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Excelsior Motor Company

[img] Excelsior, based in Coventry, was a British bicycle, motorcycle and car maker. They were Britain’s first motorcycle manufacturer, starting production of their own “motor-bicycle” in 1896. Originally it was a bicycle company making penny-farthings (below). The company started in 1874 under their original name: Bayliss, Thomas and Co. Later they sold bicycles under the names of Excelsior and Eureka and in 1910 they changed the company name to Excelsior Motor Co.

[img] In the early years of motor-bicycle manufacture they used Minerva, De Dion, MMC and possibly a Condor 850 cc single but went on to produce a wide range of machines with engines from most major manufacturers. A deal to supply the Russian Imperial government with motorcycles ended with the Revolution and Excelsior wound up with an excess inventory as a result. In 1919 the company made an experimental 3-wheel car with air-cooled engine, but this did not go into production. But, in 1920 Excelsior entered the car business with a range of 4-wheel models. The name Bayliss-Thomas was used, as there was already a Belgian car called the Excelsior. Their first car was the 9/19, which had in house manufactured engine and gearbox. The company also produced various outer models, with larger capacity propriety engines. Around 1,000 cars were made. They were still listed in catalogues until 1931 but it is likely that none were made after 1929.

[img] In 1921 the company was taken over by R Walker and Sons of Tyseley, Birmingham. The Walker family, father Reginald and son Eric, had started as makers of ships lamps. The company was re-registered as the Excelsior Motor Company Ltd. and all production was moved to Birmingham. The old factory in Coventry at Lower Ford Street was sold to Francis-Barnett.

[img] In pre-war time Excelsior made a range of motorcycles from 98 to 1,000 cc, mostly powered by JAP, Blackburne and Villiers engines, plus an 850 cc Condor engine. The company put more effort in competition and racing. To avoid confusion with the American maker of the same name, they called themselves the "British Excelsior".

[img] Their major contribution to the war effort was the 98 cc Welbike, a collapsible motorcycle delivered in a pod by parachute, intended to be used by paratroops for 'rapid' movement around a battlefield. Many of the later Welbike models never saw action and were disposed of at the end of the war, mostly exported to the USA where they were sold by a New York department store. The lack of a front brake meant that they could not legally be used on the road, however, so most were bought for off road use.

[img] The originator John Dolphin developed his ideas further and set up the Corgi Motorcycle Co Ltd. of which he was Managing Director, and had them produced as the Corgi by Brockhouse Engineering (Southport) Ltd., who had been manufacturing military trailers during the war. The Corgi scooter was powered by an Excelsior Spryt Autocycle engine and went into production in 1947.

[img] Most Spryt engines were initially exported to North America branded as the 'Indian Papoose' and not sold in the UK until early 1948, with some 27,050 being manufactured. The single speed two stroke engine was too slow, however, and even despite the high post war demand for transport, lack of power and reliability problems meant it was discontinued in October 1954. photos from

[img] The company wasn't doing well in the lean years following World War II; racing and luxury machines were sidelined in favour of cheap two-stroke engines. After the war, they used Villiers engines to make the 250 cc Viking and in 1949 the Talisman, a smooth two-stroke with 180-degree crank. A later 328 cc twin-carb sports version, the S8, did not sell well, although the engine itself achieved some success in Berkeley microcars in both 328 cc twin and 492 cc triple versions.

[img] Excelsior last manufactured a motorcycle in 1964 and folded in 1965. Britax, a car accessory company bought the name and produced limited numbers of Britax-Excelsior machines in the late 1970s.