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Vintage Motorcycles: Ariel Motorcycles



Vintage Ariel Motorcycles

Ariel Motorcycle History

Ariel of Bournbrook, Birmingham began in 1847 as a manufacturer of pneumatic-tired wheels for horse drawn carriages. In 1885 Ariel moved into bicycle production under the leadership of William Hillman and James Starley (1830—1881) who is known as the "father of the bicycle industry."



Ariel manufactured one of the first all metal bicycles with equally sized wire-spoked wheels and chain-drive called the 'Rover Safety Bicycle,' which was a radical departure from the 'penny-farthing' bicycles of the time.

At the turn of the century Ariel moved into motorcycle and automobile manufacturing, building their de Dion-Bouton powered vˇlocip¸de tricycle in 1898, and a motor driven bicycle in 1901. The first Ariel motor-cycle was powered by a 211cc Minerva motor. Ariel relocating to Coventry in 1911.

Early Ariel models used 3rd-party engines manufactured by J.A. Prestwich Industries Ltd. in Middlesex.


Ariel Red Hunter

The Ariel Red Hunter began production in 1927, designed by Val Page (1892-1978) who became chief designer at Ariel in 1925. The Red Hunter was one of Ariel's longest-running models, continuing successfully until 1959. Page was also the designer of the Ariel Leader. Previously, Val Page had designed engines for J.A. Prestwich which were used in the Brough Superior SS100, and went on the design the BSA Gold Star.



1936 500cc Ariel Red Hunter
1936 500cc Ariel Red Hunter

Page left Ariel in 1932, to become the chief designer at rival motorcycle company Triumph Motorcycles in Coventry. In around 1949, Ariel also lost designed Bert Hopwood, who went to BSA to work on the Star Twin and A10 Golden Flash.


Ariel 'Square Four'

In 1956, John (Jack) Young Sangster (1896-1977) took the helm at BSA, and designer Edward Turner was tasked with creating the Square Four 4F engine for Ariel after BSA had rejected the design. Turner had first conceived the Square Four engine in 1928, but no other manufacturer was willing to take it on its revolutionary, and controversial design.



1934 Ariel 4F/6 600cc Square Four
1934 Ariel 4F/6 600cc Square Four

The Square Four layout marries a pair of 'across frame' OHC parallel-twin cylinder heads (known as the "Cammy") into a single monobloc four-cylinder head, with both crankshafts connected by geared, centrally-located flywheels. The first Square Four was only 500 cc, with chain-driven overhead-camshafts, and the transmission was a four-speed Burman.



1950 Ariel Square Four OHV
1950 Ariel Square Four OHV 1000

The unveiling of the Ariel Square Four took place at the Olympia Motorcycle Show in 1930. The cylinder bore was increased to 601 cc in 1932, and was used in the Maudes Trophy test, covering 700 miles in 700 minutes.



1950 Ariel Square Four Motor
Ariel Mk II Square Four "Four Pipe" 997cc Engine

The original OHC 'cammy' engine had an unfortunate reputation for the rear cylinder heads overheating, leading to a redesign in 1936. The first new model was the 1937 Model 4G, which had a 995 cc OHV engine. In 1949, the Mark I Square Four's cast-iron cylinder head and barrels were replaced by an alloy cylinder head, saving around 30 pounds.

In 1953, The so-called "four pipe" Square Four Mk II was released, increasing the displacement to 997 cc. The Mk II had a redesigned cylinder head with separate cylinder barrels and four separate exhaust pipes.



1950 Ariel Square Four
1957 Ariel MK 2 Square Four 1000 "Four Pipe"

In 1939, Ariel introduced its patented plunger (Anstey-link) rear suspension, and in 1946 an oil-damped telescopic front fork assembly replaced their girder fork assembly.

In the 1950s, Ariel was acquired by BSA chairman, and British industrialist Sir Bernard D.F. Docker (1896-1978) became chairman of BSA, who also acquired Triumph, New Hudson and Sunbeam. Ariel ceased operations in 1967.




Ariel Links

Ariel Spares



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