1937 Rudge Ulster 500cc Motorcycle
|Engine||Single cylinder, 499cc|
One of the oldest names in the British motorcycle industry, the history of Rudge-Whitworth can be traced back to Dan Rudge, a publican from Olverampton who began turning out primitive bicycles in his workshop and built up a thriving business by the time of his death in 1880. George Woodcock, who already had interests in bicycle manufacture, bought the business from Rudge's widow and formed a new concern in Coventry under the names of D Rudge and Company and the Coventry Tricycle Company. Initial success was curtailed by Woodcock's own demise and a decline in Rudge's fortunes ultimately saw a merger with the Birmingham-based Whitworth Cycle Company in October 1894. Although Rudge-Whitworth's first foray into the burgeoning motorcycle industry was to be appointed the South African agents for Werner, by 1910 a prototype 499cc Rudge first saw the light of day, with production commencing the following year. As a fully-fledged manufacturer, Rudge enjoyed both commercial and sporting success, highlighted by establishing a new world record for the flying mile of 72.5 mph in August 1911. The model range was expanded to include both singles and twins, while the First World War offered new opportunities through military contracts to supply not only the British Army, but those of France, Belgium and Russia as well. Sales continued to boom throughout the 1920s, no doubt helped along by Graham Walker's triumph in the 1928 Ulster Grand Prix and Tyrell Smith's famous victory in the 1930 Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man. However, the Depression hit Rudge hard and 1933 saw the closure of the racing department as the receivers moved in. Rudge was ultimately taken over by the Gramophone Company Ltd, part of the HMV conglomerate (renamed EMI in 1938) and production shifted south to Hayes, Middlesex in 1938. Arguably Rudge's most famous motorcycle was the Ulster, a production racer developed from the competition prototype ridden to victory by Graham Walker on the Irish circuit dubbed the World's Fastest Road Race. With 45 horsepower on tap and a maximum speed of 90 mph, the Ulster was arguably the fastest 500cc motorcycle on the market at the time of its launch and remained in production, in one form or another, until the Second World War. Following the takeover, the engine redesigned with fully enclosed cylinder heads but the bronze cylinder head remained a feature until 1939. Production of Rudge motorcycles ceased in December 1939, with EMI turning to the production of radios, radar and other equipment during the Second World War.