|Industry||Manufacturing and engineering|
Zenith Motorcycles was a British motorcycle and automobile manufacturer established in Finsbury Park, London in 1904. Automobile manufacture only lasted from 1905–1906. The motorcycles used engines from various suppliers and featured the "Gradua" variable drive transmission, which competitors claimed was unfair and many clubs banned the Gradua Zeniths. Thus Zenith added the word "Barred" in their badge. The Gradua system was replaced by gearbox and chain in 1924.
Zenith Motorcycles was established in Finsbury Park, London in 1904. Zenith motorcycles used engines from various suppliers, including Precision, Villiers and JAP. Under chief engineer Frederic "Freddy" Barnes, Zenith developed the "Gradua" gear, a variable pulley which adjusted the length of the drive belt by sliding the rear wheel backwards or forwards in the slots. This gave Zenith a great advantage which competitors claimed was unfair and many clubs banned the Gradua Zeniths, who simply included the word "Barred" in their badge. The Gradua system was replaced by gearbox and chain in 1924.
In the 1930s Zenith hit hard times and closed down production, but the name was bought by Writers of Kennington, who had been one of their main dealers, and production restarted at the Hampton Court factory in Surrey. The Second World War stopped production again, but they managed to stockpile enough 750 cc JAP engines to continue straight after the war. JAP had ceased production, however, therefore once the last engine had been used it was the end of the line for Zenith and they finally closed in 1950.
Between 1905 and 1906, the company introduced the Popular model, which had a two-cylinder, 6HP Stevens engine and a belt driven rear axle.
Zenith were always keen to promote themselves via competition. Freddie Barnes competed and won regularly in 1909–1913, and in 1922 it was a Zenith that was the first British machine to do a 100 mph (160 km/h) lap of the Brooklands circuit with rider Bert le Vack. In 1925 Zenith held the record for the number of over 100 mph laps of the bumpy Brooklands circuit. Works rider Joseph S. Wright held the lap record at Brooklands from 1925 until 1935.
Zenith held the motorcycle world speed record on two occasions, the first FIM record of 124.55 mph (200.44 km/h) set in 1928 by Owen M. Baldwin at Arpajon, France, the site of the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry. Bert le Vack surpassed Baldwin the following year on a 995 cc (60.7 cu in) Brough-Superior at the same location. In 1930 Zenith was in financial trouble due to the recession, and were taken over by one of their dealers, Writer's of South London. The ex-Zenith works rider Joe Wright, riding an OEC with a 994 cc (60.7 cu in) JAP engine, took back the record on August 31 at 137.23 mph (220.85 km/h), again at Arpajon, France. But the record was broken twice more in 1930, first to Ernst Jakob Henne riding a supercharged BMW to 137.85 mph (221.85 km/h) at Ingolstadt, Germany. Claude Temple made arrangements to try to win the title back in Cork, Ireland using his supercharged OEC again with Joe Wright on board. Joe Wright had managed to acquire the works 995 cc (60.7 cu in) supercharged J.A.P-engined Zenith, and he took this to Ireland as a spare machine (visible on the Pathe news when the OEC is tow started). The OEC bike suffered a mechanical failure and was not able to complete the required two runs, so Wright used his Zenith to set a new world record of 150.65 mph (242.45 km/h). As Zenith were temporarily out of business, and OEC were paying the bills, the fact the Zenith had made the run and not the OEC was conveniently overlooked in much of the publicity of the time, and even in the FIM record books .
|Zenith Gradua 770 cc||1912||"Gradua" variable drive belt|
|Zenith Gradua 964 cc||1914||Green V-twin water-cooled engine|
|Zenith Gradua 680 cc||1918||JAP Twin|
|Zenith-Bradshaw 494cc||1922||Oil-cooled horizontally opposed Bradshaw engine|
|Zenith "Brooklands".||1923||344 cc JAP engine|
|Zenith 346 cc||1924||JAP engine|
|Zenith 680 cc||1926||Side-valve JAP engine|
|Zenith C5 Special 500 cc||1936|
|Zenith 750 cc||1948||JAP engine|
- "Zenith Motorcycles". Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Currie, Bob (1988). Classic British Motorcycles over 500cc. Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 94. ISBN 1-85260-083-7.
- Harald Linz, Halwart Schrader: Die Internationale Automobil-Enzyklopädie. United Soft Media Verlag, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-8032-9876-8.
- d'Orleans, Paul (October 17, 2008), "F.W. 'Freddie' Barnes", The Vintagent
- Setright, L.J.K. (1979), "Chronological Table of Absolute World Speed Records for Motorcycles Recognised by the FIM", The Guinness book of motorcycling facts and feats, Guinness Superlatives, p. 238, ISBN 0851122000
- Zenith Motors, Graces Guide
- "Cork. 150 miles an hour on a motor cycle! Streamlined in every possible way even to his helmet - J S Wright and an O.E.C. - Jap-engined - wins back record for Britain from Germany.", Pathé News, Film ID 751.17, 10/11/1930