The origin of Ariel Motorcycles dates back to 1870 when James Starley and William Hillman founded a business to build bicycles and sewing machines.  In the early years, they issued a British patent for wire-spoke wheels, which enabled them to build lighter ‘penny farthing’ bicycle which they called ‘Ariel’ (the spirit of the air).  It was only after merging with Westwood Manufacturing in 1896, that Ariel made their first powered tricycle.  This was followed by more motorised tricycles and quadricycles and, in 1901, Ariel moved into car production.

The first motorcycle was produced in 1902 and, after Ariel was taken over by Charles Sangster, the owner of Components Ltd, the range of motorcycles started to expand.  However, financial difficulties hindered the growth of the business until Components Ltd was declared bankrupt in 1932.

The Ariel part of the business was acquired by Jack Sangster and renamed Ariel Motors (J.S.) Ltd.  This marked a prolonged period of success for Ariel.  Indeed, the second motorcycle they developed was the Ariel Red Hunter, which provided the springboard for public awareness and company growth.

Ariel Red Hunter Motorcycle

The first Ariel Red Hunter left the production line in 1932.  The overhead-valve single-cylinder engine had been developed by chief designer Val Page in 1926.  The 500, 250 and 350cc sports versions of the Ariel proved popular with grass track and trials motorcyclists.

The Red Hunter, with its’ distinctive dark red petrol tank and excellent record of reliability, was a success.  The 500cc model is recorded as having an acceleration of 0 to 60mph in 10.9 seconds and became a popular touring road bike.

Ariel Purchase Triumph

The success of the Red Hunter provided the platform for Ariel to purchase Triumph in 1936.  Jack Sangster then formed Triumph Engineering Co Ltd, whose management were mainly ex-Ariel employees.

In 1951, Jack Sangster sold both Ariel and Triumph to the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) and joined their board.  The Red Hunter continued to feature as one of the most popular motorcycles and was used for Sammy Miller’s successful 1955 trials motorcycle.

British Motorcycle Demise

Even though new and updated Ariel-branded motorcycles were regularly released, they failed to compete with new Japanese imports.  Ariel ceased production of all motorcycles in 1967.

SMITHS and Ariel

At the time of the boom in the British motorcycle and automotive industries, SMITHS branded instrumentation had gained a reputation for quality and performance.  Many of the early vehicles turned to the SMITHS team to design and then manufacture the speedometers, tachometers and other gauges.

The Ariel Red Hunter NH350 featured a SMITHS 0-120mph speedometer.  Inset in the black face were a trip counter and odometer.

For more information on SMITHS gauges for classic motorcycles, please contact us on:

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