British motorcycle manufacturers - A

Last update June 6, 2003

Abbotsford 1919-20, made an early scooter with 1 1/5 hp engines.
ABC All British Cycle, also All British Engine Company. Made motorcycles around the turn of the century, starting with a 500cc twin in 1913. Founder Granville Bradshaw also designed a unit-construction horizontally-opposed ('flat') twin for Sopwith Aircraft in 1914. The company had a long association with Sopwith as innovators of several designs for the latter. In 1918, ABC made a transversely-mounted flat twin engine, five years before BMW adopted the design. Their Sopwith 398cc 'Machine' model of 1919 was innovative enough to cause a sensation at the annual Motor Cycle Show, using a front and rear leaf springs, internal front and rear expanding brakes and a cradle frame, footboards and leg shields. The company also made a 123cc scooter (Skootamota, 1919-22). After the war, production problems caused rising costs, and their initial popularity died. Production of all bikes ceased in 1923 although their German factory continued to make them until 1925. An unrelated British company called ABC made belt-drive bikes using 250 and 270cc Villiers engines from 1920-24.

Another company called ABC, not associated with Granville Bradshaw,  made small 247 and 269cc motorcycles with Villiers engines in Birmingham, 1922-24.

Aberdale London firm that made a single model of 98cc Villiers-powered autocycle from 1947-49. Later changed name to Bown and made 50cc machines until 1959..
Abingdon Started making motorcycles in 1903 with a 2.5 hp Minerva engine (as Coxeter & Sons) and also used Fafnir engines. Changed name to Abingdon-Ecco. Made its own four-stroke 350cc single and 794cc V-twin engines. Joined with East London Rubber Co. to make Kerry-Abingdon motorcycles from 1907-1915. Continued after WW1 with the V-twin, plus two large singles (499 and 623cc). Both dropped in 1926, but company continued with a  174cc OHV in 1927 until 1933. Joined with King Dick Spanners in 1926 and the company was soon known as AKD. Also known as Abingdon/AKD. Also supplied engines to other manufacturers. Closed in 33.
ABJ Founded in 1949 by A.B. Jackson, who made the pre-war Raynal. Made 98cc Autocycle models 1F, 2F and 49cc Auto Minor, all based on bicycle frames. Ceased production in 1953.
ABW  
Ackland 1919-24
Acme Started making motorcycles in 1902 with small Minerva and French engines. After WW1, started with a 1,000cc side-valve V-twin and 350cc singles. Merged with Rex to become Rex-Acme in 1922, closing in 1933.
Advance 1906-12 (1905-07?) Northampton, built singles & twins.
AEL 1919-24. originally a bicycle dealer, started production after WW1. Used JAP, Villiers and Blackburne engines from 147cc to 350cc.
Aeolus Built by Bown (after 1920 was builder of the 269cc Villiers engine).1914-16, used its own engine.
AER A.E. Reynolds, a Scott dealer, started with Scott-based twin-cylinder, air-cooled unit-construction motorcycle in 1937 (Reynolds Special). In 1939 he added a second model, powered by a 249cc and 350cc Villiers engine. Production ended with the war in 1940, and never restarted.
AGA 1921
Airolite 1921-23. Motorized bicycles, 110cc two-stroke Simplex engines.
Ajax 1923-24. Lightweights 147, 247 and 269cc Villiers engines, plus one Blackburne 350cc model.
AJR 1925-26, Edinburgh. Named after founder A. J. Robertson. 350 and 500cc Villiers engines.
AJS and Matchless

AJS was founded by Albert John Stevens, who built his first internal combustion engine in 1897, although did not go into commercial production until after 1900. His first engines, 125cc, were used by other companies. In 1905, Stevens built a bike with a JAP V-twin, with leading-link front forks and a swinging fork at rear. AJ Stevens & Co. was founded in 1909 to manufacture complete motorcycles and built its first machine in 1911, a 292cc side-valve, two-speed. AJS entered one in the TT races that year.

AJS machines grew to 350cc by 1914, with a four-speed chain drive, winning first, second, third, fourth and sixth place in the Junior TT race that year. They won the Junior again in 1920, 1921 and 1922, and the 500cc Senior TT in 1921  with advanced 350cc ohv machines. Later they made an 800cc V-twin.

In 1920, AJS introduced several innovations, including internal expanding brakes and all-chain drive. In 1927, AJS brought in an overhead, chain-drive camshaft, winning the 1930 Lightweight TT on a 250cc machine.  They diversified somewhat unsuccessfully into cars, commercial vehicles and even radios in 1927, and into cars in 1930. They built the S3, an ambitious 496cc transverse tourer with alloy cylinder heads and other advanced design elements in 1931. But it cost a lot to develop and didn't sell well, putting the company in tough financial straits so they sold to Matchless. The name continued with bikes in production until 1966.

The Stevens brothers went on to start again under the Stevens name from 1934 to 38.

Matchless was founded in 1899 by the Collier family. Brothers Harry and Charlie Collier were racers; Charlie won the first TT race on a Matchless in 1907; Harry won his in 1909.

Matchless was one of Britain's earliest motorcycle manufacturers, starting with French-made engines clipped onto bicycles in 1899. Matchless built its own motorcycles from 1902. It took over AJS in 1931, and in 1938 reconstituted itself again to form Associated Motor Cycles (AMC). Many models were produced after that with AJS or Matchless badges, but with few differences. Matchless made a V-four called the Silver Hawk. Their 350cc 7R was the grandfather of the race-winning 500cc Matchless G50. After 1949, AJS machines were simply re-badged Matchless motorcycles.

The AJS 500cc V-four was launched in 1935, initially as a roadster. It had chain-driven single overhead cams, front-mounted supercharger. Initially air-cooled, it became liquid-cooled in 1939, adding to its reliability. It won several races, but the war ended its successes and after the war supercharging was outlawed for world championship races.

The AMC company bought Norton in 1951, but never managed it very well. AMC suffered significant financial losses in attempts to break into the American market in the late 1950s, although Norton, acting independently, was quite successful. By 1960, the AJS-Matchless component of AMC was seriously losing money, and depended on the profits from its Norton, Francis-Barnet and James marques to stay alive. But they couldn't keep it afloat for much longer. 

AMC was in turn absorbed into Norton-Villiers in 1967. A few later AJS bikes were built with Norton parts, such as the 748cc Model 33 of 1964-69 (Matchless G15) but production stopped shortly after in 1969.

AJW Founded by Arthur John Wheaton. Assembled motorcycles from other companies' engines, gearboxes and frames on small scale production line. Successful through the 1930s, but production halted during WW2 and didn't restart until 1948 when the firm changed hands. Made several bikes with the name 'Fox' - Grey Fox, Silver Fox, Silver Vixen, Vixen, Flying Vixen and Speed Fox among others, ranging from 172 to 994cc. Last model was the 1953 125cc Fox Cub when supply of JAP engines dried up. Company returned in 1958 with another Fox Cub, a 48cc, and continued to sell it until 1964. The company returned to make a range of 50, 80  and 125cc Italian-made two-stroke Wolfhound machines in 1976.
AKD Created in 1925 when Abingdon Tools and King Dick Spanners amalgamated. Offered a small range of three-speed machines from 172 to 248cc using the company's own ohv engine. Ceased production in 1932 when the company concentrated on hand tools. Also called Abingon-Dick.
Akkens 1919-22, Birmingham.
Alecto 1919-24, London.
Alert 1903-06. Clip-on engines for bicycle frames.
Alldays & Onions/Allon 1903-27. Changed name to Allon in 1915 until 1924, then production halted. Changed name back to Alldays & Onions for 1926-27. Began building three-wheelers in 1898.
ALP 1912-17
Alta 1968-71. Trials machines using 120cc Suzuki engines.
Alwin 1920
Ambassador Founded by racer Kaye Don after WW2. Made lightweight machines with Villiers and JAP engines, and also imported Zundapps. Although their prototype was a 494cc vertical twin, production started in 1947 with a 197cc Villiers-based machine and continued with small engines. In 1953 they offered a model with electric start and made their first production twin in 1957. In 1962, Don retired and the company was taken over by DMW in 1963. DKW produced the line for only a few more years. Closed in 1965.
AMC Associated Motorcycle Company: see AJS.
Anglian 1903-12
Arab 1923-26
Arden 1919-20
Argyle  
Ariel

Founded by James Starley and William Hillman in 1870 to make bicycles and the first patented tensioned wire-spoke wheel, it amalgamated with Westwood Manufacturing in 1896. Ariel first made a powered tricycle in 1898 using a de Dion engine, and may have experimented with a motorized quadricycle at this time as well. They made their first motorized two-wheeler in 1901, powered by Kerry engines, selling them in 1902. Hillman would go on to be a co-founder in Premier.

In 1902, Ariel was taken over by engineer Charles Sangster and his family. Sangster designed a three-speed, two-stroke bike with clutch and kick start, called the Arielette, but production was halted for WW1. The early machines were unremarkable, including 498cc side-valves and 669cc V-twins and some White and Poppe-design machines. Son Jack took an interest after WW1, designing his own flat-twin air-cooled car. The range of motorcycles expanded after the war to include 586cc and 992cc machines, but the basic design of the singles was laid down by former JAP engine designer, Val Page in 1925.

Ariel became part of a larger manufacturing concern, Components Ltd., that had other interests including cars.

The Selly Oak firm ran into financial trouble around 1930 and closed shop for a short period, while the founder's son, Jack, took over and restructured the company. He bought all of the tools for almost nothing, re-hired the cream of Ariel's staff, and moved 500 yards down the road to a new plant. They came back with a bang, producing the Square Four, designed by Edward Turner, which would stay in production from 1931 to 1958, and the Red Hunter in 1932 . In the 1930s, Ariel employed Turner along with Val Page and Bert Hopwood, who would all make their mark on Triumph as well.

The most famous model was the Square Four, designed by Edward Turner, and made from 1931 to 1958. Starting at 500cc, it was increased in 1937 to 600cc with numerous design improvements, and in its last version, in 1954, to 997cc. A revamped 'Squariel' was made in Redditch in the 1970s under the name Healy 1000. Bert Hopwood writes that the original design for the Square Four was much superior to the final production version.

Ariel worked on various projects for the military in WW2. The company was sold to BSA in 1944 and Val Page again took over design work post-war. In 1949 he designed the 500cc KH, a parallel twin to compete with others in that market. In 1954 he helped produced the Huntmaster, which used a BSA A10 650cc engine in an Ariel frame.

Page's Leader was introduced in 1958, a 250cc two-stroke which looked a combination of a scooter and motorcycle, with pressed-steel frame and unit construction. Although light, agile and lively, and receiving great press reviews at the time, it was a sales disaster. Ariel removed the bodywork for the 1959 sports version, the Arrow. Later they pumped the engine to 20 bhp to make the Super Sport and the Golden Arrow, but by then the company was failing. Ariel dropped its entire four-stroke range in 1958-59 to concentrate on two-strokes.

BSA closed the Selly Oak factory in 1963 and moved production to Small Heath. Val Page had a design for the Leader as a 70cc four-stroke with in-line four engine, but the executives didn't share his vision, so it was never built. Ariel ceased production in 1967, although BSA produced a 49cc motorized trike under the badge in 1970, the Ariel 3, another sales flop.

Armis 1920-23. Birmingham.
Armstrong 1902-05. Also the name of car parts maker who bought Cotton and CCM. Created track and offroad bikes 1980-87. Sold rights to Rotax-engined military bike to Harley Davidson in 87. Another Armstrong built bikes 1913-14.
Arno 1906-15. Coventry.
Arrow 1913-17. Lightweights from Birmingham.
Ascot 1905-06
Ascot-Pullin 1928-29 (30?). Advanced design, ohv single. Innovative machine with horizontally-mounted engine with gearbox enclosed by pressed-steel frame. First use of hydraulic brakes on a motorcycle. Also included a telescopic centre stand, adjustable windshield (with optional wiper!), legshields and rear-view mirror. Only 400-500 built..
Ashford 1905 (1904?) Motorcycles and tricars.
ASL 1907-15. Used front and rear sprung suspension.
Aston 1923-24
Atlanta-Duo 1935-37. Made by OEC. Had feet-forward riding position.
Atlas 1913-14 in Coventry and 1922-25 in Birmingham.
Aurora 1902-07 Coventry, and another company in the Isle of Man 1919-21
Austen 1903-06
Autoglider 1919-22. Scooter.
Autosco 1920-21. Early scooter
Avon 1919-20
Avondale  
AWJ  
Ayres-Hayman 1920. Also known as Ayres-Leyland.
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Compiled by Ian Chadwick. Send comments and corrections to me at:  ichadwick@sympatico.ca