General

Whatever happened to...? The motorcycle brands we want to revive (Part 2)

Some dearly beloved motorcycle brands have fallen by the wayside over the decades., so we asked ourselves which we'd revive if we could...

Nostalgia is very current these days as the revival of certain brands - such as Jawa and, to a certain extent, Norton - prove but they are just two once flourishing names that have fallen by the wayside during their histories.

So we began to ask ourselves exactly which brands we think are ripe for a comeback, or at the very least, those we rather miss. 

// READ Part 1 of our collection of motorcycle brands we'd like to revive, starring Cagiva, BSA and more... //

VINCENT

One of the greatest, most successful and most potent British motorcycle brands of all time remains, since the early 1950s anyway, one of the least exploited. As we write, although an abortive attempt was made to revive the name in America in the late 1990s, no genuine Vincent motorcycle has been built since 1955. Or has it?

The basics are that Vincent was a revered British motorcycle manufacturer between 1928 and 1958, most famous for advanced and powerful 1000cc V-twins such as the Black Shadow and which traded under the slogan ‘the makers of the world’s fastest motorcycles’. 

The business was set up by Philip Vincent when he bought the HRD motorcycle brand and equipment. Renamed Vincent HRD and set up in Stevenage. In 1936 Vincent produced its first 1000cc V-twin to a design by Phil Irving and was launched as the Rapide featuring a number of innovations including cantilever rear suspension, telescopic forks and even a side stand. The 45bhp, 110mph Rapide, though expensive, was successful and led to even more potent derivatives such as the 1948 125mph Black Shadow.

In 1955, however, facing severe losses, Vincent announced they would no longer make motorcycles. Since the 1970s the Vincent Owners Club has owned the rights to the Vincent name and continues to make available spares. Although new engines and even bikes have been produced since under various names the only significant attempt at a Vincent branded motorcycle came in the late 1990s when American businessman Bernard Li claimed to have acquired the American rights to the Vincent trademark in 1994, launched Vincent Motors USA in 1998 then unveiled a new Vincent prototype using a Honda SP-1 V-twin.

It went on to unveil four variants: the Black Shadow (base model), Black Lightning S (sport), Black Lightning ST (sport tourer) and Black Eagle (cruiser), assembled by Rousch Industries and using an assortment of Brembo, Ohlins and carbon components. ‘Legal issues’, however, meant the bikes never made it into production and Li was tragically killed in a bike crash in 2008. Today the Vincent brand remains in the hands of the V.O.C., while the US trademark has been owned since 2011 by the Vincent Motors LLC, a private company owned by Dave Green.

MZ

Historic German marque MZ (or sometimes MuZ) means different things to different people. Historically based in Zschopau in Lower Saxony (the MZ name is derived from Motorenwerke Zschopau) it first became famous under the DKW name in the 1920s and ‘30s, was taken over by the East German state post-WW2 in 1948 (with DKW moving to West Germany the following year) and became reknown for its utilitarian, two-stroke commuter singles in the 1960s and ‘70s.

At the same time, however, mostly due to engineering genius Walter Kaaden, it became a world leader in two-stroke technology with their deigns copied widely, most famously by Suzuki following GP rider Ernst Degner’s defection in 1961.

Following the fall of communism it went into receivership in 1993 with the brand bought by Malaysian corporation Hong Leong Group in 1996 with the new company producing a range of 125 four-strokes, 660cc taril bikes (using a Yamaha engine) and latterly three 1000cc sports machines [pictured], the 1000S sports, 1000SF naked and 1000ST sports-tourer, powered by its own DOHC parallel twin. However, the company ran into financial troubles and the factory closed again in 2008.

The following year, former German GP stars Martin Wimmer and Ralf Waldemann fronted a buyout with plans for new machines including an E-bike and a GP campaign. Further insolvency problems arise and this company went into liquidation in 2013.

LAVERDA

Ah, how the mighty have fallen. Italian brand Laverda, the superbike kings of the 1970s, are no more – or are they?

The orange machines from Breganze, most famously the superfast 1970s Jota triple, were born out of the Laverda agricultural machinery company when Pietro Laverda, grandson of the company’s founder, designed its first small motorcycle. In the late 1960s and early 1970s it moved into 650 then 750cc twins, even being used by Evel Knievel, with the latter evolving into the 750 SFC which gained endurance racing success [pictured as article lead].

The first 1000cc triple was spun off from the 750cc twin in 1969. In 1976, a more sporting version was developed using racing parts working with British importer Roger Slater. The result, the Jota, produced 90bhp, 146mph and was the fastest motorcycle of its day. Variants continued through the 1970s and 80s but the company was in trouble, ceasing motorcycle production in 1985. The Laverda motorcycle brand was bought an Italian millionaire Francesco Tognon 1993 who went on to launch a series of modernised machines based on the old 500 twin Montjuic powerplant but enlarged, with fuel injection and modern cycle parts.

However the concern again foundered in 1998 and the brand was bought in 2000 by Aprilia, who had also recently taken over Moto Guzzi. Aprilia planned a powerhouse of Italian motorcycling and in 2003 even unveiled a delicious all-new Laverda SFC prototype [pictured], which was effectively a restyled Aprilia RSV (even if the proposed production version wasn't quite as attractive). However, faced with collapsing scooter sales due to a new Italian helmet law, having overstretched its racing ambitions in WorldSBK and MotoGP and with its new 1000cc machines not proving the success hoped for them, Aprilia itself fell into a financial crisis and was taken over by Piaggio in 2004.

Since then, Piaggio has quietly closed all activities related to Laverda and has publicly stated that it would be willing to sell the brand to the right investor although none as yet has come forward.

MATCHLESS

For a while it seemed that Matchless, one of the oldest and most revered of historic British motorcycling brands, might be heading for a come-back – an all-new prototype was displayed as recently as 2014 – now, sadly, we’re not so sure. Originally manufactured in Plumstead, London, between 1899 and 1966 a Matchless won at the very first TT, was at the centre of the huge AMC concern, along with AJS, from 1938 and its G50 single racer was the only true rival to the Manx Norton, before, due to dwindling sales, AMC was swallowed up by Norton Villiers in 1966.

In 1987 Matchless made a brief comeback. Les Harris, who’d been making Triumph Bonnevilles under licence since 1983, had acquired the rights to the Matchless name and made a batch of Rotax-powered 500cc singles using a British made frame and largely Italian cycle parts. The result, the G80, wasn’t a bad bike but wasn’t successful, either, with production ending in 1993.

Later, the rights to the name were then bought by the Italian Malenotti family, who’d earlier resurrected to great success Belstaff clothing. At EICMA 2014 it grandly unveiled its new Model X motorcycle, a £50,000 limited edition retro wonder powered by an American S&S V-twin and… then it went quiet. Reports soon after suggested the family were trying to generate a cash injection to produce the new bike… which never happened.

In the meantime, perhaps as had been planned all along, Matchless Clothing began launching an increasing amount of hi-end, fashion biker wear with prices up to £1000 for a leather jacket and using no less than Kate Moss as a model. Six years on, the Model X has still to appear yet the Matchless clothing continues which, considering the Malenotti family’s background, perhaps isn’t a surprise.

But if the Model X was merely a marketing ploy at least it was exciting, however briefly, to see the Matchless name back on a bike…

BULTACO

Bultaco is another of those great Spanish names along with Montesa and Ossa, which dominated world trials in the 1970s, and today still twang at the heartstrings of grown men of a certain age. But while Montesa has been revived, is now owned by Honda and continues to dominate the sport while Ossa has also, more recently been revived to some success on the sporting scene, the news from Bultaco is sadly silent. Until recently that is.

The original Bultaco concern dates back to 1958 when then director of Montesa, Francesc ‘Paco’ Bulto, left the company after it decided to reduce its racing involvement. With the majority of the former Montesa racing department, ‘Bultaco’ (from Bulto and Paco) was formed shortly after and through the 1960s and ‘70s raced to great success.

Its lightweight, two-stroke ‘Sherpa’, developed with Brit Sammy Miller, revolutionised world trials, winning the world championship nine times between 1968 and 1979 and making household names of the likes of Martin Lampkin and Malcolm Rathmell and in road racing it powered no less than Barry Sheene early in his career.

Even so, the factory was forced to close in 1979 before reopening with government help in 1980. Production however slowed to a trickle, with only 249 bikes produced in 1984 and the end finally came in February 1987. Paco Bulto died in 1998, aged 86 and that same year the rights to the name were acquired by Marc Tessier of trials firm Sherco, initially producing ‘Bultaco Shercos’, although the Bultaco name was dropped from 2001.

However in 2014, the grandson of Paco, Daniel Bulto, announced that the family had granted a licence for the name and an electric motorcycle company bearing the name was being formed. The first prototypes were seen in 2015 while the Brinco mountain/moto bike hybrid became available from 2017. However, in early 2019, the company filed for bankruptcy protection owing a reported €11m. Whether it comes back once more remains to be seen…

// READ Part 1 of our collection of motorcycle brands we'd like to revive, starring Cagiva, BSA and more... //

Join the conversation!

Let us know what you think, just sign up for a free account, leave a comment and get involved!
Register Now

Latest Videos

Review
Feature
Feature