Henderson KJ

Henderson KJ

In 1929, the Henderson KJ Streamline was serving up a top speed of 100mph. That superb stat came courtesy of a 40bhp output - from a 1,301cc engine. What made it still more impressive was that the KJ weighed in at a portly 495lb. Atypically, for an American bike - V-twins normally being the order of the day - the Streamline was powered by an in-line four motor. Specifically, an air-cooled, eight-valve, inlet-over-exhaust unit.

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

By the time the Great Depression hit, Bill Henderson had moved on to start up Ace. The company which still bore his name fared badly in the financial crash. The KJ's finery did not come cheap. There was no way it was going to sell well in a time of serious austerity. Henderson struggled on as best it could - but it was a lost cause. In 1931, Schwinn - the firm which had taken the reins, on Bill Henderson's departure - put the ailing beast out of its misery. With its passing, the world lost a beautiful motorcycle. The perfection of its pinstriping was echoed throughout. The Henderson KJ Streamline was class on two wheels!

Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45

The Harley-Davidson WL 45 was definitive 'old school'. '45' referenced its engine's capacity - in cubic inches. A forerunner of Harley's high-tech 'Evo' powerplant, the side-valve 45° V-twin pushed the WL up to a top speed of 75mph. That was probably plenty, given the bike's suspension - or lack of it. The WL was a classic 'hard-tail' ... no hidden soft shock absorber here! The sprung saddle did its best to keep things comfy at the rear. At the front, it was a different story. '49 saw the introduction of Harley's 'Girdraulic' damping set-up. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history books.

The WL 45 served up a steady 25bhp. That was an increase on the W model's output - engine compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm were available from the new machine. The 3-speed 'box was operated via a hand shift and foot clutch. Performance, then, was not earth-shattering. It fell to Harley's WR racebike to take care of that side of things. To be fair, the WL's motor had its work cut out. It was heaving 528lb wet weight - though that was not too excessive for a bike of the WL 45's size. At the time, carbon fibre was no more than a glint in a scientist's eye!

The WL45 could be viewed as a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and the modern age. 45ci equated to 750cc - somewhat short of the big beasts in the company's current range. '45'-powered bikes were hugely importance to Milwaukee's finest. They helped see the firm through the Great Depression. Were it not for the '45' bikes, the Harley brand - on which so many lives have been based - may not have existed long. That is a measure of how much is owed to the Harley-Davidson WL 45 - and its trusty predecessors.

Sunbeam S8

Sunbeam S8

Even in GB's 'Black Country', the sun still sometimes shines. The Sunbeam S8 was proof positive of that! Sunbeam's factory was in Wolverhampton - in England's Midlands. From the outset - in 1912 - the firm acquired a name for classy and reliable bikes. Some innovation was thrown in, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, came with a fully-enclosed chain. That helped keep both bike and rider oil-free. Such niceties quickly gained Sunbeam a reputation as manufacturers of 'gentlemen's machines'. The Sunbeam S8 - made between '49 and '56 - was another variation on the high-end theme.

The S8's predecessor - the Sunbeam S7 - had not covered 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. The deficiencies were addressed - to some extent - by the S7 De Luxe model. It fell to the S8, though, to get Sunbeam fully shipshape again.

The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance had set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam had twice been victorious in the Senior TT. Indeed, as far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam was successfully raced. So, the twin-cylinder S8 was the latest in a long line of performance-based Sunbeams. Stylist Erling Poppe was plainly inspired by the BMW R75. Design rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA - as part of the war reparations. BSA had acquired Sunbeam from AMC - in '43. Under Poppe's aegis, the S8 had shed the 'portliness' of the S7. And it now sported a set of solid front forks. Even its exhaust note had been modified - to a sound more sonorous. Top speed for the S8 was a heady 85mph. Handling, too, had come on by leaps and bounds. All in all, then, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its 'Black Country' roots.

Rudge Ulster

Rudge Ulster

The Rudge Ulster was based on the Rudge Multi. The latter machine - launched at the start of the 20th century - boasted 21 gears! Hence, the 'Multi'. An intricate pulley system auto-adjusted the bike's final drive belt. The ratios were selected via a long gear-lever located to the left of the fuel-tank. Early Rudges sported spring-up stands. Back mudguards were hinged - facilitating wheel removal. The Ulster sold well - no doubt due, in large part, to these subtleties of engineering.

A racing version of the Rudge Multi went on to win 1914's Senior TT. And - for Rudge - there was plenty more race success to come. It was in 1928, though, that the firm secured its place in history. When a Rudge won the Ulster GP of that year, the accompanying road-bike was named after the illustrious Irish race. It had fallen to Graham Walker - Rudge's sales manager - to pilot the Ulster to victory.

The roll-call of Rudge's technical innovation went on and on. While the Ulster was only a 500cc single, its engine sported four valves. They helped to output around 30bhp. A dry weight of just 290lb did the rest. The Ulster featured Rudge's linked braking system. The foot-pedal retarded both drum brakes - while the hand lever applied added front-end bite. On the racing front, Rudge continued winning well into the Thirties. However, financial woes came to a head in '39. The proud name of Rudge was no more. But - up until then - the Rudge Ulster was the best-known bike from one of the most forward-looking firms in motorcycling.

Norton CS1

Norton CS1

Norton motorcycles - including the CS1 - are as iconic as classic bikes come. Company HQ was in Bracebridge Street - Birmingham, England. The fledgeling firm went bust, in 1913. In true champion style, though, it came back out for another round! James Norton teamed up with Bob Shelley, and his brother-in-law - ace tuner Dan 'Wizard' O'Donovan. The chemistry was spot-on - most memorably, at the Isle of Man TT. Rex Judd was just one of the riders to pilot a Norton to victory in that most iconic of road races.

The Norton CS1 first hit the bike scene in '27. The 'CamShaft 1' sported a bevel-driven overhead cam engine. The 'production racer' model was a sensation from the moment Stanley Woods swung a leg over it. A year later, and the CS1 took to the road. That was in super-sport mode. Again, it left rivals reeling in its wake! Sadly, founder James 'Pa' Norton died a few years before the success came on stream.

Previous to the CS1, it fell to 'Wizard' O'Donovan to fabricate the 'Brooklands Special'. It was designed specifically to cater to the unique challenges of the Surrey oval track. Subsequently, though, it was detuned for road use. A certificate accompanied sales of the racer - confirming it had topped 75mph. The roadster's certificate guaranteed just 5mph less. The CS1, then, had a tough act to follow. It did so with aplomb. Styling-wise, it was engineering as art. That was set off to a tee by the silver-and-black colour scheme - Norton's trademark regalia. It was a shame 'Pa' Norton's heart could not hold out a little while longer. He was never really a businessman ... but he loved bikes to the core of his being. He would have loved the sight and sound of one of his company's masterstrokes. Certainly, the Norton CS1 has been exhilarating classic bike fans for many a year since.

Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo

Frank Costin - creator of the Amigo - was an automotive pioneer. Saying that, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer. Costin had then transferred his considerable skill-set to motor racing. In the '50s, Lotus and Vanwall benefited directly from his input. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Costin met up with Jem Marsh, they went on to found 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 would be made from laminated marine plywood.

Over time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was still forged from plywood ... albeit with pine strips bonded on. The light weight of the chassis was mirrored by a glassfibre body. The finish was seriously smooth. The Amigo's shape was sublime. Visually - and aerodynamically - it more than cut the mustard.

The Amigo's engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. The car was built close to Vauxhall's Luton HQ. Fittingly - given Costin's former employment - it was at an airfield. Overall performance for the Amigo was impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Only the car's spartan interior let the design side down a tad. Doubtless, that contributed to the Amigo's woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. Had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, things may have been much better. But, engineering was all he knew. The story behind the Costin Amigo, though, was richer than many a car that sold a thousand times more!