In a series that remembers the good, bad and downright weird from manufacturers desperate to top the sales charts, Grant Ford researches more distant motorcycle memories.
Riedel Imme R100 1949-51
You know older folk always quote ‘it’s all been done before’, well in the bike world that is often true but one machine that set new standards in engineering novelty has to be the Riedel. Post war his motorcycle company was located in Immenstadt, Bavaria so that explains the name; how it came into being is a little more complicated. Norbert Riedel was an engineer that plied his trade with Ardie and Victoria motorcycles before the war but during hostilities he designed aircraft starter motors, mainly in the form of two stroke small capacity bike engines. Towards the end of WW2 the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter took to the skies, luckily not in large enough numbers to affect the outcome. Its jet engines were started by a pair of Herr Riedel’s egg shaped design 99cc units offering 4.5hp with its cylinder plus head produced as one piece. Eager to get their hands on jet propulsion the American’s allowed Riedel the tooling and facilities in a small factory near Muggendorf to begin building his own motorcycles when fighting ceased. The shortage of raw materials forced an amazing minimal design for his R100, with frame and fork tubing being a single diameter; a three speed handlebar gear change minus neutral, the clutch being held in by a clip. Utilising a single sided rear swing arm which was actually the exhaust and a single front fork all combined to provide a cheap but extremely clever machine. First tests took place late 1947 and around 80 were built by 1949, the following year the company was reputed to be selling 1000 machines a month; many of which were exported to the USA. Later models enjoyed a 150cc twin but alongside some warranty issues and over stretched finances Imme AG was forced to close and Norbert Riedel returned to his old job at Victoria.
The Panther was not actually this marques name but one of its models that proved so long-lasting and popular it was adopted over that of ‘Phelon & Moore Ltd’ which let’s be honest also fails to enjoy the same panache. It was Jonah Phelon who began, like so many engineers during the period, to attach motors to cycles at the turn of the last century. Joined by Richard Moore, the company was set up in 1904 and quickly built a reputation for solid and reliable machines from their factory in Cleckheaton, south of Bradford. The Granville Bradshaw designed 500cc single arrived post WW1 and over the years was improved by P&M’s own engineer Frank Leach, to become a 598cc with two port head encompassing a pair of down pipes. The Panther 100 had evolved and the machine became the marque, whilst P&M would occasionally try alternate capacities or models their 600 single remained ‘top-dog’. In 1934 its strength and reliability conquered the first London to Cape Town trip taken by a motorcycle sidecar combination, piloted by two lady adventurers Florence Blenkiron and Theresa Wallach. The Panther not only pulled a sidecar but also a fully laden trailer taking eight months to complete the journey which included crossing the Sahara. Its angled or ‘sloper’ engine proved perfect for the heavy burden and many concede it’s rare to see a Panther without a sidecar attached. Post WW2, the factory returned to producing the Panther but also felt inspired to build smaller single cylinder machines but sales failed to take off. Then as the scooter market increased in the late 50s, again P&M looked to diversify and again saw little in profit but secured plenty of debt. Meanwhile, the Panther 100 had changed very little until an increase to 645cc in the early sixties became the Model 120 but still only offered 27bhp; this didn’t prevent their loyal custom returning for more. It proved not to be enough and the receiver arrived in Yorkshire in 1962, although they remained operational until 1966 and used up everything in their parts bins before the final 120 was despatched.
Legnano Sachs Sport 1961
With so many moped manufacturers of Italian origin, their history has been obscured in a haze of historical two stroke. Companies inter linked with name changes and take overs often lead to a researcher’s nightmare and sketchy detail; that is the case with Legnano. The name appears way back in 1907 with founder Emilio Bozzi producing racing cycles at Legnano just outside Milan, an activity that continued over many decades, whilst their motorbikes came and went. Involvement with the British ‘Wolsit’ Company (Italian arm of the famous Wolseley brand) resulted in a moped which was produced up until the first world war before NSU took over the patent. Whilst their bicycle business flourished it seems interest in petrol power diminished until 1932 when the company announced its motorcycle brand. Post war and all of Italy wanted cheap transport and the moped revolution took hold with dozens of manufacturers building various scooters and small capacity bikes. By the mid-50s Legnano had a range of attractive machines with engines supplied by Garelli, Minarelli and the ever popular Sachs. In the early days the brand offered little more than push bikes with motors, but come the late 60s various moto cross variants appeared; surprisingly, similar to the Gilera 50s that arrived on the scene a few years later and inspired many a 1970s British teenager. Legnano also exported its machines to Argentina and formed an association with three Italian ex-pats, founders of Tehuelche Motorcycles and creators of a brilliant all aluminium 4-stroke single, originally of 50cc. Legnano supplied the chassis to which the Tehuelche engine (increased to 75cc) was fitted, these are now considered very prized classics in South America. The Legnano name remains alive within the cycling world today but their light weight, sporty mopeds just disappeared in the 1970s.
BSA Ariel 3 1970-72
It’s fun; the official line taken by the advertising men when BSA launched the Ariel 3 in July 1970. Like many other manufacturers within the UK motorcycle industry, BSA trusted upon their name and following this was another case of what could have been great becoming a disaster. This trike offered much in the novelty stakes and was built mainly on the opinion of market research (before the public changed its mind), with just 50cc and a pivoting front wheel BSA thought they had a sure-fire winner. The single cylinder two stroke Dutch Laura Anker motor gave 1.7 bhp with 25mph top speed but it returned 125 miles per gallon located between the 18-inch rear wheel track. It was belt drive with road contact provided by 2in tyres on 12in steel rims and its party piece came when cornering with engineering best described by the company’s brochure of the day. ‘Front suspension; trailing link with micro-cellular polyurethane blocks for shock, re-bound and load damping; oil less pivot bushes, ball and needle bearings’. Many journalists said ‘revolutionary’ initially, then changed their minds too ‘it’s dangerous’ some 18 months later when the predicted 25k sales failed to materialise. At £100.00 per machine they were not a cheap option at the time of the ‘three-day week’ and BSA spent £70k on advertising and promotional tools in the Ariel’s first 12 months. BSA’s version of a 60s George Wallace design failed to achieve and enjoys the reputation of the machine that finally killed off the company but history has shown that theory to be unfair. The Laura Anker engines were difficult to start with much pedalling required to achieve lift off and with its carrying capacity of 50lbs it earnt the ‘Sun’ newspapers explanation of ‘the housewife’s worst nightmare; a motorised shopping trolley’. Around 8,000 Ariel’s per year were sold via motorcycle dealers but this left some 50k unused 49cc Dutch engines in BSA parts bins; one of the many reasons for the marques failure shortly after its unique trike.