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Classic Vintage Motorcycles: Royal Enfield



Vintage Royal Enfield

Royal Enfield History


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The Enfield Cycle Company began in 1893, founded by George Townsend as a division of the George Townsend & Co., which manufactured sewing needles and fishing hooks at the "Givry Works" needle-making mill in Redditch, Worcestershire UK. Shortly after Townsend's death, his son George Townsend Jr. decided to get into the burgeoning bicycle business, starting off with a 'boneshaker' pedal-cycle, which soon became known as the "Townsend cycle." George's creation had a iron frame and wooden wheels fitted with a set of iron tires.



In the late 1891 the company was facing financial difficulties and was taken over by R.W. Smith and Albert Eadie, and renamed the Eadie Manufacturing Company, Ltd. By the late 1800s Eadie was supplying weapons parts to the Royal Small Arms Factory located in Enfield, Middlesex, and decided to name their new bicycle line the "Enfield."

The "Royal" was added to the bicycle's name in 1892, becoming the Royal Enfield Manufacturing Company Ltd., and the company slogan "Made Like A Gun," was added a year later. During this early period in the company's history they built a wide variety of vehicles, from two-wheeled motor cycles, to tricycles, four-wheeled "quadricycles" and even motorcars, using French-built de Dion-Bouton motors.


The Royal Enfield Motorcycle

Royal Enfield built their first motorcycle around 1902, using aftermarket 150cc or 239cc engines. In 1907, Royal Enfield merged with the Alldays & Onions Pneumatic Engineering Co. of Birmingham, and began manufacturing the Enfield-Allday automobile.

By 1910 Royal Enfield was using 344cc Swiss Motosacoche V-Twins engines, or large-displacement J.A. Prestwich JAP and Vickers-Wolseley engines. By 1911, the company introduced its chain-drive motorcycle, using the proprietary "Enfield two-speed gear."



1949 Royal Enfield 125cc 2-Stroke
1949 Royal Enfield 125cc 2-Stroke, "Made Like A Gun" logo

During WWI, Royal Enfield was conscripted to build military vehicles for the war effort, supplying motorcycles to both the British War Department and the allied Russian army. Around this time, Enfield began building engines in-house, starting with a 425cc 4-stroke v-twin, and a 225cc two-stroke single.

Enfield's proprietary 4-stroke motors used an IOE (inlet-over-exhaust) configuration with a closed valve gear. Engine lubrication was via a hand-operated oil pump, with a glass oil-tank being bolted to the frame. For a brief time the company even experimented with an in-line three-cylinder 2-stroke engine.


The Royal Enfield 'Bullet'

In 1932, Royal Enfield introduced a new single-cylinder four-valve engine design nicknamed the "Bullet," which had an inclined (or slopped), long-stroke cylinder-head, with an exposed valve gear assembly. The "Bullet" name would go on to be a mainstay of the Enfield line, beginning with the introduction of the "Bullet 350" in 1939. With the Bullet 350, the valve gear assembly was now enclosed within two rocker boxes.



Royal Enfield Flat Track Fury
1965 Royal Enfield Flat Track Fury

At the start of World War II Royal Enfield began building motorcycles for the military war effort, producing the 125cc Airborne, or "Flying Flea" which was designed to be parachuted to the troops in the field. The Flying Flea was fitted into a tubular-steel cage known as the "Bird Cage," to protect it during the drop.



By the late 1940s, the Royal Enfield marque made its most significant contributions to the world of motorcycling with their telescopic front-fork assembly, and rear swing-arm suspension system which used twin hydraulic-damper units. These advancements were introduced on their 1947 model J2, and 1948 500cc parallel-twin. From here, Enfield was building everything from 125cc two-strokes to the 700cc Meteor 4-stroke.



1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor 755
1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor 755

In 1949, things changed dramatically for the sixty-year-old Redditch marque. During the 1940s, the Indian Army was a large purchaser of the Bullet (called the Rajagadi, or "Royal Vehicle"), and at the insistence of the Indian government, production of domestically-consumed motorcycles would be based within India itself. This led to the establishment of the India-based "Madras Motors Company," headquartered in Thiruvottiyur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.


Royal Enfield of India

At first, Madras Motor Company received the Bullet in kit form from the Redditch factory, only conducting the final assembly in India, but by the mid 1950s the Indian company was manufacturing every part of the motorcycle. Royal Enfield motorcycles that were intended for British and/or American distribution continued to be produced at the Redditch factory until the mid 1970s, now under the Norton/Villiers umbrella. Eventually, Villiers discontinued the entire line, but the Madras Motor Company continued to manufacture the Royal Enfield Bullet in India.



Indian Royal Enfield Bullet
1955/2002 Indian Royal Enfield Bullet 500

In 1994, Royal Enfield India merged with the Eicher Group, which also produced parts for automotive and heavy industry. In the 1990s, Enfield built the world's first production diesel motorcycle, the "Taurus Diesel."

Like some insect preserved in amber, the Royal Enfield Bullet continues to be manufactured in its original, vintage 1955 form (with minor upgrades), being manufactured totally in India by Royal Enfield Motors Ltd. (known simply as "Enfield India") in Tamil Nadu, India. The Enfield Bullet is now distributed through Watsonian Squire Ltd. in Blockley, Gloucestershire, UK.

Today, Enfield manufactures the Thunderbird Twinspark, the touring Bullet Machismo 500, Bullet Machismo, Bullet Electra 5S, and the retro-looking Bullet 350.


Royal Enfield Links

Royal Enfield Owners Club

Royal Enfield Motorcycles

History of the Royal Enfield Marque

Royal Enfield India



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