A Brief History of Royal Enfield Motorcycles
The Royal Enfield story starts in Redditch with George Townsend and Company who were manufacturers of sewing needles and machine parts in the 1880s.
Like many manufacturers of the time, they diversified into the bicycle trade.
In 1890, George Townsend and Company was running into financial difficulty and sought financial backing.
The company was taken over in 1891 by Alfred Eadie and R.W. Smith who created the Eadie Manufacturing Company in 1892.
George Townsend did not stay with the company.
In 1892, the Eadie company won a contract to supply rifle parts to the Royal Small Arms factory in Enfield, Middlesex.
In honour of this contract, their bicycle design was to be called the Enfield.
The Enfield bicycles were announced to the public in October 1892 and were marketed by the newly formed Enfield Manufacturing Company Ltd.
The word “Royal” was added in 1893 and the company slogan “Made Like A Gun” came later that same year.
By 1899, Royal Enfield were producing tricycles and quadricycles powered by De Dion engines.
They also experimented with a Minerva engine fitted to the front downtube of a strong bicycle frame.
Enfield built their first motorcycle in 1901 with a 239cc engine.
In 1904, Enfield stopped motorcycle production in favour of the motor car trade.
The Enfield Autocar Company was formed, however this ran into difficulty and in 1907 went into liquidation.
The ‘Alldays & Onions Pneumatic Engineering Co.’ of Birmingham took over the assets and began manufacturing the Enfield-Allday automobile.
The cycle factory was taken over by Birmingham Small Arms (BSA).
Royal Enfield revived their interest in motorcycles in 1910 when they introduced a machine with a 344cc Swiss Motosacoche V-Twin engine.
In 1912, the Royal Enfield Model 180 sidecar combination was introduced with a 770cc V-twin JAP engine.
The 180 was successful in the Isle of Man TT Races and also at Brooklands.
In 1913, a 3hp 425cc V-Twin solo machine was introduced.
These were reduced to 350cc for racing at Brooklands and the Isle of Man.
On the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Royal Enfield supplied large numbers of motorcycles to the British War Department.
They also won a motorcycle contract for the Imperial Russian Government.
They used their own 225cc two-stroke single and 425cc V-twin engines.
They also produced an 8hp motorcycle sidecar model fitted with a Vickers machine gun.
In 1921, Royal Enfield developed a new 976cc twin.
In 1924, they launched a four-stroke 350cc single using a JAP engine.
In 1928, Royal Enfield began using the bulbous ‘saddle’ tanks and centre-spring girder front forks, one of the first companies to do so.
The company struggled through the depression years of the 1930s and were running at a loss.
They did survive and 1934 saw the introduction of the Bullet in 250cc, 350cc and 500cc versions.
During World War II, Royal Enfield was called upon by the British Government to develop and manufacture motorcycles for military use.
The models produced were the WD/C 350cc sidevalve, WD/CO 350cc OHV, WD/D 250cc SV, WD/G 350cc OHV and WD/L 570cc SV.
The WD/RE, a lightweight 125cc motorcycle known as the Flying Flea, was designed to be dropped by parachute with airborne troops.
After the war, the 350cc Bullet was reintroduced with a redesigned cylinder head.
The Bullet featured a swinging arm rear suspension system with hydraulic damper units.
In 1947, Royal Enfield made the J2 model with telescopic front forks.
In 1948, a 500cc twin was produced which stayed in production until 1958.
From the 1950s to mid 1960s, several 250cc Royal Enfield machines were produced.
The best selling of these was the Royal Enfield Crusader, a 248cc pushrod OHV single producing 18 bhp.
The Crusader Super 5 was added to the range in 1962.
There was a 250cc Trials model.
Another variant was the 250 “Turbo Twin”, fitted with the Villiers 247cc twin cylinder two-stroke engine.
There was also the 250 Clipper which used trailing-link front suspension. The other 250cc models had conventional telescopic forks.
In 1965, the 21 bhp GT Continental was introduced featuring a GRP tank, five-speed gearbox, clip-on handlebars and rearset footrests.
It sold well with its “cafe racer” looks.
Also in the 1950s, several other models were introduced including the 692cc Meteor twin, the 500 Sports Twin, the 492cc Meteor Minor, the 692cc Super Meteor, the 692cc Constellation and the 736cc Interceptor.
From 1955 to 1970, Royal Enfields were painted red, and marketed in the USA as Indian Motorcycles by the Brockhouse Corporation, who had acquired the rights to the Indian name after it went under in 1953.
Floyd Clymer, a motorcycle manual publisher, was involved, however the venture was unsuccessful. The largest Enfield “Indian” was 700cc.
In 1958, Royal Enfield purchased the Westwood factory, near Bradford-on-Avon, from the Ministry of Defence.
The Redditch factory ceased production in 1967 and the Bradford-on-Avon factory closed in 1970, which meant the end of the British Royal Enfield.
After the factory closed, a shipment of Series II Interceptor engines were stranded at the dock in 1970. These engines had been intended for delivery to Floyd Clymer in the US, who unfortunately had just died.
Clymer’s agents approached the Rickman brothers for frames and a limited run of Rickman Interceptors were promptly built.
Enfield India (1949–present)
Royal Enfield motorcycles had been sold in India from 1949.
The Indian government chose the 350cc Bullet for its police and army.
In 1955, the Redditch company partnered with Madras Motors in India and ‘Enfield India’ was formed to assemble, under licence, the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle in Madras (now called Chennai).
In 1957 tooling equipment was sold to Enfield India so that they could manufacture components. The first machines were assembled entirely from components shipped from England, but by 1962 all components were made in India.