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Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and Pho­tos Jim Scays­brook with as­sis­tance from Michael Turner.

The mar­que it­self had an il­lus­tri­ous his­tory from its be­gin­nings in 1919 in Glouces­ter, UK. Mr Frank Wil­loughby Cot­ton, a lawyer who was bet­ter known as Bill, had been a tri­als com­peti­tor pre-WW1, and ap­par­ently ac­quired the rights to a mo­tor­cy­cle that had been given the un­for­tu­nate name of Sud­brook. Cot­ton’s visual sig­na­ture was the tri­an­gu­lated steel tubu­lar frame for which Bill took out a patent. This con­nected the steer­ing head to the rear axle via four straight tubes, pro­duc­ing a very rigid frame. The prom­ise shown by early ver­sions was vin­di­cated when Stan­ley Woods fin­ished fifth in the 1922 Isle of Man Ju­nior TT on a Black­burne-en­gined ver­sion. The fol­low­ing year, Woods and the Cot­ton won the Ju­nior TT, and busi­ness boomed for Cot­ton as a re­sult. Out­put rose to around 1,000 units per year but when sup­plies of engines dried up, the fac­tory eased out of mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion, hav­ing done lit­tle in the way of devel­op­ment work, and with the range look­ing rather ob­so­lete. Cot­ton filed for bank­ruptcy in 1940 but was able to con­tinue in gen­eral en­gi­neer­ing as part of the war ef­fort. When Frank Cot­ton re­tired in the early 1950s, the cash-strapped rem­nants of the com­pany was sold to Pat Onions and Monty Den­ley who re­named it E. Cot­ton (Mo­tor­cy­cles) Ltd. Only the frames were made in-house and were no longer the tra­di­tional tri­an­gu­lated de­sign, be­ing a nor­mal sin­gle loop cra­dle. The first model from the new con­cern was the Vul­can which used the 197cc Vil­liers 8E en­gine/gear­box unit. The mo­tor­cy­cles were fairly un­re­mark­able, com­pet­ing with sim­i­lar of­fer­ings from DMW, Nor­man, Am­bas­sador and Sun, as well as the AMC mod­els Fran­cis Bar­nett and James. As well as the Vil­liers en­gined ver­sions, in 1955 Cot­ton pro­duced a model called the Cotanza pow­ered by an An­zani 250cc two-stroke twin with ro­tary valve in­duc­tion. The fol­low­ing year, the Vul­can ap­peared with the 9E Vil­liers en­gine and four-speed gear­box, while the Cotanza’s An­zani was upped to 322cc. A Vil­liers twin model was added for 1957, and a year later the range adopted the new lead­ing link front end with the flag­ship model be­ing the 250cc twin Her­ald and the vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal 324cc Mes­sen­ger.

How­ever a re­nais­sance of sorts oc­curred when Cot­ton saw the emer­gence of a mar­ket hun­gry for 250cc com­pe­ti­tion mod­els – a mar­ket dom­i­nated by the Lon­don Greeves firm, with DOT and James also ea­ger for a share. Cot­ton’s for­tunes rose as a re­sult of em­ploy­ing tal­ented scram­bler and tri­als rider John Draper, and later the bril­liant road racer Derek Min­ter. On the new Tel­star model, pow­ered by the Vil­liers Star­maker en­gine, Min­ter won the hotly con­tested Bri­tish 250cc Cham­pi­onship, as well as the Cas­tle Coombe 500 mile race on a ba­si­cally sim­i­lar Cot­ton Con­quest. Out in the colonies, the Cot­ton name first ap­peared on the lo­cal scram­bles scene when tal­ented lady racer Jill Sav­age im­mi­grated to Aus­tralia in late 1961 and set­tled in Melbourne. Jill had suc­cess­fully com­peted in scram­bles and in the In­ter­na­tional Six Days Trial on Greeves ma­chines, but had been spot­ted by Draper and of­fered Cot­tons for the 1961 sea­son. She brought two Cot­tons – a tri­als bike and a scram­bler, both us­ing the Vil­liers 33A en­gine – with her to Aus­tralia, and with en­cour­age­ment from Denly and Onions she and her soon-to-be hus­band Al­lan McBeath set up a busi­ness to im­port the mo­tor­cy­cles, with agents in most states. Jill’s fa­ther Len was ac­tu­ally a mo­tor­cy­cle dealer in Farn­brough, UK, so the busi­ness was not ex­actly new to her, al­though she con­tin­ued to work as a draughts­man in Melbourne, rid­ing her Cot­ton tri­als bike to work. The first model im­ported was the Cougar scram­bler; fairly typ­i­cal of the Bri­tish style of the day with Cot­ton’s own lead­ing link forks and a Vil­liers 33A en­gine. The new ma­chines found their way into the hands of many of the coun­try’s top riders, in­clud­ing West Aus­tralian Bob O’Leary who won the 1963 Aus­tralian 250cc Cham­pi­onship in Bris­bane. The Cougar soon gave way to a much-im­proved model, the Co­bra, which used the new Vil­liers Star­maker en­gine in a new frame, al­though still with the lead­ing link front end. Rid­den by the likes of Ge­off Tay­lor, Gra­ham Batholomew, John Bur­rows and Matt Da­ley, the Co­bra scored nu­mer­ous suc­cesses, in­clud­ing the 1964 Aus­tralian 500cc Cham­pi­onship, in Tay­lor’s hands. But like the other once-dom­i­nant Bri­tish makes, Cot­ton’s days were num­bered and Husq­varna, CZ and Bul­taco soon owned the scram­bles mar­ket.

On the lo­cal road rac­ing front, the Tel­star en­joyed its own run of suc­cess, es­pe­cially when a six-speed gear­box was added. Kevin Cass, Len Atlee and John Dodds in par­tic­u­lar did very well, with Cass and Atlee con­tin­u­ing to race the Tel­star when they went to Europe in the ’six­ties.

Off the tracks how­ever, there was very lit­tle in the way of Cot­ton pres­ence in Aus­tralia, with only a hand­ful of pri­vately im­ported road ma­chines mak­ing their way here. That’s why the fea­tured ma­chine, a 1961 Cot­ton Con­ti­nen­tal, is in­deed a rar­ity in th­ese parts. Cot­ton, and other com­pa­nies, were hard hit when Vil­liers ceased mo­tor­cy­cle en­gine pro­duc­tion, and were forced to look else­where. The Ital­ian Minarelli en­gine, ini­tially 175cc and later en­larged to 220cc, was cho­sen for the tri­als and en­duro mod­els, named Cot­ton Cava­liers. The com­pany sol­diered on un­til 1980, by which time its sole out­put was the 250cc Ro­tax tan­dem twin road racer which ap­peared as both a Cot­ton and an Arm­strong. Con­tin­u­ing fi­nan­cial prob­lems forced Cot­ton to move from its tra­di­tional Glouces­ter base to Bolton, Lan­cashire, in 1978, but the end was near. In the end, Arm­strong took over the com­pany and the Cot­ton name was con­signed to his­tory. To­day there are a num­ber of Cot­ton own­ers’ clubs around the world with the best-known – the Cot­ton Own­ers & En­thu­si­asts Club – be­ing lo­cated in the UK. The club has an in­ter­na­tional mem­ber­ship, pub­lishes its own mag­a­zine (“Cot­ton Pick­ins”) and stages a rally ev­ery year at the Glouces­ter Folk Mu­seum.

Pick of the Cot­ton crop?

This was the rather cliché head­line bandied about upon the re­lease of the Cot­ton Con­ti­nen­tal in Oc­to­ber 1960, just in time for the Earls Court Show in Lon­don. When the 1961 range was an­nounced, Cot­ton cutely avoided nam­ing the new model, say­ing only that it would be ‘new and ex­cit­ing’. The Con­ti­nen­tal cer­tainly was new, in that it

fea­tured a com­pletely re­designed frame – a far cry in­deed for the old tri­an­gu­lated job. The frame was of full du­plex de­sign in Reynolds tub­ing, with the twin front down tubes pass­ing hor­i­zon­tally be­neath the en­gine to pick up the base of the sin­gle seat tube and lower sub-frame mem­bers. The seat tube con­tin­ues for­ward to form the up­per of the two tank rails. The rear sec­tion of the frame was welded rather than bolted to the for­ward sec­tion, with the pivot plates for the swing­ing arm placed as far apart as pos­si­ble for max­i­mum stiff­ness. A cen­tre stand was stan­dard equip­ment, with a lift­ing han­dle on the near­side. The dual seat hinged up­wards from the front to give ac­cess to the bat­tery and tool kit. At the front was the now-fa­mil­iar Arm­strong lead­ing link fork, mod­i­fied by Cot­ton with a loop run­ning around the rear of the front wheel – a fea­ture de­vel­oped on the suc­cess­ful Cot­ton Cougar scram­bler. This was more im­por­tant than it may have seemed, as the stan­dard Arm­strong forks were known to twist badly, and the Cot­ton de­sign was later picked up by oth­ers, in­clud­ing DMW. Twin Arm­strong units con­trolled the rear end. A fi­bre­glass shroud con­cealed the midriff sec­tion, with a small fi­bre­glass cowl­ing and Per­spex screen up front to give a slightly sporty ap­pear­ance when com­bined with the semi-dropped han­dle­bar. Miller electrics were used. In­side the cowl­ing sat the head­light shell, with a Miller am­me­ter and Smith speedo, as well as the head­light switch. Steel was used for the 2.75 gal­lon fuel tank. Early mod­els used Ital­ian Grimeca hubs with cable-op­er­ated brakes – the 180mm front fea­tur­ing an air scoop – but th­ese were later re­placed by the Bri­tish Hub Com­pany’s Mo­toloy units. The rear hub in­cor­po­rated a cush drive which was ac­tu­ally de­vel­oped by Cot­ton them­selves, with vanes cast into the hub to en­gage with a rub­ber mould­ing at­tached to the rear sprocket car­rier. Power came from the ubiq­ui­tous long stroke Vil­liers 2T twin cylin­der two stroke en­gine, which had been around since 1956. The en­gine was un­usual in that each bar­rel had its own crank­shaft, sep­a­rated by a cen­tral disc in the crank­case hold­ing a cen­tral bear­ing, with a roller bear­ing on the mag­neto side and a ball bear­ing on the drive side. The ver­sion used by Cot­ton was spe­cially fit­ted with high com­pres­sion cylin­der heads and mod­i­fied pis­tons, rais­ing the stan­dard 2T 8.2:1 to 8.7:1, or 9.4:1 on the Con­ti­nen­tal Sport. Even the stan­dard job, de­vel­op­ing 15 hp at 5,500 rpm, was good enough for a 75 mph top speed. A Deluxe ver­sion was of­fered from 1963 which had valanced chromed mud­guards and a larger Vil­liers S25 car­bu­ret­tor. When Vil­liers ceased man­u­fac­ture of the 2T en­gine at the end of 1963, Cot­ton switched to the 4T, which de­vel­oped 17hp and used a Vil­liers fly­wheel mag­neto. The 1960 ver­sion of the Con­ti­nen­tal was fin­ished in red and black; a dé­cor that had been syn­ony­mous with Cot­ton for many years, but in 1961 the model was of­fered in a sky blue. The model re­mained in the range un­til 1967, but the sale of Vil­liers to Man­ganeze Bronze (who then amal­ga­mated the com­pany with their ex­ist­ing Nor­ton/AMC and ceased sup­ply­ing en­gine units to other man­u­fac­tur­ers) fin­ished off the Con­ti­nen­tal as well.

Thanks to CLAS­SIC STYLE AUS­TRALIA, 34 Penin­sula Blvd, Seaford Vic­to­ria 3198 PH: (03) 9773 5533 for the op­por­tu­nity to pho­to­graph their Cot­ton Con­ti­nen­tal.

Alan McBeath’s Cot­ton Cougar, one of the first to be im­ported to Aus­tralia.

Not a bad look­ing unit, the 2T. Note the po­si­tion of the ig­ni­tion switch. Fi­bre­glass cowl­ing en­cases the head­lamp, speedo and switches.

Tank badge mir­rors the com­pany’s pa­tented tri­an­gu­lated frame.

Semi-dropped ‘bars were all the rage with the early ‘six­ties café racer set. Where would the Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try have been with­out Vil­liers?

Al­loy cast­ing en­clos­ing the car­bu­ret­tor keeps the usual two strokemuck out of sight. Arm­strong lead­ling link front end was sup­plied to a num­ber of Bri­tish man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Nor­man and Am­bas­sador, but Cot­ton added their own touch with a tubu­lar loop run­ning around the rear of the wheel. Pic­tured at the 2015 New Zealand Na­tional Rally, Robert Eun­son’s 1929 Cot­ton/JAP (cen­tre) with the fa­mous tri­an­gu­lated frame.

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