A Brief History of Francis Barnett Motorcycles
The Lea-Francis bicycle and motorcycle business had been formed by Graham Francis and R.H. Lea in 1895.
Gordon Francis, Graham’s son married a lady whose father, Arthur Barnett was already producing motorcycles under the Invicta trademark.
In 1919, Gordon Francis and Arthur Barnett started their business to create a new lightweight motorcycle.
The motorcycles produced by Francis-Barnett went on to earn the nickname ‘Fanny-B’, a name fondly remembered by many motorcyclists.
The first Francis-Barnett motorcycles were constructed in 1920 at the Bayliss-Thomas Excelsior workshop in Coventry after Excelsior production had been moved to the Monarch works in Birmingham.
These machines featured a 292cc side valve JAP engine and a two speed Sturmey Archer gearbox.
A 269cc single cylinder Villiers two stroke engine became available in 1921 alongside a 350cc side valve JAP engined machine.
In his army days, Gordon Francis had seen many accident damaged motorcycles in his Motor Transport Workshop and had thought about designing a simple replacement frame featuring straight tubes bolted or pinned together.
In 1923, he put his early ideas into practice and exhibited a machine with such a frame at the Olympia Show of that year.
Not only was this frame cheap to produce, it was also very strong.
The motorcycle had a 147cc Villiers two stroke engine with an Albion two-speed gearbox and belt final drive. A three speed gearbox was available as an option.
In the Francis-Barnett advertisements, the machine was said to be “Built Like a Bridge”.
In 1927, Francis-Barnett announced the Pullman featuring a 344cc two stroke vertical twin cylinder Villiers engine.
A 250cc single cylinder model, known as the Empire was made available after problems developed with the 344cc engines.
The 250cc Cruiser was introduced in 1933. This machine featured leg shields and deep mudguards to help protect the rider from the rain.
The Cruiser was produced until 1940 with various changes along the way.
In 1935, the Stag was introduced. This featured a 247cc overhead valve Blackburne engine.
The Stag was produced until 1938.
Arthur Barnett died in 1936 and his son, Eric carried on in his place.
In 1938, a 98cc autocycle named ‘Powerbike’ appeared alongside the 125cc ‘Snipe’ that Francis-Barnett had intended for military use after the outbreak of World War II. However, during the air raids over Coventry in 1940, the Francis-Barnett factory was completely destroyed.
The company was able to continue with some contract work for the war effort in an alternative factory.
It was not until 1945 that motorcycle production at the Lower Ford Street factory resumed, first with the Powerbike and then the 125cc Merlin.
After the Merlin came machines such as the Plover, Falcon and Kestrel.
Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) had been formed in 1938 by the Collier brothers of the London motorcycle company, Matchless.
AMC was to become a parent company to several motorcycle manufacturers.
They did, however, continue to produce the different marques under the original names, despite some production later becoming just ‘badge engineered’.
Francis-Barnett was amalgamated with AMC in 1947.
Around this time, Francis-Barnett revived the Cruiser name with the 171cc AMC engined ‘Light Cruiser’.
In 1954 The Cruiser name was revived and used for a 224cc model which had a frame incorporating pressed members.
In the late 1950s, AMC decided to use their own Piatti designed engines.
In 1957, the Cruiser 80 was introduced.
Francis-Barnett was forced to fit the new 249cc AMC single cylinder engine into the Cruiser 80. However, these engines proved to be problematic and AMC even sent some of their own engines to Villiers for modification.
AMC reverted to using the trustworthy Villiers twin cylinder engines in later Cruiser 80s.
In 1959 the Falcon 87 was introduced. This was powered by a 199cc single cylinder two stroke AMC engine. Production of the Falcon continued until 1966.
Also, in 1959, came the Cruiser 84. This featured a fully enclosed rear wheel and leg shields as standard equipment.
With AMC themselves in financial trouble, Francis-Barnett production was transferred from Coventry to the James factory at Greet in 1962 in order to cut down costs.
The James company had been taken over by AMC in 1951.
AMC continued to manufacture both Francis-Barnett and James machines. However, the designs became very similar with only minor differences.
The colour and badges distinguished the difference between the two marques.
Francis-Barnett machines were ‘Arden Green’ and James machines were maroon.
By 1962, Villiers engines were used again in some models, in particular the Cruiser Twin.
In 1962, the newly styled Fulmar was introduced featuring a spine frame, pressed-steel bodywork, leading link forks and the 149cc AMC engine.
Sadly, the production of Francis-Barnett and James came to an end when AMC sold out to Manganese Bronze Holdings in 1966.
Manganese Bronze Holdings formed Norton Villiers.
Norton Villiers Triumph was formed when Norton Villiers took over the BSA / Triumph concern in 1973.