Sports Motor-Cycles of the Vintage Era

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56

A Consideration of the Characteristics, Good Features and Failings of Some Classic Machines

(Continued from November, 1949)

Part IV—1928

Nineteen Hundred and Twenty-Eight, for motorcycles as for cars, seems to have been a good vintage year.

Motor Sport started off humbly, when Rodney Walkerley—he is now “Grande Vitesse” of the Motor—tested for us a Model-A 172-c.c. Baker two-stroke. This Baker combined the excellent Villiers super-sports engine with the feel and handleability of a larger machine. The unconventional frame, with its low saddle position and the 25 by 3 tyres, aided this “big” impression and the Albion three-speed gearbox proved a joy to use. The lever, on the saddle tube, was delightfully situated, and moved from notch to notch at the slightest touch.

By making use of the two levers of the Villiers carburetter the jet could be closed right down in traffic, smooth running then being possible in the 19 to 1 bottom gear. Lighting was by flywheel generator and proved perfectly adequate up to 40 m.p.h., while its unusual brilliance if middle or bottom gear was engaged was appreciated on steep, rough hills.

The Baker ran really quietly, the hum of the engine and swish of tyres on frost-bound roads, alone intruding, for gearbox and chains were scarcely noticeable. The ride over bad roads was a revelation, putting many 500-c.c. bicycles to shame while, doing a trial the following day, the stability on grease was discovered to be outstanding. Indeed, the 30-mile course was completed in 1 hr. 25 min.—or 20 min. longer than on a racing 500-c.c. on a dry day The engine never stopped throughout, even when the Baker fell over, and was as fruity at the finish as at the start. No fuel appeared to have been used, confirming the maker’s claim of 150 m.p.g. The duplex frame stood up perfectly to hard use, handlebars and footrests were adjustable and either brake, front or back, operated entirely adequately. The sight-feed lubricator was rather too invisible, however. The Baker could be had in either light buff or all-black cellulose enamel. The price? In 1925, £37!

The next mount tested by Walkerley was a 345-c.c. Model-6 New Imperial. It had a loop-frame, three-point mounted o.h.v. engine with generous finning, enclosed rockers and double valve springs, and many items of equipment not usually found in machines of such modest price—£48 10s. A more efficient and handsome silencer and Dunlop 27 by 2.75 tyres marked the 1928 version. The riding position, with rather high footrests, proved ideal, the gear-change, operated from a gated lever on the tank, delightful to use, although the clutch was heavier than some. After three tappet adjustments and attention to loose contact breaker, all went well, but as this was a new machine, the New Imp, wasn’t urged beyond 65-68 m.p.h.; 70 was considered probable when run-in, and about 20 and 40 m.p.h. on the lower gears of the rather wide-ratio gearbox. No matter what the surface, steering remained rock-steady, even neglecting the damper, and slides were difficult to promote. Cornering could be as fast as you wished but the machine’s light weight—240 lb. or so—let the rear wheel wander a bit at over 50 m.p.h. on bad surfaces. In spite of a sports Amal carburetter and lots of low gear work, the fuel consumption was as good as 90 m.p.g., but to humour the new engine, lots of Castrol R was used. The mechanical oil pump functioned perfectly and seemed less vulnerable on the timing case than many modern pumps. The rear brake proved unpleasantly fierce, probably because its separately-mounted pedal made gentle heel or toe actuation impossible to effect. Definitely, however, a very good motorcycle.

Walkerley tried next a 590-c.c. Scott Super Squirrel. Taking it over in the wet, he was impressed with its steadiness, providing the throttle wasn’t yanked open. It four-stroked in any gear below 25 m.p.h., possibly because the oil taps had been opened wide ready for some hard riding. No shock-absorbers were fitted, but once the rider learned to use the front brake for urgent stops, the rear brake being hampered by up-and-down movement of the back wheel, all was well. Brake adjustment was simplicity itself, but you had to be careful to retighten the lock-nut—our tester had to do the job about every 50 miles. A Howarth silencer, supplied by Scotts, had completely silenced the familiar “yowl,” to Walkerley’s disgust, but the “pep” was there all right.

Indeed, from Ellingham, beyond Brooklands, to home, via Staines, Colnbrook, Iver and Denham, took 1 hr. 20 min. for the 50 miles or more, over bad roads with two-up, the last 14 miles being done in 18 minutes. At 55-60 m.p.h. the Scott was effortless and it was thought to have bettered 70 m.p.h., but the machine was a handful at speed, albeit only one wobble, which cured itself and was provoked by a hump-bridge and a pot-hole, happened in 500 fast miles. A fractured front engine mounting and loose petrol tank may have been caused by this crash-landing—and would probably have been obviated by a shock-absorber. On “colonial” going, the Scott was admirable, and proof, it seemed, against any water-splash. The gear-change was easy and certain both ways, the clutch reasonably light, and starting “one-prod” when warm. If cold, liberal flooding did the trick in about four kicks. Cornering was—well, Scott cornering. Criticisms were confined to the need for a shock-absorber to stop the forks clashing, and lower saddle, and closer gear-ratios, because middle was too high for good acceleration from 15 m.p.h. The two-drip oil feed in the pump over the gearbox repaid careful adjustment but was visible when riding. A nice bicycle!

Walkerley now reverted to a two-stroke, in the form of a Model-D25 172-c.c. Coventry Eagle. The set-up of this, the de luxe model, was Super Sports Villiers engine, Albion gearbox, with ratios of 6, 11 and 19 to 1, Terry saddle and 26 by 2½ Dunlop cord tyres. Walkerley liked the appearance of the pressed-steel frame, with welded steel two-gallon tank in black, with carmine nose. Again, there was that “big” feeling, and the riding position accommodated his 6 ft. 3 in, in ease and, comfort, in spite of fixed saddle and footrests. Straight off the trial, the Coventry Eagle started promptly. It handled delightfully and steered with certainty, and without disconcerting “lightness.” The long gear-lever needed big movements but top to middle could be done by foot! Cruising speed was 35 m.p.h. indefinitely but wide gear-ratios held back a sporting average speed. Nineteen to one seemed a very low bottom gear, even for club trials, and 6, 9 and 14 to 1 would have suited our tester better. As it was, hills like Brockley and Holywell Hill, St. Albans, were taken in top gear. The footrests alone limited cornering speed and hands-off steering was quite in order. Stability was excellent and the back wheel stayed on the tarmac, even when braked. Flat-out just over 50 m.p.h., was possible and the Villiers automatic lubrication system functioned perfectly, nor did the engine seize or pre-ignite after prolonged full-throttle work. Eighty miles of terribly rough trials going broke absolutely nothing and the little machine was a joy to ride. Both 6-in. brakes, but especially the front one, were right up to their work and the only snags encountered in this Coventry Eagle were an inaccessible tool box, and loss of the brake pedal, which was mounted on the footrest bar, when the rests became bent and the bar turned round and round. No check was made of fuel consumption, because, as Walkerley put it, “the usual procedure is to pour in half-a-gallon every fortnight or so.” Consumption was, indeed, well over 100 m.p.g., and oil in the same proportion. The price was £37 10s., with electric illumination.

L. A. Hutchings did our next test—of a C.S.I. 490-c.c. o.h.c. Norton. In Birmingham traffic this Norton proved to have an uncannily silent engine and exhaust, and mercifully it had an inward-opening throttle lever in place of Norton’s usual outward-opening one! This silence persisted even at full-throttle, although the valve gear clicked a bit on the over-run. On winding roads the rider, new to the bicycle, decided it was a trifle unwieldy—he had been using a 350-c.c. combination—but this was a comfort when full-out on straights, when the Norton “steered” perfectly. Valve bounce limited speed in second to 70 m.p.h., but 80 m.p.h. was reached in top and there was probably more to come, as the valves were still seating as intended. In spite of the additional weight of a dynamo lighting set and high gears, acceleration was most imposing. Comfort was of a high order and no bounce was experienced, except when the back brake was applied, when the competition-shod rear wheel did some unexpected hopping up and down, usually denoting incorrect weight distribution, but not giving rise to the usual accompanying tail-wag or sliding on loose corners in the Norton’s case. The front brake had no apparent power at all, on the machine tested.

The same rider went out next on 499-c.c. 70-Special and 70 Sports Rudge-Whitworths. They represented a great advance on the 1927 models, the engines paragons of smoothness, power and silence and devoid of vibration. Mechanical silence was also above average for exposed-push-rod designs, but correct tappet clearances were essential to this end. The Special did 70 m.p.h., the Sports its guaranteed 85 m.p.h., and both slow-running and tractability were much improved. Yet each did about 90 m.p.g. Acceleration, aided by the four-speed gearbox, was terrific, as timed climbs in current trials readily confirmed. Steering, too, was an improvement over that of the 1927 Rudge-Whitworth, due to greater fork movement and alterations to head and frame. The adjustable foot-rests could be set well out of the way to humour the Rudge’s usual trait of really fast cornering and the 2.75-in. tyres suited the Sports model, the bigger tyres on the Special giving rise to bouncing at speed over wavy surfaces, if more comfortable for touring and trials. The brakes—Rudge coupled brakes, now internal expanding in enormous stiff drums—earned 100 per cent. marks, being truly powerful and loth to lock. The gear-change was more positive, with a tank gate, but the lever was a bit flimsy. The electric lighting allowed riding to be as rapid at night as by day. Snags? Well, Hutchings jibbed at lack of a gearbox drew-bolt to aid chain adjustment—it was fitted for 1929—disliked having to remove the clutch and swing the gearbox before the engine could be removed, and found the clutch also tricky to detach. Incidentally, for 1929 the Sports was replaced by a racing Replica, which, with alloy chain-case and enclosed valve gear, cost £69. This model did 200 miles in two hours, and won a road-race at 80 m.p.h.

So much for the motor-cycles Motor Sport road-tested in 1928. A golden age?