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Douglas Motorcycle History

Douglas motorcycles

Douglas was a British motorcycle manufacturer from 1907-1957 based in Kingswood, Bristol, owned by the Douglas family, and especially known for its horizontally opposed twin cylinder engined bikes and as manufacturers of speedway machines. They also built a range of cars between 1913 and 1922.


The brothers William and Edward Douglas founded the Douglas Engineering Company in Bristol in 1882. Initially doing blacksmith work, they progressed to foundry work, and then acquired the flat twin design of W. J. Barter, the founder of Light Motors Ltd. Barter had produced his first single-cylinder motorcycle between 1902 and 1904, and then a 200 cc horizontal twin called the Fair but the Light Motors Ltd. failed in 1907 and was taken over by the Douglas family.

From 1907 they sold a Douglas 350 cc version. In 1915 the engine was placed lengthways in the frame with belt final drive, and electric lighting. During World War I Douglas was a major motorcycle supplier, making around 70,000 motorcycles for military use.
In the 1920s Douglas built the first disc brakes, and had a Royal Warrant for the supply of motorcycles to the Princes, Albert and Henry.

Douglas motorcycles also became popular in dirt track racing and initially the 1923 RA model with disc brakes was favoured. This prompted Douglas to build specific dirt track models. These bikes gradually increased in size and power with 500 cc and 600 cc engines fitted to the DT5 and DT6 Dirt Track models in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The engines had hemispherical heads and a short rigid forged crankshaft. They dominated dirt track racing for about three years. In 1929, the most successful dirt racing year, 1,200 Dirt Track motorcycles were sold.

The Endeavour, a 494 cc shaft drive model came out in 1934. Like other companies of the time, they were struggling, and attempting to diversify into other modes of transport. In 1935 they were taken over by BAC, Bond Aircraft and Engineering Company.

Motorcycle production continued into World War II and was extended to generators. In 1948, not long after the war, Douglas was in difficulty again and reduced its output to the 350 cc flat twin models. The 1955 350 cc Douglas Dragonfly was the last model produced. Westinghouse Brake and Signal bought Douglas out and production of Douglas Motorcycles ended in 1957.

Douglas continued to import Vespa scooters into the UK and later imported and assembled Gilera motorcycles.

Douglass earned the greatest amount of notoriety in 1932-1933 when Robert Edison Fulton Jr. became the first known man to circumnavigate the globe on a 6hp Douglass twin fit with automobile tires. Fulton went on to write a book on his adventure titled "One Man Caravan".

Douglas Endeavor

Developed by Eddie Withers, Jack Clapham and Stan Jenkins in the course of just a few short months it made its debut at the 1934 Olympia Show. The first Douglas to feature a transverse mounted powerplant, its 494cc sidevalve flat-twin was shared with the more traditional Blue Chief (the prototype of which was being tested simultaneously). Equipped with a four-speed tank-change gearbox and car-like shaft drive, it was widely acclaimed by the contemporary press encouraging Douglas to lay down some 200 sets of parts. Though, in an interview given to The Classic Motorcycle magazine in November 1985, Eddie Withers claimed that no more than 50 Endeavours were ever completed. Hamstrung by a £72 10s price tag that put it in direct competition with the likes of the four-valve ohv Rudge Ulster (£73 10s) and 990cc Matchless Model X (£68 15s), the ground-breaking machine had no sooner got into its production stride than Douglas hit financial troubles again. Following a takeover by Aero Engines Ltd in June 1935, motorcycle operations slowed to a trickle with the remaining '1936' Endeavours being sold off via the Pride & Clarke dealership.

Douglas Cars

A version of Joseph Barter's horizontal twin cylinder engine of 1070 cc capacity, water cooled, was fitted to a two seat cyclecar in 1913. It was better equipped than the average cyclecar of the era featuring shaft drive from the front mounted engine to the rear wheels and was sold for £200. The rear suspension was unusual with a horizontal coil spring mounted above the differential, the front used a beam axle and semi-elliptic leaf springing.

Production was suspended during World War I and when the car re-appeared in 1919 the engine was enlarged to 1224 cc and the price had risen to £400 then to £500 which was too expensive and sales dried up after a few hundred had been made. No original cars survive but a replica using some original parts has been made.

Motorcycle racing

Douglas had some success in motorcycle racing and trials events. Twelve Douglas motorcycles were entered in both the Junior TT and Senior TT, and another three were in the sidecar race during the 1923 TT. This gave Douglas their first Isle of Man TT victories. Tom Sheard won the 500 cc Senior TT[2] and they won the first ever Isle of Man sidecar race with Freddie Dixon[3] while Jim Whalley had the fastest lap in the Senior TT with a time of just under 60 mph (97 km/h) during a wet race.[4] A Douglas also placed third in the Junior TT that year. Later in 1923 Jim Whalley won the French Grand Prix, a distance of 288 miles (463 km), and another Douglas won the 1923 Durban-Johannesberg Marathon race; a remarkable achievement by Percy Flook on a 2.75 hp machine with an average 43 mph (69 km/h) for 430 miles (690 km). 1923 also saw Jim Whalley win the Spanish 12-hour race and Alec Bennett won the 1923 Welsh TT race.