Two-Wheeled Duesenberg: 1926 Ace Four

American inline fours were some of the first classics to become collectible, the 1926 Ace Four is no exception.

| January/February 2015

1926 Ace Four
Claimed power: 16hp
Top speed: 75mph (est.)
Engine: 77ci (1,265cc) air-cooled intake over exhaust inline four, 2.75in x 3.25in bore and stroke
Weight (dry): 365lb (166kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.75gal (14.2ltr)

The 1920s was a period of optimism in America. There was a feeling that prosperity would never end, that any business could make a profit, and that anything that could be built could be sold. When a consortium revived the Ace motorcycle and started production in Detroit in 1925, they had no problem finding investors. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last.

This Detroit-based group was the third company to produce the Ace, a creation of William Henderson, arguably one of the best motorcycle designers the U.S. has ever produced. Henderson was the son of a vice president of the Winton Motor Car Company, one of the first automobile manufacturers in the U.S. He studied engineering, and by 1910 was working for a gasoline engine company in Rochester, New York. William liked motorcycles, and in his spare time he turned to designing a bike powered by an inline four engine. Henderson’s father didn’t think much of motorcycles, but after Tom Henderson, William’s brother, became interested, Pop loaned the pair enough money to go into business. The fledgling Henderson company set up shop in Detroit and began selling Henderson Fours in the winter of 1912.

A new four

Henderson’s Four was not the first 4-cylinder motorcycle produced in the U.S., but it was the first to be successfully adapted to American conditions. Early motorcycles were powered by single-cylinder engines. The first 4-cylinder motorcycle engine, built by FN (Fabrique Nationale de Herstal) in Belgium, appeared in 1905. It was very smooth but low on power, displacing only 362cc. Percy Pierce, the son of a wealthy industrialist, saw an FN in Europe and convinced Pop Pierce (of Pierce-Arrow fame) to front the cash to produce a similar machine in the U.S. Like the FN, the Pierce motorcycle was down on power. It was also very expensive to produce, and the Pierce Cycle Company failed in 1913.

Henderson’s four was both more powerful and cheaper to build than the Pierce. It was also more user-friendly than many contemporary motorcycles. As a result, it sold well, especially after Carl Stevens Clancy rode one around the world in 1912. Despite this excellent start, the Henderson company ran into difficulties during World War I, and the Henderson brothers accepted a buyout offer from industrialist Ignaz Schwinn, who was then building Excelsior motorcycles as well as bicycles. Schwinn saw the Henderson as a premium entry into the police bike market — one of the largest contemporary markets for motorcycles. He wanted to revamp the Henderson into a heavy, stable and reliable cop bike. The story is that this move displeased William Henderson, who saw his baby as a light sport bike. There may also have been a personality clash. In any event, Henderson left Schwinn in 1919, and soon announced his new Ace.

New horizons

The quickness with which Henderson’s new project appeared after his exit from Schwinn caused comment. It is probable that Henderson worked out a deal with backer Max Sladkin before he handed his notice to Schwinn. Ads for the new Ace appeared in late 1919, and production started in early 1920.
2/15/2015 10:56:32 AM

I give up. What is the chrome lever passing through the lugs under the exhaust manifold? Victor C

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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