Bridge Club is obliged to MotorParade for this.
Not sure what year this is, but later than Southport’s finest Indian Brave.
SIDETRACKED BY THE SIDELINED?
Previously published in Real Classic Magazine , On the Level Magazine, and now on the Wibbly Wobbly Way
Quotidian, grey porridge, bread-and-butter bikes are sometimes sidelined as of lesser interest and certainly lower cash value than those magnificent flying machines which we celebrate at the core of old-biking, new biking as well perhaps. All too often we crave machines that, by design, squeeze the maximum performance from a given displacement; often, but not always. Not long ago nor far away I was privileged to view a select collection of powered two-wheelers which comprised a buster group of prestigious American V twins and a couple of British side-valve singles. Which caught the eye? Which set the pulses racing? Those two slow, small sloggers did.
Where’s the attraction of an artefact that is designed to be ordinary? Its magnetism is its practicality, its humility, its dear old, plain old trades-description-act fit-for-purpose performance. Its charm lies in its ability to do a job of work repeatedly with the minimum fuss and without unnecessary expenditure of effort or material.
So, for a moment or few, please suspend all lust for the Porcupine, the Roarer, the DBD34 or the T120TT and set your sights on travelling gently through life with designs on getting there and getting back again with but little drama. Mellow indeed, the acoustic rather than the big band take on two-wheeled transport, hmmn nice.
FROM CLOVIS TO HOVIS
Here is a very early example of a slow and purposefully designed tool.
Something like 13,000 years ago at a place now called Clovis in a country now called America, a tool-maker and hunter left behind a broken spear of which the head remains to us. Over many generations the tool-maker/hunter’s people had come from Africa and spread to Asia, Australia and Europe before coming to the New World – America. The tool-maker/hunter’s crowd are probably the first human beings to stooge about in America and are known as the ‘Paleo-Indian’ Clovis people and can almost certainly identified as the probable ancestors of later Native North American peoples and cultures. Paleo is a prefix, derived from Greek, which indicates an ancient form of something that may be more familiar in a modern form. Our tool-maker/hunter’s people were early Indians, which might make him an early Indian Brave. Or not, depends on your view of the social structures of the Paleo-Indians perhaps. These days do First Nation Americans think kindly of the term Indian Brave?
The head of this spear, that which remains to us, is now in the North American gallery of a national museum in a place now called London in a country long called Britain. That’s right, Britain where the motorbikes come from. It is called the Clovis Point or Clovis Spear Point. Sounds like a place in Sussex but it isn’t. It’s a sweet chestnut leaf-shaped piece of worked flint with a shallow V shaped notch at one end and a point at the other. The V notch is where the shaft of the spear goes and the point is where the prey goes, all being well. Along the sides, the cutting edges, of this Clovis Spear Point are ripples, they may look beautifully coincidental but they are carefully designed and gruesomely practical having been knapped all those thirteen thousand years ago by a tool-maker/hunter with exploring ancestors who may or may not have arrived in North America via the land-bridge now called Beringia which now lies underneath the Bering Straits. The Bering Straits lie between what is now called Siberia and what is now called Alaska, between Europe and America. This is a story about Britain in Europe and the United States in North America.
Apparently the wheel was invented around 8,000 B.C. so they probably had to walk across Beringia, these exploring tool-maker/hunters and early Americans.
Back to the tool-maker/hunter who discarded this gruesomely practical spear head. He (or possibly she, not much point in gender-stereotyping at this remove) took aim and launched the spear at a mammoth hoping to strike a palpable hit that would not fell the great Mammuthus instantly with just the one throw but simply to lodge the spearhead in the flesh where the flinty, knapped ripples along the cutting edges would tear at the animal causing massive bleeding. Our skilled tool-maker/hunter’s plan was to follow the bleeding and literally mammoth game until weakened by massive blood loss it could readily be despatched. That the point of the Clovis Spear Point is the bit at the opposite end from the shallow V notch is undeniable, but the greater truth is that tool-maker/hunters had over time learned to make beautiful ripples along its sides to produce exsanguination of the prey. Design.
What has this to do with motorcycles? Everything. Even though on a not quite given day thirteen millennia ago a found spear head failed to find its mark, it did in the twentieth century find its way from the U.S.A. to England. What has this to do with this particular motorcycle? Everything (though to some extent by inversion), sixty some years ago this model failed to find a big market, it did in the twentieth century find its way from England to the U.S.A..
This particular model of motorcycle is an Indian Brave. This particular model of motorcycle although an Indian is not a V twin, or a straight four, it is a single. It has side- rather than overhead-valves and I fell in love with it at first sight. Its engine is British (or should that be English?) made and comes from Southport, which in the nineteen-sixties was one of God’s many waiting rooms. No doubt it’s now a go ahead, jumping sort of place with a thriving hippity-hoppity scene and many bright young things sporting tattoos and facial piercings. But what was it like in the decade after the Second World War?
Actually, to narrow the focus a little, what was the village of Crossens like as the forties became the fifties? In fact let’s exclude all of Crossens village apart from Rufford Road, what was in Rufford Road, Crossens, Southport, Lancashire? The Vulcan Works, that’s what!
In 1938 the Brockhouse Engineering (Southport) Ltd took over a factory in Rufford Road from The Vulcan Motor & Engineering Co Ltd, Vulcan having been acquired as Vulcan Motors Ltd in 1937 or 1938 by Tilling-Stevens, Maidstone, Kent, they continued making lorries until 1953.
The factory was renamed “Brockhouse Works”; suitable, straightforward name for the place where in 1938 according to http://www.flightglobal.com the assembled company undertook “General machining, gear-cutting and grinding of aircraft and aero engine components in all metals. Airframe sheet-metal work and sub-assemblies. Arc welding, spot welding and welding of light alloys. Special light alloy pressings. Complete fuel tanks of various types. Complete gun turrets. Road vehicle body construction to A.M. specification”.
Seemingly they specialised in plexi-glass Boulton-Paul gun turrets for Lancaster bombers during World War II but peacetime saw them turn to motorcycle production in a small way with the Brockhouse Corgi in 1948 (or was it 1947?). For those who don’t know, the Brockhouse Corgi was a tiny 98cc folding scooter which owed something to the Welbike. It was marketed in the U.S.A. as the Indian Papoose.
Indian? Indian, didn’t they make classy, sturdy V twins and the like? Yes they did, but they fell on hard times after the war and Indian borrowed an awful lot of money from (yes that’s right) Brockhouse to fund the production of new models which sadly failed to produce a good return and in 1950, Brockhouse Ltd. called in the debt, divided Indian up into separate sales and manufacturing companies, then sold pieces to Associated Motorcycles Ltd. (AMC), the British parent company of Norton, AJS, and Matchless. This really is a story about Britain and America after all; there is something quite refreshing in thinking about Southport, and “the home of the brave and the land of the free” being united in motorcycle production. Particularly of a motorbike called the Indian Brave.
Unsurprising then that in 1950 Brockhouse introduced the 248cc Indian Brave, another take on the “motorcycle for everyman” theme (think B.S.A. C10 or D1 Bantam, LE Velocette, Honda Super Cub, possibly even the Douglas Dragonfly and by all means add a few of your own) so prevalent in the post-war consciousness before the advent of affordable four-wheelers. With its rigid frame and telescopic forks the bicycle was fairly conventional for the time, also it had a side-valve engine with an alternator, three-speed gearbox built in-unit using the same oil, but the gear and kick-start pedals were on the left. It may well have seemed like a quarter litre of modest performance weirdly laid out. The rigid Brave was an export-only model marketed in the US from 1950 until 1953, a small label on the petrol tank discreetly announced: “Manufactured in Great Britain for Indian Motor Cycle Company”.
On the one hand the Brockhouse Indian Brave was described as mechanically troubled and on the other a dead reliable, workaday affair. According to an article in the June 1987 edition of “Classic Bike” it may or may not be that “mechanically troubled” tag owes something to a 1954 “Motor Cycle” road test machine which had a crankpin fail. Norman Parkinson who developed the Brave later ascribed this failure to a batch of faulty steel bar that was cracked along its length. Then again only Doctor Who could cause a 1954 magazine article to affect 1950 sales figures; or could he? As it happens a copy of “The Motor Cycle” dated 1st April (Honest Injun) 1954 has an article on the Brockhouse Indian Brave which makes no mention of a crankpin failure, in fact the piece praises the various characteristics of the little bike and gives an overall impression of good favour. It seems that in forming this impression “The Motor Cycle” conducted a 700 mile road test, this could be regarded as verging on the thorough, reliable and workmanlike. Perhaps “The Motor Cycle” published two Indian Brave articles in 1954.
Whatever, the Brave is described as having been not much of a sales success on either side of the Atlantic, but the total production seems to have been around 14,000 in five and a bit years, each one tested before it left the factory. It is devoutly to be wished that each motorcycle is tested before it leaves the factory; also it should be noted that annual Meriden Triumph motorcycle production peaked in 1969 at around 46,800 units.
Be that as it may, the side-valve 248cc unit-construction engine was designed by Ernest Knibbs. It featured a modified Albion three-speed gearbox (up-for-up and down-for-down with a natty gear indicator near the riders left boot) and put out 8¼ b.h.p. at 4,800 r.p.m.. (A 192cc Velocette LE of the same period yielded 8 b.h.p., it too was a side-valve.) Norman Parkinson designed the frames, both rigid and sprung. Norman worked in the Brockhouse Works design department under Bert Gatiss who was head of the department and is credited as having invented a “change-speed control device which produced improvements in variable speed power transmission apparatus for vehicles”. Serious chaps these, as you would expect.
Brockhouse supplied the power unit to both Dot (Devoid Of Trouble) in Manchester and OEC (Osborn Engineering Company) in Portsmouth who used it in their 1952 Apollo. Its piston displaced 248.326 cc as it rose and fell for 76mm in a 64.5mm bore. The crankshaft was supported by three bearings. The engine oil supplies gearbox and primary chaincase via oil ways and there is a crankcase pressure relief valve which vents into the chaincase. Oil capacity is one U.S. quart (1.66534 of your British pints) of oil which seems dangerously frugal considering it did for the gearbox as well. At least the lubrication system featured a filter. The claims were 80 m.p.g. fuel consumption and 50 m.p.h. cruising speed, with a top speed of 59 m.p.h..
At the Earls Court Motorcycle Exhibition in 1954 Brockhouse Engineering took Stand 172 and displayed both the Indian Brave Model S (swinging arm) and the Model R (rigid) for the home market. The S went for £115.15.0d plus £23.3.0d tax and the R for £99.15.0d plus £19.19.0d. They also showed each model with a Watsonian sidecar, Windsor for the R and Eton Coupe for the S. Comerfords, Claude Rye and Godfreys were listed as London retailers of the Indian Brave. By this point the Indian Brave motorcycle might almost be described as a Neo-Indian where Neo is a prefix indicating a “new” form as distinct from a revival of an old one; which is to say that although the Southport firm owned the Springfield firm the products of the two manufactories were more closely related on the paperwork rather than in the metalwork.
Even while the Brave was still in production Brockhouse’s Norman Parkinson and Bert Gatiss put in a deal of work on a 17 b.h.p. SOHC 250 power-unit based on the side valve unit, but was a completely different unit with a one piece crankshaft. A duplex frame was designed for it and most interestingly the chain drive SOHC engine’s production costs compared favourably with those for a pushrod engine. It was scheduled to go into production in 1956 but Brockhouse pulled out of motorcycles in 1955 to concentrate on other parts of their business. Whatever sadness this may engender today it is worth noting that Brockhouse are still in the engineering business in a convincing way.
Here for our delectation and delight is a 1955 Model S in Indian Red owned since 2001 by Lorraine Herbert and presented here by her husband, Bill. This machine was the subject of an “earlier restoration” circa 1990 and has the look of a proper riding machine although it spent the early nineties in a museum.
Returning to the theme of our Clovis Point, with its telling design features running along its sides, what carefully designed and practical features are to be found running down the sides of this bike? Well, each side features a rider footrest which can be adjusted fore and aft, up and down according to taste. A motorcycle for Everyman; cue music – Fanfare For The Common Man, Aaron Copeland 1942 rendered by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra rather than Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The port side gives us a handy side stand, the leverage end of the crossover shaft for the cable operated rear brake, and quite gloriously the kick start lever and the gear change lever coaxially mounted. Just behind the gear pedal is the gear indicator and just forward of the gear pedal is an inspection cover that gives on to the 45W, 6V Lucas 1A45A alternator whose current is rectified before being accumulated in the battery nestling under a cover which tastefully proclaims “A Brockhouse Product – Made In England”. Rearward of the battery we find the ignition coil; the points, advance unit and condenser are incorporated in the generator apparently.
And on the starboard side the primary drive casing reveals that this machine truly was “MADE IN ENGLAND”, also in evidence are the brake pedal and the Reynolds final-drive chain. Is it particularly common for English bikes of the period to have these items on the right? Well vive la difference! The toolbox lid makes use of a knurled knob and the keyed ignition switch hides from the weather on the rear face of the toolbox, on the front face is an owner-added toggle switch which disconnects the battery in case anyone forgets to turn the key. The tappet adjustment cover is secured by a single screw in its centre, whereas the BSA B31 takes no chances and holds its tappet cover in place with a screw at each corner.
Each side has its own Armstrong suspension unit to the rear and each of those has its own knurled knob for adjusting the springing. Whole lotta knurling goin’ on. The front fork is undamped which is nicely simple and not unknown on bread-and-butter lightweight motorcycles for everyman of the period and indeed later.
Centrally-sited bits and bobs of note include a No.274 25/32” Amal carburettor, the tyre-pump mounts on the front down-tube, a well contoured comfy-looking Luxuride dual-seat just 29½” from the ground, a Lucas headlamp with ammeter and switch, the Smith’s speedometer, and a very accessible nipple for greasing the swinging fork. The accessibility of this nipple testifies to the “Everyman” theme in that essential maintenance is more likely to be carried out by the owner if it is made easy for the owner to carry out, fast forward a couple of decades to the oil-in-frame B range Triumph and you will find the owner lying on the floor to grease the port side swinging arm bush. Mind you the O.I.F. handling is really good and at speeds in which the Indian Brave probably has no interest.
What is it like to ride? Well, low centre of gravity and low power output generally make for a ‘get it up to speed and don’t slow down for anything’ riding style. Owner Lorraine describes two-up riding as “very slow but will get you there” and the lights as low candle power.
Starting is easy as it is reliable (very) and the engine ticks over delightfully slowly.
Clearly the bicycle outperforms the engine, which is the right way round and the bike corners well. Front and back the brake shoes are an inch wide and expand inside drums which are five inches across they do their job quite adequately. The forks bottom out in only the deepest of potholes but the bike steers well enough to avoid most of them.
The three spring multi-plate clutch has a light action, perhaps thanks to its mushroom lifter. Up for up gear selection is very smooth, down for down only slightly less so.
The photo session was at Wacker Quay near Torpoint on a cold February morning and watching Bill ride the Brave along the A374 back to Trerulefoot reminded me of cold rides on my LE. Going up hills Bill rocked back and forth as if to urge the bike forward, encouraging it to greater speed, his thoughts firmly set on getting to a warm fireside as soon as may be.
THIS SPORTING LIFE
Having established that our Paleo-Indian Brave was hunting for the pot rather than for sport and that the Brockhouse Indian Brave was built for more mundane purposes than racing it would be wrong to wipe its sporting aspirations from the record. Sadly but little has come to light thus far and here it is.
At the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1955 Miss Lesley Blackburn entered on a Brave. It had a high pipe and she retired on the third day. Lesley Blackburn also rode in the 1952 SSDT on a Bantam.
More recently a small but interesting firm called Peace Frog, based in Kumamoto in southern Japan produced a very unusual custom Brave flat-tracker.
But, when push comes to shove the character of the Brockhouse Indian Brave caused it to make haste slowly, to motor along with all deliberate speed in a festina lente sort of way. For me that makes all the difference.