A Brief History of James Motorcycles

The James Cycle Company was formed in 1883 by Harold James. The bicycles that Harold was making at the time were of the ordinary, (Penny Farthing) design.

The original premises were in Constitution Hill, Birmingham, however shortly after, the company moved to Sampson Road North, Sparkbrook.

The company became a limited company in 1897 and Harold retired.
The running of the company was continued by Charles Hyde.

The first James motorcycle was designed by Frederick Kimberley in 1902.
This featured a Minerva engine fastened to the downtube of a strengthened bicycle frame.

In 1907, the company moved to larger premises in Greet.

In 1911 James introduced their fully enclosed chain drive.

A 500cc twin cylinder side valve machine was introduced in 1914, however, civilian motorcycle production stopped with the outbreak of World War I as the company concentrated mainly on the production of ammunition.

Although James did not produce motorcycles for the British Army, they did supply motorcycles for the Allied Forces.

Throughout the 1920s, James offered a wide range of machines including two strokes, side valves, overhead valves, single cylinder and V-twin engines.

By 1928, there was a 500cc overhead valve twin cylinder engine.

During the late 1920s, James stopped producing their own two stroke engines, however they had a range of lightweight machines featuring Villiers two stroke engines of 150cc, 172cc & 197cc capacity.
A James two stroke engine of 150cc was added to the range in 1932.

Meanwhile, by 1930 James had taken over the Baker Motorcycle Company of Northfield, Birmingham.

During World War II, James manufactured lightweight military motorcycles.
Additionally, two stroke autocycles were also made for the Allied Forces.

The factory at Greet was badly damaged by the German air raids in November 1940.
Full production resumed in 1943.

Just after the war, James manufactured lightweight Villiers engined two stroke motorcycles such as the 98cc Comet, the 122cc Cadet and the 197cc Captain.

James was taken over by Associated Motorcycles Ltd. (AMC) in 1951 after experiencing financial difficulties.

AMC decided to make their own engines to replace the Villiers engines.
This was a costly mistake. Development took a long tiime and the engines were unreliable.

After the AMC takeover, lightweight machines were still produced, some using Villiers engines and some using AMC engines.

Villiers engined machines included the 1954 224cc Colonel, the 1955 147cc Cadet and the 1962 250cc Superswift.

Cadets built from 1959 had the 149cc AMC engine.

Captains built around this time featured the 199cc AMC engine.

Other AMC engined machines included the 249cc Commodore from 1957 and the 1958 171cc Cavalier.

Francis-Barnett had been taken over by AMC in 1947.

With AMC in financial trouble, Francis-Barnett production was transferred from Coventry to the James factory at Greet in 1962 in order to cut down costs.

AMC continued to manufacture both James and Francis-Barnett machines, however the designs were now very similar with only minor differences.

The colour and badges distinguished the difference between the two marques.
James machines were maroon and Francis-Barnett machines were Arden Green.

These machines used the AMC engines.

In 1960 James announced a scooter, with an AMC 149cc two stroke engine, four speed gearbox and a Duplex frame.
When AMC sold out to the Manganese Bronze Holdings company in 1966, the production of James and Francis-Barnett came to an end.