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.
The Doodle Bug – USA 1946-48
The phrase ‘scooter’ in Europe bears a slight resemblance to the version that was first launched just after WW2 in Iowa. The state that offers such names as Harley Davidson and Indian Motorcycles is also guilty of producing a quite unusual but yet damned clever tiny transporter. It was one Harry J Mertz, a resident of Webster City in Iowa who applied for a patent on the 15th April 1946. Mertz produced the plans whilst he was working for Beam Engineering part of Electrolux Vacuum Cleaners brand, and designed washing machines and dishwashers as well as the Doodle Bug. The company transferred ideas from its ‘white goods’ into the scooter, including its fluid drive (clutch) system which was actually designed by Harry J. Aimed primarily at teenagers, the Doodle Bug offered 25mph from its 1.5 hp Briggs and Stratton motor (that also powered the Buck-Board cheapest car in history) and all were painted red for an original sales price of $69.95. Although some were produced using a Clinton engine of the same performance, the model remained largely unchanged throughout its short life; that said some 40k machines were sold. So, where would the keen motorcyclist obtain such a machine? The local department store obviously! Marketed under the Hiawatha name, a trip to your local Gambles would be in order unless you went for the competition; the Cushman and Alstate. As post-war material costs rose so did the price of Hiawatha’s scooter by an additional $100 in just two years and so it became unviable to produce when the teenagers pocket money failed to keep pace. Built in production runs of 10,000 per time, the remaining Doodle Bugs still enjoy a huge following Stateside with an annual gathering in their home town of Webster City. Finally, what would you expect one extreme American engineer named Paul Gorrell to fit in his Hiawatha Doodle Bug; that’s right a V8 motor; why? Why not!
New Hudson – UK 1903-1957
George Patterson’s Hudson Company would produce a range of cycles during the 1800’s and the name New Hudson was registered in Birmingham in 1896. In 1902, a De Dion engine was adapted to one of their frames but it failed to impress, so the idea was dropped until 1910 when a new machine was offered for sale with a choice of 2.5 or 3.5 HP JAP engines. By 1913, motorcycle production was buoyant and New Hudson produced its own 2.75 motor and was also utilising the Armstrong three speed gearbox. During WW1 the Birmingham factory was restricted to munitions and cycle production but post war the early twenties saw a return to larger capacity machines. Their 594cc single proved popular, as did the 346cc OHV from 1924, and these allowed for cessation of two stroke machines. A famous rider and engine tuner of the day Bert Le Vack, took the New Hudson 500cc machine and worked his magic, allowing him and the company to gain the first Brooklands Gold Star for lapping at 100mph in 1927. The same year Jimmy Guthrie finished second behind a works Norton in the Isle of Man Senior TT; these riders’ successes bolstered the New Hudson brand but both were killed racing in Europe within a decade. The marque had peaked, mainly due to the impending ‘Depression’ and by 1929 a price reduction came into place in a bid to clear stocks. Just four years later motorcycle production had ceased and that situation continued until just prior to WW2 when a new range of ‘autocycle’ arrived powered by 98cc Villiers units and supplied under the New Hudson name. Post war and BSA took over the brand but the New Hudson name continued with the ‘autocycle’ range offering budget transport with their base model available at under £50. Upgrades and restyling continued over the next decade but the basic 99cc single was the final motorbike to enjoy the New Hudson monocle; the final machines left Birmingham in 1957.
Grindlay-Peerless – UK 1923-1934
Alfred Robert Grindlay and Edward Peerless produced quality sidecar outfits prior to their first attempt at motorcycle production. With this in mind their choice of large capacity machines would seem appropriate and they avoided light weight machines and went straight for a 1000cc sleeve valve V twin motor supplied by Barr & Stroud. Combined with a three speed Sturmey-Archer transmission with chain drive their first motorcycle combination was considered a quality machine in its day. For 1924 they did offer a single cylinder which was of JAP construction OHV with 488cc but that only lasted a year before a sleeve valve Barr & Stroud 499cc motor replaced it. JAP did supply the company with smaller engines. Grinday Peerless were to make their name at Brooklands, unfortunately for them the previously mention New Hudson had already stolen the first 100mph flying lap but when Motor Cycle Magazine offered a prize for the first machine to cover 100 miles in under 1 hour the Coventry marque stepped up. The man for the job was Bill Lacey, a great rider, master tuner and renowned for the ‘dapper’ appearance of both himself and the machines he rode. Lacey began by taking victories with the marques 344cc JAP powered model in 1926 but it was in 1928 he managed to lap the banked Surrey circuit for one hour covering 103 miles. The company had returned to the OHV JAP engine and with this success they began to produce copies for sale; the first race replica motorcycle? One year later Lacey took on the challenge again, this time at Montlhery in France and extended the record to 105 miles within the 60 minutes. Lacey went on to tune engines for Mike Hailwood before turning his attention to Grand Prix cars. One of the replica machines is photographed here; built in the early 30s this machine was raced throughout its early years and spent some time in the Brooklands Museum. Note the (deliberate?) spelling mistake upon the tank. Grindlay Peerless enjoyed sales success during the late 1920s and V twin motors of 677 and 750cc were supplied by JAP, whilst Villiers were now the name on the cases of their smaller machines. The depression no doubt affected the future for the Coventry based company and their range was reduced greatly by 1931 and the following year just three models were available. By 1935 the name of Grindlay Peerless was no longer applied to the fuel tanks of motorcycles and the partnership broke up just prior to WW2.
Narcisse – France 1950-1953
For those of certain vintage the phrase ‘Can you ride tandem’ came from a 70s advert involving monkeys and PG Tips tea bags! The French took it much more seriously and it all started in 1936 when the Socialist Government decreed that every family should enjoy their annual holiday. This encouraged a rise in tandem cycles before some manufacturers pursued production of a motorised version. War put an end to that idea but post hostilities the motorised tandem returned and the most recognisable became the Narcisse. Other manufacturers had joined the craze that for a few years in post war France became the latest trend; until the scooter arrived. What made the Narcisse popular was its clever and tidy design, assembled at their small workshops in St Ouen near Paris. Hidden beneath the frame panels were small two stroke motors from French manufacturer Aubier-Dunne or the German engines from SACHS. The tandems enjoyed 100cc but later a Solo Narcisse came to market with just half that capacity but it was their ‘Tandemoto’ that proved popular then and has enjoyed a collector following ever since. The production literally began with a push-bike with oversized frame tubing and the top tube was exaggerated and sealed to become the fuel tank. In the early 1950s both Omega and EMVA built enclosed tandems that enjoyed 125cc and the venerable 98cc SACHS respectively but they soon faded away; obviously now they have become prize collector’s items. The biggest complaints from restorers of the marque are actually the things that ensure the motorised tandem stand out. The model was really over-engineered and the precision required for getting the rear chain to run clean. Also, the very unique tank being long and thin can be difficult to clean if required. As for Narcisse, well they just stopped producing motorised tandems as the French public looked to four wheels. The introduction of cheap cars such as Citroen’s 2CV and the post war 4CV from Renault offered more comfort and the marque faded; although their popularity with enthusiasts and collectors across the Channel is still very high. This example was displayed at the historic ‘Circuit de Ramparts’ in Angouleme.