Short descriptions of vintage motorcycles

I suppose that many of my homepage-visitors are not so familiar with all these old motorcycle brand names. And not everybody will buy books immediately, to be informed about the history of motorcycles. That is why I intend to establish here pages within the next weeks (state March 2003) where you can find basic information about past motorcycles - of course only basic information! Perhaps it will be one day a (nearly) complete listing of old motorcycle brand names. Important for me is only one intention: to keep in mind, to remind of the pioneering work of motorcycle technique in the first half of the 20th century - without these painstaking development we would not have this high standard of technique as we have now…

Brough Superior
Gnôme Rhône
Harley Davidson
Laurin & Klement
MV Agusta
Royal Enfield


the first Adler-Motorcycle 1903

1886, Germany, established in Frankfurt/Main in 1886 by Heinrich Kleyer as a bicycle-factory (nearly all motor cycle makes derived from bicycle-factories). The first Adler motor cycle had be created in 1901, at first still with French engines, which had been replaced by their own since 1903. The essential breakthrough succeeded after the Second World War. In the Fifties the Adler models had been very popular for the "Six-days-Trials" ect. But already in 1956, already part of the Grundig-Group, Adler had to get into sales-community with Hercules and Triumph, before its history ended in 1958 definitely.


1897, Great Britain, Albert John Stevens was one of the five Stevens-brothers, who produced in a small factory at Wolverhampton high-quality machine parts. In 1909 then three brothers established the A. J. Stevens & Co Ltd, which will keep a prominent position in the history of motorcyles for the next 50 years. For the first time in 1921 a sensation happened at the TT of the Isle of Man: With a 350 cc AJS, which run about 120 km/h top speed, Eric Williams won the Junior-TT not only clear, but even the places two, three, four, six and eight had been made by AJS motorcyles! The AJS "Porcupine" became a famous model after the Second World War, among others due to the success of Jock West. The model "Boy Racer" developed to one of the most successful racing motorcyles for all times. In 1965 the factory stopped their last sporting activities and finally in 1968 the factory closed its doors for ever.


Ariel V-2 Sidecar with 6,7 h.p. 3 gears of 1923

1902, Great Britain, the probably most unusual and most popular model of that factory, producing from 1902 until 1966 at Birmingham, was the "Square Four": this was that 4-cyclinder-model, which was constructed for the first time not as common - four cylinder lengthways - but arranged in square! That is why the model got by on a shorter wheelbase. Originally the factory had been established in 1892 and had been grown out of a fusion of several smaller factories. The production had been stopped in 1965.

The Irish man Sammy Miller took care of great sports successes in Trial towards the end of relative long history of the mark. He won on the Trial-500-cm³-ohv-one-cyclinder five times one behind the other the British Trial Championship and had been two times the overall winner of the Scottish Six Days Trial.


Benelli 250 cm³ dohc, on which 1939 Ted Mellors won the TT

1911, Italy, “Mama” Theresa Benelli gathered their six sons around her and decided to establish a technical factory. This factory produced then from 1920 on the even today well known motorcyles. The first motor cycle had 98 cm³ and was a two-stroke-engine.

From 1927 Benelli had a 175 cm³ model with ohc driven by gear train. From 1930 this engine was fitted with a double ohc cylinder head and in 1935 the capacity was increased to 250 cm³. With this machine Ted Mellors won the 1939 Lightweight TT and in 1950 also won the race ridden by Dario Ambrosini In the Thirties the Benelli motorcyles had been found always among the best, besides Moto Guzzi and the English marks. 1951 at the French Grand Prix at Albi Ambrosini died on a Benelli, whereupon the company retired from the Grand Prix Sport.


Bianchi Sport 1927, 350 cm³

1897, Italy, one of the oldest motor cycle factory, Bianchi, closed its doors in 1967. Eduardo Bianchi the founder, constructed in 1897 a kind of small engine for bicycles, 1900 his first Bianchi-car and finally in 1903 his first motor cycle. Famous drivers had been Tazio Nuvolari, Dorino Serafini or the Scottish Bob McIntyre, which helped the company to great success.


Brough 1928, 4 cyl. 900 cm³ aircooled

1902, Great Britain, William Eduard Brough, mechanics and electronics engineer, constructed his first car already in 1898. Followed by a tricycle with a french De-Dion-engine and finally in 1902 his first motor cycle "All Brough". Between the wars the Brough had been countered as one of the most expensive and of course best motorcyles until the end of its production in 1940. His son founded in late 1919 his own factory producing the famous "Brough Superior", the "Rolls Royce" among the motorcyles. The probably most famous owner of one was T. E. Lawrence of Arabia. And in 1929 Herbert Le Vack claimed world record with 207,73 km/h, in 1937 Eric Fernihough renewed this record with 273,244 km/h on a Brough. In Austria there were two famous riders in the 20ies: the later on famous sports photographer Lothar Rübelt and the later on "engines-professor" Robert Eberan Eberhorst. As well as the Viennese Prof. Dr. Konrad Lorenz (behavioural research of animals).


BMW R 47/57 750 ohv 1929 in racing-trim with this bike Karl Stegmann rode 1929 in the 750 cm³ class in the Klausen-race to a new class record

1916, Germany, This famous German factory, situated at Munich, already built "The fastest motor cycle of the world" since 1929. But in road racing they came to the top not before 1937 with the Schleicher designed supercharged 500 cc works racer. In 1938 ridden by Georg Meier it won the European Championship and in 1939 also ridden by Georg Meier the Senior (500 cc) Tourist Trophy race in the Isle of Man. This was the first Senior-TT win by a foreigner of a non British machine.

In the pre-war times the factory also produced "Production Racing" models, the last one having been the R 51 RS in 1939 but these models were before the war never able to match the supercharged works racers. With the RS 54 introduced for the 1954 season BMW offered a new "Production Racer" which was able to compete with the technically nearly equal BMW works racer. In the following years many famous riders such as John Surtees (GB), Gerold Klinger (A) and the Germans Walter Zeller, Ernst Riedelbauch and Ernst Hiller gained numerous successes with this BMW RS 54 model.


Helmut Krackowizer on BSA, at the 1st-May-Race at Salzburg-Liefering

1861, Great Britain, Birmingham Small Arms had been called this factory first, which was a loose merger of 14 master armouries at Birmingham, founded 17th July 1861. At the beginning they produced weapons, but due to the lack of enough wars they had to look for other products. And this had been bicycles first, and later, in 1910 the first BSA-motor cycle.

In the year of anniversary of King George V, 1935 - he celebrated his Silver-reign-year - BSA launched the "Empire-Star" models on the market. It was the 30th June of 1937 when the famous English motor cycle racer Wal Handley, who already had announced his retreat of racing, entered with one of this models for an unimportant club race at Brooklands. And even he had to start with a handicap of 9 seconds in comparison with the other participants, he overtook the whole starter-field within the three laps of race and won with an average speed of 102,27 mph (164,55 km/h), having the fasted lap with an average of 107,57 mph (173,08 km/h). It was the hour of birth of the "Gold Star" model, so called after the golden star, which each rider got, succeeded in having a lap on the Brooklands race course faster than 100 miles (160 km/h).

After the Second World War the “Gold Star” model was the most successful motor cycle for private racing riders at the TT: in 1950 had been 41 BSA among 93 riders at the “Clubman TT”; 1952: 71 “Gold Stars” among 92 riders and the occupied 16 places among the first 20 riders. In 1961 the production of “Gold Star” models finished, allegedly in favour of the “Triumph Tiger 100”.

1964 and 1965 BSA was again two times successful with Jeff Smith in Motocross World Championship. 1971 even a BSA won the famous “200 Miles of Daytona”. But then it followed the financial decline ending 1973 in the sale to the Norton-Villiers-Triumph-group.

My father was a BSA-merchant in the early 50ieth in his hometown Vöcklabruck (Upper Austria) and enthusiastic rider of one.


one of the two constructed Chater-Lea works-racer for the TT 1928

1900, Great Britain, the most famous modelswere the sv 990 cc V-Twin, the 5454 cc sv single and the Woodmann-designed 348 cc face-cam ohc single; this machine, developed and ridden by Dougal Marchant, won the world's flying kilometre record with a speed of 102,99 mph in 1926; the Austrian rider Michael Geyer won many races with the "Camshaft" model;



1922, Czechoslovakia, the design of this machine - see picture - was derived from the Excelsior Manxman by Jaroslav Walter, Czech Republic, and started road racing in 1946. In 1950 the design was taken over by CZ (Cesky Zbrojoveska) which produced a 250 cc version with a frame of their own design and using a swinging arm rear suspension. In 1953 with the engine size increased to 350 cc this racing machine ridden by the Austrian Leonhard Fassl won the Austrian Championship title in its class.