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Paragon Villiers : Assembled in Vancouver

While it may not be a Paragon of mechanical excellence, this Villiers-based machine has ties to the earliest days of Canadian motorcycling.

The list of Canadian motorcycle brands is not a long one. It pretty much starts with Can-Am and ends with CCM. And while the Hendee Manufacturing Company once built Indian motorcycles in Toronto, that was a century ago. Slightly more recently, though, you could buy a motorcycle that was “built” in Vancouver: the Paragon Villiers.

Fred Deeley Sr. opened his retail business in Vancouver in 1917. As well as British light cars, Deeley sold bicycles, and Triumph and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. At some point in the early 1920s, Deeley began importing what were essentially kit motorcycles from the Birmingham, England Sun Cycle & Fittings Co Ltd. The Sun frame was supplied with other proprietary parts, including the Villiers MkVIII two-stroke engine and Druid Mk1 sprung fork. These parts were assembled into a complete motorcycle by Deeleys and sold through their premises on Granville Street (later on West Broadway) in Vancouver, BC. The brand name “Paragon Villiers” was hand painted onto the gas tank.

The specification of the Paragon Villiers was very much in line with period practice for economy machines. The 150cc (55mm x 62mm) two-stroke engine used an iron cylinder and head as well as an iron piston. The engine unit was supplied complete with Villiers flywheel magneto, Villiers carburetor and canister muffler, and even the handlebar throttle lever. The engine drove the rear wheel by chain via a two-speed Albion gearbox with hand shift. (The rear wheel, incidentally, showed its heritage by still being fitted with a belt-drive pulley, which, on the chain drive bike, was called into service as a brake drum!)

There are many aspects of the Paragon that would flummox modern motorcycle riders: there’s no ignition key or switch—the engine is “live” all the time—though it does need to be spinning to generate a spark; and it’s stopped by operating a compression release lever. There’s no front brake: front brakes were considered to be of questionable value at the time—after all, a skid was easier to control if it was the rear wheel rather than the front… There’s no rear suspension; and the front springs are undamped. 

Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group member Terry Frounfelker heard about the Paragon through another local member, Dan Smith. A goldsmith in Vancouver had gone out of business, and the premises were being cleared. Smith thought he had seen a flat-tank motorcycle in the basement. Expecting a box of parts or a basket case bike, Frounfelker went to take a look. And while covered in nearly 90 years of dust, the Paragon was complete and in one piece—though the original Hutchinson tires had completely rotted away but for the carcass. Frounfelker bought it on the spot—especially after he spotted the decal on the headstock: “The Paragon: Assembled in Vancouver BC”

After Frounfelker had refreshed the fluids in the Paragon Villiers engine and gearbox, he tried to start it. And it soon became apparent why the Paragon had been parked: there was no spark from the Villiers flywheel magneto. (Having personal experience with several Villiers autocycle and motorcycle engines, I can confirm that this is not an unusual occurrence!) Fortunately, Villiers built so many of their ubiquitous two-stroke engines, most of them with the same flywheel mag, parts are easy to find. Frounfelker ordered a new condenser, ignition parts and a spark plug from the UK, and the Villiers was soon puffing out its familiar pall of blue oil smoke.

That the Paragon Villiers survived is a remarkable and rare event. Utility machines like these were typically bought for commuting, being marginally faster and requiring slightly less effort than a bicycle. New owners typically had little experience of internal combustion engines and their quirks, and a simple electrical fault would often consign them to the wreckers yard. (Or in England, into the canal. That was the fate of my first motorcycle, a 197cc Ambassador that, I now realize, simply had a broken HT lead!)

Frounfelker’s bike has a number of interesting features. The Paragon came without lights, so Frounfelker has fitted a period acetylene headlight. And instead of the standard footpegs, his machine boasts cast aluminum footboards, a “factory” option. The Villiers MkVIII’s carburetor is also mounted on the front of the engine, directly over the muffler and just in front of the flywheel mag.

So before he started it for the first time, “I made sure I had a fire extinguisher handy!” says Frounfelker.

The Paragon is perfectly rideable as long as you’re not in a hurry—and have plenty of room to stop. Frounfelker claims to have seen around 50 kmh, though, “it doesn’t do well with hills,” he admits.

Terry Frounfelker’s Paragon Villiers may well be the only survivor from one of motorcycle history’s darker and dustier corners, and it provides a fascinating glimpse through the stained glass of time at a long lost era.

Both Villiers and Sun had their origins in the manufacture of bicycle parts. John Marston sold his Sunbeam cycle business to his son Charles in 1902. In 1912 the company produced its first motorcycle engine, a 350cc inlet-over-exhaust four-stroke, at its factory on Villiers Street, Wolverhampton. One of the Villiers Engineering Company’s first customers for its 1913 269cc two-stroke engine was the Sun Cycle and Fittings Co. Ltd. of Birmingham.

The 147cc Villiers MkVIII engine was announced for 1923 with a new cylinder head featuring radial fins. 

And while the 147cc engine used a petroil fuel mix for lubrication, the 250cc and 343cc versions featured direct lubrication. Villiers continued to supply two-stroke engines to scores of British motorcycle manufacturers through the 1950s, from 98cc pedal-assist autocycle motors to a 325cc twin. A combination of factors (European and Japanese competition in the scooter and moped market, and the popularity of small cars) led to the end of engine production and the sale of the company to Manganese-Bronze holdings in 1966. Sun produced its last motorcycle, a Villiers-powered autocycle, in 1961.

by Robert Smith Canadian Biker Issue #320


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