Bugatti is not usually associated with motorcycles, but that does not mean he never addressed them – and even rode them…
Bugatti is not usually associated with motorcycles, but that does not mean he never addressed them – and even rode them…
It may have been ancient and obscure history, but apparently the Pennington articles did tickle some readers. Reader Howard Branch was prompted by the Pennington ignition to send in a copy of a February 1957 ‘ Motor Cycle’ article by Alan Baker on the Gilbert-Hobbs ignition system. This was aimed at foiling the two-stroke habit of whiskering plugs, by the expedient of placing the earthed electrode on the piston instead of the spark plug itself. Any such whisker would quickly be broken as the piston receded, the only problem being that a tricky adjustment job was required to set the plug gap (and the consequences of getting it wrong do not bear thinking about)! Thanks also to Mal Burgess, whose recent feedback to HQ included a compliment for the column, also prompted by Pennington!
Last month PUB mentioned visiting the Bugatti trust exhibition at Prescott (home of hillclimbs). His cars are well known, and some will also know that the large (12.7 litre) ‘Royale’ car engine was also used in railcars. The American King-Bugatti aero engines have been mentioned in this column previously (roughly two car engines side by side), and there was a Breguet-Bugatti engine too (roughly two car engines end to end) – in fact his first straight eight was prompted by aviation and his friendship with aviator Roland Garros. Garros was the pioneer of fighter planes shooting their guns forward, through the propeller, but bravely tried it before ‘interrupter’ gear was invented to synchronise the bullets with the gaps between propeller blades. Instead he simply fitted metal deflectors to his wooden prop, and hoped that they would prevent him shooting off his own propeller (it worked – sort of – and thus sparked off development of better methods).
Naturally the second World War stopped Bugatti’s luxury and racing car business in French Molsheim. When it was over ‘Le Patron’ Bugatti had been doing a lot of thinking, and as much prototyping as possible in the circumstances. The Trust exhibits include a bicycle design of his, in which the usual large diameter tubes are replaced with clusters of small diameter ones instead. This appears to go against conventional wisdom (which says that large diameter tubes are best, unless their walls become so thin that they will buckle), although where loads are asymmetrically applied to the structure it may make it easier to dispose the metal optimally? He also investigated different forms of suspension applied to slightly more normal cycle frames, although his monoshock pivoted fork rear had rather a lot of antecedents. Whether his cycle thoughts preceded or followed his cyclemotor concept is not known, but that cyclemotor was something extraordinary.
Ettore’s design was nothing less than a 10.5cc (22mm x 28mm bore and stroke) supercharged dohc single cylinder fourstroke! The transmission was equally complex, with a clutch, worm and wheel to turn the drive 90 degrees to a sprocket that then drove the bicycle chainwheel incorporating a freewheel. The cylinder sat behind the timing gear and supercharger, which would not have favoured its air-cooling much. It is difficult to see how he imagined such a complex engine could be sold to the impecunious looking for cheap transport. However, it is as well to remember that the Cucciolo cyclemotor was also a four-stroke, and although it operated its valvegear by simpler pull-rods, it did incorporate both a clutch and pre-selector two-speed gear, and also drove through the cycle chain via a modified bicycle chainwheel.
That complication (compared to simple friction drive two-stroke) did not prevent the Cucciolo being very successful, in multiple countries, and starting Ducati motorcycles on their illustrious way!
Perhaps frugal use of rationed petrol might have been on Bugatti’s mind, or perhaps it was just a design exercise and small because materials for anything bigger were unavailable during the war years? Apparently seven such engines were built, two being at the Trust (one assembled and one dismantled for show), with another three known. In spite of the tiny capacity, power was estimated as a creditable 0.5hp compared to the typical 25-50cc cyclemotors which usually claimed 0.7 - 1hp.
However this was not the only small engine on his mind, for he also made a Type 68 design, initially as a 330cc dohc 16-valve supercharged four cylinder engine and then a 68B 370cc 8-valve for an ‘economy’ car – showing that Le Patron, as he was often known, just couldn’t make anything other than exotic designs! A picture on display shows Ettore himself riding a motorcycle using the 16-valve four, captioned in that case as 318cc. Whilst the Type 72 is comprehensively described in David Beare & Phillipa Wheeler’s ‘Stinkwheel Saga – episode 2’, and so known to dedicated cyclemotor enthusiasts, even PUB was unaware of the Bugatti supercharged four motorcycle (or indeed that Ettore rode motorcycles)!
However, RC readers probably want to see some pictures of more than an obscure Bugatti prototype, and the recent Classic Bike Show is always a good place to source something unusual. As it happened, the unusual presented itself even before entry into the halls, in the shape of the ‘Project 55’ BSA. This engine, said the accompanying information board, started in 1967 as an experimental dohc 4-valve 350cc (with very oversquare 83.5mm x 63mm bore and stroke). After a period in storage at the Triumph factory, it was eventually bought as a tea chest of parts. It has subsequently been built up into a bike, using an MRD Métisse frame, and more recently opened out to 500cc. The owner is hoping for it to race in the MGP, with the aim of achieving a 100mph lap. Nearby was the Trident/Rocket three display, which included a home built Quadrent (to rhyme with Trident, unlike the factory who called theirs Quadrant), a dohc V6 BSA, both of which have featured here before, and a Triumph four built from two twins which has not. Shed dwellers never cease to amaze PUB!
Also outside, and for sale, was a ‘Derny’ moped/cyclemotor which should be pictured
nearby. Derny is now most associated with cycle racing, being the pace machine used in Kierin events (which went a bit awry at the last Olympics), but originated with the motorcycle firm which provided most of them years ago. The thing that caught PUB’s eye about this one was the handlebars, festooned with levers – how many hands do French riders have?
Inside, however, was the place for all of the shiny bikes. Best in Show went to a pair of 1928 K10 AJS 500cc ohc bikes restored by Alan Smith, whilst Miller’s AJS Porcupine and V-four pair helped the Footman James stand win the trophy for best trade stand. Glynn Baxter’s Series A Vincent twin gained an award for best technical interest, on account of being the start of the Vincent V-twin line, and a very rare Royal Sovereign justifiably won best veteran. There were, of course, many other award winners that Dennis Frost’s team of judges had the unenviable task of picking out from the terrific quality of restorations that are seen today.
But it is not only the award winners that provide interest. The National Motorcycle Museum’s Marsh four is the product of an earlier shed-dwelling generation. Fred Marsh was inspired by the Fifties GP racing fours, and disappointed that the British factories provided no opposition – so he made his own. Using modified Tiger Cub heads (chosen for valve angle) he concocted a 500cc aircooled dohc four cylinder, housed in a then very up-to-date Douglas Dragonfly frame but with Norton Roadholder forks. Tested in 1963 it would run to over 9000rpm and a road speed around 130mph, and was raced but not comprehensively developed before Fred moved on to a V8 inspired by the works Moto Guzzi.
Other notable machines on show were Gordon May’s ex-Burma G3L Matchless which
he rode back there en route to Vietnam, as detailed in his most recent travel book. Gordon was elsewhere in the hall but PUB did not manage to meet him. One of the feature bikes of the show was pioneer Muriel Hind’s ‘Blue Devil’ Rex V-twin. Muriel Hind was born in 1880, and became one of the first women riders, initially with a Singer ‘Motorwheel’. She graduated to a Singer tricar with which she competed in the MCC Land’s End and Edinburgh long distance trials. Subsequently she became a test rider and demonstrator for Rex, riding a number of works V-twins with dropped frames to accommodate the women’s dress she insisted upon retaining. It did not stop her from being very successful in competition and by writing a regular column in MotorCycling she tried hard to encourage other women, whilst many manufacturers listed dropped frame models for the same reason. However, serious women riders soon courted outrage by wearing trousers (tut tut), and preferred the stiffer ordinary models. Although cycling had appealed to a lot of women, perhaps by freeing them from home, engine power seemed to appeal much less than to the menfolk. Nevertheless there were still famous women riders in trials, speedway, and gaining Brooklands Gold Starts up until WW2.
Machines that readers may consider stretch the term ‘classic’ somewhat included a BSA Dandy, two Beagles and an Ariel Pixie in various places! However, disastrous as those bikes were, PUB does not berate the firms for their aspiration to compete with the Far East for that market, but only for their execution and management. Ponder on how the latter two might have fared had they featured Val Page’s toothed belt driven ohc engine that Ariel had planned, instead of the minimised Tiger Cub motor that Edward Turner insisted upon.
Readers may already have read of the highest price Bonhams sale, the ‘White Shadow’ (painted black!), for £163,900 (with commission) – and that for a restoration project! However it was closely followed by the ex-Freddie Frith TT winning Mk VIII KTT Velocette which took £135,100 to buy. Ducatis once again did not fare so well, the 1956 125cc ohc ‘Marianna’, and 1958 125cc ‘ Trialbero’ being unsold for the second time – there being a little doubt as to how
factory original they are. The unique and well documented 1960 ex-Surtees and Hailwood Reynolds framed 250cc dohc twin cylindered Ducati also did not find a buyer at its £80100,000 estimate.
Broughs, of course, still commanded high prices, save that no-one was interested in a JAP 981cc sv with SS80 origins, but now housed in a vintage Triumph CTT cycleparts. Not Brough enough it seemed. Editor Frank may be interested to know that the 1937 1000cc Matchless MX, in shiny restored condition, sold for £50,600 – they are finally being appreciated. Someone must have known more about the special works Ariels on offer than PUB did, because the Ariel HT 500 ‘GOV130’ rocketed past double its estimate to £24,725 whereas the Ariel HS 350, with description suggesting it was unique, raised only £5,750 in line with estimate. The only lot that PUB might have been interested in – a veteran that might have been easier than her current ones to manage – went too high. That is often a problem buying at auction, but unfortunately it is increasingly hard to find many rare machines except at auction (that is part of the service the auction houses are providing).
Newsflash. Having already exercised the Vincent at the weekend, PUB discovered that it was a ‘trikes, sidecars, and three-wheelers’ day at Jacks Hill Café on Sunday. That seemed like a good reason to wake up the slumbering Triking, that she rarely has any reason to take out. It won a prize – this never happens to PUB’s scruffy machinery! No doubt it was because only two three-wheelers attended (but plenty of trikes and sidecars, which were judged separately), and the other one arrived late and probably after judging. No matter, it was a prize – brag, brag, bore bore…
Above: The Ariel Pixie was styled as part of the Leader/Arrow ‘family’ although it interfered a bit with the ‘step-through’ concept of the Hondas it was presumably to compete with. It looks prettier with the optional screen and legshields, but having...
Top: Rather than extend a Trident by one pot, this special builder chose to construct his four by doubling up on the Meriden twin. ‘RealTriumphs were made in Meriden’ the saying goes, except that they weren’t, they were made in Priory Street, Coventry,...
Above Right: Piece-parts of the Bugatti 10.5cc Type 72 engine. Cylinder and dohc head top left, and Roots type supercharger lower right Above: Bugatti’s concept for a bicycle, utilising the basic diamond concept but with a complex structure of small...
Ettore Bugatti had motorcycles on his mind after WW2, as indicated by this photograph of him on one utilising his 318cc Type 68 four cylinder, four valve, supercharged engine
Right: Although described as being a one-off works special, this Ariel HS 350cc scrambler failed to ignite passions at the Bonhams auction, selling for £5,750, whereas the accompanying HT5 500cc trials version, GOV130, soared beyond its £8-10,000...