1955 Douglas Dragonfly
Final flight for Douglas motorcycles
Cock the front wheel to the side and the fixed headlamp nacelle on the 1955 Douglas Dragonfly is suddenly obvious.
Photo by Roland Brown
1955 Douglas Dragonfly
Years produced: 1955-1957
Total production: 1,500 (approx.)
Claimed power: 17hp @ 5,500rpm
Top speed: 70mph (approx.)
Engine type: 348cc overhead valve, air-cooled opposed twin
Weight: (dry) 165.6kg (365lb)
Price then: NA
Price now: $5,000-$8,000
MPG: 55mpg (est.)
Cruising along with the speedo in its big nacelle reading about 50mph, the elderly 1955 Douglas Dragonfly felt so smooth and stable I couldn’t help being impressed. For a bike built just more than half a century ago, the 350cc flat twin seemed like a sophisticated and efficient machine that must surely have been an excellent all-rounder back in the mid-Fifties.
The Dragonfly was comfortable, too, thanks to a roomy riding position and reasonably good suspension. And I’m sure I can’t be the only one who finds its look curiously attractive, especially the distinctive way the nacelle leads into the large, rounded gas tank.
But while my impression of the Douglas Dragonfly was positive, that wasn’t how most motorcyclists regarded the bike back in 1955. Instead of being a big success, the Dragonfly sold so slowly following its introduction that Douglas — which had built its first motorcycle back in 1907 and had won the Junior TT as long ago as 1912 — was taken over in 1956, and ceased bike production altogether a year later.
Good, but not great
Such a hasty demise doesn’t reflect well on the Douglas Dragonfly, and perhaps the bike’s weakness was exposed when, shortly after my ride, I sat down to make some notes — and had trouble remembering very much about the experience. Smoothness and efficiency are all very well in a motorcycle, after all, but plenty of rival bikes provided a lot more performance and excitement than the Douglas Dragonfly.
It would be wrong to blame the Dragonfly for causing the end of Douglas motorcycles, because the Bristol firm had been struggling for years. Its high point had arguably come in 1923, with victories in both the Senior and Sidecar TTs, the latter with an innovative leaning outfit piloted by Freddie Dixon. But Douglas later suffered a string of financial collapses, notably in 1937 following the deaths of founding members William Douglas and his son, John.
Despite that setback, Douglas was reasonably successful during World War II, gaining work with trucks, aircraft parts and generators. The firm had always been versatile, having built cars and tractors, among other things, in its early days. After World War II, Douglas recommenced bike production with a new model called the Douglas T35, whose 348cc flat-twin engine was based on the generator — not the most promising heritage! The twin-downtube frame was developed from that of the Endeavour, which had been Douglas’ first flat twin with BMW-style transverse cylinders when launched in 1934.
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