Thursday, August 15, 2013

The India wing of the Royal Enfield museum

Established on India's Independence Day 2013.

This post is part of the Royal Enfield Virtual museum. If you don't know what that is, visit the museum, you will be able to return here easily. ============================

There is an excellent book by Gordon May about the history of Royal Enfield in India titled "Made in India". This museum has no intention of undercutting its sales, so we are not using pictures or other unique materials from the book in this exhibit. The book has tons of interesting historical pictures. Information about many aspects of Royal Enfield in India particularly in the past is rather skimpy on the internet. We welcome reader comments adding details. For instance: what exactly was a Mini Bullet? What about Enfield television sets?

It is unclear to this museum when Royal Enfield motorcycles first arrive in India. We have a record of a distributor in Poona already in 1911. But probably there were earlier presences. A Royal Enfield won the first TT race in India in Madras in 1913. From there on, until the 1940's historical data is virtually non existent. There was a remarkable article by Major Smith, the "CEO" of the Enfield Cycle company in 1932 talking about a future where "Bullets will be flying peacebly..." across India. There probably were many distributors of Royal Enfield throughout the 1920's and 30's.

In 1942 two entrepreneurs from Tamil Nadu, K. R. Sundaram Iyer and his newphew K. Eswaran started importing bicycles from the UK and selling them in a shop in Madras. They eventually moved to importing motorcycles from Norton, Matchless and Royal Enfield.

(No, that is not a true picture of Madras Motors in the 1940's, but the place looked remarkably like the one depicted, with a two stall garage and a colorful sign).

In 1953 they got a big order of 800 Royal Enfield 350cc Bullets from the Indian Army. The bikes were needed due to the increasing hostilities with Pakistan. They arrived disassembled and were assembled by Madras Motors. Industrial policy after independence in 1947 in India encouraged local manufacture of products, so when the Army went for a second shipment it was suggested that the bikes be manufactured locally. In 1955  a new company called Enfield India was created, it was 51% property of Madras Motors and other Indian investors and 49% of the Enfield Cycle Co. in Redditch, UK. The first buildings of the factory, currently still in existence, were erected in 1956 and the production of bikes was phased in over the years until complete bikes were produced by 1962. During the 1960's, absent any competition, the bikes sold very well almost without advertisement and small numbers were exported to various countries in Africa and Asia.
A Royal Enfield exported to Nigeria!

In 1964 Sundaram launches nearby the first industrial park in the history of India, consisting of part manufacturers that supplied Royal Enfield. Unfortunately land erosion led to the the park being washed away in 1978. The demise of the Redditch factory in 1966 was a blow to Enfield India as some specialized parts were still being imported and higher prices had to be paid to replace them from other companies. With the collapse of the Enfield Cycle Co. in the UK in 1970, Enfield India appears for unclear reasons to have stopped using the name "Royal Enfield" on its bikes, labeling them either "Enfield" or "Enfield India".

In addition to the Bullet, the company had been supplying a 150cc two-stroke named the Ensign, similar to the one available in the UK since the 1950's. During the late 1960's the factory produced India's first scooter, the Enfield Fantabulus and a 173cc 2 stroke bike called the Sherpa, with Villiers Engines from the UK.

Also in the 1960's a new factory was set up in Toraipakkam to produce agricultural machinery with the Villiers engines, which proved quite profitable and in more than one occasion bailed out the bike branch of the company during difficult times. At the beginning of the 1970's the government allowed an increased production quota, which brought production to 30,000 bikes a year. A new version of the Sherpa, known as the Crusader, entered into production in a new factory in Anaikaraipatti 300 miles south of Madras.
In the early 1970's a model called Minii Bullet was produced, it had a tank with plated sides,

In 1977, completing full circle, Bullets from India start to be exported to the UK. Production hovered around 20,000 bikes a year during the 1970's.

In 1983 the first Suzuki sold in India. It was clear that competition was going to be tough. A new state of the art factory was set up in Ranipet at a significant investment. It was to produce Zundapp designed bikes under license. The Silver Plus, a 2 gear 50cc step through and the Explorer, a 3 gear motorcycle were the first models, followed by the sporty 163cc 5 gear disc-brake Fury. The Anaikaraipatti plant turned out the minuscule Enfield Mofa starting in 1986, which was actually produced by a separate entity called Enfield Mofa Ltd.

The company diversified, creating Enfield Electronics which produced generators and televisions. However, the onslaught of the Japanese bikes created significant financial difficulties. The Ranipet plant could only stem the negative tide to a certain extent. A new version of the Bullet, the Superstar was introduced in 1984 and a 500cc Bullet finally produced in India, but only reached export markets in 1989. The financial difficulties, with Enfield India posting a loss for the first time in its history in 1987, finished the caerer of the CEO, S. Viswanathan, who left to form an organic food company known as Enfield Agro.

In 1990 an alliance was formed with the Eicher group, an engineering and automotive company whose major shareholder, Vikram Lal was well acquainted with Mr. Viswanathan. This brought much needed investment, but financial times were tough and personnel had to be reduced. The Toraipakkam and Ranipet plants were sold off, together with the agricultural machinery division and production was concentrated at Tiruvottiyur. In 1994 the company became 60% owned by Eicher. Enfield Mofa Ltd. was terminated. In 1994 a patent row in the UK ended up with the company acquiring the rights to the name "Royal Enfield" again.

A first in the world, Enfield launched a Diesel bike in 1993, the Taurus, and a Bullet with the infamous left shift link was developed for the US market. A 500cc version called the Lightning was produced for the domestic market. Enfields started selling well. There was even a project on a highly tuned 635cc machine in collaboration with Swiss tuner Fritz Egli, but it did not see the light of day. Egli sells Royal Enfields in Switzerland today.

More stringent emissions around the world led to the development for the first time in years of a new engine for the Enfield bikes, the lean burn engine developed in collaboration with Austrian company AVL, built in a new factory in Jaipur, Rajasthan and marketed starting in 1999. However, the much hoped for cruiser based on the AVL engine, the Enfield Machismo, did not reach the sales expected. The Jaipur plant was mothballed. Eventually sales recovered but the company was still not doing well and needed a turnaround.

Into the picture in 2001 comes Siddartha Lal, son of Vikram, who took over as CEO. He integrated production of the AVL engine into the Thiruvottiyur plant. A new model, the Bullet Electra was introduced and an electric start version was created for export. A 350cc cruiser, the Thunderbird was also added to the lineup. It had the new 5 speed left foot gearbox. The latter was incorporated onto export bullets towards 2003. The export markets started to heat up. Kits for cafe racer, trials and clubman and various performance enhancements became available from the UK and US distributors and in other countries as well. 

Eventually, the new UCE engine was introduced in 2007. This was all-aluminum and fuel injected. Quality standards had improved so much that the US export bikes came without a kick-start. Eventually all bikes had this engine, with a 350cc version introduced for the Indian market. The US market remained populated by 500cc bikes, with the Military and Desert Storm models introduced and a Standard and Classic models. The US financial crisis in 2008 impacted the development of new models in the US. The Trials model, for instance, is available in the UK and other European countries but still not in the US. New for 2013 will be the cafe racer called Continental GT. The company appears in remarkable financial health and has now many plans for what appears to be a very bright future!


  1. An outstanding addition to your Royal Enfield Virtual Museum. Thank you, Jorge!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.



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