By Rod Ward
Many dozens of stories of the main British motorcycle manufacturers are in these pages. Not included here are scooters (see Auto Review 04 and 10) or mopeds and autocycles (see Auto Review 85). There have been many takeovers and amalgamations in the British motorcycle industry; here is a brief guide to some of the groupings:
Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) The Collier brothers owned Matchless, and bought AJS in 1931, and then bought Sunbeam from ICI in 1937. That year they renamed the group Amalgamated Motor Cycles Ltd, changing it again to Associated Motor Cycles a year later. AMC sold the Sunbeam brand to BSA in 1943. In 1946 AMC recruited Freddie Clarke as Chief Development Engineer from Triumph. Francis-Barnett was added in 1947, James in 1951 and Norton in 1952. In 1960 Bert Hopwood left AMC and went to Triumph at Meriden. With profits falling, in 1966 the collapsed AMC was folded into a new set-up, Norton-Villiers, under the control of Manganese Bronze. This only postponed the inevitable, however, and in 1973 Norton-Villiers went into liquidation. The Birmingham Small Arms company (BSA) had also built a small empire of brands. BSA already owned the famous car marques Daimler and Lanchester (see Auto Review 48), they obtained the Sunbeam motorcycle marque in 1943 and took over Ariel in 1944. BSA had owned Triumph since they bought it from Jack Sangster in 1951, but the group was struggling and its shares were suspended in summer 1973. BSA came under the control of Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) later in 1973 and the venerable BSA name disappeared. In 1973 the Department for Trade and Industry engineered a complex integration of the British motorcycle industry as NVT, which would get the motorcycle interests of BSA (including Triumph) and Manganese Bronze Holdings (MB); owners of AMC, Norton, Villiers and JAP, plus finance from the DTI, Barclays Bank and MB. NVT would be owned 20% by the DTI, 30% by BSA and 50% by MB. BSA’s non-motorcycle interests passed to MB, which also received £1m in cash from the Finance Corporation for Industry. NVT was headed by Dennis Poore, ex-Norton MD and head of Manganese Bronze Holdings. His plan was to move all production to the BSA Small Heath works, and close the troubled Meriden factory. A two-year sit-in by the Triumph workers in protest resulted in them taking over production as a workers’ co-operative for a period.