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

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 1960s British classic motorcycle

Royal Enfield may not be quite so celebrated as some of its 'Brit bike' brethren. Its logo, though, adorned a long line of sturdy, but stylish motorcycles. A perfect example was the Interceptor 750.

Power output for the Interceptor was 53bhp. Revs rose smoothly to 6,000rpm. Those stats no doubt impressed American - as well as British - buyers. Which was good, because the bike - and its 750cc capacity - were largely targeted at the US market. Indeed, the excellence of the Interceptor's engine made up for 'deficiencies' in other departments. The front brake, for example, was not the most reassuring ever made. And the forks could have been firmer.

Eventually, Royal Enfield suffered a financial meltdown. Sadly, it was one from which it never recovered. The Interceptor range had been in production throughout the Sixties. It might not have been at the cutting edge of Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology', but the 750 certainly showcased some of the best of British innovation. After the collapse, the rights to Royal Enfield were licensed to India. In time, the marque became part of the 'retro revival' marketing boom. For sure, the Interceptor 750 helped inspire it. Royal Enfield now has the kudos of being the oldest motorcycle manufacturer still shipping product. Long may that continue!

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!

AJS Model 30

AJS Model 30 1950s British classic motorcycle

AJS - Albert John Stevens - set up shop in 1909, in Wolverhampton, England. Though the firm bore Albert's initials, it was in fact a Stevens family concern. In its own right, it lasted until '31. After that, the AJS brand-name went through several changes of ownership. Pay attention, as this does get complicated. First off, AJS was subsumed into Matchless - based in Plumstead, London. Then, in '38, the AJS marque merged into AMC - Associated Motor Cycles. In '67, AMC were taken over by Norton Villiers - along with AJS. Two years later - in '69 - the 'classic' period of the AJS timeline came to an end. So - in the sixty years since its founding - AJS lived through a sizeable chunk of modern British history! Because of its connections to several other big British brands, it can be seen as something of a hybrid. The Model 30 was released in '56. As a result of all the marque-mixing, it was in many ways the exact same machine as the Matchless G11! Well, apart from the AJS livery and exhaust set-up. Matchless were keen to keep AJS devotees onside. So, the 'two' bikes were effectively twinned. In like manner - following the AMC takeover - some 'AJS' stock had Norton parts fitted. Classic bike nerds never had it so good!

At the circuits, though, things were much simpler. AJS won a lot of races! In 1914, its race team took the Junior TT title. Finer feats were to follow. In '49, AJS made racing history by winning the first 500cc World Championship. Les Graham rode a Porcupine twin to the title. Was that painful? He had previously been an RAF pilot - in World War II. One cannot help but wonder which was the more exciting! Arguably the most iconic AJS competition bike, however, was the 'Boy Racer'. A single-cylinder machine, the 350cc 7R hit the grid in '48. The 7R's motor was subsequently enlarged to 500cc - to power the Matchless G50 racer. So, it was not just AJS roadsters which mixed and matched with sibling marques, so to speak.

The Model 30's 593cc engine powered it to a top speed of 95mph. The bike handled well, into the bargain. It was also comfortable, reliable and economical. In other words, the Model 30 was a paragon of motorcycling virtue. Entirely fitting, then, that a company of the calibre of AJS was the source of its two-wheeled excellence. Saying that, AJS did make cars as well. Though not, perhaps, to the same standard. In the opinion of Model 30 owners, at any rate!

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!

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!

Douglas Dragonfly

Douglas Dragonfly 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Douglas Dragonfly broke the motorcycle mould. BMW is now almost synonymous with the flat-twin layout. Other marques, too, though, have used that venerable engine configuration. Not least, Douglas. The firm was based in Bristol, England. Its early models saw the motor fitted inline with the frame. The two pistons went at it hammer and tongs - 'punching' their way fore and aft. The Dragonfly, though, saw them slung transversely across the frame - à la BMW 'Boxer'. In any case, the Dragonfly made good progress - cruising at around 60mph. Beyond that optimal speed, however, performance tailed off dramatically. Ultimately, that would lead to the Dragonfly's decline.

Design-wise, the Dragonfly was on solid ground. If anything, slightly too solid. Does the way in which the headlamp nacelle flow into the fuel tank look a bit like a dragonfly? Possibly! Certainly, the Earles forks - and robust rear shocks - visually complemented each other. And - above them - the bike's logo was elegantly scripted. The Dragonfly's flat-twin powerplant was itself impressively wrought.

In '23, Douglas won at the TT. It was in the sidecar category. Freddie Dixon did the driving. Again, that historic outfit's 'boxer' motor was installed inline. The year before, on the 'island', a Douglas solo racer had been fitted with a delicate-looking little disc brake. Douglas, then, were innovating - technically and stylistically. And - when it comes to nomenclature - the Douglas Dragonfly must be one of the most poetically-named bikes of all time. Buzzin', basically!

Velocette Venom Thruxton

Velocette Venom Thruxton 1960s British classic motorcycle

Velocette was a stylish name for a motorcycle manufacturer. But, it did build sleek, sophisticated products. The Venom Thruxton was one of them. Venom aptly described the ferocity of the bike's tuned engine. Thruxton was, and still is, a racetrack - near Andover, England. That, too, was appropriate - since the circuit's free-flowing layout is tailor-made to give race bikes their head.

The Thruxton was first and foremost a roadster. That said, it was easily converted to Clubmans spec. As a production - or 'proddy' - racer, it provided the best of both worlds. Along with its potent motor, it boasted rock-solid suspension, light-alloy wheel-rims, and a twin-leading-shoe front brake. On the open road, the Thruxton cruised at 90mph. That was good going in '65 - especially from a single-pistoned machine.

The Thruxton was purposefully styled. Finessed features were a fishtail silencer and ventilated front drum brake. The Venom's jet-black paintwork was moodier than Marlon Brando - on a bad day! The cursive script of the Velocette logo set off a sweetly-shaped tank, to a tee. A combination, then, of rugged good looks and raw power, the Venom Thruxton spat two-wheeled poison. Best not get too close to it ... and the alluring aroma of its Castrol R oil!

BSA DBD34 Gold Star

BSA DBD34 Gold Star 1950s British classic motorcycle

In a hit parade of the best all-time classic motorcycles, the BSA DBD34 Gold Star would be in with a bullet. And of the plethora of bikes produced by the 'Birmingham Small Arms' company, the Gold Star went straight to 'number 1'. The 'Goldie' wrote the book on classic bike charisma. Its name was a tribute to Walter Handley's 100mph lap of the UK's most famous banked oval racetrack. Handley was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star, for his high-speed trouble.

The Goldie was a great-looking machine. Race-style, clip-on 'bars crouched over a chrome tank - emblazoned with the Gold Star badge. Below, focus flowed from a gaping Amal carburettor - through the finned cylinder-block - to a stylish swept-back pipe. Such visual extravagance was matched technically. The Gold Star roadster had a straight-line speed of 110mph.

In sporting terms, the Gold Star was a versatile competitor. It shone not only in road racing - but in motocross and trials, too. '56 saw the bike's stellar début - at the Isle of Man Clubmans TT. The BSA DBD34 Gold Star was a café racer dream come true. Fast-forward a few decades ... and there is many a classic motorbike fan still dreaming!

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!