1924 Beardmore-Precision Type F
Engine: 246cc air-cooled sidevalve single, 59mm x 90mm bore and stroke
Claimed power: 2.25hp
Top speed: 50mph (claimed)
Weight: 198lb (90kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 1.75gal (6.6ltr)/125mpg(est)
Price then/now: $220/$12,500
To enjoy an older, well-traveled motorcycle, mechanical sympathy is required; abundant facial hair is optional.
Mention the name Beardmore-Precision to even the most well-informed classic motorcycle aficionado and you’ll likely be met with a blank stare. The name sounds like it must be British, but beyond that it sounds like a brand of razor blades rather than motorcycles.
That kind of response isn’t surprising considering Beardmore-Precision sold its last motorcycle almost 90 years ago and surviving examples of the marque are as rare as rocking horse manure.
Sir William Beardmore was from Glasgow, Scotland, and his family’s enterprises spanned multiple industries including steelmaking, armor plate, naval guns, ship building (including passenger ships and the first flat deck aircraft carrier), marine diesels, aircraft (his R34 zeppelin was the first airship to complete a double crossing of the Atlantic, in 1919), aero engines, high-speed diesel engines, steam locomotives, six separate cars, four different makes of commercial vehicles, and two different motorcycle and motorcycle engine companies in 10 different factories. Clearly, Sir William Beardmore was a remarkably busy fellow. His legendary motto was: “Transport is the thing.” For you trivia buffs, the Beardmore Glacier was named after Sir William in recognition of his sponsorship of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 Antarctic Expedition.
The second half of the marque’s name came from the Precision Engine Company. Frank Baker built his factory in Birmingham, England, in 1906, staffed with 20 employees and the intention of producing machinery capable of extremely accurate metal working operations such as thread cutting, cylinder boring and the production of jigs and gauges. By 1910 he had branched out to making motorcycle engines, one of his first being a 499cc sidevalve unit. The engine turned out to be a great success and was soon followed by a wide range of engines. In fact, at the 1911 Olympia Motorcycle Show in London, there were no fewer than 96 different models of motorcycle fitted with Baker’s engines.
The name “Precision” was eventually adopted and Mr. Baker became the world’s largest specialty manufacturer of motorcycle power units. His chief rival in those days was J.A. Prestwich, maker of the iconic J.A.P. engines that powered many brands of motorcycles over the years, including Brough-Superior, Triumph, AJS and HRD models.
During this time, Baker was producing both 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines. There were 293cc, 499cc and 599cc sidevalve single-cylinder units, a 760cc sidevalve V-twin, and a 1 horsepower water-cooled twin. By 1914, the company was producing 100 engines a week and had expanded to 400 employees.
In 1913 Theo Biggs joined Precision as chief designer, having previously held similar posts at Raleigh, Humber and Arrol-Johnston. Biggs designed the first complete Precision motorcycle, an advanced design with leaf spring suspension at the front and rear, and a gas tank that consisted of two steel pressings welded together to form the top structural member of the frame. The fenders, rolled from heavy plate, did double duty as components of the suspension system. However, in 1919, before the Precision motorcycle came to market, the Beardmore Aero Engine Company obtained financial control of Baker’s company and the new bike became the first Beardmore-Precision.
World War I interrupted competitive motorcycle events, but when the war ended, racing activities aimed at boosting showroom sales resumed. The Beardmore-Precision turned out to be quite a competent trials mount. During the 1922 English Six Days Trial, Beardmore-Precision riders won two gold medals, one each for the 4.5 horsepower sidecar rig and the 4.5 horsepower solo. At the Scottish Two Days Trial they won gold again with their 4.5 horsepower sidecar rig and two gold medals for their 2.75 horsepower Barr & Stroud sleeve-valve models. Additionally, they won the Manufacturer’s Prize for Best Team Performance. 1922 proved to be a good year for Beardmore-Precision, as they secured more than 100 awards, including 17 Premier Cups and 54 gold medals.
Yet their many accomplishments in trials events, however impressive, paled in comparison to the prospect of the ultimate competitive achievement (and sales stimulant): a good showing at the Isle of Man TT races. To this end the factory mounted a serious campaign over a three-year period, with two new engine designs supporting the effort to stand proudly atop the podium at the Isle of Man TT. A new single-cylinder 350cc engine designed by Alf Francis utilized bevel gears to drive an overhead cam and the magneto. The 4-valve engine had two inlet and two exhaust valves and was capable of revving to 7,000rpm. In addition to the 350cc unit, a new 250cc long-stroke engine was used to power their other Isle of Man TT entrants.
From 1922-1924, Beardmore-Precision made no less than 13 attempts at winning the TT, but success eluded the team. Although they had three finishes during this period, the rest of their efforts ended in DNFs (did not finish). The best showing achieved during this period was 11th place in the 1924 Junior TT by E.R. Jacobs. Jacobs was also the only Beardmore-Precision rider to have participated in all three years of the factory’s involvement at the TT, and he raced in both the Senior and Junior TTs.
Unfortunately, financial difficulties throughout the Beardmore-Precision line combined with the disappointing results at the 1924 Isle of Man TT races led to the rapid demise of the motorcycling branch of the Beardmore empire. In 1925, Midland Bank foreclosed on the company and the Beardmore was no more. It’s not known exactly how many Beardmore-Precision motorcycles were manufactured during their production run, but it’s believed there are currently 35 examples remaining worldwide.
The Type F was introduced by Beardmore-Precision in 1924 in both sport and touring guises. The Sports model was described as “an ideal Clubman’s mount.” The Touring model was also called the Lady’s model, as it was fitted with footboards and the tank was abbreviated to allow a woman wearing a dress to climb aboard the machine by stepping through the frame, notwithstanding the risk of garment fires as a result of spit-back through the carburetor.
“Smoother running of an engine one could not wish for,” a period testimonial gushed. “I see nothing on the road to beat or rival the Beardmore-Precision for efficiency and reliability all round. It is a veritable brick, and after a run one feels like patting it as a rider does his horse.” Sales brochures touted the lower riding position and careful consideration of weight distribution, as a result of which “the rider is assured of comfortable and mind-free travel, whether the road be rough or surface greasy.”
Vincenzo Murphy, of Austin, Texas, is the proud owner of the lovely machine featured here. His Type F Sports appears to be a mid-production model as it has the forks, tank, shifting handle and exhaust featured in the 1925 Beardmore-Precision sales catalog, but the Mills carburetor of the earlier model featured in the 1924 catalog.
Vincenzo’s Beardmore was previously owned by the late C.E. “Titch” Allen, well-known in the vintage motorcycle world as the founder of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club (VMCC) in England. The bike underwent a thorough restoration in the 1960s and was subsequently on display at the Stanford Hall Motorcycle Museum in Leicestershire, England, for many years.
This bike is powered by a sidevalve 246cc single with exposed valve springs and an external flywheel. An aluminum piston runs in an iron barrel and cylinder head, made as a single casting. The crankshaft rides on ball bearings and it’s lubricated by a constant-loss oiling system. The connecting rod is a robust nickel-chrome forging running on a roller bearing big end. It has a contracting band front brake and conventional drum rear brake with linings made by Ferodo, who, by the way, started making brake linings for horse-drawn carts way back in 1897. The transmission is a 3-speed, right-side, hand-change Sturmey-Archer unit, and as there’s no speedometer one assumes the three speeds correspond to sedate, civilized and downright reckless. The whole package is wrapped in a low-slung diamond frame.
A later Lucas magneto, originally fitted to a 350cc AJS single, has been modified and mounted to replace the defunct stock unit, and it works fine. This machine also has the optional rear rack and toolboxes. Lighting is by acetylene generated by the reaction of calcium carbide and water. A charge of carbide crystals can power the lamps for about five hours and provides a reasonable amount of white light. The taillamp is also acetylene. A tube runs to it from the canister on the front headlamp. Once you light the front lamp, you wait a bit for the gas to make it to the back lamp, then you open a little door and light the pilot.
The VMCC’s Beardmore-Precision marque expert, Derek Bryant, confirmed that Vincenzo’s machine is one of only four complete and running Type F models in existence, and the only one of its kind in the U.S. Mr. Bryant owns the sole remaining and complete Lady’s model.
Our feature bike was sold at auction in the U.K. by Bonham’s in December of 2005. In 2006, Vincenzo’s friend Robert asked him to take a look at the Type F, which was then being offered on eBay by a seller in Germany. Vincenzo advised Robert not to buy the bike as it would be difficult to find parts and the support network was virtually non-existent. Several weeks later, Robert invited Vincenzo over to his shop and confessed he had ignored Vincenzo’s sound advice, listened to his heart, and bought the Beardmore. Good man!
When Robert went to collect his new bike after it had cleared U.S. Customs, he was sickened to discover a forklift had pierced the bike’s crate, destroying the rear rim. Robert had hoped to show the bike at the 2006 Austin Roadrunners event at Ski Shores Café in Austin, the first weekend in June. Vincenzo immediately went on a frenzied international search, emailing motorcycle museums all over the world, hoping to get a lead on a correct replacement clincher rim. The National Motorcycle Museum in England replied and referred him to Vintage Tyres in Hampshire, England, who were able to supply the correct rim, as well as new tires and tubes.
Vincenzo told Robert that if the rim arrived in time, he would do whatever it would take to get the bike ready for the Ski Shores event. The rim arrived on Saturday evening, the night before the big event. Vincenzo and Robert dismantled the damaged rear wheel and re-laced it with the replacement rim. They managed to salvage every spoke and brass nipple, and working until 3 a.m., they finished the job before collapsing to get a few hours sleep.
Vincenzo woke Robert at 6 a.m. and frantically told him they had to get up and try to get the bike running, as they hadn’t tried starting it since taking possession. They scurried outside, filled the bike with gas and oil, ran through the starting drill and sighed with relief when the old girl fired up. Robert took the first ride and returned with a grin from ear to ear. Vincenzo rode it next and came back with the same wide, silly grin on his face. They gave her a quick dusting and took her to Ski Shores, where she won the People’s Choice Award for Best in Show. By 2009, Robert had decided it was time to move on to other challenges and offered the Beardmore to Vincenzo, who became its current custodian.
The Beardmore never fails to draw a crowd at shows. People just love to watch it tick over; the external valves and flywheel make it a clicking, whirring, kinetic wonder. It’s easy to start: just tickle the carb, leave the ignition on full advance, kick it a few times and she usually fires right up. It has a thumb throttle, which was standard practice in the 1920s. Once underway the frame is a bit flexible, but the bike handles nicely, nonetheless. A compression release opens the exhaust valve and is used to kill the engine. And as the machine doesn’t rack up big miles, it doesn’t require much maintenance. Which is a good thing as spare parts for a 1924 Beardmore-Precision are essentially non-existent. Except for items such as bearings, most parts requiring replacement need to be fabricated. Technical resources are few, but the VMCC has an excellent library and a marque specialist available for consultation — there’s no Haynes manual for this baby.
Vincenzo says the Beardmore is a “hoot” to ride, noting that she’ll go all day in second gear at a moderate pace. Third gear feels like an overdrive, he says, and the brakes are better than you’d expect. For suspension, it has a Brampton front end, rigid rear end, springs on the seat and air in the tires. It’s a very comfortable riding position and feels most at home at 30-35mph; Vincenzo believes 50mph would be quite frightening, regardless of what the sales brochure promises. Considering the bike uses a total-loss lubrication system, with excess oil burned and expelled through the exhaust, oil consumption is not bad. The longest trip Vincenzo’s made on it so far is 20 miles, and he says it felt like an epic journey.
So why buy the Beardmore? “I was an idiot because Robbie was an idiot,” Vincenzo says, adding, “I like orphans, things that aren’t common. It’s both good and bad; it’s bad because you can’t buy bits for bikes like this but it’s good because the bike’s unique wherever you take it. And if it’s running, that’s even better.”
No further modification or restoration is planned for the 89-year-old Beardmore. Vincenzo plans simply to continue taking it to rallies, sharing it with others and enjoying it. He says the Beardmore-Precision makes him appreciate how much bikes have changed since 1924. The old girl has also taught him the kind of valuable lesson one would expect to learn from a veteran traveler: “Going slow isn’t bad. You just stop and appreciate things more.” MC
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