1924 Beardmore-Precision Type F
Engine: 246cc air-cooled sidevalve single, 59mm x 90mm bore and stroke
Claimed power: 2.25hp
Top speed: 50mph (claimed)
Weight: 198lb (90kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 1.75gal (6.6ltr)/125mpg(est)
Price then/now: $220/$12,500
To enjoy an older, well-traveled motorcycle, mechanical
sympathy is required; abundant facial hair is optional.
Mention the name Beardmore-Precision to even the most
well-informed classic motorcycle aficionado and you’ll likely be met with a
blank stare. The name sounds like it must be British, but beyond that it sounds
like a brand of razor blades rather than motorcycles.
That kind of response isn’t surprising considering
Beardmore-Precision sold its last motorcycle almost 90 years ago and surviving
examples of the marque are as rare as rocking horse manure.
Way back when
Sir William Beardmore was from Glasgow, Scotland, and his
family’s enterprises spanned multiple industries including steelmaking, armor
plate, naval guns, ship building (including passenger ships and the first flat
deck aircraft carrier), marine diesels, aircraft (his R34 zeppelin was the
first airship to complete a double crossing of the Atlantic, in 1919), aero
engines, high-speed diesel engines, steam locomotives, six separate cars, four
different makes of commercial vehicles, and two different motorcycle and
motorcycle engine companies in 10 different factories. Clearly, Sir William Beardmore
was a remarkably busy fellow. His legendary motto was: “Transport is the
thing.” For you trivia buffs, the Beardmore Glacier
was named after Sir William in recognition of his sponsorship of Ernest
Shackleton’s 1907 Antarctic Expedition.
The second half of the marque’s name came from the Precision
Engine Company. Frank Baker built his factory in Birmingham, England,
in 1906, staffed with 20 employees and the intention of producing machinery
capable of extremely accurate metal working operations such as thread cutting,
cylinder boring and the production of jigs and gauges. By 1910 he had branched
out to making motorcycle engines, one of his first being a 499cc sidevalve
unit. The engine turned out to be a great success and was soon followed by a
wide range of engines. In fact, at the 1911 Olympia Motorcycle Show in London, there were no
fewer than 96 different models of motorcycle fitted with Baker’s engines.
The name “Precision” was eventually adopted and Mr. Baker
became the world’s largest specialty manufacturer of motorcycle power units.
His chief rival in those days was J.A. Prestwich, maker of the iconic J.A.P.
engines that powered many brands of motorcycles over the years, including
Brough-Superior, Triumph, AJS and HRD models.
During this time, Baker was producing both 2-stroke and
4-stroke engines. There were 293cc, 499cc and 599cc sidevalve single-cylinder
units, a 760cc sidevalve V-twin, and a 1 horsepower water-cooled twin. By 1914,
the company was producing 100 engines a week and had expanded to 400 employees.
In 1913 Theo Biggs joined Precision as chief designer,
having previously held similar posts at Raleigh,
Humber and Arrol-Johnston. Biggs designed the
first complete Precision motorcycle, an advanced design with leaf spring
suspension at the front and rear, and a gas tank that consisted of two steel
pressings welded together to form the top structural member of the frame. The
fenders, rolled from heavy plate, did double duty as components of the
suspension system. However, in 1919, before the Precision motorcycle came to
market, the Beardmore Aero Engine Company obtained financial control of Baker’s
company and the new bike became the first Beardmore-Precision.
World War I interrupted competitive motorcycle events, but
when the war ended, racing activities aimed at boosting showroom sales resumed.
The Beardmore-Precision turned out to be quite a competent trials mount. During
the 1922 English Six Days Trial, Beardmore-Precision riders won two gold medals,
one each for the 4.5 horsepower sidecar rig and the 4.5 horsepower solo. At the
Scottish Two Days Trial they won gold again with their 4.5 horsepower sidecar
rig and two gold medals for their 2.75 horsepower Barr & Stroud
sleeve-valve models. Additionally, they won the Manufacturer’s Prize for Best
Team Performance. 1922 proved to be a good year for Beardmore-Precision, as
they secured more than 100 awards, including 17 Premier Cups and 54 gold
Yet their many accomplishments in trials events, however
impressive, paled in comparison to the prospect of the ultimate competitive
achievement (and sales stimulant): a good showing at the Isle of Man TT races.
To this end the factory mounted a serious campaign over a three-year period,
with two new engine designs supporting the effort to stand proudly atop the
podium at the Isle of Man TT. A new single-cylinder 350cc engine designed by
Alf Francis utilized bevel gears to drive an overhead cam and the magneto. The
4-valve engine had two inlet and two exhaust valves and was capable of revving
to 7,000rpm. In addition to the 350cc unit, a new 250cc long-stroke engine was
used to power their other Isle of Man TT entrants.
From 1922-1924, Beardmore-Precision made no less than 13
attempts at winning the TT, but success eluded the team. Although they had
three finishes during this period, the rest of their efforts ended in DNFs (did
not finish). The best showing achieved during this period was 11th place in the
1924 Junior TT by E.R. Jacobs. Jacobs was also the only Beardmore-Precision
rider to have participated in all three years of the factory’s involvement at
the TT, and he raced in both the Senior and Junior TTs.
Unfortunately, financial difficulties throughout the
Beardmore-Precision line combined with the disappointing results at the 1924
Isle of Man TT races led to the rapid demise of the motorcycling branch of the
Beardmore empire. In 1925, Midland Bank foreclosed on the company and the
Beardmore was no more. It’s not known exactly how many Beardmore-Precision
motorcycles were manufactured during their production run, but it’s believed
there are currently 35 examples remaining worldwide.
The Type F
The Type F was introduced by Beardmore-Precision in 1924 in
both sport and touring guises. The Sports model was described as “an ideal
Clubman’s mount.” The Touring model was also called the Lady’s model, as it was
fitted with footboards and the tank was abbreviated to allow a woman wearing a
dress to climb aboard the machine by stepping through the frame, notwithstanding
the risk of garment fires as a result of spit-back through the carburetor.
“Smoother running of an engine one could not wish for,” a
period testimonial gushed. “I see nothing on the road to beat or rival the
Beardmore-Precision for efficiency and reliability all round. It is a veritable
brick, and after a run one feels like patting it as a rider does his horse.”
Sales brochures touted the lower riding position and careful consideration of
weight distribution, as a result of which “the rider is assured of comfortable
and mind-free travel, whether the road be rough or surface greasy.”
Vincenzo Murphy, of Austin,
Texas, is the proud owner of the
lovely machine featured here. His Type F Sports appears to be a mid-production
model as it has the forks, tank, shifting handle and exhaust featured in the
1925 Beardmore-Precision sales catalog, but the Mills carburetor of the earlier
model featured in the 1924 catalog.
Vincenzo’s Beardmore was previously owned by the late C.E.
“Titch” Allen, well-known in the vintage motorcycle world as the founder of the
Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) in England. The bike underwent a
thorough restoration in the 1960s and was subsequently on display at the Stanford Hall
in Leicestershire, England, for many years.
This bike is powered by a sidevalve 246cc single with
exposed valve springs and an external flywheel. An aluminum piston runs in an
iron barrel and cylinder head, made as a single casting. The crankshaft rides
on ball bearings and it’s lubricated by a constant-loss oiling system. The
connecting rod is a robust nickel-chrome forging running on a roller bearing
big end. It has a contracting band front brake and conventional drum rear brake
with linings made by Ferodo, who, by the way, started making brake linings for
horse-drawn carts way back in 1897. The transmission is a 3-speed, right-side,
hand-change Sturmey-Archer unit, and as there’s no speedometer one assumes the
three speeds correspond to sedate, civilized and downright reckless. The whole
package is wrapped in a low-slung diamond frame.
A later Lucas magneto, originally fitted to a 350cc AJS
single, has been modified and mounted to replace the defunct stock unit, and it
works fine. This machine also has the optional rear rack and toolboxes.
Lighting is by acetylene generated by the reaction of calcium carbide and
water. A charge of carbide crystals can power the lamps for about five hours
and provides a reasonable amount of white light. The taillamp is also
acetylene. A tube runs to it from the canister on the front headlamp. Once you
light the front lamp, you wait a bit for the gas to make it to the back lamp,
then you open a little door and light the pilot.
The VMCC’s Beardmore-Precision marque expert, Derek Bryant,
confirmed that Vincenzo’s machine is one of only four complete and running Type
F models in existence, and the only one of its kind in the U.S. Mr. Bryant
owns the sole remaining and complete Lady’s model.
Headed to Austin
Our feature bike was sold at auction in the U.K. by
Bonham’s in December of 2005. In 2006, Vincenzo’s friend Robert asked him to
take a look at the Type F, which was then being offered on eBay by a seller in Germany.
Vincenzo advised Robert not to buy the bike as it would be difficult to find
parts and the support network was virtually non-existent. Several weeks later,
Robert invited Vincenzo over to his shop and confessed he had ignored
Vincenzo’s sound advice, listened to his heart, and bought the Beardmore. Good
When Robert went to collect his new bike after it had
cleared U.S. Customs, he was sickened to discover a forklift had pierced the
bike’s crate, destroying the rear rim. Robert had hoped to show the bike at the
2006 Austin Roadrunners event at Ski Shores Café in Austin, the first weekend in June. Vincenzo
immediately went on a frenzied international search, emailing motorcycle
museums all over the world, hoping to get a lead on a correct replacement
clincher rim. The National Motorcycle Museum
in England replied and
referred him to Vintage Tyres in Hampshire,
were able to supply the correct rim, as well as new tires and tubes.
Vincenzo told Robert that if the rim arrived in time, he
would do whatever it would take to get the bike ready for the Ski Shores
event. The rim arrived on Saturday evening, the night before the big event.
Vincenzo and Robert dismantled the damaged rear wheel and re-laced it with the
replacement rim. They managed to salvage every spoke and brass nipple, and
working until 3 a.m., they finished the job before collapsing to get a few
Vincenzo woke Robert at 6 a.m. and frantically told him they
had to get up and try to get the bike running, as they hadn’t tried starting it
since taking possession. They scurried outside, filled the bike with gas and
oil, ran through the starting drill and sighed with relief when the old girl
fired up. Robert took the first ride and returned with a grin from ear to ear.
Vincenzo rode it next and came back with the same wide, silly grin on his face.
They gave her a quick dusting and took her to Ski Shores,
where she won the People’s Choice Award for Best in Show. By 2009, Robert had
decided it was time to move on to other challenges and offered the Beardmore to
Vincenzo, who became its current custodian.
Living with a Beardmore-Precision
The Beardmore never fails to draw a crowd at shows. People
just love to watch it tick over; the external valves and flywheel make it a
clicking, whirring, kinetic wonder. It’s easy to start: just tickle the carb,
leave the ignition on full advance, kick it a few times and she usually fires
right up. It has a thumb throttle, which was standard practice in the 1920s.
Once underway the frame is a bit flexible, but the bike handles nicely,
nonetheless. A compression release opens the exhaust valve and is used to kill
the engine. And as the machine doesn’t rack up big miles, it doesn’t require
much maintenance. Which is a good thing as spare parts for a 1924
Beardmore-Precision are essentially non-existent. Except for items such as bearings,
most parts requiring replacement need to be fabricated. Technical resources are
few, but the VMCC has an excellent library and a marque specialist available
for consultation — there’s no Haynes manual for this baby.
Vincenzo says the Beardmore is a “hoot” to ride, noting that
she’ll go all day in second gear at a moderate pace. Third gear feels like an
overdrive, he says, and the brakes are better than you’d expect. For
suspension, it has a Brampton
front end, rigid rear end, springs on the seat and air in the tires. It’s a
very comfortable riding position and feels most at home at 30-35mph; Vincenzo
believes 50mph would be quite frightening, regardless of what the sales
brochure promises. Considering the bike uses a total-loss lubrication system,
with excess oil burned and expelled through the exhaust, oil consumption is not
bad. The longest trip Vincenzo’s made on it so far is 20 miles, and he says it
felt like an epic journey.
So why buy the Beardmore? “I was an idiot because Robbie was
an idiot,” Vincenzo says, adding, “I like orphans, things that aren’t common.
It’s both good and bad; it’s bad because you can’t buy bits for bikes like this
but it’s good because the bike’s unique wherever you take it. And if it’s
running, that’s even better.”
No further modification or restoration is planned for the
89-year-old Beardmore. Vincenzo plans simply to continue taking it to rallies,
sharing it with others and enjoying it. He says the Beardmore-Precision makes
him appreciate how much bikes have changed since 1924. The old girl has also
taught him the kind of valuable lesson one would expect to learn from a veteran
traveler: “Going slow isn’t bad. You just stop and appreciate things more.” MC
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