A BRIEF HISTORY OF NEW IMPERIAL MOTORCYCLES
The history of New Imperial goes back to the early days of the bicycle industry in Birmingham. Starting in a very small way, the Company made bicycle fittings and, later, complete bicycles.
New Imperial’s first motorcycle appeared in 1901; it had the engine mounted in front of the handlebars above the front wheel, and the transmission consisted of a leather belt which drove the front wheel. Unfortunately, this machine was not a commercial success, and New Imperial went back to bicycle manufacture.
In 1912 a range of three motorcycles were offered, and two years later, in 1914, New Imperial produced their famous Light Tourist model; this was only 300 cc capacity, but its light weight, allied with strong construction, enabled it to out-perform many 500 cc heavyweights of the day. The Light Tourist was an immediate success and set New Imperial on the road to fame and fortune.
New Imperial’s win in the 250 cc class of the 1921 TT (rider Doug Prentice) was certain to bring in big sales orders in pre-war days. This was the first of six TT wins by New Imperial; the wins were all in the Lightweight class, except for one Junior victory.
By the mid-twenties, New Imperial were producing around 300 machines per month. The Company continued to prosper and grow until the depression years of the early 1930s. This left New Imperial financially weak, and they were struggling to survive for most of the thirties. Even Bob Foster’s magnificent win on a unit-construction model in the 1936 Lightweight TT could not bring in the sales that New Imperial desperately needed; this win was the last time that Great Britain ever won a Lightweight TT.
New Imperial were always a very innovative company, and their unit-construction machines, sometimes with Bentley & Draper sprung frames, were about twenty years ahead of their time.
In the end, this willingness to produce advanced designs may have contributed to New Imperial’s eventual demise in 1939.