Reference: A to Z classic reference: Excelsior – Eysink


Denis Parkinson poses on his 250cc ohc Excelsior Manxman

Excelsior 1896-1964 UK
The early history of the Bayliss, Thomas and Slaughter – later Bayliss, Thomas and Co – is a story of ‘firsts.’ They were the first company to coin the name Excelsior – on a cycle in 1874 – and the first British company to make and sell cycles on a large scale in the UK. They were also one of the first companies to build, run and display motorcycles in the UK (at the Crystal Palace Show), all in 1896 and the first British company to make – and more importantly sell – their own machine. And they were the first motorcycles to break the mile a minute barrier. In 1903, works rider Harry Martin covered the mile in 59.8s at Phoenix Park, Dublin.

In 1910 the firm became the Excelsior Motor Co Ltd. The Bayliss Thomas title was dropped, but was revived for motorcycles exported to the USA and Northern Europe to avoid confusion with the American and German built Excelsiors. During the veteran period, Excelsior resolutely avoided the introduction of a large V-twin motorcycle, (although they flirted with a Blackburne powered model during WWI) instead building huge single cylinder models of up to 850cc.

Article continues below…

Enjoy more Classic MotorCycle reading in the monthly magazine.
Click here to subscribe & save.

Immediate post-WWI, production centred around a range of JAP powered models and the company was bought out by R Walker and Sons of Birmingham. Excelsior appreciated the value of cheap simple go to work models and were among the first to introduce a 147cc Villiers powered model for 1923, the 122cc model in 1926 and claimed the honour for marketing the cheapest motorcycle in 1931 with their 98cc Villiers Midget engined machine.

Keen for sport-led publicity, Excelsior first sent a team to the Island for the 1923 Lightweight TT with P Walker finishing ninth and F Simpson (jnr) tying with Levis rider and previous winner Geoff Davison for 10th. Sid Crabtree scored their first win in the 1929 Lightweight race and Syd Gleave won the 1933 Lightweight for Excelsior with the four-valve Blackburne-engined Mechanical Marvel.

Although they never won another TT Wakefield’s own Denis Parkinson scored a hat-trick of Lightweight Manx GP wins with Excelsior Manxman. The marque performed well in the interwar years at sand racing, Brooklands, sprinting, hill climbing and Continental events.

Article continues below…

Until the introduction of the Manxman, Excelsior had stuck exclusively to the installation of proprietary engines in their motorcycles. Although the Mechanical Marvel was a racing success, it was expensive to make and considered too difficult for a privateer to maintain. Blackburne developed the more robust Manxman engine, but then the Bookham, Surrey firm ceased engine manufacture. The racer/engineer HG Tyrell-Smith, who joined Excelsior from Rudge, collected the engine jigs from Blackburne and Excelsior and established Manxman engine production at Beans Industries. Despite rushed production and handling problems, Tyrell-Smith rode a Manxman to second place behind the New Imperial of Bob Foster in the 1936 Lightweight TT at over 72mph.

Although the Manxman in 250/350/500cc ohc guises and the cheaper 250/350 ohv Norseman and Warriors sold in reasonable numbers, Excelsior didn’t forget the economy commuter market and launched their first autocycle, the 98cc Autobyk well before the outbreak of WWII. This simple machine carried many nurses and essential workers about their business during the war years.

The folding Welbike was designed by JRV Dolphin at the military research establishment at Welwyn, Hertfordshire and Excelsior then manufactured 3923 of the Villiers autocycle-engined, single-speed parachute motorcycles.

Article continues below…

After WWII, Brockhouse built the Corgi scooter based on the Welbike design and fitted an Excelsior engine. Excelsior motorcycle production restarted with the 122cc model O and the 98cc Villiers-engined Autobyk, which was soon joined by the 98cc single-speed Excelsior Spryt and two-speed Excelsior Goblin-engined versions.

The company continued to make a range of Villiers-engined lightweights including the Consort, Skutabyke, Universal and the 197cc R series, along with the Excelsior-engined Courier and Convoy. Financial difficulties and market pressures led Excelsior to curtail their extensive lightweight range in the early Sixties.

For many, the real show stopper, the 243cc two-stroke Talisman Twin, appeared in 1949. A larger 328cc version joined the range in 1957 and both were listed until 1962. In 1949 the Talisman was a breath of fresh air, for the motorcycle was smooth, revved well and, for a 250, really went! Yet in an odd way, the model led to the company’s end.

Article continues below…

Excelsior initially supplied modified 328cc Talisman Twin engines to caravan maker Charles Panter for the Laurie Bond designed Berkeley three-wheeler. Later Excelsior also made a three cylinder, 492cc engine for the glass fibre-bodied cars. But Berkeley ceased trading in 1962 owing Excelsior, among others, lots of money.

For many, the real show stopper, the 243cc two-stroke Talisman Twin, appeared in 1949. A larger 328cc version joined the range in 1957 and both were listed until 1962. In 1949 the Talisman was a breath of fresh air, for the motorcycle was smooth, revved well and, for a 250, really went! Yet in an odd way, the model led to the company’s end.

Despite the introduction of the 147cc Monarch scooter in 1959, a trimmed range and even the sale of motorcycles in kit form, nothing could save Excelsior. The Walker family sold out to the car accessory company Britax and motorcycle production ended at the Tysley works, Birmingham in 1964.

The ohc Manxman in any form is amongst the most desirable and expensive of pre-WWII British singles. Spares can be difficult but help is available at a price. The Talisman series has cultivated a sizable following and again specialist help is present. Post-WWII Villiers spares are plentiful and even lightweight Excelsior cycle parts surface at autojumbles.

Excelsior 1908-31 USA
Chicago cycle manufacturing magnate Ignaz Schwinn established the Excelsior Supply and Manufacture Company of Chicago – a name used to avoid confusion with the existing Excelsior Cycle Co – to build motorcycles. Early production comprised a range of side-valve singles and a two-stroke single built under licence from Triumph of Coventry, England.

Bob Currie and Jack Wise pose with Excelsior Consort motorcycle kit, devised to avoid purchase taxHowever, the American Excelsior name became famous for 746cc and especially 996cc inlet over exhaust valve V-twins. A few ohc racing singles and V-twins were built too. Although updated the big Excelsior V-twin remained in production until 1931. To avoid confusion and legal confrontation with the existing British and German marques the Excelsior was exported to the UK and mainland Europe as the American X, later the Super X. For many years the sole UK concessionaires for Excelsior were London dealers Harris & Sons.

Although the vast majority of motorcycles supplied to the US forces for their WWI effort were Indians and Harley- Davidsons, Excelsior supplied a limited number of machines too. The military 996cc ioe Excelsior sported khaki finish, minimal nickel plate, deeper valanced mudguards and extra bracing to the familiar leaf sprung trailing link front fork. A number of ex-military models survive, easily distinguished from the civilian exports to Europe as the tank transfer proudly proclaims ‘Excelsior Autocycle Chicago’.

Ignaz Schwinn bought Henderson, soon moving manufacture from Detroit to the Chicago Excelsior factory. Despite weathering the depression with sales of his luxury motorcycle still strong, Schwinn suddenly ended motorcycle production in 1931 to concentrate on the manufacture of cycles, believing no matter how poor people were they would still buy bicycles. It was another of motorcycling’s tragedies.

Express 1903-58 Germany
The Expressewerke AG cycle factory was established in 1882 at Neumarkt, Nurnberg. By 1903, they had started fitting Fafnir engines to their frames and only a year later had built a 8hp V-twin racer. Soon the factory returned solely to the manufacture of cycles as demand rose, but re-entered the motorcycle market in the early Thirties with a range of proprietary engined commuter lightweights. An increase in cycle production, part of which was destined for the German war effort, put an end to motorcycle manufacture.

For the 1950 season, The Expressewerke re-entered the motorcycle market with a range of up to 250cc Ilo and Fitchel & Sachs two-stroke powered lightweights plus a moped, the Radexi, to which they fitted their own 47.6cc unit. In keeping with other German lightweights, their sophisticated 150-250cc models gained 16in wheels during the early Fifties.

The company also experimented with their own single cylinder four-stroke engines but these never went into quantity production. Despite selling well the Expressewerke merged with DKW and Victoria in 1958 to form the Zweirad Union, the Neumarkt factory soon shut and the marque name Express was dropped. Many engine spares can be sourced in Germany but bodywork is very difficult.

Eysink 1899-c1957 Holland
Motorcycle production started at the Amersfoort factory by fitting clip-on motors, especially Belgian Minerva kits, to sturdy cycles. The range increased with the installation of German Fafnir and Legian Bercley engines.

By 1914, Eysink were building a range of quality single and V-twin four-strokes and then supplied models to the Dutch Military during WWI, especially the 408cc three-speed side-valve single.

Villiers-powered Eysink at Amsterdam motorcycle show in 1951Motorcycle production continued after WWI with a range of machines powered by their own engines, but links were forged with other companies including Raleigh, Villiers, Dollar, New Hudson, Sunbeam and later Rudge from whom they sought design help, parts and even complete engines such as Villiers two-strokes and the Rudge Python. During the late Thirties, production centred around the production of Ilo and Fitchel and Sachs engined lightweight two-strokes.

Motorcycle manufacture restarted after WWII with a range comprising predominantly Villiers-engined lightweights. Some were highly tuned and prepared for racing, including a very pretty 122cc model, which performed well at clubman level in Holland. bike

Subscribe to The Classic MotorCycle Magazine Enjoy more The Classic MotorCycle reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Article Tags:

About the Author