Raising the Barr and Stroud
John Ferguson Melbourne, Victoria A hitherto unknown side of P&R Williams is that they imported some Barr and Stroud single sleeve-valve engines. B&S thought they’d have a crack at the proprietary motorcycle engine market after the first war, because their main precision optics business (range-finders, periscopes, binoculars etc) had fallen to nil. Pretty obviously P&R intended to build at least some trial B&S engined bikes. On 6 November 1923 they ordered a 350cc single and a 1,000cc V-twin. So is there a 1,000cc single sleeve-valve V-twin Waratah lurking undiscovered somewhere? There was a second shipment to Sydney, consignee unknown, of a 500 and another V-twin. That particular 500 is the heart of “Ever Onward”, one of only two known 500 B&S powered bikes still about, but what happened to the others? Even in their day the 1,000cc twin was a spectacular engine, and it’s hard to imagine them just vanishing. During the late 1930’s, probably 1937, a Barr and Stroud V-twin engine was the window display at Allparts in Adelaide. The fact that a 12-year-old V-twin was still deemed worthy of that treatment reflects on how interesting (or weird) they were considered even then. I wonder where that went? Two shipments of engines went to Melbourne. One shipment of a 350, two 500s and a V-twin went to the same, but unknown, consignee. I’ve seen a photo of a 350 B&S powered GCS, so that shipment probably went to Stillwells; but what of the other engines? A far greater mystery surrounds the two 1,000cc engines bought by Norm Maplestone. Norm was big news in Victorian motorcycling. Pre-war he built his own “Maple” motorcycle. Post-war he sold his “Maplestone Cantilever” fork design to H.C Webb, and it became the ubiquitous Webb fork. He worked with Frank Baker at Precision, married Frank’s daughter and returned to Melbourne with a Beardmore Precision agency and a workshop in Kew. Such was Norm’s importance that his movements in Britain were reported in “The Australian Motor Cycle”. A newsworthy man, known motorcycle manufacturer, two newsworthy V-twin engines, and not a word of a report or a photo that I can find. It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t build at least one bike around an engine. F.E. Baker’s was a major customer for B&S, so Norm would have known what he was getting, and they weren’t cheap. There is one part of the story of B&S in Australia where there are some answers. The WA Railways bought a total of 52 of the 350cc engines for use in fettler’s trolleys. In March 1939, 46 were still in service. In 1951 a significant proportion were still in service, but in 1955 they were all replaced with J.A.P. engines. To give 30 years service they could not have been too bad. If anyone has any knowledge or stories on B&S engines in Australia, I’d be very keen to hear from you by email at johnfergu[email protected] or phone (03) 9432 0511.
“Ever Onward”, a vehicle for a 500cc Barr and Stroud engine. All early ‘20s parts, built in 1966.