Historic Motorcycle Brands
The first Royal Enfield motorcycle was built in 1901, by the Enfield Cycle Company that was responsible for the design and original production of the Royal Enfield Bullet, the longest-lived motorcycle design in history. It’s also the only motorcycle brand to span three centuries of continuous production.
1900 Royal Enfield Quad
Royal Enfield was absorbed by Velocette and Norton Villiers in 1967 and the business eventually closed in 1978. However, the brand continues today; manufactured in India.
In 1882, George Townsend started making components for cycle manufacturers. This business suffered a financial collapse in 1891 and was re-incorporated as the New Enfield Cycle Company Limited, to handle much of the cycle work. In 1897, Enfield made complete cycles as well parts for other assemblers.
By 1899, Royal Enfield were producing a quadricycle that was a bicycle with a wrap-around, four-wheeled frame, a rear rider-saddle with handlebars and front-mounted passenger seat, driven by a rear-mounted, de Dion engine.
Royal Enfield 35PK 425cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
After experimenting with a heavy bicycle frame, fitted with a Minerva engine clamped to the front down-tube, Enfield built its first motorcycle in 1901, powered by a 239cc engine.
By 1910, Royal Enfield was using direct belt drive 297cc Swiss Motosacoche V-twin engines. Engine size went up to 344cc in 1911, along with the advent of chain drive and an Enfield two-speed gearbox.
Enfield hired Bert Colver from Matchless and competed in the 1911 Isle of Man lightweight TT.
1914 Royal Enfield production
In 1912, the Royal Enfield Model 180 sidecar combination was introduced with a 770cc V-twin JAP engine and raced successfully in the Isle of Man TT and at Brooklands.
Enfield developed a 345cc prototype for the 1913 Model 140. The Enfield- manufactured V-twin was 425cc, with, ‘F-head’, overhead-inlet, side-exhaust valve layout.
In 1914, Enfield supplied large numbers of motorcycles to the British War Department and also won a motorcycle contract for the Imperial Russian Government, powered by Enfield’s 225cc two-stroke single and 425cc V-twin engines. The company also produced an 8hp motorcycle sidecar model fitted with a Vickers machine gun.
Royal Enfield RE201 225cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
In 1921, Enfield developed a new 976cc twin and in 1924 launched the first Enfield four-stroke 350cc single, using a Prestwich Industries engine.
1933 Royal Enfield ‘Cycar’ low-cost motorcycle
In 1928, Royal Enfield began using bulbous ‘saddle’ tanks and centre-spring girder front forks, one of the first companies to do so. Even though it was trading at a loss in the Great Depression years of the 1930s, the company was able to rely on reserves to keep going.
Royal Enfield ‘Depression’ vintage model
During World War II, the Enfield Cycle Company manufactured military motorcycles. The models produced for the military were the WD/C 350 cc sidevalve, WD/CO 350cc OHV, WD/D 250cc SV, WD/G 350cc OHV and WD/L 570cc SV.
One interesting Enfield was the 125cc two-stroke WD/RE, “Flying Flea’, designed to accompany airborne troops and be dropped by parachute, inside a protective ‘cage’.
Royal Enfield ‘Flying Flea’ – Thruxton
After the War the factory concentrated on engine manufacture and high-precision machining.
Enfield resumed production of the single cylinder OHV 350cc model G and 500cc Model J, with rigid rear frame and telescopic front forks. These were ride-to-work basic models, in a world hungry for transport. A large number of factory reconditioned ex-military singles were also offered for sale.
Royal Enfield 250 11F – Birmingham Museums Trust
In 1948, rear suspension springing was adopted, initially for competition ‘trials’ models, but was soon offered on the road-going Bullet 350cc, single-cylinder OHV machine and subsequent 500cc version.
Royal Enfield Turbo Twin – Mick
In 1949, Royal Enfield’s version of the now popular ‘parallel twin’ appeared. This 500cc bike was the forerunner of a range of Meteors, 700cc Super Meteors and 700cc Constellations. Offering good performance at modest cost, these sold widely.
In a move that would turn out to preserve the Royal Enfield name into the 21st Century, the Bullet manufacturing rights and jigs, dies and tools were sold to Madras Motors in India, in 1955.
Royal Enfield Bullet 350 in Delhi – Wolfgang Pehleman
Enfield of India, based in Chennai, started assembling the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle from components imported from England. Starting in 1957, Enfield of India acquired the machines necessary to build components in India and, by 1962, all components were made in India.
The Indian Enfield used the 1960 engine, but with metric bearing sizes.
1954 Royal Enfield G2OM – Tapasvi
From 1955 to 1959, Royal Enfields were painted red, and marketed in the USA as ‘Indian Motorcycles’ by the Brockhouse Corporation, who had control of the Indian Sales Corporation that had stopped manufacturing all American Indians in the Springfield factory in 1953.
The largest Enfield ‘Indian’ was a 700cc twin named the Chief, like its American predecessors, but the ‘American Indians’ had nothing to do with the Enfield of India business.
The badge engineering of Royal Enfield bikes as ‘Indians’ didn’t fool the Yanks and the marketing agreement ended in 1960. From 1961, Royal Enfields were available in the USA under their proper name.
Indian-branded Royal Enfield – royalenfields.com
In the UK, the 250cc class was important, as it was the largest engine which a ‘learner’ could ride without passing a test. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Royal Enfield produced a number of 250cc machines, including a racer, the ‘GP’ and a Scrambler, the ‘Moto-X’, which used a modified Crusader frame, leading link forks and a Villiers Starmaker engine.
The Clipper was a base-model tourer and the biggest-seller was the 18bhp Crusader, 248cc pushrod-OHV single.
The Royal Enfield GP 250cc, two-stroke, single-cylinder production-racer was entered in the Manx Grand Prix in September, 1964. Developed in conjunction with Royal Enfield racing manager, Geoff Duke, it had a duplex-tube frame, leading link forks and one-piece tank and seat unit.
Royal Enfield Continental GT 250cc – Mick
In 1965, a 21bhp variant called the Continental GT, with red GRP tank, five-speed gearbox, clip-on handlebars, rear-set footrests, swept pipe and hump-backed seat was launched. The Avon ‘Speedflow’ full sports fairing was available as an extra in complementary factory colours of red and white.
Royal Enfield Continental GT with Avon nosecone – Mick
Other variants were the Olympic and 250 Super 5, and the 250 ‘Turbo Twin’, fitted with the Villiers 247cc, twin-cylinder, two-stroke engine.
During the onslaught of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers in the late sixties and early seventies, Royal Enfield made final attempts, with the 692cc Interceptor in 1960–1961, followed in 1962–1968 by the 736cc Series I and Series II Interceptors.
Royal Enfield Interceptor 750cc – Jamieaaron734
Made largely for the US market, the Interceptor sported plenty of chrome and had strong performance, completing the quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds at speeds above 105mph. It became very popular in the US, but, as ever, the inability to meet market volume demand helped force the demise of this last English-made Royal Enfield.
Royal Enfield produced bicycles at its Redditch factory until it closed in early 1967. The company’s last new bicycle was the ‘Revelation’ small wheeler, released in 1965. Production of motorcycles ceased in 1970 and the original Redditch, Worcestershire-based company was dissolved in 1971.
After the factory closed, some 200 Series II Interceptor engines were sold to the Rickman brothers and a limited run of Rickman Interceptors was promptly built.
1971 Rickman Metisse
Enfield of India continued producing the ‘Bullet’ and began branding its motorcycles ‘Royal Enfield’ in 1999. A lawsuit over the use of ‘Royal’, brought by trademark owner David Holder, was judged in favour of Enfield of India, who continue to produce motorcycles under the Royal Enfield name. The models produced and marketed in India include cafe racers, cruisers, retros and adventure tourers.
Royal Enfield Classic Battle 500cc
‘Royal Enfield’ is the only motorcycle brand to span three centuries of continuous production. Royal Enfield currently sells motorcycles in more than 50 countries and surpassed Harley-Davidson in global sales in 2015.