Monday, February 13, 2012

Streamlined Touring Classics: The odd and unpopular enclosed fairing motorcycle.

The Triumph Twenty One (3TA)

The partially/fully faired motorcycle is by no means a new concept. During the 30's The Art Deco movement inspired countless car and motorcycle companies to incorporate the design-of-the-time into the styling of their vehicles, while most cycles offered little advantage in speed or performance but were simply fancy looking production bikes, as opposed to the streamlined land speed racers or GP race bikes and their dustbin fairings of the 50's. With the semi/fully faired bikes of the 30's, companies like BMW and Henderson were offering a beautiful and more prestigious option to consumers over the other utilitarian bikes of the time. While these bikes deserve a closer look (as well as the race-faired GP's) that will be a topic for another time. It was the failed attempt to implement style and function into a touring machine during the middle part of the century that inspired this post.
The 1934 BWM R7 prototype (Bike Exif) - pulling inspiration from the Rolls Royce Phantom I
Art Deco inspired reworked Henderson inline 4 
The less embellished, French "Majestic" based on a Cleveland Four Cylinder Engine.
In the 50's and early 60's, the popularity of industrial design leaning towards a futuristic, aerodynamic look that reflected the "jet age" and the forthcoming "space race" eras, designers like Eero Saarinen began dropping right angles in architecture and furniture design, opting for a rounded, often times orbital approach, later highlighted in Stanley Kurbrics 1968 film: 2001, A Space Odyssey. This design trend trickled down to everything from automobiles to home appliances - and yes, motorcycles too. This period unveiled some of the oddest (and in many cases) most unpopular styles in production-motorcycle history: The semi/fully enclosed bikes from the 50's and early 60's.

The first machine that started into real production was the Vincent Black Knight and Black Prince series (albeit, in the tail end of the companies existence.) Built around a Series D Rapide, the Black Prince/Knight (as well as a never-released single-cylinder version known as the Black Victor) were a fully glass-fiber faired, streamlined tourer with air vents directed at the rear cylinder for cooling (a common problem with the v-twin design). Phillip Vincent had begun experimenting with the use of fiberglass after WWII and released a crude version of a "water scooter," (now commonly known as a wave runner). Dubbed the Amanda, the water-bike had little success and was quickly dropped after an alleged drowning resulted from Vincents design. Unscathed, Phillip Vincent took the concept of the enclosed motor to his V-twin bikes by incorporating a full shroud, complete with upright windscreen, respectively offering protection to the engine as well as the rider. By late 1955, extreme financial loss forced Vincent out of business and the Black Knight/Prince were killed before they really had a chance to get off the ground. Whether or not it was a coincidence that these bikes marked the final chapter in Vincents legacy is up for debate, but they are rare and desirable in todays collectors market as not many were produced.
Vincent Black Knight at The Barber Museum
Triumph was a few years behind on their semi faired models, though inspiration was most likely taken from the ever-popular Vespa Scooter. The first model with the new rear shroud was the Triumph Twenty One 349cc lightweight, designed by Ed Turner and Jack Wickes. The 500 (5TA) and 650 (thunderbird and T110) models soon followed - all leaving their engines fully exposed, only covering the rear wheel, tool kit (cleverly laid out under the seat) the oil tank and electronics. So unpopular state-side were these "Bath Tubs" that most of them were scrapped for sheet metal and few surface in original condition.  The 3TA and 5TA models went to a "bikini fairing" for a sportier look in the early 60's but eventually dropped the design all together, as even the headlight-nacelles were being deemed as dated by consumers, forcing many dealers to replace the bodywork with standard headlight buckets and non-valenced fenders in order to sell them to the American market. The last of the bath tubs were dropped from the "Thunderbird" after 1965.
Triumphs 3TA and 5TA (not pictured the T100a and the Thunderbird 650 Bath Tub)
Not to be outdone, Norton came out with their own rear enclosure, first appearing on the 1958 250cc Jubilee followed by 1960 350cc Navigator and an optional retrofitted fairing for the Dominator De-Luxe 88 and 99 models, the latter two using the famous Featherbed frame (completely hidden!) - No doubt many of these Dominators were stripped of their panels and made into cafe's or specials. The option was dropped within the first two years of the 60's and Norton focussed on their 750 Atlas and eventually their very successful Commando.
Nortons Short lived rear enclosed 88 and 99 models 
The 99 hid a featherbed frame under it's fairing. Needless to say, complete examples are scarce.
Ariel took a different approach with their Leader model, marketing it against Lambretta as the "form" of a scooter but the "performance of a motorcycle". Designed by Val Page and Bernard Knight, The Ariel Leader was a radical new concept with a 250cc two stroke engine suspended in a pressed 20 gauge steel 'backbone' frame, welded down the middle for strength. It's 250cc two stroke engine barely out-powered the scooters, but managed to take a decent share of the market place throughout the early 60's. Later on the streamlining was lessened and the "Arrow" was released as basically a stripped down version, complete with 50cc less hp - in an attempt to make the bikes more affordable in a lower tax bracket. They were quickly dropped all together as Ariel went under in 1965, foreshadowing the collapse of the British motorcycle empire.
The sporty and mildy successful Ariel Leader.
Aermacchi, an Italian based company, came out with one of the most impressive, jet-fighter inspired motorcycle in their "Chimera" (Dream) model. Designed by Alfredo Bianchi, the lines and giant front air scoop screamed "speed" but performance was limited to lightweight market specs. Again, while a cult following of collectors love these bikes, the public demand was shifting and the poor sales of the Chimera lead to a redesign, which exposed the horizontal, air cooled single cylinder engine. This bike eventually morphed into the "Sprint" which did find success in the American market after Aermacchi was aquired by Harley Davidson.

The 175cc Aermacchi Chimera. Scooter or motorcycle?
The Stunning lines of the 172.4cc Aermacchi Chimera at The Barber Museum
As the 70's approached, the production street bikes went back to a traditional exposed motor look, before the Japanese takeover forced most of the British companies under. Now most sport bikes are water cooled and fully faired, the difference being that the fairings actually help the high performance motors overcome wind resistance instead of simply embellishing the look of the bike - though it must be mentioned: they all pretty much look identical.

The optimistic look of the mid 20th centuries "jet age" failed to transcend into the two wheeled market - with the exception of Vespa and Lambretta and the 2 stroke scooter market. The industry obviously failed to read what the motorcycle consumers really wanted, but due to their original undesirability, most that are left have become somewhat collectible in todays market - to those who like collecting the odd-ball bikes of yesteryear. 
Al Hartmans pride and joy: 1960 Triumph T100A

1 comment:

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