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1938 Model A and a short history of the British Royal Enfield
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Description: Royal Enfield Motorcycles were not the best-selling Classic British Motorcycles, but they were often unique and interesting.  Like so many British Motorcycle Companies at the time, Royal Enfield started out making bicycles in 1893 as the Enfield Manufacturing Company Ltd.   By 1899, they’d build their first Quadricycle with a DeDion engine.   They added “Royal” to the Enfield name.   In 1912 they started racing with their Royal Enfield Model 80, powered by a 770cc JAP V-twin, enjoying some success at the Isle of Man TT & Brooklands.

WWI brought rich contracts from both the British War Department and Imperial Russia for 3 different models: a 225cc two-stroke; a 425cc V-twin; and an 8hp sidecar rig with a Vickers machine gun mounted on it.  With war’s end, Royal Enfield Motorcycles concentrated on the civilian market with a new 976cc V-twin in 1921 and their first 4-stroke single with a JAP 350cc engine.  Saddle tanks & center-sprung girder front forks (state-of-the-art for the day, and Royal Enfield Motorcycles was one of the first to adopt it) were added in 1928.

Despite all this, the company was in dire financial straights, but limping along.  In 1931, one of the founders, Albert Eddie dies, then 2 years later, his parter RW Smith dies also.  Times were tough, the Depression had set in, but Royal Enfield Motorcycles managed to keep it going.  WWII hit at just the right time and again they were flooded with lucrative government contracts for gobs of military motorcycles, a collection that included a 250cc side-valve (SV), a 350cc SV, two 350cc OHVs, a 570cc SV and the most famous of them all, “The Flying Flea”.  The Flea was a lightweight, rugged 125cc two-stroke that could be parachuted in with airborne troops.  To avoid bombing, a brand new factory was built underground in Westwood, England, where it was found that the constant temperatures were ideal for making not only motorcycles, but “predictor” detonators for anti-aircraft artillery shells.

After the war, Royal Enfield Motorcycles resumed civilian production with the 350cc OHV Model G single and the 500cc OHV Model J single, both with rigid frames and telescopic forks.  In 1948 they unveiled their ground-breaking new swing arm rear suspension 350cc OHV Bullet.  By the late 1950s, Royal Enfield was struggling again financially and so sold manufacturing rights and tooling to Madras Motors in India and production of 350cc Royal Enfield Bullets commenced in India, where it continues to this day.

Royal Enfield was still building bikes themselves at their Bradford-on-Avon factory in England.  

In 1949, they joined the Vertical Twin Race with their own 500cc Royal Enfield Meteor.  By 1953, they produced the 700cc Super Meteor (hoping to trump Triumph & BSA who only had 650s) then  in 1962 the 750cc Interceptor.  All the while, they built lots of 250cc OHV Royal Enfield Crusaders. They also dabbled in two-strokes, like the Villiers-engined 250 Turbo Twin. Nothing seemed to add up to the sales they needed to survive.

By this time, the horsepower race was on, the Japanese were on their way and everyone was pumping up their bikes for more power.  Royal Enfield followed suit with its Series I & Series II 750cc Interceptor, now good for a 13-sec quarter mile at 105 mph.  The US loved the bike, but cash-strapped Royal Enfield was unable to produce them in large enough volumes quickly enough to meet the demand.  That and a reputation for leaking oil (earning them the nickname “Royal Oilfield”) lead to their final slide into insolvency.  By 1967, production has stopped and by 1970, the factory was closed for good, at which time Royal Enfield was acquired by Manganese Bronze Holdings and added to Norton-Villiers and soon the end of English made Royal Enfield motorcycles.

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Posted by: Bill Harris October 21, 2012, 01:29:23 pm

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