Scott Squirrel

Scott Squirrel British vintage motorcycle

Scott may not be the most famous manufacturer in motorcycling history – but it certainly has its place. As, indeed, does Scott’s most celebrated bike, the Squirrel. The British marque won the Senior TT – in both 1912 and ’13. And the Scott trial – which began in ’14 – and became a bastion of off-road motorsport – was named after the Yorkshire firm. Founded in ’08, Scott went on to produce finely-crafted motorbikes for decades to come.

Engineering excellence – forged in competition’s crucible – flowed down into Scott roadsters. The Squirrel was the prime beneficiary. Squirrels came in several flavours. There were Super Squirrels, Sports Squirrels and Flying Squirrels. All came with a 596cc motor – mated to a 3-speed hand-change ‘box. Squirrels handled well, looked and sounded good – and merrily skipped up to 70mph. In the Twenties, that was quick!

Squirrels were apt to be temperamental, though. Mechanically, they played up a bit, from time to time. And – with their hefty price-tags – that did not go down well with owners. As the model aged – and its cutting edge blunted – sales declined. To this day, though, there is many a motorcyclist who is nuts about Squirrels. With luck – over the years – a few of them were horded away. So, you never know … Scott Squirrels may again be a common sight, on the highways and byways of Britain.

Excelsior Manxman

Excelsior was the first British motorbike manufacturer. The company’s best-known machine, the Manxman, was named after the TT – Tourist Trophy. That being the ultimate devil-may-care road race – through the picturesque scenery of the Isle of Man.

In ’33, Excelsior took the Lightweight TT title. Overnight, the English firm became a motorcycling name to be reckoned with. The bike which achieved said feat was dubbed the ‘Mechanical Marvel’! Keen to capitalise on their success, Excelsior conceived a racing replica roadster. At the last, though, the project was cancelled. Excelsior were worried about long-term sales. They feared its engine might prove too complex for Clubman-level ‘tinkering’!

While that eleventh hour change of heart was a loss to amateur racing, it was a boon to road riders. Instead of the ‘race rep’ they had planned, Excelsior served up the more orthodox Manxman. Its single overhead camshaft motor came in 250, 350 and 500cc versions. For those so inclined, a bit of light tuning sorted it for the track. In standard trim, it was more than adequate for country lane heroics. In short, the Excelsior Manxman pleased everyone. In so doing, it signalled the finest hour for an historic marque!

Ariel Red Hunter

The Red Hunter was indigenous to the English Midlands. Ariel was based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. One of the original motorcycle manufacturers, it set up shop in 1902. By the ’30s, Ariel was doing brisk business – so was in a position to attract top talent. That meant high-calibre designers like Edward Turner, Val Page and Bert Hopwood. All three became icons of British bike-building. Turner, in particular, proved pivotal to the success of two-wheeled Triumphs.

Ariel produced a steady stream of stylish, yet practical machines. One of the best was the Red Hunter. It was among a batch of single-cylinder four-strokes from the firm. These bikes were a great success – and a godsend to Ariel. Financial woes forced the factory to close temporarily. Jack Sangster then took over the Ariel reins – from father Charles, the firm’s founder. Sangster reached out to Val Page – requesting that he come up with something to save the sinking ship. Page’s response was the Red Hunter. It would not be long before the ailing firm was up on its feet again.

The Red Hunter’s top speed – 82mph – was pretty damned quick in ’37. Especially, from a 497cc motor. To extract that stat from just 26bhp was testament to Ariel engineering. Sadly, suspension tech of the era was not in the same league. Namely, girder forks at the front – and a rigid rear end! Even so, Red Hunter handling was impressive – given the constraints. At least, a comfortably-sprung seat helped make up for the deficiencies. That said – with its push-rod single-pot motor – it was never going to be the smoothest of rides. At the time, though, the Red Hunter was a luxury product. Certainly, it looked the part – resplendent in its ‘red robin’ plumage. As classic bikes go, the Ariel Red Hunter was really quite refined. And could shift a bit, too!

Douglas Dragonfly

The Douglas Dragonfly broke the motorcycle mould. BMW is now almost synonymous with the flat-twin layout. Other marques, too, though, have used that venerable engine configuration. Not least, Douglas. The firm was based in Bristol, England. Its early models saw the motor fitted inline with the frame. The two pistons went at it hammer and tongs – ‘punching’ fore and aft. The Dragonfly, though, saw them slung transversely across the frame – à la BMW ‘Boxer’. In any case, the Dragonfly made good progress – cruising at around 60mph. Beyond that optimal speed, however, performance tailed off dramatically. Ultimately, that would lead to the Dragonfly’s decline.

Design-wise, the Dragonfly was on solid ground. If anything, slightly too ‘solid’, perhaps. Is it just me. or does the way in which the headlamp nacelle flows into the fuel tank look a bit like the front end of a dragonfly? Certainly, the Earles forks – and robust rear shocks – visually complemented each other. And – above them – the bike’s logo was elegantly scripted. The Dragonfly’s flat-twin powerplant was itself impressively wrought.

In ’23, Douglas won at the TT. It was in the sidecar category. Freddie Dixon did the driving. Again, that historic outfit’s boxer motor was installed inline. The year before, on the Island, a Douglas solo racer had been fitted with a delicate-looking little disc brake. Douglas, then, were innovating – technically and stylistically. And – when it comes to nomenclature – the Douglas Dragonfly must be one of the most poetically titled bikes ever. Buzzin’, basically!

%%footer%%