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What happened to the WW1 surplus 2 3/4hp machines?

Started by Tim OConnor, 16 Aug 2022 at 12:34

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Tim OConnor

I have read several accounts stating that Douglas bought back thousands of WW1 motorcycles from the armed forces.

Did those engines/frames become machines from 1919-1920??

If so is there a way to tell?



1920 2 3/4 W-20

cardan

Hi Tim,

It's possible, but I've not read anything about it. You're not getting confused with Triumph - the other major supplier of WW1 military motorcycles - who did get involved in renovating their ex-WD bikes? These were sold looking like new but identified by a special transfer which interposed the word "Renovated" between "Triumph" and "Coventry".

Jeff Clew (in the Best twin) does comment on third-party renovation of ex-WD Douglases, and I've certainly seen adverts relating to such things in the motorcycle press in 1919-20-21...

Leon

Edit: See, e.g., this advert from Burlington in 1921: https://www.douglasmotorcycles.net/index.php?topic=8395.msg32638#msg32638

Tim OConnor

Quote from: cardan on 16 Aug 2022 at 13:03
It's possible, but I've not read anything about it. You're not getting confused with Triumph - the other major supplier of WW1 military motorcycles - who did get involved in renovating their ex-WD bikes? These were sold looking like new but identified by a special transfer which interposed the word "Renovated" between "Triumph" and "Coventry".

I have several sources but I am at work now and don't have access to my printed materials.

Sources I can reference with my internet connection over lunch:

1. THE DOUGLAS STORY | Douglas Motorcycle History Film | Bristol History Series (YouTube copy) 13min mark. "shrewdly, William Douglas bought back the surplus Douglas motorcycls .... added 3 speed gearbox, clutch and kickstart and resold them as civilian motorcycles"

2. The Douglas Dilemma, (Originally published in Classic Military Vehicle) requires subscription.."The old motorcycles were reconditioned, repainted, and sold on to civilian buyers."

3. Bonhams auction "Since the Douglas was manufactured during the WWI, it is likely that it was originally a dispatch riders model fished in military livery. It may have been returned to the factory after hostilities ceased and reconditioned and refinished in civilian colours before being sold, as many hundreds were." (https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/19766/lot/302/)




1920 2 3/4 W-20

cardan

Perhaps I should have said, 'I've not read anything to convince me that it happened'. It may have happened, but these days I think it's fair to ask for a period reference supporting any easy-to-tell story. It's certainly true that there were third-party renovations (viz Burlingtons), and certainly the parts used on just-post-war bikes were a bit of a mixture. For example the 'veteran' fork seems to appear on bikes well after if should have ceased...

A good example of re-told story that is not based on fact is the Douglas origin story of Barter, the Fairy, and Douglas. Interesting to compare what appears in books and on the internet with the research in this thread: https://www.douglasmotorcycles.net/index.php?topic=6560.0

Leon

cardan

I had a flick through The Motor Cycle for the first 6 months of 1919. Plenty of interesting stuff there about Douglas, including their new models (the 3 1/2 h.p. Spring Frame and the 6 h.p. were two that never made it into production), plans for the future (interviews with Wm Douglas and Les Bailey), and about auctions and disposal of ex-WD machines (crazy prices, angry crowds, and new Douglases still in crates but with decayed tyres etc.).

But nothing to hint that Douglas was recycling, or intending to recycle, old machines.

I'd be most interested to hear if they did indeed get in on the recycling game.

Leon

Tim OConnor

1920 2 3/4 W-20

cardan

Yes it is interesting!

At the time of the Armistice (Nov 1918) the British Armed Forces had 18,315 Douglases - 13,477 2 3/4 hp and 4816 4 hp.

What happened to them?

The motorcycle press of the day details that a lot were sold at public action - accessible to anyone. The "bikes" on sale ranged from incomplete wrecks to "new" bikes still in their crates, having never been put into service. Some of the new bikes were never-the-less quite run down, with perished rubber, oxidisation, soiling, etc.

At these auctions, some bikes may have gone directly to private buyers, others sold to the trade.

It's possible that there were other modes of sale - perhaps tenders were called for larger lots of bikes.

Who did the reconditioning?

Some were obviously bought and renovated by private owners. Others were renovated by the trade, sometimes in large numbers (e.g. Burlingtons) but also in small numbers. Some bikes were renovated at Government Workshops - the same places that were no-doubt repairing Douglases during the war (see image below) - before being sold-on. Was the Douglas Works at Bristol involved in renovation? Possibly not, other than supplying spares to the firms that were involved, but I'd be most interested to hear if they were.

There were brand knew Douglases coming off the production line during the early months of 1919 - possible since Douglas had been building bikes continuously throughout the war. These bikes would have all the "correct" numbers and specification that we are used to, but with wartime and post-war renovations it's hardly surprising that there are very many "mix and match" Douglases from 1914-1920 that have survived that don't have precisely matching numbers and specs.

Certainly a Douglas registered in 1920 might have come from the Douglas production line all new, or be a spectacular mix of bits and pieces born of wartime experiences and renovation. Both types of bikes tell a story.

Cheers

Leon


Hutch

Tim and Leon,

A very interesting thread!

Way back in 2015 (...was it really that long ago!...) I started some research into 2 3/4 hp frame, engine and gearbox serial numbers as I was trying to determine which of the gearboxes I had, best matched (serial number wise), with various frames / engines etc. I used the LDMCC 2014 machine register as reference and put together a few spreadsheets of the data.

I obtained permission in 2015 from the LDMCC  Registrar to be able to publish the data on this forum or as a NCR article as long as I referenced where the data came from. I lost momentum of the project after I had worked out the information I required at the time, and other than sending it to a forum member and using it to work out some other gearbox puzzles - it has remained unused....until now.....! (better late than never I guess :-) )

I hope this chart helps with visualising the number of 2 3/4 hp machines that retain their original engine / frame combination and also the number that have been "mixed and matched" and also some other tit bits - such as the end of the run for the 2 3/4hp with the CW.

Interesting feature is the lack of survivors for WW1 year models considering the number of machines that supposedly survived the war - maybe the stress of the war plus having a second life as civilian machines was too much for them - or maybe many were broken up for parts??

(Edit:- Oooops Chart missed out late TS data - hopefully fixed in this version)

Cheers

Hutch


cardan

Brilliant! I see from the dating page https://www.douglasmotorcycles.net/aa-files/html/identify-part1/veteran3.6.htm that the wartime production frames are somewhere in the range (say) 18000-40000. In this region the "correlation line" (representing matched engine and frame numbers) is quite sparse - something like 50% (??) of surviving bikes from the war era have mis-matched engines and frames. Squint at Hutch's graph and you can see the war... What history...

Leon

Tim OConnor

1920 2 3/4 W-20

Hutch

Tim and Leon,

Please note that the above chart is for machines in the registry that have had the gearbox number supplied to the club, that wasn't very explicit in the title for the chart. Quite a few machines don't have this and were excluded from my research into gearbox numbers at the time. I will add this data to my spreadsheet, then redo the chart and post it here.

I will post the gearbox serial number charts at a later date in a separate thread when I get a chance to finish it off.

Cheers

Hutch

Hutch

Here is the latest version of the 2 3/4hp Engine vs Frame number graph. I have included the data from the LDMCC 2014 machine register for 2 3/4hp entries (including CW) that have a frame and engine number listed - not just for those listed that include a gearbox serial number as well.

(I may still have a few typos in my data as I have noticed a few astray data points in the chart now they are colour coded)

Quote from: cardan on 18 Aug 2022 at 09:02
...... Squint at Hutch's graph and you can see the war...

Good comment Leon, I altered the colour of the data points so hopefully it stands out a little better (I'm very slightly colour blind - so maybe not! :-)).

The Pioneer Run organised by the Sunbeam MCC for pre 31st December 1914 machines certainly appears to have helped in promoting the preservation / restoration of the earlier 2 3/4 hp Douglii. Survival rates (i.e. number of survivors from the 2014 register divided by production number for that year) for 1914 2 3/4 hp models is about 3 times higher than those of the later war years (and not exceeded until the 1924 year models).


In 1915 and part of 1916 (not sure the cut off date) Douglas were still selling to the public so that probably accounts for a few of the survivors from those years (i.e. the exported ones didn't go to war). From a rough look at the year by year survival numbers the 1918 2 3/4 hp is probably, these days, the rarest (??) model of all 2 3/4hp machines made after 1910, with survival rate about 5 times less than the 1914 models, closely followed by the 1916 ones.

cheers

Hutch

Tim OConnor

1920 2 3/4 W-20

EW-Ron

BTW, we notice this is all captioned as  3 3/4hp machines.
This should be 2 3/4 hp  ??

cardan

What happened to the WW1 surplus 2 3/4hp machines?

I can add a couple of things to my reply above.

It's worth mentioning "The War Motor Association" which was set up around June 1919 "to enable ex-officers and men to purchase those not required by the Government at a reasonable figure". There are a couple of articles in The Motor Cycle about this organisation (e.g. the editorial 19 June 1919), and it is mentioned frequently in small articles about the disposal of motor cycles. That said, it's not clear that it was very successful because a common theme in letters to the editor is that machines being sold were beyond the means of many returned servicemen.

Also in the The Motor Cycle is quite a lot of discussion about the "new" Douglases sold in crates. It turns out that many/most of the crated bikes were NOT new, but were "unissued" - renovated at Government workshops but never put back into service. One writer (who signed himself "Retyred Hurt") bought a new/unissued Douglas at one of the 1919 sales and was disappointed to find that the front tube had no fewer than eleven patches! Not to worry: it was so badly perished that it needed replacing anyway. "Considering that the Government were supposed to be putting an end to profiteering, is it quite reasonable that they should be allowed to mislead the public, with the result that they are paying between sixty-three to seventy guineas for second-hand 1914, 1915, and 1916 Douglas machines?", he asked.

Finally I can shed some light on how Burlington's, who renovated and sold large numbers of WD machines in the early 1920, sourced their machines.

In the middle of 1920, the Slough Syndicate, headed by Sir Percival Perry, purchased 3,000 ex-WD motorcycles, and announced three "Sole Selling Agents", one of which was Burlington Motor Co., Ltd., Clapham. Interestingly the machines were said to include "Douglas 2 3/4 h.p., Douglas 4 h.p., P & M, Clyno, Enfields, Royal Rubies, etc. etc..." - no mention of Triumph (whose numbers should have been similar to Douglas). Perhaps the story that Triumph did their own renovations and resale might be true.

Still nothing found to suggest that Douglas was directly involved in renovation, but in September 1919 Douglas Motors Ltd reported that they had been "inundated" with orders for spare parts "as a result of the Government disposing of many thousands of incomplete machines..."

Leon

Doug

Quote from: EW-RonBTW, we notice this is all captioned as  3 3/4hp machines. This should be 2 3/4 hp  ??

Subject line corrected from 3-3/4hp to 2-3/4hp.  -Doug