A Brief History of Greeves Motorcycles
Bert Greeves was mowing the lawns of his Worcestershire home when his disabled cousin, Derry Preston-Cobb, had the idea of fitting the Villiers lawnmower engine to his wheelchair.
The resulting machine was later to become known as the Invacar.
Bert and Derry moved to Surbiton in Surrey and then to Westcliff-on-Sea.
It was here that they set up Invacar Ltd.
In 1952, they won a major UK Government contract to provide motorised three wheeled invalid carriages.
Bert and Derry decided to diversify into motorcycle manufacture.
Bert was a keen trials rider in his spare time.
In 1951, Bert and Derry developed a prototype motorcycle using a 197cc two-stroke single cylinder Villiers engine.
It featured rubber-in-torsion springing at both front and rear.
The unconventional method of rubber springing had already been patented for use on the Invacar.
Derry’s own Invacar was used as a promotional vehicle.
The rear suspension featured a pivoted fork with rods connecting to torsion rubber mounted units just below the seat.
The front forks were also unusual, with short leading links to carry the wheel, pivoting on rubber-in-torsion spring units attached to an ungainly looking front fork assembly.
Motorcycle production at Greeves began in the autumn of 1953 and the range originally consisted of two roadster machines (a three speed and a four speed) and a scrambler machine.
All featured the 197cc two stroke single cylinder Villiers Mark 8E engine.
Instead of a convential round section downtube, the frame featured a lightweight cast alloy ‘I’ beam frame into which the tubular steering head was cast.
This was claimed to be stronger and lighter than a conventional tubular steel frame.
The casting was carried out at the foundry that had been built at the Invacar factory. The design of the front suspension was changed to be less obtrusive than that of the prototype.
Although motorcycle production was really a sideline to the main business of producing the Invacar, Derry became Sales Manager for the motorcycle business.
At the 1954 Earls Court Show, Greeves introduced the ‘Fleetwing’ roadster featuring a two cylinder two-stroke 242cc British Anzani engine.
A trials machine was also introduced, again featuring the 197cc Villiers Mark 8E engine.
The Fleetmaster was introduced the following year featuring a 322cc version of the British Anzani engine.
In 1956, when Greeves was no longer able to source British Anzani engines, the Fleetwing was fitted with a 249cc Villiers engine. The gearboxes were supplied by Albion until Greeves came up with their own design in 1964. The power to weight ratio meant that Greeves trials machines were very competitive.
In 1956, Greeves signed motocross rider Brian Stonebridge.
Stonebridge was a specialist in two-stroke tuning and was able to extract more power from the 197cc Villiers engines.
In April 1957, Brian Stonebridge amazed spectators at the demanding Hawkstone Park course as he managed to win the 350cc race and come second in the 500cc race on the 197cc Villiers engined Greeves.
This led to Greeves calling their next scrambler the ‘Hawkstone’.
Other Greeves motocross riders included Peter Hammond, Jack Simpson and Norman Sloper.
In 1958, Brian Stonebridge won a Gold Medal in the West German International Six Days Trial event.
In October 1959, Bert Greeves and Brian Stonebridge were involved in a serious car accident and Brian died at the scene.
After Brian’s death, Greeves signed Dave Bickers who went on to win the 250cc European Championship in both 1960 and 1961.
Bert Greeves signed up Bill Wilkinson, the Yorkshire trials rider who made the headlines when he won the British Experts Trail competition in 1960, the first time it had ever been won on a two-stroke motorcycle.
Greeves also had race wins in the Scott Trial and the Scottish Six Days Trial.
In 1962, the Greeves Silverstone 250cc road racer was introduced giving Greeves success in the ACU 250cc Road Race.
Although these were not as fast as some of their competitors, they earned a reputation for reliability and were chosen to be used by the Mortimer Road-Racing School.
By 1962 there were eleven models in the Greeves range. The offroad motorcycles were also developed through an association with Queen’s University Belfast producing the later Greeves QUB model.
In 1963 the Greeves range included the 25DC Sports Twin and two new models featuring glass fibre tanks and handlebar fairings, as well as plastic mudguards. These were the 25DD ‘Essex’ and the 250 DCX ‘Sportsman’.
As well as winning the 1964 Manx Grand Prix on a 250cc Silverstone, Gordon Keith achieved the fastest lap of the race at 87.6 mph. This was an important win for Greeves when the sport was beginning to become dominated by foreign motorcycles.
In 1964, the 250cc Greeves Challenger motocross machine was introduced.
This was described as the first ‘all Greeves’ motorcycle although it did feature an Albion gearbox.
By 1965, only two roadsters featured in the Greeves range, the 197cc Sports Single and the 249cc East Coaster.
In 1967, a 360cc version of the successful Challenger was launched, together with a 344cc road racer called the ‘Oulton’.
The last Challengers were produced in 1968. They were replaced by the 250cc and 380cc Griffon motocrossers in 1969. The original leading link fork was no longer fitted, having been replaced by standard telescopic forks. Also abandoned was the original cast alloy front down beam frame. This was replaced with a conventional frame of Reynolds 531 tubing.
As the Japanese entered the scene, Greeves sales began to slow.
Bert Greeves decided that it was time to retire from the business and was soon followed by his cousin Derry Preston-Cobb.
The company went into receivership in 1977.
Greeves enthusiast, Richard Deal acquired the rights to the Greeves trademark in the UK, USA and Europe.
He formed Greeves Motorcycles Ltd. In 1999.
The company now specialises in trials motorcycles.