Ole Iron

1905 Minerva

Minerva was one of great names in the early days of the motorcycle. The machines manufactured by Minerva were the first practical, lightweight proprietary units to enter the market. Their advanced designs ,they were employing OHV by 1903, and superb quality made Minerva the supplier of choice for many producers including Triumph, Ariel, Matchless and Royal Enfield. By the end of 1902, Minerva was supplying engines to more than 75 cycle factories in Britain and Europe


The legend of Excelsior begins in 1876 and, by the time they had built their first motorcycle in 1905, Excelsior had 30 years of experience in engineering frames and bike components. The first bike they built was a speed machine. It was not until 1910 that their iconic 1000cc V-Twin was introduced.Later the Schwinn Company bought Excelsior. Two months after the acquisition, Excelsior became the first motorcycle to officially ‘turn the ton’. In 1913, it was the first motorcycle to offer “complete control in the handlebars” and, by 1914, Excelsior was proving to be one of the most successful manufacturers of motorcycles in the world. As production had increased to meet the demand, a new factory became necessary, it was state of the art for the time and included a test track on the roof! In 1915, Excelsior delivered the cream with the release of the now-legendary 1,000cc ‘Big Value X’ which was also the first three-speed machine. It was advertised as the ‘Fastest Motorcycle ever’ which, in 1915, was nothing more than a truism.

1915 Triumph 550 Model H CHAIN CUM BELT

1922 Triumph 550 Model H

1924 AJS Sports Deluxe 350cc

The racing pedigree of AJS that instilled future generations with respect for the black and gold can be traced back to the enormous success pilots achieved on the well-founded AJS 350cc single SV. When the Junior Isle of Man TT raised the size limit to 350cc in 1914, the AJS motorcycle, which had grown to 349cc with four-speed gears and final chain drive, won first, second, third, fourth and sixth places. The market’s demand for the 350cc was immediate and so strong that the company was forced to expand, shifting operations to a new factory built around Graiseley House on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. On 3 November 1916, the Ministry of Munitions prohibited the production of non-military motorcycles. AJS shifted to manufacturing munitions until, in early 1917, the Ministry received an order from Russia for military vehicles. AJS was given a contract to produce part of the order with its AJS Model D machine. This order kept AJS busy until Ministry of Munitions’ restrictions were lifted in January 1919.When production of the 350 resumed in 1920, it was much improved. The side-valve engine was replaced by a new overhead-valve design that produced 10bhp. It also had internal expanding brakes and chain primary drive. Cyril Williams won the first post-war 1920 Junior Isle of Man TT race on his 350, even though he had to push the motorcycle home for almost four miles (mostly downhill) after a breakdown. In 1921, AJS took the first four places in the Isle of Man TT, and Howard R Davies bettered his second place in the Junior by winning the Senior on the same 350cc AJS, marking the first time a 350 had won the 500cc Senior TT race. In 1922, Manxman Tom Sheard won the Junior TT on an AJS, while G Grinton (also on an AJS) took second.The 1922 machine was a classic design that would become famous as the ‘Big Port’ due to its large-diameter exhaust port and pipe (initially 1 5/8 inches, but this changed in successive years). The overhead valve 350 would be the mainstay of the company’s racing efforts until 1927, and the most popular sports motorcycle through the 1920s for the production team. At this time, the company produced a comprehensive range of other models ranging from 250 to 1,000cc. Each of these was generally given a model number, plus letter to denote the year of manufacture (for example, E meant 1924, F 1925, G 1926).

1925 BSA Flat Tank

Founded at a time of national crisis, The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) is an example of how history repeats itself as the birth and subsequent growth of BSA was directly related to periods of national crisis. In 1692 and then again at the outbreak of the Crimean War (I854-56) and then finally at the outbreak of WWI in 1914 BSA stepped up to mark and plowed vast amounts of resource to ensure British victory. During the Great War BSA were producing the some 10,000 rifles per week, and the hundreds of thousands of shell fuses and aero components that were required to fuel and replenish the vast destruction the Great War created in its wake. They also produced field transport which proved reliable and critical in terms of ensuring front line communications were maintained. The BSA offered here reflects that era of design. When hostilities finally ceased in 1918, BSA quickly refocused its effort towards feeding the huge civilian demand for personal transport.

1926 Douglas

The Douglas Engineering Company, formed in Bristol by brothers William and Edward in 1882, was at first a blacksmith’s shop but soon expanded to become an iron foundry. After the turn of the century and the advent of the motor vehicle, the brothers soon became involved in the development of engines. They were renowned for horizontally opposed twin-cylinder bikes and as manufacturers of furious speedway machines. There were no less than five incarnations of the Douglas throughout its somewhat bumpy history. Despite this, Douglas enjoyed competitive success and helped establish the flat twin as a practical engine layout for motorcycles. This configuration lowered the centre of gravity and provided a smooth delivery of power. The attractive external fly wheel was also a signature mark which, when lightly struck, produced a wonderfully clear and consistent note. The native timber hand grips and brake pads were a common solution, as the demands of WWII placed pressure on the rubber supply. For the same reason, the main belt drive was constructed from canvas layers. The final model, the Dragonfly, still a horizontally opposed twin, was announced in 1954 with production finally ending in 1957.

1929 AJS 250cc SV M Series

J. Stevens & Co. was established by Joe Stevens in 1856 in Wedensfield, Wolverhampton as a blacksmith works. He and his wife had nine children, all of whom became involved in the business. Inspired by the poor performace of a Mitchel engine, by 1897 sons Harry and Joe had built an engine which outperformed the American unit. It was immediately evident where the future of the family business lay, and the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company of Wolverhampton was established in 1899. They originally built only engines which were installed by other manufacturers, but by 1911 (or 1912) were building their own machines. The firm of Albert John Stevens (AJS) was incorporated in 1909 and went on to become one of the pillars of the British motorcycle industry, reaching its peak in the 1920’s. With a serious focus on race development AJS held over 100 world records by the 1930.

1929 BSA Sloper Deluxe 500


Triumph’s first ‘modern’ motorcycle, the 500cc two valve two-port ohm Model TT, was developed by Victor Horsman, a Brooklands racer/tuner of the day. His design superseded the Riccy Model R which was subsequently dropped. Horsman’s two-valve design would be the basis of Triumph engine design until Val Page’s models in 1934. Between 1923 and 1926, Victor Horsman developed and raced his own version of an overhead valve cylinder. By 1924, he had also built a new frame geometry. With displacement variations of this engine of 498cc, 596cc, 599cc and 607cc, Horsman broke many British and World solo and sidecar speed records during 1923 and through to 1926. It was not long before Triumph approached Horsman and negotiated the acquisition of his design for £1,500. Triumph immediately announced that they would be putting the famous ‘Victor Horsman’ Triumph into production. Thus, in October or November 1926, they commenced the production of what was debatably Triumph’s most-successful sporting Vintage Triumph. It was certainly Triumph’s first modern motorcycle that offered a 500cc two valve, two-port, OHV Model TT. The Model TT continued for the 1928 season, unchanged apart from a Doherty quick-action twist grip being a standard fitting and the fuel tank changing, with all other 1928 models, to the new colours of black with saxe blue (sky/pale blue) panels. Also, the previous nickel-plated wheel rims became gold-lined black. Most Triumph models had their flat-tanks replaced by saddle tanks for 1929, and the Model TT was no exception, with the saddle tank, it was renamed as the Model ST (Saddle Tank!). It is believed that approximately 450 model ST’s were produced. The number was surprisingly small and this may have been because the speed limit of the day was a grim 20mph, which was entirely irrelevant to anyone capable of piloting this high-performance period piece.

1930 Raleigh 500 OHV Twin Port

Raleigh’s history of motorcycle production can be traced back to 1887 when Frank Bowden was told by his physician that he should try bicycling for his health. Riding his first pushbike at the age of 38, Bowden was impressed and went to Raleigh Street, in Nottingham, to find its makers. There he met Woodhead, Angois and Ellis, a three-man team which built the bikes under their own names. Bowden immediately offered to purchase their bicycle-manufacturing business. Like many bicycle manufacturers of the day, Frank Bowden saw the potential of combining combustion technology with bicycle geometry. Launching his new venture with the rather bland slogan of Raleigh: Motor Cyclogy for the Utility Rider, it is not surprising that, like so many others of the day, they failed to engage with the contemporary rider. They closed their doors for the first time in 1906. Not giving up, however, Raleigh acquired Sturmey Archer patents in 1919 and Raleigh refocused its motoring ambition. Producing motors and gearboxes for a number of firms, Raleigh also developed a range of its own motorcycles. The MH30 was the large-capacity OHV engine which owed much of its success to the influence of designer – rider D.R. O’Donovan – who defected from Norton to Raleigh in the late 1920s. Relatively modern, the MH30 offers a two-port design, forward-mounted magnetos, three-speed gearbox, a diamond frame and Raleigh girder forks. Add to this its attractive saddle tank with original cream panels and you have one very handsome and original machine. Offering immaculate provenance with relatively low miles, this Raleigh is a superb and rare example of English engineering.

1930 Sunbeam Light Speed

Entering the market in 1912, Sunbeam managed to build machines that both enthralled and charmed. Among the last of the old order, Sunbeam’s Model 9 was the road-going version of the highly successful TT and GP Sunbeam race bikes, which won the Isle of Man Senior in 1920, 1922, 1928 and 1929. With this race pedigree, the Model 9 was a high-quality motorcycle aimed at the gentleman speed merchant. Capturing the essence of the vintage era with its tall single-cylinder motor and rare single port configuration the Model 9 Sunbeam was famous for being built by meticulous craftsmen. John Greenwood’s design was advanced for its day, with a specification which included a crankshaft supported by three ball-bearings, dry-sump lubrication and primary drive enclosed in a cast alloy chain case. Power was transmitted by single-row chain to a three-speed, ‘cross-over drive’ gearbox. Exacting machines, the Sunbeam for many reflected all that was desirable and necessary in a good machine. By the late 1920s, the public adored them and riders craved them. However, a new decade was approaching and the era of the entrepreneur engineer was coming to an end. Sunbeam had achieved more than most, in what was a golden age of motorcycle design.

1936 Ariel Red Hunter

Created by legendary designer Val Page and further developed by Edward Turner, the Red Hunter was originally produced as a sports version of the overhead-valve, single-cylinder engine constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The tuned version of the four-valve eventually went on to offer a racing carburettor and magneto. Ariel’s record of reliability and quality control demanded that each and every engine was run for two hours on a test bench. The aesthetic finish of the Red Hunter reflects the strong deco influence of the day: plenty of chrome and a deep-lustre red to centre the machine through the wheels and tank line. The merits of the Red Hunter were recognised by the privateers, who put it to task within the demanding, and at times totally destructive, pastime of grass-track racing and trials. It also became a highly successful road tourer. When production ceased in 1959, the Red Hunter had secured a loyal tribe, cultivated since the late 1930s. This twin-port example offers girder forks, tank-top instrument controls and a four-speed Burman gearbox with modern foot change levers, which manages the delivery of the +120kph capability.

1937 Velocette KSS

Extremely well weighted with strong constant power delivery, the 350 overhead cam configuration provided three essential qualities any classic machine requires: high speed, economy and wickedly good looks.


Legend has it that this machine is one of only three ever produced by the highly admired Excelsior (UK) marque which, during the 1930s, produced some of the most desirable high-performance machines of the day. Designated the G9, the 350cc powerplant was designed by the very capable Blackburne engineering factory which, at the time, had a reputation for building fast and reliable motors (in 1933, Excelsior produced a winning motorcycle with a special Blackburne engine known as the Mechanical Marvel – so called because of four radial valves opened by twin high-camshafts using push-rods and rockers, twin carburettors and drysump lubrication). However, as was pointed out to me by a certain Mr Barnes, 1936 was the last year of Blackburne engine manufacturing and it is likely that the last engines were cast and built in Birmingham and erected at Excelsior, this further reinforces the rarity of this machine.

1938 Triumph Tiger 80

One of the most important motorcycles designed by Triumph, the Tiger series quite literally saved the marquee from collapse.(Refer also Lot 38). Struggling to survive, Triumph had been losing money for six years during the Great Depression and was under strong pressure from its board to concentrate on car production – an entirely unpalatable suggestion for a company with such a strong two-wheeled heritage.However, inspiration came from an unlikely quarter: Ariel Motorcycles’ Managing Director Jack Sangster had brought his company ‘back from the black’ with the legendary Ariel Square Four (refer Lot 18, 30) and was persuaded by its designer, Edward Turner, to take over Triumph. Doing so in 1936, Sangster appointed Turner to run the Triumph motorcycle division; on top of this, Bert Hopwood was offered the role as head designer. The dream team was created and in 1937 they announced the Tiger series. Turner had designed a new range of fast, lightweight singles which were marketed as the Tiger 70, 80 and 90 (with the model number representing the top speed); they were beautifully balanced and finished. It proved to be a landmark year for Triumph.A brilliant performer on the road and an absolute stunner on the showroom floor, the genius of Edward Turner and Bert Hopwood is written all over the exercise. The Tiger 80 is, without question, a critical juncture in the history of Triumph motorcycling.

1939 Triumph Tiger 100 GP

In a world that was increasingly concerned with the Spanish, Italian and German interests in all things fascist, and after having struggled through years of depression, Britain was desperate for something to help lift the gloom and roll out a carpet to a better, cleaner, brighter and faster future. Enter the Speed Twin; designed by Ed Turner and released to the market in 1937, this small and very distinct gem twinkled in a world of despair, a world that would become more despairing in the years that followed. The smooth and powerful design was an instant success and marked the British industry’s fruitful obsession with the parallel twin configuration. A sports version of the Speed Twin was soon launched and baptised the Tiger 100, as shown here. Offering a higher compression ratio of 8:1, slipper pistons, polished internals, quickly detachable silencer end-caps (thereby converting the silencers to megaphones) and optional alloy bronze head (as offered here), the T100 was a true 100mph machine capable of giving the best of the competition something to worry about. Soon after T100’s successful launch the Triumph factory was destroyed by German bombers bringing the production of the T100 to an abrupt end until after the war. Fewer than 300 bronze head T100’s are believed to have been produced. However, not all was lost. As the sirens screamed their hideous warning, a young Triumph employee rushed towards the factory to grab as many of the drawings and blueprints that he could get his hands on before the Luftwaffe dropped its bombs. That heroic man was none other than Mr Wickles, the young art designer responsible for giving life to Ed Turner’s engineering vision.


Produced between 1920 and 1949, the Indian Scout rivaled the Chief as Indian’s most important model. Lean, economical and powerful to boot, the Scout proved exceedingly versatile and captured the design mood of the day where function and form were demanded in equal parts. However, by 1932, the depression was taking its toll and cost-cutting led to Indian designing a new basic frame for 1932 that would form the basis for the Scout, Chief and Four frames. The 1932 Standard Scout, which was based on this new frame, was stronger but heavier than was the previous model with the 101 frame and was less competitive. As a result, the negative reaction to this Scout led to the creation of the Sport Scout of 1934 which offered a light frame, girder forks, improved carburation and alloy cylinder heads. In 1937, the Sport Scout won the first Daytona 200. Ironically, the bulletproof design of the Indian Scout meant it was consigned, by popular demand, to front line action during WWII. The most common military version was known as the 741, which was its VIN designation.

1942 Harley Davidson WLA 750CC Flathead

Harley-Davidson began producing the WLA in small numbers in 1940, as part of a general military expansion. The later entry of the United States into World War II saw production increase significantly, with over 90,000 machines being produced during the war (along with spare parts which were the equivalent of many more). Based on an existing civilian model, the WL, the WLA series at the time was the newest incarnation of the 45-cubic-inch (740cc) flathead motor and was developed from the earlier R family of 1932 to 1936. The ‘L’ indicated that the motor was high compression and the ‘A’ stood for Army, hence WLA.Unusually, all the WLAs produced after Pearl Harbor, regardless of the actual year, would be given serial numbers indicating 1942 production. Thus, wartime machines would come to be known as 42WLAs – this being an ode to the terrible events of 1942 that ensured the US would enter and define the outcome of World War II. In army guise, the WLA was a welcome sight for anyone living in occupied Europe, as it was very often the first indication of allied presence in occupied territory; this is how it acquired the name of  ‘The Liberator’. After the war, many of the WLAs in Western hands were sold as surplus and ‘civilianised’. Given the vast numbers produced for the war, the WLA became by far the most accessible and cheapest large-capacity motorcycle available. More still, the WLA filled a special place in the hearts of the thousands of returned serviceman who had endured the terrible reality of war and had relied on the awesome frontline character of the WLA. With this, the popularity of the WLA can be directly attributed to the rise of a generation of returning soldiers who were set adrift in what was then considered normal society but felt like outsiders. In response, thousands of returned servicemen cut loose and walked out the door, picked up a WLA and chopped it. It was from this conjuncture of the 20th century and this bike that the chopper and the culture that it spawned were born – it seemed the WLA was also a liberator on the home front. On offer here is a classic early chopper with its black low-slung lines circling the robust WLA power unit: a unit that was tried and tested on the front. The 42WLA and variations of the WL (post-war) were, for the majority of their lives, considered slow and outdated; however, they were also as strong as bulls and indestructible. And the fact is, they still are.

1949 Ariel Square Four 1000cc Mark I

Over its 27 years of production, the Square Four evolved through progressive advancements attaining limitless reserves of pulling power and innate smoothness. The model was a longstanding and highly successful design for Ariel. The SQ4 has also been openly referenced by Japanese marques as a key influence in their early pursuit of the perfect four-cylinder machine. Designed by Edward Turner his design philosophy foreshadowed decades of modern design. He stated that he merely sought to deliver ultimate reliability and performance with minimum attentions

1951 PANTHER 600CC

The Panther Model 100, an OHV 600cc single, was launched. This heavyweight single ‘sloper’ was the epitome of the big British banger ‘firing once every lamp post’. Promoted as ‘The Perfected Motorcycle’, it was noted for innovation for most of its history. However, this reference had a touch of irony by 1950 when the marque reintroduced the manual advance/retard. Putting this Britishism aside, the Panther 100 remains an awfully handsome and torque-soaked machine. Its build quality remained a benchmark for decades and its simple and fairly robust powerplant continues to inspire enormous enthusiasm in its owners. These factors, combined with relatively low cost, make the Panther a rare and desirable classic.


The Sunbeam S7 and S8 were designed by Erling Poppe and based on the BMW R75 designs that were acquired by BSA (together with the full rights to the Sunbeam brand) at the end of World War II. The machine was built in Redditch and the engine layout was an unusual in-line 500cc twin which drove a shaft drive to the rear wheel. The early S7 was expensive and over-engineered, the S7 De Luxe and the S8 were redesigned to reduce expense and complexity, while retaining many of the innovative parts of the early Sunbeam and updating some ideas such as the rubber-mounted overhead-camshaft engine, shaft drive and plunger rear suspension. Described as ‘The world’s most magnificent motorcycle’, it was priced at £222.0s.0d.


Announced in 1949, Triumph’s 650 Thunderbird was first in the field with a 650 parallel twin. Turner had travelled the US and come back with demands from the local race fraternity for more power. A spectacular launch stunt saw three Thunderbirds lap the banked Montlhery circuit in France at over 90mph for 500 miles, after which they each achieved a flying lap of 100mph-plus and were ridden back to the Meriden factory, a quite outstanding achievement. The T6 was etched into popular culture and carried the leader of the The Black Rebels Motorcycle Club, Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando), into Carbonville, California. With its aesthetic lineage reaching back into the art-deco period, the Thunderbird remained in production in fundamentally its original form, though with progressively updated cycle parts, until the arrival of the unit-construction 650 range in 1962. The last year that Triumph was fully owned by Triumph Engineering was 1951, BSA purchased Triumph shortly after this bike was made.

1951 Velocette MAC 350

It’s 1933 and the MAC is born! And although no one seems able to explain the meaning of the AC designation in MAC, this is of little importance as the mysterious acronym looks and sounds good, just like the machine itself. The M-series started with a 250cc overhead valve (MOV) motor. The MAC 350 followed, offering a hair-raising 75mph from its 349cc long stroke high-camshaft pushrod engine, which was equipped with short rocker arms which successfully reduced the unpleasant and damaging effects of vibration. The MAC also offered a four-speed gearbox and started life with a Webb (girder-style) front fork. The MAC became an instant classic as a smooth, straightforward, slim-line, single-cylinder machine, ripe for privateer racing. Evolving over 30 years, the MAC benefited from the marque’s race development and a dedication to quality finish.In 1951, front suspension changed to Velocette’s own tele-fork system; this offered conventional coil springs and oil damping. In June, the engine sprouted a new all-alloy barrel and head (as offered here) with wider fins, better cooling and raised compression ratio (up to 6.75:1). Known as the best of the 350s, the MAC was capable of keeping up with any of the contemporary 500s. The MAC epitomised everything rank-and-file riders loved about Velocettes: bullet proof, fast and reliable. It was also capable of sustaining radical reconfiguration and monstrous power output: such was the case with Burt Munro’s record-breaking Velocette.

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