Monday, November 10, 2008

Prewar alloy front motorcycle wheel rims….

When did the first alloy front wheel rims appear on racing motorcycles in Europe?
Ivan Rhodes and I have discussed this on several occasions and looking at his stock of ex-works front wheels , and many of the photos I have…1936 then was the consensus, and likely for the IOM TT.
But my view has now changed.
I’ve been closely looking at photos in “The Keig Collection” and there are examples on Norton and Moto Guzzi in the 1935 IOM TT.
In the 1936 Junior IOM TT Veloce introduced their new DOHC 350 and I am assembling an interesting blog article for this now with many photographs….looking at the front wheels, a quick glance, they are black and steel rims you say…wrong, they are the “W” pattern alloy rim we know today.
Why black….the story goes it was an attempt to “fool” Norton, but seems Norton had got hold of some too, in fact they had black painted ones in the 1935 IOM TT….!!
Who else used alloy rims in 1935?
Seems Rudge, Moto Guzzi, Norton had all acquired them.
But Rudge-Whitworth made motorcycle and car wheel rims and supplied many manufacturers.
On 22 April 1922, the Italian company "Rudge Whitworth Milano" was established in Milan, with a share capital of 1,200,000 lire. The owner was Carlo Borrani. The company was located at Via Ugo Bassi 9, and its activity was the production and commercialisation of "wheels for cars, motorcycles, cycles and "equivalent" as per notary act at the Chamber of Commerce.
This was the official beginning of the remarkable Borrani wire wheels story.
Production started with a licence of Rudge-Whitworth from Coventry, Great Britain, which had registered a patent for mounting a wheel on a hub
1935 Lwt IOM TT, Omobono Tenni (pictured above) on his factory Moto Guzzi with alloy front rim.
by an unique splined drum, fixed by one central lock nut. This enabled an easier and faster mounting and dismounting of the wheel.
This also aroused interest from the most important racing car constructors. Just 12 months after Rudge Whitworth Milano commenced business, Alfa Romeo, Auto Union, Bianchi and Lancia started to equip their racing and deluxe cars with Borrani wheels.
Later in the 1930s, the company changed its name to "Carlo Borrani SpA". During this same period, Borrani started to experiment with light, rigid aluminium rims to replace the usual steel wheels.
The 1936 photo of Freddie Frith's factory Norton wheel, (pictured below) has a black alloy front rim.

This is from "The Keig Collection" and again I’m assembling a lot of data and photos for a future blog on it’s introduction by BMS Ltd.. the then erstwhile ex Temple Press “MotorCycling” journalist Bruce Main-Smith. I was there at the time…..
Who was fooling who….
Those first rims were welded together in a butt joint and a side plate welded beside it for strength. Alloy welding was likely in it’s infancy and the thought of a rim collapsing because of the weld breaking and pitching the rider up the road was a nightmare.
The rim illustrated is owned by Ivan Rhodes from ex works stock and I’ve perused many photos, not with all that much success, for the black rims make it difficult to determine if they were fitted with a welded side plate or whether it came later, perhaps after some weld cracking…
Tyrell-Smith (pictured above)aboard his factory 1935 Lwt IOM TT Rudge, with alloy front rim.
The photo of Stanley Woods on his winning 350 SOHC Velocette after the 1937 IOM TT clearly shows the plate…interestingly the rim is unpainted and I’ve included a close-up of the plate.
Dunlop alloy rims came later.
Opens more questions than it answers I suggest…
Left click on images to enlarge.

Prewar works Velocette alloy front rim (pictured above) from Ivan Rhodes collection...note welded side plate at the butt joint.

Stanley Woods 1938 IOM Junior TT winning works Velocette front wheel (pictured above) with alloy rim and welded side plate at the butt joint.

The "ultimate road burner"..(pictured above) 1937 works 500 SOHC Velocette, with black alloy front rim and if you look closely on the LHS just before the middle of the rim, it looks like a welded side plate.

Interesting 1939 IOM TT shot...Jimmy Little (pictured above)on his new Mk.8 KTT Velocette production racer of which all those I've seen pictured had steel front and rear rims, has an alloy front rim...h'mmm ( likely some factory help, or JL got a rim from Rudge-Whitworth...)

C.H.Manders astride a factory 250cc Excelsior Manxman racer, 1937 IOM TT, alloy front rim.
George Rowley #49 (pictured below) ,aboard a 1938 factory AJS, IOM TT, alloy front rim.

#2, Stanley Woods (pictured above) works 495cc SOHC Velocette, 1936 IOM TT, black alloy front rim.

Ted Mellors (pictured above) with his 250cc Lwt IOM TT winning Benelli, 1939, alloy front rim.

Stanley Woods is congratulated by the Governor of the IOM following his win in the 1938 Junior TT, wife Mildred stands behind. The alloy rim is clearly visible, as is the welded side plate.

Acknowledgement is made to S.R.Keig Ltd, Morton's Motorcycle Media, Fox Photos and Borrani Wheels Australia and New Zealand for photographs and some written text.


The Vintagent said...

Hi Dennis,
I'll bolster your essay with a few observations from Deep in the Archive... Moto Guzzi began using alloy rims front and rear in 1934, on the Bicylindrica, as used by Woods in the '35 TT. There is little mention of this transition, a shocking omission for anoraks like us!

Anonymous said...

little plate is rivetted and not welded

Peter Shannon said...

I have come across an article in The Motor Cycle and Cycle Trader 13 November 1931 where Dunlop Rubber Company are introducing elektron alloy Cycle rims. This article would have raised interest amongst Motorcycle race teams. This is the text of the article:
A New Light Cycle Rim
An important contribution to the lighter bicycle has been made by the Dunlop Rubber Company, Ltd., who are introducing a cycle rim constructed of elektron alloy. This introduction is a direct result of the researches of the Dunlop Company towards the production of light wheels for aeroplanes. In this work the Company has been responsible for the development of elektron alloys principally composed of magnesium, which are forty per cent. lighter than aluminium alloys for the purpose.

The knowledge gained in the manufacture of aeroplane wheels has now been applied to cycle rims, and as a result the Dunlop elektron rim of 26 x 1¼ in. shows a saving of eleven and a half ounces in weight compared with a steel rim of the same dimensions. While the elektron rim is primarily intended for use with hub brakes, it may also be successfully used with either the caliper or the pull-on type of rim brake.
Naturally, rims of this type will permit riders to use them in conjunction with standard road racing tyres, while the rims should give longer service than is obtainable with wooden rims.