c.1946 Famous James 125cc
The James Cycle Company Ltd was formed in Birmingham on the 22nd May 1897 by one Harry (Henry William) James, who’s tenure as Managing Director was short lived as he retired from the company the following year. Harry had been manufacturing bicycles since the late 1880s but the company’s first motorcycle did not appear from the Sampson Road factory until around 1902. By then the Managing Director was Fred Kimberley, who remained with the company for more than 50 years! The model A was basically a bicycle with a Minerva engine slung under the frame. The first two-stroke machines arrived in 1913 but ran alongside side valve and overhead valve models. Some machines were supplied for military use during the First World War
During the late 20s and early thirties James had genuine sporting aspirations most notably with the speedway model which featured a 500cc V-twin James-built engine, stripped-down strengthened frame and all-metal clutch. However, from 1934 James produced just lightweight two-stroke machine and this helped them survive the very harsh financial climate of the 1930s.
During and immediately after the Second World War James produced just two machines – the 98 cc ‘Autocycle’ (a sort of early moped, though that term had not yet been adopted from the German) much favoured by civilians aiding the war effort such as nurses or bomb wardens and for the Government the military 122cc ‘ML’(nicknamed the ‘clockwork mouse, many were dropped from planes following the D Day landing to aid troop mobility’). The factory was bombed and badly damaged in 1940 but, incredibly, was rebuilt within three months and more than 6000 machines were eventually supplied for military use by the end of the war. The company carried on production of various small capacity machines, largely economic commuters and, later, a scooter, but they did also have a very successful competitions division producing bikes for the off-road trials and scrambler fraternities.
James was taken over by Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) in 1951. AMC had also owned Francis Barnett since 1947 and they merged the production of both companies in 1957, after which quite a lot of ‘badge engineering’ went on (similar to the path AMC chose for AJS and Matchless during the same period). However some separate models were produced under both the James and FB banners until the end of production, usually dressed out in the ‘standard’ company colours – maroon for James and dark green for FB.
James had a long association with Villiers, using their two-stroke engines for many of their machines until the late 50s, when AMC rather inexplicably decided to design and build their own range of engines. These new units experienced some problems and developed something of a poor reputation before Villiers was called back in to help sort out the production process.
However, many of the AMC-engined machines still offered good reliable transport at a reasonable price – the 149cc James L15A Flying Cadet launched in 1959 with the new AMC engine retailed at just 107 guineas (£112.35p including purchase tax) in that year. Unable to compete with the onslaught of Japanese machines, doors closed by 1966
The motorbike offered
This lovely c.1946 Famous James 125cc has been part of a discerning collection of quirky cars and motorcycles. Restored under previous ownership, the bike has been stored on display in a climate-controlled environment since purchase over 8 years ago and ridden over 300 miles under this present ownership. It starts easily and runs well and would make a great addition to any riding collection.
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