Plucky Brit: 1969 Scott Flying Squirrel
A profile of the Scott Flying Squirrel, a British classic.
Engine: 596cc liquid-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin, 68.25mm x 74.6mm bore and stroke, 7:1 compression ratio, 30hp at 6,800rpm
Top speed: 85mph (est.)
Carburetion: Single 1-inch Amal carburetor with remote float bowl
Transmission: 3-speed, right foot shift
Electrics: 6-volt, coil and breaker points ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube cradle frame/59in (1,499mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear
Brakes: Twin 7in (178mm) SLS drum front, 8in (203mm) SLS drum rear
Tires: 3.25 x 19in front, 3.5 x 19in rear
Weight (dry): 390lb (177kg)
Saddle height: 30in (762mm)
Fuel capacity: 4gal (15ltr)
“The Great North Road wound away like a flat, steel-grey ribbon. Up it, with the sun and the wind behind them, two black specks moved swiftly. To the yokel in charge of the hay-wagon they were only two of “the dratted motor-cyclists,” as they barked and zoomed past him in rapid succession. A little farther on, a family man, driving delicately with a two seater side car, grinned as the sharp rattle of the OHV Norton was succeeded by the feline shriek of an angry Scott Flying-Squirrel. He, too, in bachelor days, had taken a side in that perennial feud. He sighed regretfully as he watched the racing machines dwindle away northwards.”
Dorothy Sayers, The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag (1928)
The Scott motorcycle, the invention of an early mechanical engineer, was totally unlike any other motorcycle built in England, or, for that matter, just about anywhere. For starters, it was a water-cooled 2-stroke. Early gas tanks were drum shaped; later tanks were somewhat triangular, with the radiator squarely up front. Most Scotts were twins, with cylinders inclining forward. Somehow, this very unorthodox machine built an obsessively loyal following almost from the beginning of production. “From the TT wins of 1912 and 1913 until the final rites of the creditors meeting in 1951, I worshiped at the Scott shrine,” wrote Allan Jeffries, a Scott factory trials competitor, in a forward to Jeff Clew’s book, The Scott Motorcycle.
Jeff Clew points out in his book that most people either love or hate Scotts. The longevity of the marque was due to the large number of committed enthusiasts who stayed with the machine through good times and bad. The motorcycle was never officially imported to the U.S., and very few ever made it to this side of the Atlantic. One that did show up in the U.S. is now owned and ridden by Don Danmeier, one of the stalwarts of the Britbike club scene.
Image by Nick Cedar
Image by Nick Cedar
“I saw Scotts at the Manx GP races,” Don explains. “I thought that, if I ever get a 2-stroke, I would get a Scott. I don’t know what it is, I just like goofy English bikes.” Bitten by the Scott bug, Don started a search for one of his own. Scotts are rare, and their owners tend to hang on to them. The first one Don located was a near miss. A Scott came up at auction, but Danmeier found out about it too late. He kept up the search. Eventually he saw this 1969 model, (which he had previously read about in a magazine), at another auction. It had been restored a few years previously, and was still in great shape. Even better, since the bike was already in the U.S., Don would not have to deal with all the import hassles. Danmeier’s was the high bid, and the Scott came home with him. It is one of the few Scotts presently in the U.S. Danmeier is the fifth owner: the fourth owner, who bought it after the restoration, barely rode the bike, and Don got it with less than 25,000 miles on the clock.
Since Scott is a virtually unknown make in the U.S., a bit of history is in order. The design was the invention of Alfred Angas Scott, an inventive, but somewhat eccentric, engineer from Yorkshire in Northern England. One of his brothers designed a single cylinder 2-stroke engine, which encouraged Scott to build a twin-cylinder 2-stroke engine in 1897 or 1898, which he attached to a bicycle. Scott also experimented with marine engines and patented one in 1904. The experiments with marine engines and bicycles led to the Scott motorcycle, first built in 1908. Scott entered his new two-wheeler in local hill climbs and won several of these events. These victories, and the fact that the bike had a kickstarter and didn’t have to be exhaustingly pedaled to start like most other motorcycles of the period, brought in customers. In 1912, a Scott rider won the Isle of Man TT. The publicity from this victory brought in so many orders that Scott had to move to a bigger factory. The win was repeated in 1913. Shortly afterwards, World War I broke out, and Scott turned to making machine gun equipped sidecar outfits. After the war, Alfred Scott resigned his position with the company in order to build a three-wheeled car billed as the Scott Sociable. The Scott company reorganized and kept building motorcycles.
In 1921, the Scott company introduced a 486cc sport model, and named it the Scott Squirrel. This sporty Scott soon became known as the Flying Squirrel. Exactly why this name was chosen has never been explained. A contemporary advertising slogan ran, “As lively as a Squirrel and never sheds a nut” — which seems a little odd, even by 1920s advertising standards. It had aluminum alloy pistons, footpegs instead of footboards, sport handlebars and was guaranteed to hit 60mph — probably faster than was possible on most English roads of the period. Later that year, Scott designed a “Colonial” version, a forerunner of today’s adventure bikes, with wide tires and 8 inches of ground clearance.
Scott kept up its involvement with racing. After World War I, 4-stroke engine development outpaced 2-stroke engine development, and what had originally been excellent advertising for the company gradually turned into a very expensive hobby. Although Scott gradually improved its machines during the rest of the Roaring Twenties, its race bikes simply could not keep up with rivals Norton and Velocette. The factory race team was relegated to mid-pack, and often didn’t finish, due to mechanical issues. With outgo exceeding income, the Scott company regularly skirted financial disaster.
One form of competition that did work out well for the Scott factory was speedway racing, which packed in the crowds after 1928. One of the major English stars was Frank Varey, who rode a Scott. Piggybacking on the good publicity, Scott produced a popular production speedway model.
1930 brought the start of the Depression. Scott sales dropped, and the company was placed under a receiver, who managed to keep the assembly lines rolling. Scott stopped entering a factory race team in the Isle of Man TT and other professional events. Despite running on a shoestring, the company continued to improve the product. Foot shift became an option in 1933, followed by a 4-speed gearbox in 1934. A plunger frame was introduced in late 1938. After the outbreak of World War II, Scott stopped producing motorcycles for the duration, but stayed busy doing contract work.
Image by Nick Cedar
Motorcycle production resumed in late 1946 or 1947, with a 596cc version of the Flying Squirrel. A few girder fork machines were built at the start, but most postwar Flying Squirrels have pneumatic telescopic forks, with no springs. These forks, patented by Dowty Equipment Limited, work well as long as the synthetic rubber seals stay in good condition and no dirt works its way in from a rusty pump. In 1948, Scott announced that it was retiring its long used magneto/generator combination and replacing it with an alternator.
At this point, the Scott company ran out of luck. The post-World War II era was one of consolidation in the British motorcycle industry, with many smaller companies closing their doors or being taken over by larger ones. Even Scott’s archenemy, Norton, was bought by AMC in 1953. A major issue was the need to export in order to get allotments of steel and other necessary raw materials. Scotts were only sold in England, and, to make matters worse, were relatively expensive. Scott went into voluntary liquidation in 1950.
This was not the end of Scott. Aerco Jig and Tool Co., run by Matt Holder, a longtime Scott enthusiast, took over production and kept the name. For a while, Aerco sold only leftover bikes built by the old Scott company, but in July 1954, Aerco announced new prototypes, with swingarm rear suspension and front forks with internal springs. These finally went on sale in June 1956, with 7-inch twin-leading-shoe drum brakes in front and alternator electrics. Don Danmeier thinks that the majority of the engine parts used on Aerco bikes were actually cast for the original Scott company.
Image by Nick Cedar
While Aerco was marketing 596cc Scotts on a limited basis (total Aerco production may have totaled 530 machines), George Silk started building motorcycles based loosely on the Scott, but heavily upgraded. The Silk, which first appeared in 1971, was both fast and very light. Silk production continued until 1979. Aerco continued Scott production until about the same year. The company is still in business (in Meriden, England, the former home of the Triumph factory) and makes parts for Velocettes and Vincents, in addition to Scott parts.
Similar to other British enthusiast marques, the end of production did not end the tale of Scott. The Scott Owners Club has about 700 members worldwide, and puts on events in England. Parts are available from several English retailers. Some owners are vintage racing their bikes. The few U.S. owners have discussions on an online forum.
Don Danmeier’s Flying Squirrel was one of only two motorcycles Aerco built in 1969, due to having to move the factory to a new location. The bike was available in either maroon or black, and although the transmission had only three gears, a prospective owner had a choice of gearbox ratios. This bike had been completely restored by Scott Bender in England. Bender’s father loved Scotts and named his son after the marque. Bender replated the rims and renewed the chrome and paint (apparently the bike fell against a lathe the owner was operating at some point) but left the engine alone.
Other than the updated cosmetics, as far as Danmeier knows, this Flying Squirrel is exactly how it left the factory. It has very little in common with other bikes manufactured in England at this time or other contemporary 2-strokes. The engine does not have an expansion chamber, and the carburetor has a remote float to help it cope with the forward facing cylinders. Scotts have a reputation for easy kickstarting, and this one is no exception. “You flip the choke, tickle the carburetor and kick twice. That’s it. Open the choke and you’re off.”
Image by Nick Cedar
Image by Nick Cedar
Once going, the Flying Squirrel continues to be different than the average bike. The friction clutch slides up and down. “It’s an odd sensation — it doesn’t feel like a clutch. You have to sense where to shift.” Jeff Clew states that the Achilles heel of the bike is the Pilgrim oil pump, which is mounted on the right side, and — in another unusual feature — has an adjustable sight feed. The Scott is one of the few post-World War II motorcycles that has an adjustable oil pump, since most manufacturers went to automatic pumps in the 1930s. The pump feeds oil to the engine, so that there is no need to mix 2-stroke oil with the gasoline, but the sight feed has to be checked on a regular basis to make sure that the pump is working properly.
The front brake is double sided, another unusual item. It consists of a set of single-leading-shoe drum brakes, one on each side of the wheel. According to Danmeier, it “works great.” The sound is also unique, for a motorcycle, anyway: “It sounds like an Evinrude outboard.” The Scott is not terribly quick off the line, but Danmeier says he has had it up to 70mph and thinks it will do 85. It is powerful enough, and has good enough brakes, to keep up in modern traffic. Over the years, Scotts acquired a reputation for great handling, and this one is no exception. Danmeier credits the low center of gravity for the excellent road manners. The well thought-out triangulated frame also helps. Power delivery is very smooth, and the bike doesn’t shake. Once you get to where you are going, the Scott is easy to park. “The leading edge of the centerstand is rounded, and it rolls right up on the stand.”
“It’s gorgeous. It’s the only bike I ever bought for which I didn’t have to correct anything.” MC
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