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
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
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
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".
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.
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.
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 and they won the first
ever Isle of Man sidecar race with Freddie Dixon
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. 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.