Historic Motorcycle Brands
Francis & Barnett Limited was an English motorcycle manufacturer, founded in 1919 by Gordon Inglesby Francis and Arthur Barnett. It succeeded the Lea Francis cycle and motorcycle business that had been formed by Graham Francis and R H Lea in 1895, and remained in business until 1966.
1926 Francis-Barnett 175cc JAP side valve – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
Gordon Francis took over his father’s Lea Francis company and married the daughter of Arthur Barnett, who was producing Invicta motorcycles. The Francis & Barnett tie up followed that matrimonial union, but first Francis-Barnett machines were little more than re-badged Invicta motor cycles. A Francis-Barnett badged Invicta took part in the Isle of Man TT in 1922 but failed to finish.
By 1923 Francis-Barnett had rationalised its range to 247cc, 292cc and 346cc four-stroke engines and 147cc two-strokes, with chain drive. Revenue was supplemented by making sheet metal work and pressings for the fledgling motor industry.
1937 Francis-Barnett Plover – HH Classics UK
Gordon Francis’ Word War I experience with repairing damaged motorcycles taught him that a simpler type of motorcycle frame was necessary, to reduce production costs and he set about designing one. He evolved a six-piece, tubular frame with only the head-piece needing shaping, while the other tubes were straight.
Tubes connecting the hub of the rear wheel to the saddle and footrest formed one triangle and the frame below the tank was an inverted triangle. The tank itself was held in position by similarly formed tubes. The frame could be bolted together with basic tools.
In 1923 he exhibited a machine with this type of frame at Olympia, but as the company’s double-barrelled brand name was a mouthful, people refereed to them as ‘Franny B’ motorcycles.
With cost and simplicity in mind, the wheels of the Francis-Barnett were on spindles and easily removed. The 147cc Villiers two-stroke engine, with flywheel magneto, was light and drove through a two-speed Albion gearbox, or optional three-speed. Its frame came with a no-breakage-forever guarantee.
1927 Francis-Barnett’s Tommy Meeten – Speed Track Tales
A Model 350 346cc JAP four-stroke raced in the 1923 Isle of Man TT, finishing 21st out of 41 riders taking part. A 172cc, 3.5hp, OHV Blackburne four-stroke powered bike, specially built for Tommy Meeten, achieved sixth place in the 1924 Isle of Man TT for Ultra-Lightweight motorcycles and raced in the sidecar event.
The Supersport 172cc 2.75HP was awarded gold and silver medals at the Scottish six day Trials in 1924.
In 1927, a 172cc Brooklands Track Special, with long-range fuel tank and raced by Tommy Meeten achieved an endurance record, running for six hours at 50mph.
Francis-Barnett dealership corner Elizabeth and Goulburn Streets, Sydney – State Library NSW
On 12 July 1928 a trio of riders started at the foot of Snowdon: John Moxon and Geoffrey Jones from Villiers and Eric Barnett from Francis-Barnett. They covered the 3270-feet (1000-metre) ascent in 22 minutes.
During 1928 and 1929 the UK War Office tested Empire Model 9 bikes. Due to durability problems with the two-stroke engines the War Office opted for other brands.
1940 Francis-Barnett Cruiser – Yesterdays Netherlands
During the 1930s the 250cc Cruiser model had a faired engine and chain drive that reduced the amount of oil and dirt getting onto riders’ clothing.From 1928 to 1930 Francis-Barnett motorcycles followed the fashion and were coloured cream. They reverted to black in 1931 and to Arden Green after Word War II.
In 1937 Arthur Barnett died aged 74 and his son, Eric took over his father’s position at the company as sales director.
In 1938, a new 98cc Powerbike was released, alongside the 125cc Snipe and these were intended for the military soon after the outbreak of World War II. The Snipe was adapted for war use and some were produced in wartime drab olive,
The War Office also experimented with a number of 148cc Plovers and some Plover models are in wartime drab olive or dull brown.
However, during air raids in Coventry, in 1940, the Francis-Barnett factory was completely destroyed. The company continued making parts during the War, at an alternative location.
1941 Francis-Barnett Plover F41 150cc – Vauxford
It was not until 1946 that production resumed, with the 98cc Powerbike – J50G pre-War, K50H post-War – and the 125cc Merlin. The Plover, Falcon and Kestrel machines followed.
Francis-Barnett was amalgamated with Associated Motor Cycles in 1947 and the Cruiser name returned, in the form of a 171cc AMC-engined Light Cruiser. The first Cruiser had been made in 1932, for riders who didn’t want to wear special clothing and the new version continued that protection theme.
1952 Francis-Barnett – SG2012
The Falcon 87 with a 199cc single cylinder two stroke AMC engine was introduced and remained in production until 1966.
AMC considered Wolverhampton-based Villiers to be dictatorial and commissioned Italian, Vincenzo Piatti, to design a new engine, to replace the Villiers engines. Unfortunately, the cost and unreliability of the AMC-manufactured engine sent Francis-Barnett back to Villiers again.
1956 Francis-Barnett Falcon 200cc – SG2012
The Plover, Falcon and Cruiser were successful into the 1950s as good light machines, in Arden Green rather than the black finish of earlier days. James motorcycles were acquired in 1957.
Francis-Barnetts did well in domestic and international trials events in the mid-1950s, winning Manufacturers Awards for ISDT 175cc and 197cc classes.
1959 Francis-Barnett Plover 150cc – SG2012
In the 1960s, marketplace difficulties caused a transfer of production to Birmingham, in 1962, to join James motorcycles. The Coventry Factory was closed down and some staff moved to James.
The James and Francis-Barnett bikes became virtually the same, apart from cosmetic changes of colours and badges.
1959 Francis-Barnett Falcon Model 81 200cc – SG2012
The 1958-1962 Falcon models 83, 85, 87 and 92 had AMC 197cc 10E engines and four-speed gearboxes. Some had a lightweight aluminium-alloy frame replacing the heavier steel frame, made by Whitton, Wright, Holland and Angus, principally for Trials. A Falcon 87 in black and white was used in the BBC television series Heartbeat.
The last new model was produced in 1962: the newly designed Fulmar, with spine frame, pressed steel bodywork, leading link forks and 149cc, 15T AMC engine. Fulmar Sports 88, 88T, 90 and 90T were noted for having low centres of gravity due to their engine mounting positions.
1964 Francis-Barnett Fulmar 88 – SG2012
Production of Francis-Barnett motorcycles continued until August 1966, when the AMC Empire was taken over by Manganese Bronze. Both Francis-Barnett and James motorcycles ceased to exist from October of that year.