Rex and Rex Acme 1900-33 UK
Modern history books tell us Rex began with tricar and car production at Birmingham in 1899 then acquired new premises at Osborne Road, Earlsdon, Coventry in 1900 and first exhibited a motorcycle at the year’s National Show at Crystal Palace, London. The machine was an instant hit as it was the only motorcycle to climb the steep hill to the side of the Crystal Palace grounds without need for pedal assistance.
Founded by the Williamson brothers – Billy as managing director and Harold the sales manager – Rex continued to make cars until 1914. The Rexette tricar was popular from 1903-06, then three and four wheeled Airettes, 12hp Rex-Simplex 1904-05, the four cylinder 18/22hp Ast-Rex and V-twin AiRex appeared in 1906. The larger Remo was built in modified forms 1905-09 then car production stuttered as the concern turned all their attention to motorcycles. However, a V-twin cyclecar appeared in 1912 and the Dorman-powered light car two years later. Many were good cars, but it was with motorcycles Rex gained world renown.
Early Rex motorcycles were in common with the majority of clip-on designs, but in 1903 the engine was mounted within a purpose built frame in the upright position and soon gained a distinctive square-finned cylinder barrel. Equally distinctive was the large slab sided fuel tank, in the shape of a reversed and repositioned letter ‘L’ – it initially housed the surface carburettor, battery and trembler coil ignition, oil supply as well as fuel.
An innovative company, Rex were among the first to employ rear wheel hub clutches, spring controlled telescopic front fork, foot lever control for rear brake and create an economy model with their 25 guinea machine marketed as the ‘50 guinea machine, for 25 guineas’. Rex V-twins were first commercially available alongside the singles range in 1906.
Publicity stunts, reliability trials, hill climbs, the IoM TT races and Brooklands races were all enthusiastically supported by the Coventry maker or Rex mounted privateers. Sales manager Harold Williamson flew the flag at hill climbs but for endless publicity the signing of renowned lady rider Muriel Hind was tops. Muriel wasn’t only a pioneer lady motorcyclist but a superb competition rider in her own right, taking on the men and often coming out on top with a string of Gold Medals, cups and overall wins to her name. Her famous V-twin dropped framed 5hp Rex ‘Blue Devil’ was on display for many years in Murray’s Motorcycle Museum on the IoM.
Rex continually uprated their machines as newer concepts became proven, spray carburettors replaced surface instruments, trembler coils gave way to magnetos and Rex were among the first to modify chassis design giving a lower seat height, offered on selected models from 1908 and although some earlier makers had introduced dropped frames to accommodate ladies long flowing garments, Rex were one of the first of the mainstream makers to do so. Rather than follow trends Rex earned a reputation for well made, dependable motorcycles and only introduced new idea such as magnetos when they and they alone were satisfied with their reliability.
Not all Rex ideas went into production. During the late Edwardian period they were working on a racing 470cc two-stroke with and without rotary valve induction which had been designed by George Pilkington. By 1911 the Rex range had expanded, ranging from 339cc single to lusty 7hp V-twins and pedalling gear was no longer fitted to any models.
Although their pre-WWI TT record wasn’t outstanding, they had notched up a number of minor places but on the trials front they were among the leaders earning much useful publicity. But all wasn’t happiness. An October 1911 announcement informed the world that George Hemingway was the new head man at Rex and the Williamson brothers had gone. At the time it was unclear if they’d left, been pushed or were dismissed. Whatever, they weren’t lost to motorcycling for long – Billy launched the 1000cc water-cooled flat twin Douglas-engined Williamson and Harold joined Singer as sales manager.
Hemingway continued to see Rex models updated with the 1912 range encompassing 499cc singles to 896cc V-twin in a range of trims to suit the touring rider, speedster and those who wanted luxury and refinement. Rex was also involved in enterprises with other companies such as the Rex-JAP built for the Premier Motor Company of Birmingham. Further development included an all chain drive 952cc V-twin with roller bearings to the engine’s bottom end for 1914, plus intended production of a shaft drive version for 1915 and a 349cc two-stroke single.
Neither got far along the production lines as the company was soon turned over to help the war effort with motorcycle manufacture all but stopping, although a small batch of V-twins were built for the Russian military and an even smaller batch supplied to the Daily Mail to aid wartime distribution.
By 1919 Rex began intimating a return to motorcycle manufacture with single and V-twin four-strokes. First off was a 550cc single with its oil carried in a sump and mechanically pumped. Meanwhile, under the covers, Rex had taken over The Coventry Acme Motor Company also of Osborne Road, makers of the Acme which had been marketed with the slogan ‘The machine of no regrets’.
Acme offered a 980cc JAP-engined V-twin and Rex then marketed a similar style Blackburne-engined V-twin. In 1921 the marque names united for the first time on an attractive 350cc Blackburne-powered single to give the Rex-Acme brand. Manufacture of Rex engines petered out – by 1922 only proprietary engines were used. These were to include AKD, Aza, Barr and Stroud, Blackburne, JAP and, by the late Twenties, Villiers.
To some, this switch to proprietary engines marked the end of Rex as it was known – a valid point – but it also marked the launch of Rex-Acme as a leading sporting company. At Brooklands, Rex-Acme Blackburnes and, to a lesser extent, Rex-Acme JAPs ridden by the likes of Messrs Baxter and Edmunds showed many the way round the Weybridge track but the leading star was a youngster named Walter Handley.
Handley was one of a small band of riders who could translate track and circuit success earned at Brooklands and Continental GPs into wins at the world’s greatest ever road races, the IoM TTs. Following the second place of Rex-Acme mounted D Young in the 1922 Lightweight (in which Handley set fastest lap on an OK) and the third in the 1923 for D Hall, again in the Lightweight, young Walter took Rex-Acme to the top. Wins in the 1925 Junior, 1925 Ultra-Lightweight and 1927 Lightweight were accompanied by a bag full of fastest laps, race records and places, including second in the 1926 Senior.
Better still, the public could pretty much buy ‘wot the racers rode’. Finished with purple panels to their tanks the Blackburne ohv 250 and 350cc models were simply cracking. Although naturally slower, their side-valve models looked fast too.
Despite the best part of a decade of sporting success, Rex-Acme’s fortunes were on the wane, due to much of the world’s slide into financial depression. Efforts with worthy Villiers engined models, economies and price reductions failed to save Rex-Acme, who closed their doors on the Osborne Road works in c1931.
Sidecar makers Mills-Fulford of Coventry bought the name and relaunched a limited range of models using Villiers, Blackburne, JAP and possibly Rudge Python engines. How many were actually made is in doubt. Some sources claim AKD units were used too, although research doesn’t back-up this claim that AKD units were fitted in the Twenties. Rex-Acme production finally ended in 1933 and Mills-Fulford soon folded too. Both were victims of the worst depression the world had experienced and changing times.
Both Rex and Rex-Acme are excellent choices for the enthusiast, but for different reasons. Veteran Rex models are well made solid motorcycles, which are no slouches, making them an excellent choice for the Pioneer Run, Banbury or other events suitable for veterans for the rider who wants something different from a Triumph or Douglas. With its sporting links and attractive, almost spartan lines, the Rex Acme, especially with ohv Blackburne power, makes a good vintage buy which again is different.
Reynolds-Runabout 1919-22 UK
One of a rash of small-wheeled scooters and scooter-like machines which appeared on the UK market immediately after WWI. Some amounted to little more than robbery-with-violence, others like the Reynolds-Runabout were real attempts to mobilise Mr/s Everybody who needed economic personal transport, didn’t want a motorcycle and couldn’t afford to run to a car.
Although looking primitive compared with many styled post-WWII scooters, the Reynolds-Runabout shared many common features with them including small wheels (13in), low centre of gravity and fully enclosed engine. Tiny sprung girder front fork and a bucket seat mounted on a sprung frame took care of comfort. Most sported a clutched two-speed gearbox with hand gate mounted to the right of the bucket seat and belt final drive. Earlier models used a 269cc Liberty two-stroke engine, while a 346cc side-valve JAP unit was an option as production neared its end.
A victim of the times, unusual appearance and the poor reputation of some rival scooters makers’ shoddy offerings finished the Reynolds-Runabout.
Reynolds-Special 1931-c1934 UK
Briefly, Liverpool Scott enthusiast Albert Reynolds, a leading agent since 1923 and Scott accessory maker who traded as AE Reynolds Ltd, bought in 1931 Scott Motors (Manchester) Ltd, a company depot. The injection of much needed cash helped financial expert Reginald Vinter streamline and save the Scott company. With ideas from Reynolds, the reformed Scott company included a range of ‘special’ 498/596cc Scott machines built with modifications to Albert Reynolds concepts. Initially these models were named the Aero Special – Aero from Albert’s initials AER and ‘o’ lifted from Reynolds. The distinctively styled Scotts were soon renamed the Reynolds-Special.
By 1934 the idea began to flounder as Reynolds wanted an enlarged range of machines from 125cc two-stroke singles to at least a 750cc two-stroke triple, a concept under test with Scott. Albert later built the AER marque, which was launched in 1938. Reynolds was a very important part of the Scott story, his money and enthusiasm may well have helped saved the marque, ensuring surviving Reynolds-Specials are sought after by many Scott fans.
Rhonson 1952-58 France
Maker of 49cc mopeds and 125cc utility motorcycles. Survivors surface in France and have found their way to the UK.
Rhony-X c1924-32 France
Maker from Lyon who over their production run listed an extensive range of two and four-stroke models from 100cc velomotors to lusty 500 singles, using an array of bought in engines including JAP, Chaise and LMP. While some Rhony-X motorcycles were attractive typically French fare, others were advanced models including a 500cc single with unit construction ohc Chaise power.
Despite a relatively short production run Rhony-X survival is good including here in the UK where a number of JAP engined models have seen vintage use.
Rickman 1959-c1979 UK
In addition to the Metisse off-road and race models founders Don and Derek Rickman also manufactured a range of larger capacity roadsters which led to endurance racers too. At various periods they also marketed their road racing chassis in various modes from bare frame to complete rolling chassis, into which buyers installed their favoured power plant.
Although off-road and later road racing models were the Rickman brothers’ fare during the Sixties, in 1969 they acquired around 200 736cc Royal Enfield twin cylinder engines after the former Redditch based maker – who’d by then become Enfield Precision of Bradford-upon-Avon – and ended motorcycle manufacture. Using bronze welded Reynolds 531 frames wrapped around the high performance Interceptor engine, their own front fork and modern style disc brake, the Rickmans produced a fast, light (160kg/353lb) lusty British twin with superb handling.
Marketed as the Rickman (Interceptor) history books tell us 205 were built before stocks of parts dried up. During 1974 the chassis was adapted to accept the Honda CB750 transverse four to give the Rickman CR (Cafe Racer). While handling remained superb, concerns over lack of feel of impending break away on hard cornering encouraged the Rickmans to revise the rear swinging arm bush material for roadsters as opposed to road race use. Revised braking and detail fitments kept the Rickman CR on top of the pile of factory built ‘specials.’
During this period Rickmans were making or modifying existing models – such as the Meriden Triumph twin – for police work. And again the Interceptor chassis was modified to accept first a 900 dohc Kawasaki four-cylinder engine from the Z1/Z900 series and then the larger Kawasaki 1000 unit to give the ultimate Rickman CR1000. A 130mph café racer of the Seventies, with race bred handling and – for the time – staggering acceleration.
With both the Honda and Kawasaki engined models on offer it seemed Rickman would continue with motorcycle manufacture but accessories, kit cars and the like took over and motorcycle manufacture gradually petered out. For a number of years Rickman were strong exporters of both chassis and complete motorcycles. Seemingly as many classic Rickmans surface in the US as here in the UK.
Rieju 1952- Spain
Assembler of lightweight motorcycles often using many proprietary parts who started with building 175cc French AMC powered four-strokes. Then added two-strokes, scooters – some of which looked more like Japanese ‘step-thrus’ – and then focused on moped and up to 75cc ultra lightweight machines. Production seems to have petered out rather than come to an abrupt halt.
Examples found in Spanish barns and backyard sheds appear at European mainland autojumbles, often at giveaway prices.
Rikuo c1930-45 and c1953-early 1960s Japan
A strange but true piece of history many involved with Harley-Davidsons would rather brush under the carpet. During the early Twenties Harley-Davidson established the Harley-Davidson Sales Co of Japan to import Wisconsin built machines and distribute them through an extensive dealer network across Japan. Reputations were rapidly established and soon Harleys became standard Japanese Police issue. The stock market crash and following depression devastated this lucrative business, leading the Japanese H-D operations managing director to instigate the assembly in Japan of Harleys using imported parts.
Next a factory was established at Shinagawa with tooling from Wisconsin installed. The Japanese concern soon started building complete ‘made in Japan’ Harleys and became the first plant outside the USA to build complete Harleys.
Initially models, mainly 74 cu in Model VLs, were sold as Harley-Davidsons and even the Japanese army used them. Then Sankyo took over the day-to-day running of the company and the marque name was changed to Rikuo. By 1937, as Japan steered towards war, Harley-Davidson pulled out of Japan and sold their remaining interests in Rikuo. In the complicated ways of business life Rikuo licensed their designs to the rival Japanese concern Nihon Jidosha who continued production of a copy of the 1311cc (97cu in) Rikuo 97 named the Kuro Hagane.
By 1945 production of all these Harley-Davidson clones had ended but in 1953 the Rikuo brand was revived for a range of 1000/1200cc Harley-Davidson-like V-twins and shaft drive 250/350 ohv singles which bore more than a passing resemblance to the BMW shaft drive singles. Both V-twins and shaft drive singles survive in Japan and a number of post WWII 250/350cc singles have found their way to Europe.Enjoy more The Classic MotorCycle reading in the monthly magazine. Click here to subscribe.