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It’s easy to be seduced by the Mike Hailwood Replica’s looks, and just as easy to be cynical. Just two years after its launch, sales of the original 900SS were in serious decline. Its old Brit-bike café racer looks harked back to the sixties, and next to the eye-candy sparkle of the Jota and Le Mans it was in need of a make-over. One day in June 1977 decided what happened next. After his magnificence at the TT, the market was desperate for a replica of Mike’s bike: that NCR fairing; the voluptuous tank/seat unit; the old round-case crankcases. The rumours went round and round until everyone was convinced a genuine 90bhp, 170kg road legal racer was on the way, decked out in the Castrol/Sports Motorcycles colour scheme that happily mimicked the Italian flag’s red, white and green. We got the colour scheme but, the cruel might add, a slightly porky 900SS squeezed into a party frock. A 900SS in a fat suit, as some cruel wag said to me recently. The new outfit was a looker, but the fairing ate into ground clearance and needed removing to check the oil, while the fake fuel tank compromised the riding position and simply hid a 900SS tank. It didn’t even sport the NCR bike’s Campagnolo wheels, despite Darmahs sitting in the showroom wearing those very hoops. Over the years the Replica became ever heavier and more civilised, with air cleaners, electric starter and a useful 24 litre (5 gallon) tank. So in the end the 900SS had gained 25 kilos in return for… what, exactly? Style, of course. The Hailwood Replica was not for wallflowers, and it fitted into the growing UK street-racing scene perfectly. By the time the 1000cc Mille arrived as the ultimate bevel twin it even had a race bike’s dry clutch – and, like the Jota and Le Mans, an electric start. As riders moved on from seventies hippy-rocker grunge to hard-core coloured race-leather, black visor chic, being Mike Hailwood was the ultimate trip. More in Benzina 3

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