company dates back to 1847 when Ariel made an early pneumatic tyred wheel for
horse drawn carriages. The name was revived by James Starley and William Hillman
in 1870 who used it to name the factory where they made penny-farthing bicycles
and sewing machines. In 1885 Starley invented the Rover Safety Bicycle - a
rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven bicycle with two similar-sized wheels, which is
essentially the design still used on bicycles today. Use of the name lapsed but
in 1896 it appeared again, this time on motorised transport.
The first Ariel vehicle was a Tricycle that
used a 2.25 hp De Dion engine mounted at the rear. More tricycles were produced
and quadricycles were added in 1901 as Ariel then moved into car production.
The company suffered several financial crises
over the years including spells in receivership in 1911 and the early 1930s.
The first Ariel to be fitted with an engine
was in 1898 when a powered tricycle appeared. In 1901 the first Ariel motorcycle
proper was launched powered by a 211 cc Minerva engine.
A range of motor cycles were made with engine
either bought in or assembled to other peoples design until 1925 when a new
designer, Val Page, joined Ariel from JAP. His work on engines coupled with a
new frame design resulted in the launch in 1927 of the Red Hunter, a name that
would last until 1959.
The other famous inter-war machine was the
Square Four with 500 cc engine designed by Edward Turner first appearing in 1932
but before this became established the company went into receivership. A new
company was started up and reintroduced the Square Four now with a 600 cc
In 1944 Ariel became part of the BSA group.
In the 1960's, to the dismay of some stalwart
traditional motorcyclists, Ariel suddenly dropped the whole of its four-stroke
engine range and produced basically two models, the 250cc twin cylinder
two-stroke engined Arrow and Leader models. There was also a 200cc Arrow version
made for a very short period. These engines and frames, completely new to Ariel,
were, in fact, copies of the pre-war German Adler models. The designs had been
claimed by the Allies as part of war reparations after WW2 in a similar way in
which BSA used the German DkW design as the starting point for their famous BSA
Bantam models. To give Ariel credit, the Arrow and Leader models were at least
an attempt to bring the company up to date having recognised the threat from the
new Japanese imports.
The Leader had a fully faired body from the
headlamp backWards. The Arrow was more open though it still kept the enclosed
chain case and deep mudguards.
The last Ariel was in the 1970s, the "Ariel
3", was a 3-wheeler 50cc 2-stroke moped different from other mopeds at the time
not just for having 3-wheels but because it was a tilting vehicle. The front
half of the moped was hinged to the rear and so it could tilt into corners
whilst keeping all 3-wheels on the ground. Production of the Ariel 3 was short
and the moped was dropped along with the Ariel name shortly afterwards.
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