c1948 Excelsior Universal 125cc Motorcycle
Also known as the “British Excelsior” to avoid confusion with the American manufacturer of the same name, the Coventry-based Excelsior started as a builder of “Penny Farthing” bicycles before building Britain’s earliest motorcycle in 1896, using proprietory engines from the likes of Minerva, de Dion and MMC. Following a take-over by the Walker family, production relocated from Coventry to Birmingham in 1921 and a wide range of motorcycles became available, using JAP, Blackburne and Villiers engines ranging in capacity from 98cc all the way to 1000cc. Excelsior even produced automobiles from 1920 onwards under the Bayliss-Thomas badge (there was a Belgian car maker already using the Excelsior name), powered by either Coventry-Simplex or Meadows engines. Naturally enough Excelsior turned to racing and an advanced four-valve design, nicknamed the Mechanical Marvel, scored a debut win at the 1933 TT. Wartime production centred around the 98cc Welbike, a collapsible machine designed to be parachuted into battle. Post-war Excelsior concentrated on affordable, lightweight motorcycles using both Villiers and their own engines; the Universal was powered by a Villiers two-stroke 125cc unit with a bore and stroke of 50mm by 62mm, while other features included a three-speed gearbox, Villiers magneto and lighting equipment. Excelsior’s sales brochure proudly proclaimed the Universal was “The Motorcycle for the Million. The King of the ultra lightweights. Speedy, Reliable and Economical”. Sadly the Company went the way of so many British motorcycle firms in the 1960s, closing the doors of the Tyseley factory in 1964, although the name lived on after being sold to the Britax accessory company who made a small number of bikes under the Britax-Excelsior moniker in the 1970s.