Pioneering Manufacturers from around the Globe who endeavoured to top the two wheel sales charts but lapsed into distant motorcycle memories…….
Belgium: Minerva 1900-1907
Dutch born Sylvain de Jong moved to Belgium in 1897 and set up his workshop in Antwerp producing bicycles before building his first motor bike in 1900. Utilising their bicycle frame design coupled to a Zurcher & Luthi (ZL) power plant, 30mph was possible but as the Minerva brand expanded and engine design with performance increased, more bespoke frames were constructed, as bicycle frames could not cope with the strain. Producing their own ‘clip-on’ engines (belt drive turning a gear wheel) exports where increased right across Europe and as far away as Australia. The first Triumph motorbike enjoyed a Minerva engine in 1902, three years before an all British offering was produced and assisted by an impressive victory in the Paris-Bordeaux race the marque expanded. The first BSA arrived in 1906 also powered by a Minerva engine. 345cc singles and 580cc V twins followed but Minerva were already looking to cars as the future, so after 25000 machines left their factory production of two wheeled transport ceased in 1909. The company continued with four wheels until 1956, even supplying the Belgium army with a licenced version of the Land Rover. A brief flirt with two wheels returned in 1953 and a 150cc scooter bearing the Minerva name was constructed by the MV company but that lasted just two years.
Australia – Waratah 1911-1948
Considering the brand was available for many years in Australia information about the marque is scarce. Villiers power was the main source of engine throughout Waratah production, initially with Sun frames and for the environment they operated in these machines needed to be robust. Utilitary and reliable were the requirements met by the Sidney based company and their claim to be the most successful Australian motorcycle company ever, is most likely correct. In the early years, the name Canada Cycle & Motor Company is associated with the brand supplying rebadged BSA bicycles but when the owner W.A Williams released control to his sons from 1914, the Waratah name came into being. Through to WW2 records show the company entered machines into lower capacity classes of motorsport, including an attempt on the light weight motorcycle record by Jack Schwabe on a 1.5hp Waratah in 1926. Over the years around 20 dealers across the Australian continent took on the franchise as Waratah looked to supply the market with cheap transport with small HP motors. Norman Motorcycles of Ashford in Kent and Excelsior in Coventry supplied machines that were re badged under the Waratah name post war and into the early 1950s. Low value when new ensured that very few of these machines survive today, most have just disappeared along with much of the company’s history.
Denmark – Nimbus 1919-1957
A rather tragic story of a motorcycle brand that produced unique and reliable machines that saw production halted due to the popularity of ‘housework’. The Fisker and Nielson factory also manufactured vacuum cleaners and when the demand for the carpet cleaning appliance increased the motor cycle production was forced into suspension. Their first machine arrived in 1920 and the power plant surprised many with its in-line layout along the frame, plus the inlet over exhaust configuration. Shaft drive and a three speed gear box all coupled to a steel frame of which the top tube was a larger diameter, this area became the fuel tank for the machine named the ‘Stovepipe’. Production expanded until 1924 when the Danish government included a sales tax onto the price. When the vacuum cleaner took preference, the motorcycle production slowed and final examples of Nimbus’ first machine ceased around 1926. Post-depression years, a new factory was opened with two wheels a priority in 1934 and the new machine, a Type C, enjoyed many of the previous versions eccentricities. The in-line four remained this time with an overhead camshaft but the frame was altered dramatically with a more ‘box-section’ (strips of steel connected together) appearance, the Nimbus still liked to be different. Pre-war Danish authorities supported the company with large orders for Police, Post Office and their military. After hostilities ceased the design changed little as regular orders in large numbers continued from government funds; it’s said the Danish Post Office were still using their Nimbus machines into the 1970s, even though the last bikes were delivered to the Army in the late 50’s. The vacuum business continued to flourish but the unusual Nimbus was completely out dated when production stopped around 1957.
UK – NUT 1912-1933
Whilst most bike manufacturers utilise the founders name or even initials, the manufacturer of the NUT recognised its home town of Newcastle upon Tyne. The brains behind the company was engineer Hugh Mason who worked for the North Eastern Marine Company, marine engineers and boiler builders in Sunderland; he persuaded others to construct motorcycles to his designs. With Jock Hall, a local bicycle dealer, they constructed a strengthened frame to which they installed a JAP motor; one of their early designs was dated at around 1903. In 1912 the pair rented work space in St Thomas St, Newcastle and began to build the first of the NUT brand. Mason had entered the Isle of Man TT races in both 1911 and 1912 with Matchless machines but each time failed to finish. Aboard one of his creations in the 1913 Junior TT, the NUT actually took victory with a V twin JAP 350 with a broken jaw! Mason crashed during the previous Mondays practice and was taken to hospital where he remained for two days. Returning to the circuit he reportedly came off again at Quarter Bridge still suffering from the effects of his earlier spill. Come race-day Mason stormed into the lead and beat his nearest rival by 46 seconds and to make things even more exciting the first amateur finisher was his friend Robert Ellis; an eighth overall position also riding a NUT machine. The company received more orders than their work space could handle and plans for a complete range of machines were drawn up but war interrupted. Post WW1 production resumed with options from 350-775cc and a very upmarket 500cc touring model. The NUT failed to get a foot hold on the market and ran into financial problems until 1923 when they produced machines powered by their own 700cc V twin similar to the JAP. By the late 20’s the world markets had turned and NUT began to produce Villiers powered budget machines but in 1928 tragedy struck when Mason was killed after crashing his own motorbike just a few hundred yards from his home. The Great Depression finished the company and by 1933 it had gone