Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The odd Enfield out
When Royal Enfield was taken over by the E & H P Smith conglomerate in 1962 at the death of Major Smith (no relation), who had led the company since the 1920's, things looked good for a while. The new company was bringing in fresh capital, and two motorcycle knowledgeable people, Leo Davenport from E & H P Smith and Royal Enfield's own Major Vic Mountford had direct access to the directors of E & H P Smith. Davenport, an ex-racer, wanted to rekindle Royal Enfield's prestige in the racing world, signing up the charismatic Geoff Duke to race the GP5 250cc machine. But the effort cost a lot of money at a time when sales were falling dramatically, and was not beyond the prototyping phase when in November 1964 Major Mountford died. This left a void that was soon filled by voices from E & H P Smith arguing that Royal Enfield should be dismembered and the conglomerate bail out from the crumbling enterprise. By 1966 the Interceptor was removed from the home market and only three 350cc machines were offered, compared with over ten different models just three years before. In 1967 the Redditch factory was closed, production transferred entirely to Westwood and only one bike, the Interceptor (in UK and USA versions) was produced until the final demise in 1970. In the middle of all this turmoil, in the year of 1964, and only in that year, Royal Enfield offered a light trials bike, available in creme color, the Moto-X. It had a 250cc Villiers Starmaker engine with respectable 22bhp. If things had not careened out of control, this bike could have been a big seller in the US. In that very year, 1964, Hodaka was started, largely to provide bikes to an under-served and blooming motocross market in the US. But it was not to be for Royal Enfield.