Motorcycle Restoration Projects
A rare beast restoration
A 1937 Excelsior Meritor is a rare motorcycle indeed. While not a museum piece like the contemporary Manxman racing versions, the 247cc Meritor street bike is nonetheless a very important piece of British motorcycling history.
Peter H has fond memories of the bike he’s recently spent a several years restoring. His father swapped it, back in 1946:
“Dad actually received the Excelsior in pieces,” Peter told Historic Vehicles.
“He swapped the frame, wheels and several wooden ammo boxes full of parts for his 1935 Royal Enfield bike.
“As far as he knows he wanted the two-stroke Villiers engine out of the Excelsior to power a rotary hoe he was building, but never actually got ‘round to it.
“He didn’t want the four-stroke out of the Royal Enfield – hence the swap.”
Peter told us he could remember the Excelsior frame, wheels and ammo boxes stored under the family home for many years. Even the old Olympic tyres were stored there.
“Several times I begged the Old Man to let me build up the bike from the bits under the house, but he’d never let me,” said Peter.
“However, we did turn the engine over by hand periodically and give it a dose of oil.”
Many, many years later, Peter H had moved interstate and his father finally relented on the Excelsior Project. He visited Peter, bringing all the bike bits with him.
It didn’t take Peter long to work out that he had something quite exclusive in the Excelsior. Very few motorcycle people knew anything about it and even fewer had parts for it, other than common Villiers and Burman parts.
When he set about its restoration, Peter knew he’d need to make many custom bits for the rare Excelsior, although he had a stroke of luck with Pioneer Cycles, which was still operating near the Sunshine Coast’s Ettamogah Pub.
“They had some parts and original fuel tank and battery box transfers that I snapped up,” said Peter.
The bike was lacking a saddle and a long search for a replacement ‘Drilastic’ vulcanised rubber seat proved fruitless, so he had to make do with a generic, sprung saddle. Looks the part, ‘though.
The original rubber battery box was also very tired and a replacement was impossible to find, so Peter used photographs and stock rubber sheet to fabricate a replica. With the original transfers on it, the box looks stock.
He sought a missing foot-peg in vain and settled for a replica, made up by his local blacksmith:
“I defy anyone to pick the difference between the new and the old,” said Peter.
The rebuild didn’t take as long as Peter expected it might, because the major bits and pieces were in those treasured ammo boxes. However, he did find himself making up new mudguard brackets and tubes, because the originals were too far gone in some cases.
Ditto with the original twin exhaust pipes that had corroded away, but the local pipe shop, Tranzac Exhausts, made perfect replicas.
The Burman shift mechanism was complete and needed only a re-chrome to make it sparkle once more.
The brake shoes were intact, but the linings were shot, so they were relined. The taillight plastics had had it, but there were fortunately period-correct Lucas bits around.
Peter used scaled photographs to paint the tank in its original red and black, with gold pinstripes. Onto the red section went the treasured ‘Excelsior’ transfers. However, disaster struck when a new fuel tank tap had to be welded in place, because the paint and the transfers suffered from transmitted heat damage.
“I have no idea why I did it, but I’d measured up the ‘Excelsior’ transfers when I bought them,” said Peter.
“I knew the exact length and height of the originals, so it was a relatively simple job to get the local sticker shop to make up a few sets for me.”
The Big Day eventually came, when Peter threw a leg over the old girl and went for test ride. The Villiers fired up just fine, but wouldn’t pull under load. Further investigation showed the need for resetting at top centre, some fine tuning and a new inlet manifold gasket. That made it run quite smoothly.
When we last spoke to Peter H he was planning several bike club events with the Excelsior, which we reckon will turn heads however it goes. A top resto job and a fitting family gesture.
The Excelsior Meritor
Our Historic Vehicles files show that the 1937 Excelsior Meritor was available in two models: G4 and GD4, with the ‘D’ denoting a six-volt dynamo that powered the seven-inch headlight – not to great lumen levels, of course!
The engine was a two-port, 67mm bore x 70mm stroke, 247cc, two-stroke, aluminium-head and piston, air cooled model. It used Petroil fuel mix, feeding through gas-tight bronze main and roller big-end bearings. The transmission was a three-speed, with right hand gear change lever.
The Excelsior frame was seamless tubular steel, with rigid rear and Webb girder-fork, adjustable front suspension. A rear cargo carrier was fitted as standard.
The original 25-inch wire-spoke wheels were fitted with 3.25-inch cord tyres.