Collectors' specials at Bonhams Autumn auctions

Posted: 25 Sep 2013

Bonhams are auctioning this ariel quadricycle

Announcements from Bonhams auction house about forthcoming sales pop up in the motorcycle press on a fairly regular basis; after all they are probably the biggest of the motorcycle auctioneers in the UK and possibly worldwide. Normally there is a headline bike that was world record holder, or a machine owned and/or used by a competitor of some note.

A lot of their machines tend to stem from the pioneering days of motorcycling  so it was no surprise to see the announcement that they would be selling a 1901 an Ariel 345cc Quadricycle, frame no. 85, engine no. 607, at their ‘London to Brighton’ sale on 1st November. Being a Quadricycle it is of course eligible to take part in  the London to Brighton car event two days after, although of course Ariel is better known as a motorcycle producer with the Tricycle version (and solos) being seen taking part in the Pioneer Run for veteran motorcycles in March each year.

Ariel was actually founded by James Starley who is acknowledged as the Godfather of the British bicycle industry. He and a certain William Hillman (he of car fame) patented a tensioned wire-spoked wheel in 1870 which allowed them to market the first all-metal lightweight ‘Penny Farthing’ pedal cycle costing £8.00.

The pair named their company 'Ariel', after Shakespeare's airborne sprite in his play 'The Tempest'.  Later they marketed an internal hub gear to reduce pedal speed in relation to the rear wheel speed, available as an optional extra.

In1896 Starley amalgamated his company with the Westwood Engineering Company and gained £130, 0000 in capital to produce wheel rims etc. this factory later becoming the massive Selly Oak works as known by all Ariel enthusiasts.

Two years later the company built their first powered machine a tricycle fitted with a one horsepower deDion 239cc single-cylinder engine, which a year later gained 50cc and another one horsepower. (Hillman left around this time to found Premier Motorcycles.) Given that the speed limit in the UK had also doubled from 4mph to 8mph in 1896 the bikes were quite sort after, especially when they moved the engine in front of the axle, which made the machine more stable and able to be cornered faster.

The machine then progressed even further in 1900 with the offer of an optional quadricycle attachment , ‘taking form of a small open carriage, which can either be supplied with the Tricycle at the time of purchase or at any future period’, according to the Ariel sales brochure.  Taking away sales-speak, the Ariel Quad is basically their tricycle with a two-wheel bench seat bolted in place of the trike's front wheel – in other words a four-wheeled motorcycle.

(In 1902 the first two –wheeled Ariel motorcycles appeared using Kerry engines. It then went on to become one of the leading innovators in British motorcycling and was sold in 1944 to BSA, but the Ariel name survived till 1970, shortly before the BSA Triumph group collapsed and was absorbed into the NVT conglomerate.)

The machine offered for sale at auction was purchased by one Captain A Loftus Bryan of Borrmount Manor, Ennisscorthy, County Wexford, who owned the machine from 1900-1967.  It has since had two further owners, and is a true Pioneer machine, despite having been restored a few years ago.

All very interesting you might think, but not enough to highlight when many of the cars that will be sold alongside it will no doubt make its £25-35,000 estimate seem small beer. However, at the turn of the 19th Century, the London Ariel sales agency was at 101 New Bond Street, which now happens to be the HQ for Bonhams and the place where 112 years ago the machine was first sold!

James Stensel, Motorcycle Specialist at Bonhams said: "Once in a while a delightful co-incidence occurs which greatly adds to the excitement of a machine. How strange to think of this machine surviving over a century to be sold in exactly the same place it was sold all those years ago. If only the machine could speak, what tales it would tell. We are delighted to be offering a machine of such excellence.”  

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