Old marques will always resurface.
While researching bikes to include in “For a Few Euros More” this issue we delved into the motorcycle industry of Europe and particularly the UK. One of the more interesting discoveries was the continued existence of brands, or at least brand names, which are so historically rooted in motorcycle lore. We might have thought they were gone but, as with most motorcycle brands that met with a modicum of success, they are most certainly not forgotten, though perhaps only a few of their riders could say why.
For example, an AJS feature we ran back in 2007 and eventually posted to our website archive revolved around Dan Smith’s building from scratch of an AJS500 (the bike makes a brief appearance later this issue). Vintage enthusiasts have visited this story hundreds of times through the years proving how, for one group at least, the AJS name lives on.
What was surprising to learn is you can still purchase a new AJS in the UK for less than $4,500 CDN. There are in fact several models including a cruiser, an adventure scrambler and several retro models—all 125cc air-cooled singles.
Another old motorcycle brand from the archives was Mondial, which built world champion race bikes and won many titles through the 1950s. Mondial too has a variety of bikes for sale, again all in the small displacement category including retro racers, scramblers and a supermotard. The UK has a thriving market, and many players in the small displacement category make affiliation with famous marques a competitive advantage in a crowded field.
As the British motorcycle industry waxed and waned, many brands became briefly intertwined—bought, sold, amalgamated, taken over repeatedly—before being separated again. But through it all the value of those brand names lived on, in some cases for more than 100 years. Two bikes featured this issue, the Ariel Ace and Brough Superior, fit squarely into that category.
Triumph is far and away the most recognizable brand to rise with modern success, although with its continuing recent growth and expansion including a new flat tracker concept, Royal Enfield also needs to be considered in the discussion. Other companies are trying to follow in those tire treads, either as niche markets enthusiast bikes or mass market players.
One of the prime examples is the reborn Norton, which persevered for many years in the contemporary era bringing to market technically proven sportbikes, both in current and retro iterations. However, announced this spring was news the Indian firm TVS had purchased the Norton brand.
What TVS does with Norton will be interesting as the new owner has deep pockets being the sixth largest producer of motorcycles in the world. The UK Minister for Investment office says Norton will continue to produce motorcycles from headquarters in the UK while the Joint Managing Director of TVS calls Norton “An iconic British brand” that will help TVS “Cater to the aspirations of discerning motorcycle customers around the world.” Which direction will they take?
The BSA brand also resides with an Indian firm, Mahindra, which is another successful conglomerate perhaps best known in North America for a wide variety of farm tractors and UTVs. Mahindra, in 2016, acquired the rights to market BSA and must have some plans for the brand as they also purchased the Jawa name.
There are several examples in the past 25 years of motorcycles built with Vincent logos and somewhere the rights to the brand must be tucked away in a desk. So hang on, a new Vincent must be somewhere on the horizon. All it will take is the right dreamer … and a whole lot of money.
• John Molony Canadian Biker Issue #348