British manufacturer ruled trials and helped win the Falklands War
Armstrong? One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind… Not that Armstrong, but the American link is relevant. We are actually talking about Armstrong-ccm. CCM were – and still are – a small, off-roadfocused, British manufacturer with strong military connections based in Bolton, Lancashire. Armstrong Industries, meanwhile, are a huge American industrial conglomerate, who owned a controlling stake in CCM between 1981 and 1987.
So what was so special about it? The move created something of a mini golden era for British bikesport. Armstrong 250 and 350cc racers, most famously in the hands of Scots Donnie Mcleod and a young Niall Mackenzie, introduced pioneering technology, dominated the British championship briefly and made an impression in GPS. Armstrong trials bikes, most famously in the hands of a young Steve Saunders and John Lampkin, dominated the British trials championship and made an impression in world trials. Meanwhile, Armstrong military bikes were used in the Falklands War in 1983. Some CV.
So how did it all come about? In 1980/81, Armstrong bought a controlling interest in a handful of mostly British motorcycling concerns and amalgamated them to form a serious off-road and road race business. Which ones are we talking about? Primarily off-road specialists CCM, which had been formed by Alan Clews in 1971 (CCM stands for Clews Competition Motorcycles) out of the remains of BSA’S off-road competition shop. But also, and just as significantly: Cotton, also in Bolton and which at that time had been developing a Rotax tandem twin-powered road racer, plus Barton Engineering, another significant player in British bike racing. In addition, the new concern also acquired the rights to a Rotax-engined enduro bike, the XN Tornado, from Italian firm SWM, which evolved into the MT500 military machine. Then, in 1983, Canadian company Bombardier licensed the brand and outsourced development and production of Can-am off-road bikes to Armstrong-ccm as well.
So where did the various trials and racing bikes come from? CCM had originally developed a prototype trials bike with trials legend Sammy Miller in the late ’70s. After Armstrong’s takeover, the idea was revived and the result, using a tubular steel frame designed by Mike Eatough and the Miller-developed Hiro 320cc two-stroke engine, was well received.
So it did well? Very. John Lampkin was signed for 1982, going on to finish well in world rounds as well as coming sixth in that year’s Scottish. Then, when Lampkin joined Fantic, Steve Saunders came in and on later versions won the British Trials Championship in 1984 and 1985 with the bike coming to be considered to be one of the best twin-shock trials bikes ever made.
And the road racer? A development of Cotton’s 1980 EM34 which was powered by the Rotax water-cooled, disc-valve, twostroke twin. When Cotton went bust,
Armstrong took over producing first the EM35, which was essentially a rebadged Cotton, before successively developing the bike under design chief Mike Eatough (yes, him again), winning the British 250cc Championship in 1981 and 1982 with Steve Tomkin and repeating in 1985 and 1986 with Niall Mackenzie. Along the way it gained such pioneering features as a carbon fibre frame and one-piece bodywork.
So what went wrong? Lots. In trials, Hiro went bust in 1984 leading to a switch to Rotax power. The trials Armstrong was never again considered quite as good. Then, in 1987, Armstrong pulled out altogether, selling the military business to Harley-Davidson, the road racing department to CWH Developments in Lancashire and CCM back to Clews.
So that was it? Not quite. H-D continued producing the Rotax-powered military bikes for a few years while CWH produced the 350cc CM36 engine for F2 sidecar racers. The most significant survivor, though, is CCM, which continues to produce off-road, military and government-adapted motorcycles, notably its recently introduced GP450 adventure middleweight, at its Bolton base.
John Lampkin puts the Amstrong trials bike through its paces back in the 1980s
Innovations on the 250 included the use of carbon fibre
Mackenzie scored top ten finishes on the ArmstrongRotax in 250 GPS from 1984-86
Simple and rugged construction was ideal for the army