H+H photo)
The drive side of the Lynton, with single-plate diaphragm clutch a lá the Norton Commando (H+H photo)

Lyster’s frame output was low, but his impact on the industry was outsized. He developed the first triple-hydraulic disc braking systems for motorcycle racing teams in the mid-1960s, using specially adapted Ceriani road race forks and his own fabricated swingarms, with his own cast iron discs. Triple juice discs became a must-have item on winning road racers; Lyster began selling kits to the public in 1971. After failing to interest the British motorcycle industry in his product, he sold his patents to AP Lockheed. Ironically, it was Honda who first used hydraulic discs on production motorcycles, in 1968.

The halved Hillman motor, with Lynton's own DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head and geometric sump. (From Cycle World)
The halved Hillman motor, with Lynton’s own DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head and geometric sump. (From Cycle World)

Still, it was Lyster’s patent, and he changed motorcycling forever. By the mid-1960s, the British motorcycle industry had given up on Grand Prix racing, but enterprising builders hadn’t. Colin Lyster thought a reasonably-priced, competitive engine could be built from automotive parts, and he cut a water-cooled 1000cc Hillman Imp 4-cylinder car motor in half, and built a DOHC, 8-valve cylinder head for it. Interestingly, the Imp motor was designed by Leo Kuzmicki, the Polish ‘janitor’ who was ‘discovered’ by Joe Craig, race chief of Norton, as having been a research scientist in combustion theory before becoming a WW2 refugee. It was Kuzmicki who kept the Norton Manx engine competitive a decade after its sell-by date, extracting ever more power from the aging single-cylinder design. After leaving Norton, he moved to the Rootes Group, and designed the extremely reliable and very fast Imp motor.

The chain-driven DOHC cylinder head, with central spark plugs and 4 valves per cylinder (Cycle World)
The chain-driven DOHC cylinder head, with central spark plugs and 4 valves per cylinder (Cycle World)

As reported in CycleWorld in July 1968, Lyster’s Imp-engined ‘Lynton’ racer was a collaboration with Paul Brothers, and used an ultralight Lyster full-cradle frame, with his own triple disc setup. The cylinder head is a chunk, and the side-draft Weber DCOE carb doesn’t inspire confidence that the watercooled engine is light. The builders claimed 60hp from the motor, which used a 180-degree crankshaft, a modified Hillman part, as were the rods. Slipper pistons from Mahle and cams by Tom Somerton painted a picture of speed, and the projected price of £300 undercut a Matchless G50 single-cylinder SOHC motor by £75. Orders were not forthcoming, though, as the project needed more development, and it remained yet another British ‘what if?’

1971 magazine ad for Colin Lyster's double-disc front brake kit
1971 magazine ad for Colin Lyster’s double-disc front brake kit

It seems only the prototype motorcycle was built, although Lynton offered a full four-cylinder version of its special cylinder head to Imp rally drivers; a few of these are floating around, including rumors on one cut in half for a motorcycle! Britain’s HandH Auctions have turned up the sole Lynton racing motorcycle, which was freshened up for sale on October 12 , 2016, but apparently went unsold. It’s an uncompromised beast with a pur sang pedigree, and a lot of near-forgotten stories surrounding its build. Colin Lyster moved to the USA in the early ‘70s, and worked with Canadian national champion road racer Ed Labelle to build Lyster-Labelle racers, using Triumph Bonneville motors in lowboy frames with triple discs. Only a few were built before Lyster moved on to New Zealand, where he carried on with other projects until his death in 2003.

A man full of ideas! This wing was an air brake for a racing motorcycle! It proved, as you can imagine, frighteningly destabilizing
A man full of ideas! This wing was an air brake for a racing motorcycle! It proved, as you can imagine, frighteningly destabilizing
A closeup of a Lyster front brake kit - note the similarity to the Lockheed system, as used later on Nortons
A closeup of a Lyster front brake kit – note the similarity to the Lockheed system, as used later on Nortons
The cafe racers' dream; a Kennedy-Lyster, with a Norton Atlas motor in a Lyster frame, with a double-disc front end. I reckon this is pre-1970...what a beauty!
The cafe racers’ dream; a Kennedy-Lyster, with a Norton Atlas motor in a Lyster frame, with a double-disc front end. I reckon this is pre-1970…what a beauty!

Report by The Vintagent

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