The Big Car Database

Abc Motorcycles

ABC Motors Ltd
Industry Manufacturing and engineering
Fate Wound up
Founded 1919
Defunct 1923
Headquarters London
Key people
Ronald Charteris and Granville Bradshaw
Products Motorcycles
ABC Enthusiasts

ABC motorcycles was a British motorcycle manufacturer established in 1914 by Ronald Charteris in London.

Several British motorcycle firms started up with the name "ABC", including Sopwith The All British Engine Company Ltd of London was founded in 1912 and later changed to ABC Motors Ltd With chief engineer Granville Bradshaw, Charteris built a range of engines throughout the First World War From 1913 ABC produced motorcycle engines

In 1918, ABC made a motorcycle with a 400 cc flat-twin engine mounted with its cylinders across the frame, several years before BMW adapted the design. Bradshaw challenged BMW's use of his patented design in 1926. In 1919 ABC also produced the Scootamota – an early motor scooter. The company stopped producing motorcycles after 1923 because of competition from cheaper manufacturers.


Preference Share of the A.B.C. Motors (1920) Ltd., issued 7. June 1920

ABC had always had a close association with the Sopwith aircraft company. They were both at Brooklands and in 1912 a Sopwith with an ABC engine flown by Harry Hawker had won the Michelin Endurance Prize. In December 1918 it was announced that ABC had transferred the rights for manufacturing and selling motor cycles to Sopwith Aviation Co Ltd, allowing Granville Bradshaw of ABC Motors to focus on design. In 1919 they jointly exhibited the Sopwith 390 cc horizontally opposed twin-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) machine at the annual Motor Cycle show. It aroused a lot of interest with innovative front and rear leaf springs and "expanding" brakes, wet sump lubrication, and a four-speed gearbox. It was also one of the first motorcycles with a duplex cradle frame. One thing it did not have, however, was any form of starting mechanism; the rider had to "paddle" or bump start to get the engine going. The ABC 400 was made under licence by the Sopwith Aviation & Engineering Co in Kingston-upon-Thames and 2,200 were produced. Later models had improved valve gear, speedometers, and electric lighting. Sidecar outfits were also produced as optional extras.

In 1920 a new company, ABC Motors (1920) Ltd was formed to make aircraft engines, light cars, and motorcycles, all with a flat-twin engine designed by Bradshaw.

From about the turn of the century, a small workshop (Redbridge Motor Works) in Redbridge, near Southampton, under the name of Walter. Lawson Adams - motor engineer, designed and installed engines for small motor boats and hydroplanes. A 10-12 h.p. engine installed in a boat named `Bluebottle" in 1904, won its class in some reliability trials in 1905 in the Southampton area whilst a 15hp V-twin was fitted to a hydroplane in 1909. By that time he had become more interested in aircraft engines and, to pursue such interests, he first formed W L Adams Ltd and then joined forces with Ronald Louis Charteris forming the Aeroplane Engine Company in 1909. Charteris was the grandson of the 7th Earl of Wemyss and March and a keen early aviator. Together with Adams, they commenced work on a 90-degree V8 engine of 88hp having a bore and stroke of 4 in. x 43/4 in. There is however no evidence that it was ever completed.

In the latter part of 1910, Granville Eastwood Bradshaw joined the company as chief designer. Designs then came from both Adams and Bradshaw for the Aeroplane Engine Company’s aviation units, whilst Bradshaw also pursued technical development of aircraft design.  The company name was again changed since all partners were probably aware of cash rewards being offered to constructors of aircraft of all-British manufacture, so Bradshaw suggested the All British Engine Company. At this time Bradshaw was a recently qualified engineer, being just 21 years old. Granville Bradshaw apparently worked for the Star Engineering Co. for a short while during 1908-10, during which time he designed the Star monoplane and biplane, and also a 40 h.p. water-cooled four-cylinder engine which was installed and flown in the monoplane in 1910. This engine sounds very similar to the first A.B.C. engine, and Bradshaw could well have memorised the design and added one or two improvements for production by the latter company. His first design for A.B.C. was a 40 h.p. water-cooled four-cylinder engine, followed by a number of 90-degree V-arranged engines of four, six, eight, 12, and 16 cylinders. The majority of these were produced solely on the drawing board, although they did appear in catalogues, but at least the 40 h.p. and V-8s of 60 h.p. and 100 h.p. were made in small numbers, the latter by Armstrong-Whitworth & Company.

In late 1912 S. L. Bailey, who rode Douglas motor cycles at Brooklands, asked Bradshaw to design various parts to improve the performance of one of his bikes. These included machined cylinders, new con-rods, and new valves, tappets and rocker gear. In this form it proceeded to take the Class B (350 c.c.) kilometre and mile records at 72.63 m.p.h. and 70.04 m.p.h. respectively, beating the 68.28 m.p.h. and 67.85 m.p.h. previously set up on the Martin-J.A.P. The fact that Bailey had asked for revised motor cycle parts probably sparked off in Bradshaw's mind the idea of the A.B.C. motor cycle, and by January, 1913, a 500 c.c. opposed-twin engine had been designed and built, which, it was claimed, would fit most frames. In an article in Motor Cycling for 14th January 1913 describing this engine, it was also mentioned that there could be a 900cc flat twin suitable for a cyclecar, not that the company had any serious intention of making one themselves, rather that it might be an opportunity to supply it as a proprietary unit to others.

This motorcycle engine had a bore and stroke of 68 mm. x 68 mm. and employed a three-throw crank, with one large con-rod centrally, and a lighter section con-rod either side to the second cylinder, thus obtaining very good balance. The cylinder barrels were machined from a solid bar and together with the con-rods, pistons and overhead valve gear were all based on aero-engine practice, The fin arrangement on the cylinders was described as "pear shaped", which were finished in nickel plate left dull. A certain amount of adjustment was required to the majority of frames, so Zenith Motors and H. Collier & Sons were asked to design a suitable frame around the engine. The second prototype engine incorporated pressure-feed lubrication instead of splash, normal working pressure being about 50 lb./sq. in. at a speed of 4,200 r.p.m. In April, the A.B.C.-Zenith appeared at the track, in the hands of F. W. Barnes, although after this date little is heard of either the Zenith or Matchless-framed machines. The first production engines, which were available in June, in some cases found their way into Douglas frames, as these obviously lent themselves to the design of the A.B.C. unit.

Various modifications were made to the engine during May, including revised valve gear, and the pear-shaped fins becoming longitudinally disposed. These engines were used in some of the T.T. machines that year, one being George Brough's, his own engine not being finished in time. Other motor cycles to use the A.B.C. unit included the Edmund and the coil-spring-framed P.V. (Perry Vale, London), one of the latter gaining a gold medal in the 1913 London-Exeter Run. It became clear that the motorcycle engine only fitted very few frames and this likely prompted ABC to start building complete motorcycles themselves from 1914.
On January 13, 1914, Jack Emerson, the company's chief tester, broke the Class C and D flying kilometre and mile records, previously held by Stanley on a Singer at 78.22 m.p.h. and 76.69 m.p.h., the new speeds being 80.47 m.p.h. and 78.26 m.p.h. respectively. For this attempt the bore was increased by less than half a millimetre, the rocker gear lightened, and a streamlined tail was added, consisting of aeroplane canvas stretched over a timber frame and attached to the rear of the saddle.

In March, 1914, the new revised model was introduced, which differed in several major respects. A three-model policy was adopted, which consisted of the touring version with a guaranteed speed of 60 m.p.h., a T.T. model at 65 m.p.h., and the Brooklands model with a maximum of 70 m.p.h. The touring model had parallel-sided cylinders, with detachable heads incorporating separate exhaust-valve chambers, the valve arrangement changing from overhead to side inlet and overhead exhaust. A more normal two-throw crank was used, with ball and roller bearings, and a Best & Lloyd semi-automatic lubricator was added to the oiling system. In his record attempts, Emerson found that a certain amount of speed was lost due to the belt slipping on the rim, so 1914 models all had chain drive to the rear hub via a countershaft and three-speed Armstrong gear. The frame had for the first time a feature for which A.B.C. became renowned, namely the use of laminated springs fore and aft. On early production versions a kick starter and footboards were optional, whilst an undertray was standard to save mud and grit from liberally spraying the valve gear, as were twin exhaust pipes and silencers. The T.T. model retained the pear-shaped cylinders, as did the Brooklands model, which probably had lightened valve gear and drilled con-rods. About this time it was decided to give the motor cycle division of the works a separate title, so as not to be confused with the aero-engine side, and the name A.B.C. Road Motors (1914) came into being in June 1914. Not that much confusion could have taken place anyhow, since the number of employees at this time was about 20, which in turn was about double the number at Redbridge back in 1911.

These bikes were sold in some numbers, and soon appeared in sporting events, acquitting themselves quite reasonably, having a respectably high performance and vivid acceleration. In the Scottish Speed Championships, T. C. M. Bellairs won his heat and came third in the final on his machine nicknamed the "Pirate", and at the Oxford v. Cambridge Brooklands meeting in September, E. H. Lees won the first and third races. With successful competition and the usual and enthusiastic Press coverage, A.B.C. had to think of moving to larger premises to fulfil all their orders, and agreed to purchase the old Faulkner’s Foundry site in Hersham near Walton-on-Thames. However, this site was required sooner than expected since Brooklands was taken over as a military flying ground in August, 1914, and A.B.C.s lost all their workshops and equipment into the bargain. Once installed in the new and hurriedly constructed factory, the company were asked by the Government to concentrate on experimental work in the aero-engine field, and in particular on an electrically-controlled aerial torpedo.

Being a reservist, Ronald Charteris was called up into the Royal Flying Corps with the rank of Lieutenant and was absent from much of the company business for several months.  By the time he was able to return in 1915 to a company making auxiliary engines for War Office contracts, he had the title of Captain.

Before any aero engines were designed, Bradshaw announced the modifications to the 1915 model motor cycle. Towards the end of 1914, a Montgomery sidecar outfit was attached to the bike, but with the additional weight the gear ratios proved rather unsuitable, and partly because of this Bradshaw set about not only revising the ratios, but completely redesigning the gear. The result of these deliberations was incorporated into the 1915 model, and consisted of a car-type gear-box in phosphor bronze, with four speeds (4 1/2, 6 1/4, 10, and 16 : 1), operated by a lever in a gate fixed to the tank. Other changes included an internal cone clutch faced with Raybestos, the outer steel member having teeth cut on it for the engine driving chain, and chain final drive was switched from the off-side to the near-side. Springing was modified and adjustable handlebars were fitted. During this time the standard colour scheme had always been battleship grey and black, although if a customer wanted a specific colour, then, as in many other establishments, a new standard colour could be arranged even if it cost a few shillings extra. Due to hostilities, the number of bikes produced began to fall, and those that were delivered went mainly overseas to India, Australia, Italy, or South Africa for competition work, or to France or Egypt for use in the services. The last bikes of this type were made in 1916, and had enclosed kick starters, double cush drive (a type of transmission shock absorber) and twin rear brakes operated from the handlebars and by a foot pedal. Notable performances overseas included the Morcam brothers in South Africa in events organised by the Maritzburg Motor Cycle Club, winning several cups and certificates for first and second places in speed trials and hill climbs.

Even as early as the making of aircraft engines it soon became obvious that the tiny ABC concern did not have the manufacturing capability to produce complete engines, so other companies had to be engaged to supply either castings, parts or even complete units, and Armstrong Whitworth certainly were amongst the early companies used to produce the V-8 aero engines. The same applied to the 500cc motorcycles, the Great War auxiliary engines, the Gilbert Campling built Skootamota and subsequently the post-war Sopwith built 398cc motorcycle.

The war effort saw the start of code names for the various types of engines, the first of these being the "Firefly", a 250 c.c. horizontally-opposed twin on the same lines as the motor cycle. Designed as an auxiliary engine, it was used for supplying power to portable wireless sets and searchlights via a dynamo, for pumping water out of the trenches and, with a sirocco fan fitted, for inflating airships with air. A few were used experimentally with a four-bladed propeller to synchronise the firing of bullets through the prop. The intended running speed was between 3,000 and 4,000 r.p.m., but again, as an experiment, one was tested with its fan still in place to find out what the maximum speed was. This was left in the test shop for two or three hours at full throttle, and on returning the indicated speed was 10,000 r.p.m., apparently causing no harm to the engine. However, the sirocco fan had disappeared, making for itself a large hole in the roof. By March, 1916, one of these units had found its way into a motor cycle frame and, using a two-speed Albion gear, was capable of 37 and 48 m.p.h., although it was stated that this could be bettered by designing more suitable camshaft and frame. Production would be started after the war.

After the war, the first new machine to appear was the Skootamota, which did so very rapidly. This was based on the 250 c.c. "Firefly" auxiliary engine, which had been tested in a frame. It was to be manufactured as a light runabout and, as such, a single-cylinder one-speed machine was thought the most desirable contrivance. The bore and stroke was 60 mm. x 44 mm., giving a capacity of 125 c.c. The prototype had 14 in.-diameter wheels with 2 1/4 in. tyres, long handlebars with exhaust-valve lifter on the left, and Bowden lever to operate the contracting band brake on the front wheel on the right, together with a push-button accelerator. A tubular frame was used, having a platform-type of footboard, through which a pedal projected which operated the rear shoe brake. A rather primitive, and probably uncomfortable, shooting-stick seat was provided, whilst the power unit sat over the rear wheel. This had the magneto opposed to the single cylinder, so at least it looked vaguely like a twin, and a fuel tank over the engine which contained about half a gallon of petrol and a small segment for oil. Starting was by the not unfamiliar push-and-jumpon variety, whilst the accelerator was governed to 2-3 m.p.h. in the closed position. This machine was to be made by Gilbert Campling in Croydon, who had up to this time occupied his time as manager of the Selsdon Engineering Co. Ltd., makers of the "Gnat" and "Wasp" engines. Production versions had 16 in.-diameter wheels and a proper sprung saddle, and were turned out of the factory during July, 1919, at a cost of about £40 each. Two other versions of this scooter appeared shortly afterwards: a commercial model with wooden cupboard under the seat large enough to carry a couple of loaves, and a colonial model incorporating a parasol, probably meant to keep sahib cool rather than the engine. A sporting version was not made, although some did show themselves at sprints and speed trials with optimistic ladies at the controls. Probably something like 3,300 of these machines were produced during 1919 and 1920, by which time they had been superseded by post-war more conventional light-weight motor cycles, and with their competitors such as the Grigg, Hack and Tankette served their purpose as small runabouts. The last few hundred had both inlet and exhaust valves overhead.

In June, 1918, Bradshaw registered the designs for a new motor cycle completely different to the 1916 model, although embodying several basic principles of the old design. The engine size had been reduced from 500 c.c. to 398 c.c., as it was said that smaller engines had been designed during the war to give as much power as older but larger engines. Steel cylinders were retained, but with a bore and stroke of 68.6 mm. x 54 mm., and the hemispherical cast-iron heads had inclined overhead valves operated by rocker arms and push rods. The two-throw crankshaft ran on ball bearings, whilst the big-ends ran on rollers. A gear-type oil pump fed oil from the sump through an oilway in the crankcase to the con-rods and big-ends, other parts being lubricated by oil mist. A four-speed gearbox similar to the old design was used, although the gate change became much sturdier, and a Ferodo-lined invertedcone clutch was incorporated within the flywheel. All these items were of unit construction, the crankcase being fixed to the duplex frame by four bolts, with the cylinders arranged transversely. The frame retained laminated springs, but was otherwise constructed to protect the power unit from being sprayed with mud and grit, as well as providing footboards and leg shields for the rider. The tank was reshaped in an angular form, tapering towards the back, and held just over two gallons of fuel. Chain drive was used with the old cush-drive, whilst internal expanding brakes were fitted to both wheels. About six prototypes were made, the first of which took 11 days to complete. This achievement won Bradshaw £1,000, as he had bet that it could be done in under 21 days, a payment of £100 per day being given. These six machines were used by Bradshaw and the other directors, particularly Captain Ronald Charteris, as well as Jack Emerson, who used them in the London-Edinburgh trial. The works' entries usually carried the registrations PA 447 and PA 448. Some difficulty was found in exporting motor cycles to France, and to overcome this they were made under licence by Gnome et Rhône just outside Paris. The French machine was supposed to differ in several respects, but the first one was merely the English prototype with French registration (22151-W-1). Later models did, however, have revised front stands, different kick starters, stiffer springing to cope with the bad roads, and Zenith carburettors. By September, 1920, other modifications included a cranked gear lever and the omitting of the side valances to the mudguards. From black-and-white photographs it would appear that the finish on the French machines remained the same as on the English prototypes, i.e., battleship grey and black.

At the end of the war, many aircraft factories carried on producing large numbers of craft for a short while, although it was very obvious that some other engineering work would have to be undertaken even if purely as a stop-gap. The Sopwith Aviation Company was one such firm. Late in 1912 a roller-skating rink was acquired in Canbury Park Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, where T. O. M. Sopwith, with Harry Hawker and Harry Kauper, built his own aircraft. During the war the business expanded and included the large factory along the Richmond Road, but after the Armistice was a sudden lull. To keep the company going, it was decided to take on the production of the A.B.C. motor cycle, and all the latest equipment was installed for its manufacture. The production version was described in the Press of November, 1919, so it is unlikely that many reached private hands that year. As first envisaged, the finished article should have cost £85, but as first sold the price was nearer £110, and this was soon to be raised to £130. For this price one received a solo machine in its standard finish of enamelled matt-black gunmetal, with a sight-feed indicator and auxiliary hand pump included in the oiling system, whilst a speedo driven from the gearbox was £5 extra, and Lucas lighting set £22 extra. The sidecar chassis and body was listed at an additional £32, which brought the cost of a fully-equipped combination up to £170-190. A kick starter became optional in April, when the speedo drive was taken from the front wheel, whilst some had found their way to India where, with electrics, the solo machine sold for 1,790 rupees. The following month saw yet another price increase, this time up to £150, and later in the year the 1921 modifications were announced, which comprised separate lubricators to each cylinder, a small rectangular tool box fixed on top of the tank, a straight instead of curved front spring, and a new sprung sidecar chassis. Suddenly in September, 1920, it was decided to go into voluntary liquidation while still solvent, the Hawker Engineering Company being set up to take care of the company's aircraft commitments. Bradshaw's motor cycle was too original in its design, and therefore far too costly to make and sell at a profit. Although the solo price went up to £150, to make the smallest margin of profit this price should have doubled, and hence a production run of only 11 months. The Hawker motor cycle was produced when the company was reconstructed, but consisted of assembled parts to a great extent. Up until that time, 2,200 bikes had been sold in 1920, and possibly 300-400 during November-December, 1919, whilst the remaining stocks were built into complete machines at a rate of double figures each week until at least July, 1921, some of the last being completed by Jarvis's of Wimbledon.

The arrival of the post-war motor cycle had been long awaited, especially by those with a view to competition work, since the prewar model had been so successful. Several events were supported by the works in 1919, including the London-Edinburgh run, the prototype machines being completed only a few hours previously, and not being at all tried. The two riders, Jack Emerson and E. M. P. Boileau (from Gnome et Rhône), both completed the course, which was most encouraging for their first time out. During 1920, the works continued their support, notably with Emerson, and private entrants also had a great deal of success. Outstanding amongst these were Fairley, Applebee Junior and, occasionally Senior, E. A. Colliver, Eric Porter, F. J. Boshier-Jones, H. R. King, and many others. In September, Emerson broke 25 records, including the 50, 100, 200, 250, 300, and 350 miles, and the one, two, three, four, five, and six hours, one hour being at 70.44 m.p.h. At the Southend A.C. speed trials in October G. H. Stewart secured f.t.d. but in doing so ran out of road at the end of the course, hitting some stones and somersaulting. Machine and rider were both unhurt, which spoke well for the construction of the A.B.C. frame and of G. H. Stewart, and both competed in the following event. In France the most consistent riders were Nass, Bergetti and Detruche, although, in one particular Grand Prix, Naas was fined 100 francs for going round the course in the wrong direction!

This 400 c.c. machine was well received generally and, although it did not have the top speed of the pre-war model, it possessed vivid acceleration, and was therefore ideally suited to speed trials and hill climbs. One fault appeared common to all machines, that being the frailty of the push rod design, and to overcome this, several conversion kits were marketed such as the Taylor-Young, Jarvis, Inglis and B.E.W. Unfortunately there was never sufficient time to rectify these troubles properly, and A.B.C.s faded out of competition work during 1922-23. In France, the Societé des Moteurs Gnome et Rhône acquired control of the Société Française des Motocyclettes A.B.C. in November, 1920, and continued production until about 1923, also introducing a 500 c.c. model with increased stroke, which had in its standard form a 100 km.p.h. speedometer, an oil circulation indicator, and an eight-day clock. It also boasted light car rims and tyres and voiturette valves to the cylinder head, and sold for the equivalent of £116. Some effort was made for the Sopwith works to be taken over as a going concern, and failing this for the French-built bikes to be imported, but neither of these suggestions ever reached fruition.


ABC 400 cc

1920 ABC 400 cc

Produced between 1919 and 1925, the ABC 400 had a 398 cc horizontally opposed twin-cylinder overhead-valve four-stroke engine, four-speed gearbox with an H-gate and was fitted with an advanced (for the time) carburettor from Claudel-Hobsob to give a top speed of 70 mph (110 km/h).

ABC 500 cc

French manufacturer Gnome & Rhone produced an improved 493 cc version of this machine under licence until 1925. Between 1920 and 1924 they produced over 3,000 of the 'French' ABC but relatively few have survived.

ABC Skootamota

The ABC Skootamota

The Bradshaw-designed Skootamota was an early scooter built by Gilbert Campling Ltd. and sold as the ABC Skootamota.

The Skootamota handled well and was very stable despite small wheels. The single-cylinder 123 cc engine was located above the rear wheel and drove it by chain. Early Skootamotas had exhaust over intake (EOI) engines but later versions had OHV engines. The Skootamota had external contracting band brakes on both wheels. The saddle and spacious footboard provided rider comfort. The Skootamota, quickly imitated by competitors, had a top speed of just 15 mph (24 km/h). It ceased production in 1922.


The shift from producing aircraft to making motorcycles was more difficult than ABC expected, and their costs – and prices – were higher than the new competitors emerging after 1920. They stopped producing motorcycles after 1923, although some production continued in Germany until 1925. Another company called ABC, unconnected to Charteris or Bradshaw, produced 247 cc and 269 cc motorcycles with Villiers engines in Birmingham between 1922 and 1924.



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