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Mopeds at the 1955 Earls Court Show: a French perspective


The London Show


The London Show isn't one of those that you'd go to looking for great innovation.  Nevertheless, the British motor cycle industry, despite its traditionalism, cannot deliberately ignore the way it fits into worldwide production, if only because it intends to defend its internal market against foreign competetion as is, after all, quite natural.

Concerning mopeds, let's say straight away that their ambitions cannot extend beyond this 'self-defence' and there is no question of the English, at this stage of their production, dreaming of exporting.

However, it would be unfair not to mention a revival apparent among the small two-wheelers at the 1955 Earls Court Show.

So, alongside the soon-to-be-classic BSA "Winged Wheel" , Phillips, etc... a certain number of mopeds have made an appearance; mopeds that often owe their inspiration to foreign designs.  This is the case with the Bown and Keift mopeds, which are merely adaptions of mopeds made by the German Hercules company.  Both these are equipped with 47cc Sachs engines

But other models are truly British designs: The Hercules (English this time), christened 'Grey Wolf' (what poetry!) and powered by a 49cc engine with its crankshaft running fore & aft; the Mercury Mercette with a frame strongly resembling a bicycle and a little 4-stroke OHV engine that produces 2hp at 5,200rpm.

The classic (and archaic) Phillips is joined this year by a moped with a pressed-steel fram an an engine that incorporates a two-speed gearbox and built-in pedals.

We note too the Norman Nippy, also equipped with... a Sachs engine.

Of course, there were many other models, but lack of space prevents us from listing them all.

What conclusions can we draw from this moped revival at this year's Earls Court Show?  Certainly that the British industry, in its turn and notably late, is bringing itself into line with its Italian, German and French counterparts.

But it suffers from two very important difficulties:
Firstly, there's the English passion for big motor cycles, a solidly established passion that make English customers somewhat disdainful of the little 50cc machines.
Also, and we think that this is the main reason for the lack of success of mopeds in Great Britain, the prices are too high, taking away one of the most persuasive arguments a moped has.  When you think that the Keift costs £77, the Nippy is £72, the Phillips £69, and then we find the streamlined Excelsior Autobyk equipped with a 100cc Villiers engine, for less than £80!  Imported machines are, from this point of view, even worse since the Heinkel sells for £85 and the Mobymatic for £89!

In these conditions, there's no need for surprise if the moped gets trampled underfoot across the Channel.  Especially if you consider that there is no shortage of secondhand machines (you can find five or six year old 500cc single-cylinder bikes for around £70 to £80 - and in perfect working order!)

We conclude that the 1955 Earls Court Show has given us the opportunity to see the efforts being made in the moped area (never have there been so many models on display); it is prudent to realise, however, that this effort will not be effective unless the prices can be rapidly reduced to a lower level.

If this condition is not met, then all the risks are put into question!

Translated from Cyclomoto, 15 December 1955

English translation © 2001, A Pattle

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