Royal Enfield and Villiers
In the 1890s John Marston's Sunbeam had become extremely successful, by relying on high quality of production and finish. But Marston was dissatisfied with the pedals on his machines, which he bought in. In 1890 he dispatched his son Charles to the US on a selling trip, but included in his instructions that Charles must discuss pedal engineering with Pratt and Whitney in Hartford, Connecticut and come back with a high-class pedal and the machinery for making it. Charles said that the Villiers Engineering Co. was "the ultimate fruit" of his trip to the US, being impressed by the production system and the labour saving devices. He pointed out that "it was not possible to develop these at Sunbeamland, which had long been working on another plan, but it was possible to start them in a new factory".
As a result of the tour, in 1898, John Marston bought a small Japanning works based in Villiers Street, Wolverhampton. Under the direction of Charles, the Villiers Cycle Components Co made cycle parts for the Sunbeam company. As the factory was producing more parts than Sunbeam required, it sold components to other manufacturers.
1902 was a momentous year for Villiers. Firstly, John Marston sold the company to his son Charles for £6,000 on a loan against future profits. Secondly, it developed and patented the cycle free-wheel, which every cycle manufacturer required. The production of free wheels reached its peak just after the Second World War, as the company produced 80,000 per week or 4 million per year.
Apart from the production of freewheels outlined above, the company produced its first engine in early 1912, a 350 cc four-stroke complete with integral two-speed gearbox. Later that year it developed a 269 cc two-stroke (70mm bore and stroke) and the simplcity of this engine and attractive price made it a rapid success. During 1913 the Sun-Villers motorcycle was launched manufactured by the Sun Cycle & Fittings Co.
By 1914 the Villiers 269 cc 2-stroke engine had been adopted by a large number of motorcycle manufacturers, such as the Allday (Alldays & Onions), The Royal Ruby, The New Ryder, the Bown-Villiers, the Coventry-Eagle, the Gerrard, the Invicta (A. Barnett & Co), the Ixion, the Juno, and the Roulette.
In spite of the huge success of the 269 cc two-stroke, the four-stroke engine had not completely been shelved, as in October 1914, J.H Motors of Oldham announced two motorcycles, the No.1 fitted with a 2.75HP Villiers four-stroke engine of 349cc (74.5 x 80mm bore and stroke), and a 2.5HP two-stroke model using the Villiers 269 cc engine. Whether many of either model were made before war orders halted production in 1915 is unclear.
Other manufacturers known to use Villiers engines up to 1915 include the Campion, The Hobart, the Chater-Lea, the Diamond, and the Excelsior.
During World War One, in common with many firms not directly involved in making military transport, the Villiers factory changed to production of munitions, in particular fuses for 75mm shells. Companies engaged in war work still worked on new models anticipating the end of the war, with Villiers applying for 16 engine-related patents during the war. One particular issue was a generic problem - the fact that before the war most engines relied on German-made magnetos for ignition, which caused a major issue during the war. In January 1917 Villiers patented their solution to this problem - the flywheel-magneto, which became a standard feature of their engines.
Immediately after the war Villiers picked up where they had left off, with supply of the 269 cc engine, now as the Mark II engine with different method of attaching the exhaust. By 1919 the bikes that used the Villiers engines included the Excelsior lightweight, the Diamond (D.F.& M. Engineering Co), the Royal Ruby, the Wolf Lightweight (Wulfruna Engineering), the Carfield, the Ruffells, the P.V. (Elliston & Fell), the Sparkbrook, the Yvel, the P&S lightweight (Pearson and Sopwith), the Chater-Lea, the Campion, the Victoria (of Glasgow), the Hobart, the Olympic, the Ixion, the Bown-Villiers, the Wilkin, and the Saltley. The engine remained much the same, and continued to use a separate magneto, though it did have an oil pump to provide crankcase and piston lubrication via a hollow crankcase bolt - a design that Villiers had patented during 1914/1915.
The Mark III engine embodied some changes to crankcase and bushes in 1919/1920, and in March 1920 the new Villiers Mark IV engine complete with flywheel magneto was revealed. In May 1920 a new British Excelsior lightweight model was announced, this being the first motorcycle to show the new Villiers engine using the flywheel-magneto instead of separate magneto.
In September 1922 Villiers announced the details of their new 1923 engine range, which included 147 cc, 250 cc and 343 cc engines. These engines featured a radial finned cylinder head, with both the inlet and exhaust port being at the front of the engine, and they all had the Villiers flywheel-magneto. While the 147 cc relied on petrol-oil mixture for crankshaft lubrication, the two larger engines used a separate oil feed system. The new 250 cc engine produced 25 per cent more power than the older 269 cc engine.
In 1926 Villiers introduced an even smaller engine, the 125 cc with twin exhaust ports and side mounted carburettor, and in 1927 they introduced the 344cc twin 2-stroke. Villiers were to go on to produce a wide range of single and twin cylinder 2-strokes primarily for motorcycle use. At the end of the 1920s they also started producing engines for stationary use, with the first model being the water-cooled WX11 and in 1933 the air-cooled Mar-vil. Villiers engines were also used in lawn mowers, for example the 147 cc engine was used in the Atco mowers of the 1920s and in 1931 it was joined by a 98 cc Villiers engine, known as the Midget.
The Villiers company also had links to the Seagull outboard marine engines, both of which owed their existence to John Marston. The Seagull engines used the Villiers flywheel magneto, and a 'Seagull-Villiers' carburetor.
In 1936, L. E. Baynes and Sir John Carden, trading as Carden-Baynes Aircraft of Heston Aerodrome, launched the Carden-Baynes Auxiliary, a light aircraft which was essentially a motorized Abbott-Baynes Scud 3 glider. This carried a retractable 249 cc Villiers engine driving a push-propeller and producing 9 bhp, and the fuel tank held enough to run the engine for thirty minutes. The 249 cc Carden-Baynes Auxiliary is believed to be the lowest-powered aircraft in the history of powered flight.
During the war part of Villiers production was again turned to fuses for shells, with over 10 million produced, although they continued to make engines and cycleparts. Their engines were also used in small motorcycles designed for air drop with paratroopers - the Excelsior Welbike and the James ML paratrooper's machine known as the Clockwork Mouse.
In 1956, Villiers produced its two millionth engine and presented it to the Science Museum in London.
In 1957 Villiers absorbed JA Prestwich Industries, makers of the J.A.P. engines. In 1962 the company were claiming that:
"jointly the two companies produce a vast range of two-stroke and four-stroke petrol engines and four-stroke diesel engines from 1/3 to 16 b.h.p. These are the engines which power many of Britain's two-stroke motor cycles, scooters and three wheelers, and the great majority of the motor mowers, cultivators, concrete mixers, generating sets, elevators, pumping sets. etc."
Villiers still manufactured a range of single and twin two-stroke engines (from 98 cc to 325 cc) for light motorcycle and vehicle manufacturers and in the early 60s Royal Enfield designed a motorcycle with a Villiers 4T 249cc twin cylinder engine, especially adapted for Enfield: The Turbo Twin. In England this was a moderate success, though this 2-stroke couldn't cope with the cheap japanese 2-stroke invasion. The Turbo Twin was only produced for 2 years.
There was also a Royal Enfield production racer with a 250 two-stroke engine, the GP5, designed by Geoff Duke, based on the Villiers engine, but truly tuned and updated. Only about 25 of them were manufactured. Only on one occasion did the bike show its true potential, when Percy Tait finished 3rd behind the works Yamahas of Phil Read and Mike Duff in the 1965 Hutchinson 100 at Silverstone. But it was too little too late and because of the financial troubles the GP5 project was stopped.
In 1962 the Enfield Cycle Co was bought by E. and H. P. Smith (no relation to the Enfield Smith family) who reorganised and streamlined the company, but to no avail.
In 1965 Villiers bought the industrial engines business of BSA located at Redditch; this would enable BSA to concentrate on motorcycle production; Villiers would fulfil BSA's commitments from its Wolverhampton factory.
Also in 1965 the Villiers company was bought by Manganese Bronze.
In 1966 Manganese Bronze Holdings Ltd bought AMC (Associated Motorcycles) owners of the Norton, AJS, Matchless, Francis-Barnett and James motorcycle marques. This, combined with the other motor cycle business, became Norton-Villiers.
In 1967 The Enfield Cycle Co Ltd was sold to Norton-Villiers by E. and H. P. Smith; the assets of the Enfield Diesel Engine Division had been sold previously and certain assets of the Pedal Cycle and Spares Division had been transferred to Enfield Precision Engineers, another E. and H. P. Smith company. Norton-Villiers placed a contract with Enfield Precision Engineers for manufacture of the 750cc Royal Enfield Interceptor motorcycle in the underground factory in Badford on Avon which ceased production in 1970.
Late 60/early 70s Norton-Villiers was a millstone around the neck of Manganese Bronze; it took several years to reorganise the company and bring it back towards profitability.
1973 As part of a rescue plan for BSA initiated by the Government, a new motorcycle company Norton-Villiers-Triumph was set up with government funding. Manganese Bronze Holdings put Norton-Villiers into the new entity and purchased BSA's non-motorcycle interests.
In 1973, the British government's plan to rescue the motorcycle industry forced a merger of BSA (including their subsidiary Triumph) and Norton-Villiers, in return for funds to remain in business. The resultant company was called Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT). The new company would be owned by Manganese Bronze Holdings, shareholders of BSA and the government who would eventually sell its shares. Manganese Bronze Holdings contributed Norton-Villiers to the new entity and purchased BSA's non-motorcycle interests.
In 1977 Norton-Villiers-Triumph sold some its assets, principally Triumph stock and tooling, to the workers cooperative at Meriden.
NVT was liquidated in 1978 and motorcycle marques like AJS, BSA, Francis-Barnett, Matchless, Norton, Royal Enfield and Villiers weren't manufactured in the UK anymore.
Royal Enfield Turbo Twin Villiers 4T engine (1964)
|Engine:||Villiers 249cc Mk 4T two stroke twin|
|Transmission:||Villiers Four speed to rear of engine|
|Carburettor:||Villiers S25 plunger type|
|Electrics:||Lucas 6 volt|
|Fuel capacity:||3½ gallons|
|Performance:||top speed 75mph/standing ¼ mile 21.6s|
|Fuel consumption:||96mpg @ 30mph/52mpg @ 60mph|
|Ground clearance:||5½" |