The Top 10 'Revived' British Brands and the stories behind them

BSA Gold Star - side

With the recent successful revival of great British motorcycle brand BSA, which follows similar recent revivals of Norton, Brough Superior and more, it seems many of the greatest historic names in British motorcycling are now back in business.

After all, those three British names from the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s aren’t the only ones. There’s also Triumph, obviously, Royal Enfield and quite recently DOT.

This got us wondering: just which historic British bike brands have been revived and are still functioning? What bikes do they build and how successful are they? Here’s our list of the Top 10 – but please let us know if we’ve missed any out!

10. DOT

DOT, a name which goes back to 1903 and which is derived from ‘Devoid Of Trouble’, might be a less familiar historic British brand, but it’s also one of the most recently revived. Originally founded by Harry Reed in Manchester in 1903 and a TT winner in 1908, its fortunes were mixed. More success came with a series of lightweight offroad two-strokes powered by Villiers engines in the 1950s but by 1978 it had ceased trading.

The name was bought by Dr Anthony Keating and in 2021 DOT Motorcycles relaunched at Motorcycle Live at the NEC with two new models, the Reed Racer sportster and Demon naked, both with bespoke, premium chassis and cycle parts and Kawasaki 650 twin engines. However, as we write, although the company still has active status, no finished machines have been built and the firm’s website is inactive.

9. Francis Barnett

Another British lightweight brand with a lesser-known history and (so far) largely unsuccessful relaunch. Originally founded in 1919 in Coventry by Gordon Inglesby Francis and Arthur Barnett, ‘Franny-B’ rose to fame for being light, affordable commuters based around Villiers, like DOT, and later AMC two-stroke engines. It was taken over by Associated Motor Cycles in 1947 but survived up to 1966.

The name rights were bought by Coventry engineer and bike enthusiast Andy Longfield in 2011 and a new operation was launched in 2015 offering two bikes, the trials-style Merlin and the retro-roadster Kestrel, both based on the Chinese-built HMC Classic. The company is still active but now seems to be focusing more on e-bikes.

8. AJS

One of the great names in British biking which in many ways never actually went away. Founded in 1909 by the Stevens brothers in Wolverhampton, the company initials, A.J.S, were chosen after ‘Jack’, the only brother with two first names, Albert John (Jack) Stevenson. Its first motorcycle was released in 1910 and by 1913 AJS was the UK’s largest bike producer. In 1931, it was acquired by Matchless and it remained popular after the war but in 1966, with the collapse of parent AMC group, AJS was absorbed into Norton Villiers.

In September 1974, AJS off-road competition manager ‘Fluff’ Brown bought all the AJS Stormer spares and began production of AJS Stormer-based machines in Andover, Hampshire. This company continues to this day and for the last 20 years has sold a a range of small, affordable, rebadged Chinese-built lightweights.

7. Hesketh

Another er, ‘historic’ British bike brand with a somewhat chequered past. Hesketh Motorcycles was originally launched in 1980 by Lord Hesketh at his country pile of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, to fill the void of his preceding F1 team as made famous by James Hunt. Its first bike, the V1000, complete with Weslake-developed 1000cc V-twin, regal styling by John Mockett and quality cycle parts and a launch involving Mike Hailwood was, however, a failure. 

Poor reviews, reliability, availability and a stratospheric price led to the business failing after the production of just 139 machines. The marque continued, fitfully, via Mick Broom of Broom Engineering until it was finally sold to Paul Sleeman in 2010. This new company’s first bike, the handbuilt ‘24’ in 2014, was powered by an American S&S V-twin engine and was heavy, crude and soon killed off by emissions regulations. Now based in the Isle of Man, a planned 2022 successor, the single-cylinder Heresy, has yet to enter production. 

6. Ariel

Now we’re starting to move towards the ‘big’ time. One of the most innovative of the early British manufacturers, Ariel first found fame in the 1930s with its bold Square Four and Red Hunter then, in 1959, now under BSA ownership, with the pioneering Leader 250cc two-stroke. Sadly, its Selly Oak factory was closed in 1962, its last conventional motorcycle was produced in 1965 and, in 1970, its last product, the controversial Ariel 3 three-wheeler, contributed to the demise of the whole BSA group. 

Automotive designer Simon Saunders acquired the name in 1999 for his new sports car company in Crewkerne, Somerset. Its first motorcycle, the Honda VFR1200F-powered Ace, complete with an exo-skeletal frame, debuted in 2014 although its limited production has now stopped with no successors on the horizon.

5. Brough-Superior

Brough-Superior was dubbed the ‘Rolls-Royce of motorcycles’ in its pre-war heyday with fame heightened by its associations with ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ TE Lawrence. Production ended due to WW2 in 1939 adding to its mythical status with the result that survivors are now the most revered classics of all, regularly posting record auction prices. 

Ex-pat Brit Mark Upham bought the rights to the brand in 2008 and, in partnership with a French firm, launched the first new Brough, a modern V-twin with heritage overtones and a £50K+ price, in 2013. Limited production of that bike, the SS100, and its variants, have continued ever since.

4. Norton

One of the most storied brands in British motorcycle history – and also one of the most chequered. A world-beater on track in the ‘30s and ‘50s, and famous also for its Commando road twin, it collapsed in the mid-70s before periodically re-emerging, mostly via its controversial rotary racers, up to the millennium. In 2008 the name rights, along with a rough, new American Commando prototype, were bought by Midlands entrepreneur Stuart Garner starting an era of great promise, including production road Commando 961s, an improving TT racer, an expanding HQ at Donington Hall and hopes for a new 650 twin and V4 superbike

However, this all eventually spiralled into financial scandal and collapse. Indian automotive giant TVS bought the remains in 2020 from the administrator for £16 million and has since invested over £100m on a new, state-of-the-art factory in Solihull and a fully re-engineered range including the V4 superbike, although volume sales are still some way off.

3. BSA 

One of the most recent and successful British bike brand revival stories of all. The original BSA, based in Small Heath, Birmingham, was, by 1951, the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturer and became popular for its workmanlike twins and singles, affordable Bantam, racing Gold Star and its last hurrah’, the 1969 Rocket III. 

Sadly, it was all too late. The last BSA motorcycle was built in 1972 and the firm liquidated in 1978. After a couple of fitful restarts, the BSA brand was bought by Indian giant Mahindra for £3.4m in 2016. Its first bike, the single-cylinder 652cc Gold Star, went on sale in 2023 and has so far been very successful.

2. Royal Enfield

Although originally a British company (like many, borne out of the armaments and then bicycling industries), since 1967 RE has largely been an Indian concern. A subsidiary, Enfield India, was founded in the 1950s, outlived its British parent (which was closed in 1967), and in 1994, it was acquired by commercial giant Eicher Group and renamed as Royal Enfield. 

In the last decade its motorcycling arm has been rejuvenated under new CEO Siddhartha Lal with a new Technology Centre set up at Bruntingthorpe under former Triumph product planner Simon Warburton and the launch of a range of increasingly modern, but still ‘retro’, machines including the 650 Interceptor, 350 Meteor and more.

1. Triumph

The first and biggest British motorcycle revival story of them all. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Triumph, with its Bonneville and Steve McQueen associations, was the most revered and successful British brand of all. However, after failing to compete with new Japanese brands in the early 1970s it collapsed. In 1983 property developer John Bloor bought the rights to the recently liquidated Triumph motorcycles and set about the development of an all-new, modern range of machines which were unveiled at the Cologne Show in 1990. 

Today ‘new’ Triumph is bigger than the old concern ever was, producing around 50,000 machines a year, powering Moto2, being a market leader in modern classics, starring in James Bond movies and about to re-enter world motocross.