Henderson KJ

Henderson KJ 1920s American classic motorcycle

As early as 1929, the Henderson KJ was hitting 100mph. It came courtesy of a 1,301cc in-line four engine - outputting 40bhp. What made the top speed stat yet more impressive was that the KJ weighed in at a portly 495lb. The KJ's plucky powerplant was an air-cooled eight-valve inlet-over-exhaust unit. Whatever its configuration - it clearly worked!

In its day, the KJ was a luxury motorcycle. It flaunted a long list of fancy features. For starters, electric lighting, a fully-enclosed chain and leading-link forks. State of the art stuff, in the Twenties. As was the illuminated speedo' on the gas tank. And the KJ's straight-line stability - thanks to its long wheelbase - would have given ample opportunity to consult said clock. Bill Henderson - the firm's founder - must have been proud.

Mercifully - by the time of the Great Depression - Henderson had moved on. Ace was his new venture. The company which bore his name fared badly in the crash. The KJ's finery did not come cheap. It had no chance of selling well amidst serious austerity. Henderson struggled on as best it could - but it was always a lost cause. In '31, Schwinn - the new owners - threw in the towel. With the demise of the KJ, America lost a beautiful motorcycle. Its pinstriping, in particular, was close to perfect. And the rest of the design followed suit. In short, the Henderson KJ was class on two wheels ... direct from the USA!

Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45 1940s American classic motorcycle

These days, the Harley-Davidson WL 45 is seriously old school. That is a good thing, of course! '45' referenced its engine capacity - in cubic inches. The side-valve 45° V-twin slung the WL to a top speed of 75mph. A long way from Harley's high-tech Evo powerplant of today. Still, that was plenty enough speed, given the WL's suspension set-up - or lack of it. Well, at the rear, at any rate. The WL was a full-on factory hard-tail ... no concealed shock absorber here! The WL's sprung saddle, though, kept it comfy. At the front, however, things were looking up - hopefully, not literally! '49 saw the introduction of Harley's Girdraulic damping system. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history book.

The WL's motor made 25bhp. That was an improvement on the W model - compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm was now available. The 3-speed gearbox was controlled by a hand shift and foot clutch. While the roadster's performance was not exactly earth-shattering, Harley's WR race bike did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair to the road bike's output, it did have its work cut out. 528lb wet was plenty of weight for the WL to heave. Saying that, it was not excessive for a bike of its size. Bear in mind that in the Forties, carbon fibre was just a glint in a scientist's eye!

Bikes like the WL45, then, were a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and its current range. 45ci equated to 750cc - or middleweight, in modern money. The 45-powered bikes were hugely important to Harley. Indeed, they helped the firm weather the Great Depression. Were it not for those bikes, Milwaukee's finest may well not have survived. Many a biker's life would have been lessened - such is the impact Harley-Davidson has had. So, much is owed to the WL 45 ... and its pioneering predecessors!

Sunbeam S8

Sunbeam S8 1950s British classic motorcycle

Even in England's 'Black Country', the sun still shines. Aptly, then, Sunbeam's factory was located there - in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. From the outset - in 1912 - the company gained a name for classy, reliable motorcycles. They became known as 'gentlemen's machines'. The Sunbeam S8 was one of them. It was made between '49 and '56. Innovation was thrown in, too, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, featured a fully-enclosed chain - keeping both bike and rider clean. Assuming the owner had oiled his chain, that is!

It is fair to say that the S8's predecessor - the Sunbeam S7 - did not exactly smother itself in glory. It was comfortable, certainly - but that was about it. The S7 was overweight, lacked manoeuvrability - and its brakes were not the best. Those deficiencies were redressed - to some extent, at least - by the S7 De Luxe version. It fell to the S8, though, to get the good ship Sunbeam fully seaworthy again.

The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam won the Senior TT - twice. As far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam raced to success. The twin-cylinder S8, then, was the latest in a string of performance-based Sunbeams. Plainly, S8 stylist Erling Poppe had been inspired by BMW's R75. Indeed, rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA - as part of war reparations. Then, in '43, BSA acquired Sunbeam - from AMC. Under Poppe's design aegis, the S8 shed the portliness of the S7. Plus, it now sported a solid set of front forks. Even the exhaust note had been modified for the S8 - to something more sonorous. Top speed was a heady 85mph. Handling had come on leaps and bounds ... not literally, of course. So, all things considered, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its Black Country roots!

Rudge Ulster

Rudge Ulster 1930s British classic motorcycle

The Rudge Ulster was based on the Rudge Multi. The latter - launched in 1911 - came with 21 'infinitely variable' gears. 'Multi', indeed! In theory, there was not a slope in the UK it could not get up. An intricate rear pulley system auto-adjusted the bike's final drive belt. The ratios were selected via a lengthy gear-lever, located to the left of the fuel-tank. From early on, Rudges sported spring-up stands. Back mudguards were hinged - facilitating wheel removal.

A production racer Multi won the 1914 Senior TT. And - for the Rudge race team - there was more success to come. It was in '28, though, that the firm secured its place in history. A Rudge won that year's Ulster GP. A street-legal version duly appeared. It was named after the illustrious Irish road race. The Ulster inherited the engineering subtleties of its Rudge roadster predecessors. Unsurprisingly, it was a serious seller. Graham Walker was Rudge's sales manager. Fittingly, it had fallen to him to pilot the Ulster to victory.

The Ulster only added to the roll-call of Rudge's technical innovations. A 500cc single, its engine was fitted with four valves. They helped output 30bhp. That pushed a dry weight of just 290lb. The Ulster featured Rudge's linked braking system. The foot-pedal retarded both drum brakes - while the hand lever applied added front-end bite. Ahead of the game, to say the least. On the racing front, Rudge carried on winning well into the Thirties. In '39, however, financial problems came to a head. Rudge folded shortly thereafter. The Ulster, though, had carried the flag for one of the most forward-looking firms in motorcycling history!

Norton CS1

Norton CS1 1930s British classic motorcycle

Classic Nortons are as iconic as Brit bikes come. That certainly includes the CS1. Norton was based in Bracebridge Street, Birmingham. In 1913, the fledgling firm went bust. In true champion style, however, it got back on its feet, dusted itself down and came out for another round! James Norton teamed up with Bob Shelley and his brother-in-law - ace tuner Dan 'Wizard' O'Donovan. The chemistry must have been spot-on, if the Isle of Man TT was anything to go by. Rex Judd was among the riders to win on Nortons in that most iconic of road races.

The CS1 arrived on 'the island' in '27 - prepped for its first TT. The 'CamShaft 1' production racer boasted a bevel-driven overhead cam engine. It was a sensation from the second Stanley Woods swung a leg over the saddle. Fast-forward a year - and the CS1 roadster appeared, in supersport mode. Again, rival marques were left reeling in its wake. Sadly, James 'Pa' Norton - company founder - died before his bikes saw success.

Before taking on the CS1, 'Wizard' O'Donovan had plenty of practice. He built the Brooklands Special. It was designed specifically for the unique challenges of the legendary English oval. When sold, Brooklands Specials came with a certificate - confirming they had reached 75mph. Detuned Specials were sorted for street use. The roadster's sale certificate guaranteed 70mph - just 5mph less than the racer. So, the CS1 had a tough act to follow. It did so, though, with aplomb. Stylishly engineered, it sported silver-and-black paint - Norton's trademark colour scheme. It was a shame 'Pa' Norton's heart could not hold out a little while longer. Never really a businessman, he loved bikes to the core of his being. He would have loved to see and hear one of his company's masterpieces. Thankfully, at least the Norton CS1 has been exhilarating classic bike fans for many years since!

Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo 1970s British classic sports car

Frank Costin - creator of the Amigo - was an automotive pioneer. That said, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer in his time. In the Fifties, Costin shifted his skill-set to motor racing. Lotus and Vanwall benefitted directly. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Frank Costin met Jem Marsh, they founded sports car maker MarCos. The marque had a unique take on English eccentricity. That was fully in keeping with Costin's character. An out and out maverick, he did things his way. That certainly extended to his cars' construction. Costin liked wood. The chassis in Marcos' first sports cars were made from laminated marine plywood.

In time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. That was probably partly as a result of Marsh's input. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was forged from, yes, plywood - albeit with strengthening pine strips bonded on. The chassis' light weight was echoed by a glassfibre body. The latter was sublimely smooth - both of shape and finish. Visually and aerodynamically, it cut straight to the chase.

The Amigo's engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. Indeed, the Amigo was built close by Vauxhall's Luton HQ. Fittingly - given Costin's former employment - it was at an airfield. And the Amigo's performance was jet-plane impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Design-wise, only the spartan interior let the side down a tad. It certainly contributed to the Amigo's woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. To be fair to the Amigo, had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, it might have helped. To be fair to Frank Costin - engineering was all he knew. Anyway - the Costin Amigo story was richer than that of many cars that sold a thousand times more. Not that the bank manager would have seen it that way!