Pioneering manufacturers from around the Globe who endeavoured to top the two wheel sales charts but lapsed into distant motorcycle memories…….
UK – Dunelt 1919-1934
Engineers and steel producers Dunford and Elliot combined their skills and names to create the Dunelt brand just after World War 1. Their first bike produced in Birmingham was shown at Olympia and production began in earnest in 1920. The Dunelt featured a very unusual two stroke single cylinder power plant of 499cc with a double diameter piston and cylinder offering increased compression and huge torque for this type of engine, making the marque ideal for side cars or even adaptions for milk deliveries or fire tender duties. By the mid- twenties a 249cc version became available of the same design as the 499cc but returning to Olympia in 1928 the company displayed their first four stroke. The Sturmey-Archer OHV engine offered in the Majestic model had 348cc and was the machine that won the Maudes Trophy in 1929. A test of reliability and endurance would result on a stock Majestic being taken to the banked Montlhery Circuit in France where one newspaper confirmed ‘the coveted Maudes trophy, for the most outstanding motor cycle performance has been awarded for 1929 to the Dunelt machine for its 25,000-mile record. This distance was covered in 23 days, averaging 1,030 miles daily, at a speed of 45 miles per hour. The machine was picked from stock by the Auto Cycle Union of Great Britain, and the run was made on the Montlhery track in France. Day after day the machine ran continuously, stops just being sufficient for petrol and oil refilling. These varied from two seconds to four and & half minutes, according to requirements. No illumination was on the track, and the competitors relied entirely on a six-volt lighting set as supplied on the machine.’ This success would encourage a name change for the model, it became the Dunelt Montlhery. The company moved north to Sheffield and began to fit Villiers and JAP supplied engines in their range but by the mid 1930’s the order books looked lean and Dunelt motorcycle production ceased in 1935. The name was briefly revived with the launch of a 50cc moped in 1957 but nothing came of it although the company continued to produce cycles into the 1960s.
Magnat-Debon – France 1893-1958
Grenoble the ‘Capitol of the Alps’ was home to Joseph Magnat and Louis Debon, creators of ‘the brand of the connoisseur’ at the turn of the 1900s. Having set up a bicycle business a decade before, the pair moved into motor car supply and repair and using a De Dion fitted into one of their bicycle frames their first motorbike ran in 1902. Just three years later Magnat-Debon Autocyclette’s could be purchased for 950 Francs powered by engines from Moser and Moto-Reve plus one of their own designs. A fast and light 2.2HP machine was produced for 1909, the bike known as the Moto-Tourist went on sale at 1000 Francs and a 400cc OHV engine became available in 1912. Road racing and hill climbs were popular across France from the dawn of motoring and Magnat-Debon had their first success in 1903 coming 3rd in a 500 metre sprint. By 1914 the team was winning most of the city to city races across France and beyond including the Marseille-Monaco and Paris-Rouen. Sales followed the trend and increased dramatically, progress was only slowed by the on-coming conflict across France but the factory continued with limited manpower to produce bicycles and motorbikes for the war effort. Debon died in 1918 and engine supplier Moser committed suicide after suffering from depression soon after and the company struggled to re-establish itself offering just two models of four stroke plus the odd two stroke. By 1923 the Terrot Motorcycle Company had taken control and influenced production with Blackburne engines from Britain fitted to Magnat-Debon whilst the Terrot machines were powered by JAP. On offer a range from 175cc to 500cc, four speed gearboxes with chain drive and girder forks in rigid frames. The inter war years were good for the marque and models produced at the time are very desirable today. After WW2 the Magnat-Debon range were primarily re-badge Terrot machines and once Peugeot took an interest in the latter the last Magnat-Debon was built during the late 50s and the Terrot factory closed in 1961.
Levis – UK 1911-1940
When Howard Newey produced a design for Norton and they decided against it, Howard (Bob) originally called it the ‘Baby’ but it later became the ‘Popular’, a most apt name; Newey took his idea to Butterfields of Birmingham. Brothers Arthur and Billy plus sister Daisy had set up a new motorcycle company called Levis. In 1916 a two stroke 211cc machine boasting 3hp arrived with a primary chain to V belt rear wheel drive. The company would prosper and the Levis Works produced race machines for the Isle of Man in 1920 in the light weight class of the Junior TT. Returning in 1922 they took 1st and 7th in the 250cc race and from then on their slogan became ‘The Master Two Stroke’. In 1923 the single geared ‘Popular’ model of 211cc was £38 Inc. delivery whilst the two speed with clutch and kick start of the same capacity was £48 and known as the Model S. The Model H enjoyed the sporting 247cc motor, three gears plus all chain drive at a healthy £65 but with a four-week delivery waiting time. Into the late 1920s and Levis offered four stroke OHV 247cc and 346cc singles and as their sales increased 498cc and 600cc versions appeared. For Earls Court in 1928 a range of ‘old skool choppers’ and ‘Bobbers’ we put on show and available to the ‘individual rider’ who desired such a machine; under the slogan ‘sell your granny for a chopper’. With a reputation for being very well made and somewhat ‘unique’ being supplied in small numbers only, the Levis range attracted plenty of attention and would benefit from off road racing success of their four stroke range throughout the 1930s. The 1938 Model 600 alloy barrel had a choice of high or low level exhaust whilst the four speed gearbox also came with a choice of ratios. Neutral indicator, electric horn and high low dipswitch and the appearance benefited from acres of chrome finish across the machine. Many motorcyclists of the period were surprised and disappointed when Levis announced they would cease building two wheeled transport at the start of WW2, concentrating on compressor production from 1940. Remember the name, rumours abound the marque may return in the future.
Whizzer – USA 1939-2009
Just prior to WW2 an engineering company in Los Angeles called Breene-Taylor had developed the ‘D’ model kit to power bicycles and managed to sell 1000 at $54.95. It included an air cooled 4 stroke engine of 1.3hp and a 2-gallon fuel tank. The following year the updated ‘E’ model included alloy cylinder head and a dipstick to check oil usage and this kit sold to 1500 customers which was not enough for Breene-Taylor. They sold the Whizzer to their financiers Dietrich Kohlsatt and their own lawyer Martin Goldman who visited Washington as war broke out and convinced officials to allow Whizzer production to continue; enabling important workers to travel. The ‘Defence Workers’ model came out in 1943 with belt drive and this continued post war when production left California and set up in Michigan. The ‘H’ and ‘J’ model engines just prior to the companies first complete machine, the Pacemaker with its ‘J’ model motor and chrome exhaust sitting in a Schwinn type bicycle frame sold for $199.00. Whizzer was the machine to be seen on and the company produced the Sportsman which came minus pedals and enjoyed a kick start; so much more of a motorbike and with 3hp available, 40mph was achievable. Two more versions arrived in the early 50s including the $250.00 Ambassador but Whizzer was now facing tougher competition from overseas and diversified into alternate products, although they continued to produce parts until 1965. Re launched in 1996 some of the original range names returned but the Classic model struck a chord with the more nostalgic bikers and sold well up to the new millennium. The Blue Sportsman and Black Knight versions appeared and the company peaked again with the Ambassador version as they had done 50 years before. By now a ‘chopper style’ featured electric start, disc brakes and turn signals plus much more; launched to celebrate ‘Whizzers’ seventy year celebrations in January 2009. By March the company announced Whizzer was currently on a temporary hiatus from bike production; it remains that way to-date.