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Francis-Barnett. History

Francis-Barnett was an English motorcycle manufacturer founded in 1919, by Gordon Inglesby Francis and his father-in-low, Arthur Barnett. A number of their models were named after birds including the Falcon, Hawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Plover and Snipe.

Francis-Barnett was based in Lower Ford Street, Coventry, England (the previous owner of this factory was Excelsior, another motorcycle manufacturer; in this time Excelsior moved from Coventry to Birmingham). In March 1920 first Franciss-Barnett model appeared, fitted with SV 292 cc JAP engine driving the rear wheel by belt. Soon 346 cc vehicle was added, and then a few others four-stroke single-cyllinder machines, both SV and OHV, up to 350 cc. The crisis in the end of 20s forced the company to abandon four-strokes and introduce two-strokes instead. Most of them used Villiers engines. In this time the company developed a triangulated frame using straight tubes which could be bolted together using basic tools. The first model with the new frame was shown in Olympia Motor Show in 1923. Its fuel consumption was only 1.5 litres per 100 km and the motorbike was marketed as „cheaper then shoes”. Two most famous Franciss-Barnett models from 30s – two-stroke Cruiser and four-stroke Stag – had traditional welded frames. Cruiser, designed by Bill King, was very popular and was one of very few „scooter-styled” machines succesful in British market. In 1938 Snipe (125 cc) and Powerbike moped (98 cc) appeared (also Snipe 98cc with Villiers Junior engine). They were last Francis-Barnett models before WW2.


Fred Loudon's motorcycle shop with Francis-Barnett motorcycles, corner Elizabeth and Goulburn Street, Sydney, 1 March 1938. From the collection of the State Library of New South Wales

Snipe was meant to be redesigned for the army, but before it was ready, the factory at Lower Ford Street was bombed and completely destroyed. Francis-Barnett's workshop in Earlsdon was intact, but motorcycle production wasn't renewed until 1945. After war the company built only two-strokes, mostly with Villiers engines. In 1947 Francis-Barnett was taken over by AMC (Associated Motor Cycles, the parent company for Matchless and AJS motorcycles). James and Norton makes followed. The combined firm remained in business until 1966. The last motorcycle produced in Coventry factory was futuristic Sports Fulmer 90 (150 cc).

[thumb:img_2.jpg] Matchless. Advertisement in an English school magazine published in December 1944 (click to enlarge)

[thumb:img_3.jpg] Matchless. Advertisement in an English school magazine published in July 1945 (click to enlarge)