Ariel Leader

For­ward think­ing

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Bryan Fowler’s next project is to recre­ate the pro­to­type ‘Leader 4’ men­tioned in this story, us­ing a BMW K75 en­gine housed in a mod­i­fied Leader chas­sis, with the dis­tinc­tive twin head­lights. Watch this space.

For a com­pany steeped in the tra­di­tion of sporty four stroke sin­gles and twins, plus the long serv­ing Square Four, Ariel took a leap into the un­known with its first two-stroke – dis­count­ing the 1916 de­sign that failed to reach pro­duc­tion due to the con­cen­tra­tion on the war ef­fort.

The Ariel Leader of 1958 demon­strated that there was still orig­i­nal think­ing to be ob­served within the strug­gling Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, al­though it had taken three years to turn the ini­tial ideas into metal. Leg­endary de­signer Val Page was be­hind the draw­ing board, and with cred­its like the BSA Gold Star, BSA A7 and even as far back as the OHV V-twin J.A.P. en­gine, Page had the runs on the board, even if he were past the usual re­tire­ment age. But the Leader was a quan­tum leap in vir­tu­ally every re­spect; de­signed to ap­peal to a new gen­er­a­tion of mo­tor­cy­clists, rather than pan­der­ing to the tra­di­tional, and staid, mar­ket. Page’s de­sign aban­doned the usual tubu­lar steel frame by uti­liz­ing a struc­ture made up of pressed 20-gauge steel sec­tions, welded to­gether, with the en­gine sus­pended at three points from the un­der­side of the front sec­tion, the rear mount­ing serv­ing as the swing­ing arm pivot. The rear mount­ing bracket did dou­ble duty as an air-si­lenc­ing cham­ber, with a stub for the re­place­able el­e­ment air fil­ter, with a rub­ber hose lead­ing to the Amal Monobloc car­bu­ret­tor. The very rigid box-sec­tion frame had a hollow mid­dle sec­tion, into which a fuel tank made from two press­ings was dropped. In the space where the fuel tank usu­ally sat was a dummy tank that was ac­tu­ally a lug­gage com­part­ment, ac­cessed via a lock­able lid. The en­gine unit was concealed be­hind more pressed steel pan­els which could be eas­ily re­moved for main­te­nance via five screws. An en­tirely new de­sign, the en­gine was con­ceived by Page and his as­sis­tant de­signer, Bernard Knight, who had had a con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence in the BSA Ban­tam. To en­sure the unit was as low and com­pact as pos­si­ble, the twin cylin­ders were in­clined steeply for­ward at 45º, and to keep the width down, the cylin­der cen­tres were as close to­gether as pos­si­ble. Bore and stroke were iden­ti­cal at 54mm, with 180º fir­ing in­ter­vals. Cylin­der heads were pres­sure diecast in light al­loy with part-spher­i­cal com­bus­tion cham­bers. The crank­case, hous­ing both the en­gine and gear­box with an air space be­tween, plus the in­ner half of the pri­mary chain case were cast in one and not split, with the main bear­ings housed in de­tach­able end cov­ers. This was an in­cred­i­bly com­plex af­fair in pres­sure die-cast­ing, the die hav­ing no fewer than 68 com­po­nents. Thus it was pos­si­ble to dis­man­tle the en­gine com­pletely with­out re­mov­ing it from the frame, but re­quired the crank­shaft to be made in two halves, with mat­ing-ta­per and end-key cou­pling held to­gether

by a socket-headed draw bolt, with no mid­dle jour­nal. As well as the in­ner steel fly­wheels, the Leader used an ex­ter­nal cast-iron fly­wheel housed in the pri­mary chain case, which also con­tained a leaf-spring ten­sioner for the pri­mary chain. In­ter­nals for the four-speed gear­box had their ori­gins in the proven Bur­man CP box, with the gears nar­rowed. A neu­tral-in­di­ca­tor switch, fit­ted into the rear of the gear­box cas­ing, was a novel fit­ment for the era. The com­plete en­gine/gear­box unit tipped the scales at just 84lb (38.2kg). The mul­ti­tude of pressed pan­els (eight in to­tal, not in­clud­ing the mud­guards) re­quired a con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment, so great that it was de­cided to ease out the re­main­ing Ariel four stroke mod­els. Mud­guards, head­light cowl­ing, en­gine cov­ers, leg shields (into two sec­tions), tail unit (which hinges up­ward for rear wheel re­moval), rear chain case and even the front forks were all press­ings. The forks them­selves were of trail­ing link de­sign with the hy­draulic spring/ dampers concealed in­side each leg. The die-cast trail­ing links, made from heat-treated light al­loy, were ar­ranged so that the wheel­base did not al­ter with sus­pen­sion move­ment.

To ease the life of the hid­den rear chain, an oiler was built into the rear of the pri­mary chain case, with drops of lu­bri­cant reach­ing the chain from a wick feeder. A bug­bear of two-stroke, gunk­ing up of the ex­haust si­lencers, was al­le­vi­ated by the fact that the en­tire baf­fle sys­tem of the Ariel-de­signed units could be re­moved for clean­ing. Lift­ing the Leader onto its cen­tre stand is ac­com­plished us­ing a tele­scop­ing tubu­lar push but­ton type han­dle that springs in/out, just un­der the seat. Stan­dard fit­ment in­cluded a steer­ing lock and a lock­able dual seat, both of which were ac­cessed via the dummy tank com­part­ment, and a trim­mer for the head­lamp beam, op­er­ated by a lever on the dash­board.

Un­der the seat sat the filler cap for the fuel tank, bat­tery and tool kit. Wit­ness­ing the added prof­its derived from au­to­mo­bile and scooter man­u­fac­tur­ers mak­ing and sell­ing op­tions to adorn their prod­ucts, Ariel joined in. Ariel of­fered a long list of op­tions to the buy­ing pub­lic, how­ever few could ac­tu­ally af­ford all that were of­fered, if in­deed they wanted them. The Leader’s op­tions in­cluded rear view mir­rors, turn sig­nals (termed “traf­fi­ca­tors”- a first on a pro­duc­tion Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle), side stand, wind­screen ex­ten­sion, eight day clock (now so rare, some buy a com­plete Leader just for the elu­sive clock), lock­able pan­niers with vinyl in­serts (re­mov­able for shop­ping­pre­dat­ing both the ad­vent and demise of the plas­tic shop­ping bag), neu­tral in­di­ca­tor light, water­proof seat cover, lug­gage rack with elas­tic ties, park­ing lamp, front stand, 80 mph speedome­ter with tripome­ter, rear mud­guard, chrome plated rear bumper and an in­spec­tion lamp (aka trou­ble lamp). A Per­spex screen was stan­dard fit­ment as was a dash­board for the in­stru­ments.

In keep­ing with the Leader’s avant garde styling, the dé­cor broke new ground too. Two colour op­tions were listed; Chero­kee Red or Ori­en­tal Blue, both with con­trast­ing Light Ad­mi­ralty Grey pan­els. To Bri­tish eyes, the Leader rep­re­sented a com­plete de­par­ture from con­ven­tion, which sat bet­ter with some than with oth­ers. Thick amongst the lat­ter were the Amer­i­cans, who had no lik­ing for pressed steel frames of any type. The fail­ure of the Leader in the vi­tal US mar­ket was a ma­jor fac­tor in its com­par­a­tively short ex­is­tence. It was pricey too, and a bit on the porky side with just 17.5hp to push it along. Al­though the new ma­chine re­ceived rave re­views from jour­nal­ists and road testers (and was awarded 1959 Mo­tor­cy­cle of the Year by Mo­tor­cy­cle News pub­li­ca­tion), over­all sales were slug­gish. Ariel’s an­swer was to pro­duce a sec­ond ver­sion stripped of the body pan­els, leg shields and dash­board which was named the Ar­row, launched in 1960. It was lighter, faster, and con­sid­er­ably cheaper. One year later a re­vised ver­sion ap­peared with a re­designed cylin­der head that gave more power, at the ex­pense of smooth­ness.

It was how­ever, a case of too lit­tle, too late, and in 1963 the old Ariel plant in Selly Oak, Birm­ing­ham was closed and pro­duc­tion trans­ferred to the main BSA fa­cil­ity in Small Heath. In 1964 a re­vised model, the Ar­row 200 ap­peared, of­fi­cially to sit un­der the 200cc level favoured by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, but ac­tu­ally to use up the piles of sur­plus parts that still lay in the old Ariel fac­tory. It was merely a stay of ex­e­cu­tion, and by 1965 both the Leader and the Ar­row were no more, and the Ariel name ef­fec­tively ended, al­though BSA used the brand on two unloved and un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts, the Pixie and the Ariel 3, both des­tined to short and ig­no­min­ious lives.

A dou­ble Leader

Back in 1962, while many other Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle com­pa­nies were shrink­ing their ranges, Ariel had other ideas. The 2-stroke twin Leader had been strug­gling to find buy­ers and was now es­sen­tially com­pet­ing with cheap small cars as much as other mo­tor­cy­cles. In a rather bold move, par­ent

“To Bri­tish eyes, the Leader rep­re­sented a com­plete de­par­ture from con­ven­tion, which sat bet­ter with some than with oth­ers.”

com­pany BSA di­verted pre­cious re­sources into the cre­ation of a pro­to­type four-cylin­der 692cc Leader; not a two stroke but an over­head valve four stroke with the crank­shaft run­ning fore and aft and the en­gine laid flat; a de­sign which pre­ceded the BMW K se­ries by more than 20 years. The en­gine ac­tu­ally had its ori­gins as a de­sign des­tined for an Army con­tract – an­other Val Page cre­ation of 400cc.

The ‘Leader 4’ had the fan-as­sisted air-cooled hor­i­zon­tal cylin­ders out the left side of the mo­tor­cy­cle, with the wet sump on the right, a syn­cro-mesh gear­box and a sin­gle plate clutch taken from the Mor­ris Mi­nor car. The en­gine breathed through a sin­gle Zenith car­bu­ret­tor, with coil ig­ni­tion, elec­tric start­ing and shaft fi­nal drive. The frame and body­work were very sim­i­lar to the 250cc Leader with care­ful at­ten­tion to com­fort and weather pro­tec­tion, with twin head­lights be­ing the main dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture. How­ever the pro­to­type pro­duced only around 25 horse­power and was no light­weight, so per­for­mance was hardly shat­ter­ing. The BSA board was un­con­vinced of the Leader 4’s po­ten­tial and re­fused to fund the model into pro­duc­tion, but the real rea­son for the de­ci­sion was a mas­sive cut back in mil­i­tary spend­ing and the sub­se­quent can­cel­la­tion of the vi­tal con­tract for which the en­gine had been orig­i­nally de­signed. To­day the pro­to­type ‘Leader 4’ ex­ists in the Na­tional Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum in the Bri­tish Mid­lands.

An owner’s opin­ion

Bryan Fowler is very keen on his Ariel Leader, which he says is “the first bike to be mar­keted like a car. You start with the ba­sic bike, then op­tion it up with

in­di­ca­tors, rear bumper, ex­tra lights etc. The en­gine and gear­box can be stripped in frame which was a real break­through in ease of main­te­nance.”

A Leader restora­tion is not for the faint hearted, says Bryan. “Un­like its con­tem­po­raries, Ariel opted to make the Lead­ers’ fas­ten­ers and threads as S.A.E. – per­haps in an­tic­i­pa­tion of cater­ing to the U.S.A. mar­ket (an an­tic­i­pa­tion that did not even­tu­ate). The ex­cep­tion to this is the gear­box, in which some threads are met­ric, thereby re­veal­ing the Leader’s Adler in­flu­ence. There are few “spe­cialty” tools re­quired to work on the Leader and they are well worth hav­ing for any owner; for ex­am­ple a fly­wheel puller, con­tact point/oil seal cen­tre. “Al­though pro­duc­tion (1958-1965) was lim­ited to about 22,000 units, most spares are avail­able and some of the op­tions are be­ing repli­cated. Dra­gan­fly (U.K.) has been an in­valu­able source of both parts and ad­vice. On a per­sonal level, hav­ing dealt with Dra­gan­fly for some years, it is not un­heard of for me to re­ceive parts or­dered from them, with a hand­writ­ten note ask­ing me to please up­date my credit card de­tails so that they can then charge me for the parts they’ve al­ready shipped to me with­out charg­ing me! They kindly ex­plained that “they’re used to deal­ing with “grey beards” who of­ten for­get such de­tails”. “As noted the Leader is a com­bi­na­tion of a scooter and a mo­tor­cy­cle. While most read­ers may have worked on one or the other, in my ex­pe­ri­ence, few have worked on a sin­gu­lar com­bi­na­tion of both, and as such restor­ing a Leader may not suit those who are ex­pe­ri­enced or wedded to one camp or the other. Hav­ing worked on both mo­tor­cy­cles and scoot­ers, in as much as I may have had the prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ence at hand, the process was more com­pli­cated. For ex­am­ple, the Leader com­prises ap­prox­i­mately 65-70 sep­a­rate parts to be prepped and then painted in one of two colours, de­pend­ing on the spe­cific part, as the fi­nal re­sult is a two-tone painted mo­tor­cy­cle. Once painted, as­sem­bly re­quires care­ful at­ten­tion to de­tail as each part as­sures the cor­rect align­ment and the ba­sis for the next part. How­ever any mal­ad­just­ment of the first part is of­ten not dis­cernible un­til the fol­low­ing part is added, thereby ne­ces­si­tat­ing a read­just­ment (or re­moval) of the first (and sec­ond) part to cor­rect each. I con­fess, while restor­ing the Leader, my lock­ing needle nose pli­ers were al­ways close at hand due to the all too of­ten dif­fi­culty ac­cess­ing fas­ten­ers, and of­ten, I stood back, won­der­ing how in the hell Ariel ever made any money from these ma­chines, given their com­plex as­sem­bly/struc­tures. “There is for me, an in­her­ent and on-go­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion in rid­ing my Leader. In as much as the Leader is, in my mind, un­doubt­edly a fu­tur­is­tic, in­no­va­tive and in­deed, rev­o­lu­tion­ary and rad­i­cal mo­tor­cy­cle light years ahead of its time/con­tem­po­raries (it em­bod­ies much of what my 2011 BMW R1200RT of­fers), it is none the less a phys­i­cal em­bod­i­ment of a 1959 mo­tor­cy­cle. In short, the fu­tur­is­tic is tem­pered by the tech­nol­ogy of its era, but its fu­tur­ism makes you think, it shouldn’t be, and therein lies the jux­ta­po­si­tion.

While still plagued by the Lead­ers’ in­her­ent hot start dif­fi­culty (faced by most own­ers), my Leader starts read­ily from cold with min­i­mal ex­er­tion on the kick start. Al­though Ariel saw fit to pro­vide a choke lever pro­trud­ing from the side panel to as­sist in cold starts, it ne­glected to pro­vide any ready means of ac­ti­vat­ing the tick­ler, and this adds to the in­her­ent jux­ta­po­si­tion. Once started, suit­ably warmed up, the gear lever lifted into first, an­tic­i­pa­tion builds, throt­tle in­creased, clutch re­leased and one is im­me­di­ately… un­der­whelmed. Start­ing off, one is aghast by first

gear’s low ra­tio re­sult­ing in al­most in­dis­cernible for­ward pro­gres­sion with sub­se­quent gear changes bring­ing about some­what fur­ther dis­may. Again, the jux­ta­po­si­tion sets in. While the Leader’s en­gine may be an Adler clone (17.5 HP), its weight (330 lbs/165kg dry), bulk and slower, al­most train-like ap­proach to speed re­minds you that while the Leader may be fu­tur­is­tic, it is so within its time frame of cre­ation. Once this is recog­nised, the en­joy­ment re­ally be­gins.

“The Leader feels light and it is eas­ily ma­noeu­vrable, it feels sure-footed when both lightly cruis­ing on back roads and on main, faster roads. The lead­ing link style front forks keep the front wheel in con­stant road con­tact and is hap­pi­est when cruis­ing at 80 km/h. While the Leader is ca­pa­ble of cruis­ing at higher speeds, this is of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by an in­crease in “buzzines”, largely felt via the foot pegs. Should one ven­ture into the twisties overly ag­gres­sively, the cen­tre stand is sure to ground pro­vid­ing an au­di­ble safety re­minder that re­in­forces to the rider that the tyres are of square tread de­sign – and you are push­ing things. Brak­ing is best when cou­pled with an­tic­i­pa­tion, com­men­su­rate throt­tle and gear lever re­sponse and re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions – these are not disc brakes! The wind­screen and in­te­gral leg shields pro­vide ex­cel­lent wind/weather pro­tec­tion, yet ob­vi­ously the full frontal mass of both im­pacts on speed (more so in head­winds) and of­ten in­volves fre­quent gear changes to suit. The Leader is most at com­fort on sec­ondary roads, nip­ping down to the shops or café for a cuppa, which again is fit­ting given the roads of its era. “In con­clu­sion, when I was con­sid­er­ing the pur­chase of my 2011 BMW, (my first new mo­tor­cy­cle) the sales­man ex­tolled its “in­no­va­tions” (lock­able pan­niers, ad­justable head­lamp to com­pen­sate for a pas­sen­ger, clock, neu­tral light, front/rear op­er­ated brake light, small lock­able stor­age area in petrol tank, steer­ing lock, seat lock, etc.), I ad­mit, I was men­tally com­par­ing all of these “new in­no­va­tions” to what the Ariel Leader had…some 52 years ear­lier. As his­tory too of­ten shows, there is an in­her­ent risk em­bod­ied in cater­ing to the mo­tor­cy­cle buy­ing pub­lic in that they (seem­ingly) dis­may at mo­tor­cy­cles lack­ing de­vel­op­ment/fore­sight as equally as they do mo­tor­cy­cles (seem­ingly) ahead of their times. In as much as many Ariel afi­ciona­dos (and in­deed the par­ent com­pany it­self, BSA) looked upon the 2 stroke Leader in dis­may (if not out­right dis­dain) the 4 stroke, 4 cylin­der, shaft drive pro­to­type (not un­like the orig­i­nal Leader) was a por­tend of things to come as ev­i­denced 25 years later by the ad­vent of the 1983 BMW K Se­ries.”

The Ariel Leader 4 in the Na­tional Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum UK.

Leader ad­ver­tise­ment circa 1958.

ABOVE & BE­LOW Il­lus­tra­tions of the novel Leader frame and front forks.

RIGHT Trou­ble lamp, an­other op­tion. ABOVE Turn in­di­ca­tors flank the head­light. RIGHT Trail­ing link front end gave ex­cel­lent road hold­ing. Petrol filler cap sits at the front un­der the hinged seat.

Rear lug­gage car­rier. Yes, a bumper bar on a mo­tor­cy­cle.

ABOVE Dash­board and in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing the op­tional clock. Green light to the right is neu­tral in­di­ca­tor. BE­LOW LEFT Park­ing light sits be­hind the large screen. BE­LOW CEN­TRE The only vis­i­ble part of the en­gine. BE­LOW RIGHT Pan­niers have match­ing vinyl in­ner bags.

TOP Plenty of ca­pac­ity in­side the dummy fuel tank. ABOVE Choke lever and petroil tap pro­trude through left side panel.

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