Showing posts with label British Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts

Brough Superior SS100

Brough Superior SS100 vintage motorcycle

When it came to his best-known brand of motorcycle, George Brough did not beat about the bush. 'Superior' said it all - and very succinctly. And, to be fair, it was just that - as compared with many of its two-wheeled rivals. Saying that, Brough - and his small team of Nottingham-based engineers - were responsible only for the frame. The engine and cycle parts were outsourced. Initially, JAP - and later Matchless - provided the power. All the parts, though, still had to be coaxed to work as one. Brough and the boys clearly made a good job of it - since the SS100 was widely considered to be the best bike in the world at the time. The Superior range as a whole was produced from 1919 to 1940.

George Brough was among a group of riders, who, time and again, proved the Superior's worth. Both at circuits - and in land speed record attempts - the bike was a regular sight, in the '20s and '30s. As usual, racing 'improved the breed'. Tweaks at the track trickled down into mainstream SS100 production.

TE Lawrence - better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia' - was in love with Brough Superiors. He owned a succession of them ... all topped off with his trademark stainless steel tank. Sadly, he was to be fatally injured, whilst riding one of them. Of course, his best-known mode of transport was the cantankerous camel. But, for many, no 'ship of the desert' could ever match a Brough Superior SS100 steaming along at full chat!

Matchless G50

Matchless G50 1950s British MotoGP bike

The Matchless G50 had a lot to live up to. To name your new company 'Matchless' needs confidence in its products - to put it mildly! That was something Charlie and Harry Collier clearly possessed, when they opened for business in 1899. They were located in Plumstead, south-east London. Both brothers were racers - of some repute. In 1907, Charlie rode a Matchless to victory at the first TT - in the single-cylinder category. Harry performed the same feat two years later. At the time, then, the Matchless moniker was pretty much justified.

Fast-forward to the Sixties - and Matchless were dominant again. Now, it was the turn of the G50 to hold all-comers at bay. First unveiled in the late '50s, the Matchless G50 was - to all intents and purposes - an AJS 7R, re-badged. Matchless had acquired AJS, in 1931.

More proof of confidence within Matchless can be found in its logo. It takes some hutzpah to rely on a single letter to get your marketing message across. Charlie and Harry, though, clearly felt that a winged 'M' was sufficient to identify a motorcycle as a Matchless. It is not as if it was an excessively long brand-name to display on the tank! There is a fine line, of course, between self-belief and hubris. The former is a prerequisite for success - the latter, an almost cast-iron guarantee of failure. However, it would seem that the two young Londoners got the balance spot-on. After all, Matchless motorcycles began winning races at the turn of the 20th century. And - at classic bike events, at least - they are still there or thereabouts in a new millennium!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has doubtless been discussed - in refreshment rooms around the world - which is the greatest café racer ever made. Dave Degens could be forgiven for making the case for the Dresda Triton. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as a race engineer, Degens was a rider of high repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for high-performance tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would be to take a well-sorted motor - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. Which is exactly what Degens did. Indeed, since the mid-'50s, two-wheeled tech-heads had been bolting Triumph engines into Norton frames. The hybrid fruits of their labour were dubbed Tritons. Triumph's powerplants were the most potent around, at the time. And Norton's Featherbed frame rewrote the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible geometry.

In the mid-'60s, Triumph's parallel-twin engine layout was cutting edge. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. Top speed was 120mph. Do the café racer math - and that exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And all from an air-cooled four-valve twin. But - as Dave Degens knew only too well - horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Cometh the hour, cometh the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals could vouch for that! Put it all together - and Triumph engine, plus Norton frame - equalled fast and fluid motorcyling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had gone beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream ticket - courtesy of Triumph and Norton - now ate a substantial slice of the Brit bike pie. But, 'mass-production' for the Triton held a sting in its tail. Downmarket, if not dodgy deals increased - both in parts and build quality. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered its standards. Even now - decades later - they provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A legend in the specialist motorcycle world, then, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers!

Panther M100

Panther M100 1930s British classic motorcycle

A glance at the Panther M100 showed its most striking asset. Compared with your average engine design, the M100's looked distinctly skewed. Enter the 598cc Sloper motor. It was tilted forward 45°. If that caused technically-minded riders to be concerned about oil circulation, no worries. The M100 was eminently reliable.

The Sloper's cylinder block was blessed with a long stroke. 100mm, to be precise. Hence an abundance of neck-twisting torque. In a good way! That was handy - since many M100s had side-cars attached. This was before automobiles were two a penny. The M100's top speed was 68mph. If you were the one wedged into the Watsonian, that was probably quite quick enough!

Panther was based in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire. No surprise, then, that its bikes were solid, rugged and dependable. Panther started out as Phelon and Moore (P&M). The first Sloper-equipped bike appeared in 1904. The single-cylinder push-rod powerplant came with two air-cooled overhead valves. Sporting its dramatically-inclined mill, a parked-up Panther was guaranteed to draw a crowd. It was only made bigger by the way in which the exhausts swooped down from the steeply-banked ports. And this from a bike born and bred in Yorkshire ... not a county associated with razzmatazz. As alluded to, this was a time when motorcycles and side-cars were still standard family transport. It followed that a Panther's top priority was to get from A to B - and back again - with a minimum of fuss. The M100 accomplished that - and with style thrown in, for good measure. Connoisseurs of classic motorcycles rejoiced!

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!

Ariel Square Four

Ariel Square Four 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Ariel Square Four was designed by Edward Turner. His finest hour was yet to come. He would go on to oversee Triumph - in its Sixties glory days. The first version of the Square Four, though, was released in '28 - back when Bonnevilles and Tridents were but blurs on the 'Brit bikes' horizon. Square Four referenced the bike's 1,000cc motor. It was, in effect, two sets of parallel twins - one in front of the other. The exhaust port was shared. The downside of that layout was that - while the front brace of cylinders enjoyed lots of cooling air - the rear two did not. That could make them recalcitrant - especially on hot days!

The '58 model Square Four was good for 105mph. Warp-factor speed for a road-bike, at the time. And - by definition - more than enough to keep 'ton-up boys' entertained. They were the 100mph Rockers - who had the occasional contretemps with Mods. Turner - and Triumph - would do brisk business with them, in the coming years. What made the Square Four's top whack stat still more impressive, was its weight. 465lb needed careful coaxing through corners.

As its name suggested, the Square Four was a solid-looking motorcycle. In the sense of impressively robust, that is. Its telescopic front - and plunger rear - suspension units complemented each other nicely. The four-header exhaust set-up sat neatly between the two. The 'Squariel' - as it was affectionately dubbed - soon took its place in the rapidly-growing roster of popular British bikes. All in all, then, the Ariel Square Four can hold its head high. Even in the company of the mythical machines toward which Edward Turner was moving!

Triumph Speed Twin

Triumph Speed Twin 1930s British classic motorcycle

On the face of it, the Triumph Speed Twin was the quintessence of Englishness. But, it had Germany to thank for its existence. In 1902, two Germans - Siegfried Bettman and Mauritz Schulte - grafted a Belgian-made Minerva motor onto a bicycle. Believe it or not, Triumph was in business! Three years later, the Coventry-based company produced its own engine. It obviously ran well. Before too long, 'Trusty Triumph' had become a part of motorcycling vernacular.

The Speed Twin was launched in '37. Its parallel-twin motor made it faster and smoother than its single-cylinder rivals. The 498cc motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 90mph - heady stuff, at the time. The new bike was the brainchild of Edward Turner. It displayed commercial courage - as well as styling skill. The motorcycle industry is inherently conservative. In other words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Single-cylinder 'thumpers' monopolized the market for years. Turner's Speed Twin broke the engine layout mould.

Mr. Turner did double-duty at Triumph. He was both head of design and general manager. His administrative tasks clearly did not impinge upon his creativity. The Speed Twin looked great standing still. And - with a dry weight of just 365lb - it looked even better, swinging through corners. Edward Turner - visionary that he was - had dreamed up a bike ahead of its time. The Triumph Speed Twin was a blueprint for many a motorcycle to come. 'Brit bikes' were on the march ... and coming to a showroom near you!

Scott Squirrel

Scott Squirrel British vintage motorcycle

Scott may not be the most famous manufacturer in motorcycling history - but it certainly has its place. As, indeed, does Scott's most celebrated bike, the Squirrel. The British marque won the Senior TT - in both 1912 and '13. And the Scott trial - which began in '14 - and became a bastion of off-road motorsport - was named after the Yorkshire firm. Founded in '08, Scott went on to produce finely-crafted motorbikes for decades to come.

Engineering excellence - forged in competition's crucible - flowed down into Scott roadsters. The Squirrel was the prime beneficiary. Squirrels came in several flavours. There were Super Squirrels, Sports Squirrels and Flying Squirrels. All came with a 596cc motor - mated to a 3-speed hand-change 'box. Squirrels handled well, looked and sounded good - and merrily skipped up to 70mph. In the Twenties, that was quick!

Squirrels were apt to be temperamental, though. Mechanically, they played up a bit, from time to time. And - with their hefty price-tags - that did not go down well with owners. As the model aged - and its cutting edge blunted - sales declined. To this day, though, there is many a motorcyclist who is nuts about Squirrels. With luck - over the years - a few of them were horded away. So, you never know ... Scott Squirrels may again be a common sight, on the highways and byways of Britain.

Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter 1940s British classic motorcycle

The Red Hunter was indigenous to the English Midlands. Ariel was based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. One of the original motorcycle manufacturers, it set up shop in 1902. By the '30s, Ariel was doing brisk business - so was in a position to attract top talent. That meant high-calibre designers like Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood. All three became icons of British bike-building. Turner, in particular, proved pivotal to the success of two-wheeled Triumphs.

Ariel produced a steady stream of stylish, yet practical machines. One of the best was the Red Hunter. It was among a batch of single-cylinder four-strokes from the firm. These bikes were a great success - and a godsend to Ariel. Financial woes forced the factory to close temporarily. Jack Sangster then took over the Ariel reins - from father Charles, the firm's founder. Sangster reached out to Val Page - requesting that he come up with something to save the sinking ship. Page's response was the Red Hunter. It would not be long before the ailing firm was up on its feet again.

The Red Hunter's top speed - 82mph - was pretty damned quick in '37. Especially, from a 497cc motor. To extract that stat from just 26bhp was testament to Ariel engineering. Sadly, suspension tech of the era was not in the same league. Namely, girder forks at the front - and a rigid rear end! Even so, Red Hunter handling was impressive - given the constraints. At least, a comfortably-sprung seat helped make up for the deficiencies. That said - with its push-rod single-pot motor - it was never going to be the smoothest of rides. At the time, though, the Red Hunter was a luxury product. Certainly, it looked the part - resplendent in its 'red robin' plumage. As classic bikes go, the Ariel Red Hunter was really quite refined. And could shift a bit, too!

Triumph Trident T150

Triumph Trident T150 1960s British classic motorcycle

Not even its most ardent fan would claim the Triumph Trident T150 to be the best-looking of bikes. Especially in the curve-conscious USA - where the Trident's straight-line styling was not to every taste. True - the Trident's 'ray-gun' silencer was Batman-flash. But that alone was not sufficient to rescue a somewhat staid design. Ergonomically, too, things were decidedly conventional. Particularly the 'sit up and beg' riding position. This was a British-built bike, after all … not a cool American cruiser. Styling-wise, it was more stiff upper lip!

On the performance chart, though, the Trident's spikes were higher. It made steady progress up to a top speed of 125mph. And there was high-quality handling, to match. Unfortunately for the Trident, the timing of its '69 launch was not great. The Honda CB750's release was just around the corner. And the Japanese machine's four-cylinder engine would usher in a new dawn for motorcycling.

Not that that mattered at the racetrack. The Triumph Trident would be etched into the annals of sporting history - by the legend that was 'Slippery Sam'. Percy Tait took the Trident-based racer to production TT triumph - from '71 through to '75. At Stateside circuits, too, Triumph triples blazed a trail. In large part, that was thanks to their Rob North frames. In '71, Gene Romero finished second at Daytona. His Triumph looked suitably resplendent in its blue-and-white fairing. A mixed review, then, for the Trident. While it was cheered to the echo at the citadels of racing, design-conscious road-riders were not always as rapturous. But if the Triumph Trident T150 was ever thought of as a tad dull - that was before its throttle was twisted!

Hesketh V1000

Hesketh V1000 1980s British sports bike

The Hesketh V1000 might be viewed as a mechanical folly. In production terms, was all the time, effort and expense incurred worthwhile? Not from a financial viewpoint, certainly. Only a few of them were sold, after all. Then again, an architectural folly stands tall - boldly proclaiming itself a glorious failure. Perhaps the Hesketh V1000 should do someththe same.

It was not as if the losses would hit Hesketh hard. After all, Lord Hesketh funded the F1 team which bore his name. Along with some sponsors, of course. Certainly, the noble lord did not lack for ambition. His goal with the V1000 was nothing less than the resurrection of the British bike industry. And he might have succeeded. All things considered, the V1000 was far from a bad bike. It was stylish, for starters. And, when it came to the cycle parts, everything was tickety-boo there, too. The frame was made from nickel-plated steel tubing. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Disc brakes by Brembo. As you would expect, then, the V1000 handled and stopped with aplomb. So far, so good! Why, then, did the bike fail? Did it, perhaps, have an Achilles' heel?

Lord Hesketh's choice of engine designer could not be faulted. Weslake were at the top of their game. What they did not know about 4-strokes was not worth knowing. But, something went badly awry. When tested, the V-twin was noisy - and prone to leak oil. The gearbox was basic, at best. That said, the twin-cam set-up, with four valves per pot, gave 86bhp - and did so smoothly. Top speed was a cool 120mph. So, things certainly were not all bad. Sadly, though, there were more than enough 'issues', to sow doubts in buyers' minds. Which was a shame. Because Lord Hesketh's vision for the V1000 could have led to a good British bike. Maybe even a great one. In true folly fashion, though, it finished up mere whimsy. The Hesketh V1000 promised so much - but delivered so little. Anyway - hats off to his Lordship for trying!

Triumph T120 Bonneville

Triumph T120 Bonneville 1960s British classic motorcycle

The Triumph T120 Bonneville must be among the most iconic motorbikes ever made. Indeed, its name alone is liable to induce weak knees in its devotees. The Bonnie - as it was dubbed - invokes visions of a time when the material world was made out of metal. Plastic, back then, was but a brittle blip on the horizon. Now, it goes without saying that the future of the planet comes before that of classic motorcycles ... well, it does, according to non-bikers, anyway! That said, the petroleum and oils of yesteryear had a 'spirit' - which today's sanitised synthetics singularly lack. Such 'aromatic' products were an essential part of the design icon that is the Triumph Bonneville.

It is ironic that a bike that so epitomises Sixties Britain should reference the US. Utah's Bonneville salt flats have long been the snow-white setting for many a piece of high-speed history. In '56, for example, Johnny Allen climbed aboard a Triumph Streamliner - and proceeded to gun it up to 214mph. The Triumph Bonneville roadster was good for just over half that. Still, 110mph was more than enough for most 'ton-up boys', at the time. Indeed, it allowed them 10mph leeway ... in case of headwinds, perhaps - or less than clean carbs! Bonnie aficionados spent so much time in the saddle that it became a virtual part of their anatomies. And that was pre-computer games!

In Triumph's glory days, the Bonneville was the beacon for the brand. Some quarter of a million Bonnies passed through the firm's Meriden factory gates. On the Isle of Man, a Bonneville won the Production TT - in '67. Two seasons later, and a Bonneville set the first 'proddy racer' 100mph lap of 'the island'. Those ton-up boys must have been in seventh heaven! And even on less celebrated roads, the Triumph T120 Bonneville was a legend in its own landscape. So, when the rockers decamped to the seaside, that infamous day in the Sixties - to do battle with the mods - it is a safe bet there was many a Bonnie blasting down to Brighton beach!