6. Excelsior-Henderson

1930 Excelsior Super X Streamliner

Bicycle icon and AMA Hall of Famer, Ignaz Schwinn, purchased Excelsior (not to be confused with the British and German brands of the same name) in 1911. Six years later he purchased the Henderson Motorcycle Co. Within the next decade Excelsior-Henderson was the third largest U.S. motorcycle manufacturer behind Indian and Harley-Davidson. The Great Depression convinced Schwinn to shutter his motorcycle division in 1931.

Around 62 years later Dan Hanlon re-established the Excelsior-Henderson marque. A significant investment was made from various sources, and a new factory built in Belle Plain, MN. After producing upwards of 2,000 models over the course of two years, however, the company ran dry of capital and ceased operations.

  • allworld

    Interesting article; I hope VW doesn’t do to Ducati what they did to NSU.
    Sort of like what Daimler tried to do the Chrysler………..
    I am also glad the Eric Buell is still alive and well, and a big two thumbs up to MV Agusta.
    Of course with Piaggio’s help, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi could be in deep dodo,, R.I.P. Laverda

    • Evans Brasfield

      Every time I read about the death of Laverda, I think about how I tossed one onto the Streets of Willow pavement only to have it slide to a stop at the feet of my Editorial Director. Fortunately, it was only left side damage, so we could still shoot the pipe side for the story.

      So long Laverda. Thanks for the memories…

    • SamBlob

      NSU stopped making bikes in the ’60s to concentrate on cars. Their rotary-engined Ro80 was amazing but problematic and they went under. VW pretty much bought the pieces, including NSU’s patent for the Wankel rotary engine, and rolled them into the Audi division. Audis looked a lot like the Ro80 for a long time and probably still do.

  • John Ogren

    Brough Superior?

  • Peter Mackin

    Moto morini ?

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    I remember reading a road test of a Vincent Black Shadow in the mid to late 60’s. They published an acceleration graph that was just funny as could be. Went almost vertical and was off the top while still in second gear and if I remember right also before 10 seconds. I doubt that though. Wish I could read the article again. They had to stop the top speed run because the brakes were virtually non existent.

    • I would love to see a full-on modern test of a Black Shadow. As fearsome as the legend around it is, it’d probably be flat smoked by an SV650 or Ducati 900SS – never mind comparing such limp-wristed attributes as handling and braking.

      Then again, maybe it’s better that such things are left unresolved. Legends are, in their way, wonderful things.

      • Chris_in_Kalifornia

        Yeah, Like some of our old favorite really fast “super” cars would get their butts thoroughly kicked by a normal Mustang GT in the 1/4 mile while it’s air conditioning is running and meeting all the smog standards.

        I can remember when getting 1 horsepower per cubic inch was quite an accomplishment. My Dad’s BSA 650 lightning was about 40-45 hp. I can also remember when I loved the power of my 460 merc. 195 hp. Lot’s of torque at low rpm but dead after about 4000. Now the mustang gets about 400 hp from a 302.

        • Kevin Duke

          Good points, Chris. Also, cars pre-1972 were rated in gross horsepower, which were highly unrealistic. Cars since are rated in net hp, which is taken when the engines are hooked up to all accessories, which can be 10-20% less than the old gross hp ratings. BTW, the Boss 302 Mustang cranks out 444 hp! If rated by the old gross standard, it would be well above 500 hp.

          • Chris_in_Kalifornia

            I know about that. No changes to the engine but you can see the ratings drop in the spec pages of the Auto Repair Manual. I have one I bought that covers 68 -75 because I have a 69 mustang. in 72 the numbers dropped about a third. My Dodge pickup is rated at 245 hp, a little over 400 lbs/ft of torque at 1600… But it’s redline is 3200. I’d love to see a turbo diesel gold wing. About 1 liter, 200 hp? Watched part of the daytona 24 today and the 2.5 (?) liter compound turbo diesel in the mazda “6” prototype is making over 400 with a 70% original stock engine. Yeah I know, diesel motorcycles have been tried. Not with a modern diesel they haven’t.

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    I also remember the test of the 1968/69 (?) BSA Lighting where they touted it as the fastest motorcycle they’d ever tested. Shortly after that they tested a 750 Honda and the death sentence was given for the entire British motorcycle industry.

  • toomanycrayons

    The pictures of the NSU and Excelsior-Henderson made me want to go for a ride. I might just sit here with my helmet on for the rest of the day…

  • Jim Miller

    The NSU world record holder used a mechanical supercharger, not a turbocharger. The first turbocharged motorcycle was the 1978 Kawasaki Turbocharged Z1.

  • Jim Miller

    Rupp? A maker of mini-bikes? You’ve go to be joking. How about Moto Parilla, Aeramacchi, Greeves, Brough Superior, Pierce, Scott, Norton, Moto Morini, Benelli or MV Agusta? These are all Gran Prix or AMA national winners. And Bultaco’s most famous bike was arguably the Metralla, or even the Astro, both of which won AMA nationals in either road racing or dirttrack. And while Laverda’s first bike was a 650, the SFC was a 750. Do your homework somewhere other than Wikipedia next time.

    • The prototype upon which the SFC is based was a 654cc Twin. The production bike was a 750cc. Brough Superior, Norton and MV Agusta are currently not defunct. You can argue that the Metralla or Astro are more famous bikes, that’s what arguably means. As for Rupp vs the other OEMs, as stated in the text, your list may differ from ours.

      • Jim Miller

        The 650 Laverda was not a prototype; it went on sale in 1966 and more than 100 were sold, primarily in Britain. As to the others, the motorcycle’s existence depends more than someone simply buying the name; Brough, Norton and MV (and Indian, for that matter) are no longer affiliated in any way with the original companies.

        As a bit of background, I was the last managing editor for Cycle magazine when it closed in the early Nineties, and the last editor of Cycle Guide when it closed in the late Eighties. I’ve also been published in Cycle World, Motorcyclist and Rider.

        • Good for you, Jim. I’d imagine you’re familiar with Mick Walker, the renown motorcycle historian, and from whom my information regarding the SFC is based. I’d tell you take up your argument with him, but, sadly, he’s no longer living.

          • Jim Miller

            Walker churned out books like a machine, and got a bit sketchy with facts sometimes. I’ve actually ridden one of the Laverda SFCs when I was writing for Classic Bike out of England. I rode it back to back with an original green-frame Ducati SS, and the two were as different as chalk and cheese, as the Brits would say.

            The Duc was a marvelous piece, smooth and user-friendly, and inspired me to buy a round-case 750 GT a few years later. The Laverda shook like God’s own vibrator and steered like a truck, but they were like jewels inside. The SFC’s were decent endurance racers, but not nearly as entertaining as the later triples. The RGS1000 was a far better bike, but didn’t start to work until you were well up into triple digits–as in go to jail, go directly to jail. My co-conspirator Charlie Everett collected a 115 mph ticket on one, which I believe was the record for the moto-press back then.

  • Craig Hoffman

    The Britten remains as the coolest bike ever made. Blows my mind he did it out of a small shop.

  • Brian Mann

    Rupp may be an iconic mini-bike for the US market but not known elsewhere. The only mention I can find of Rupp is it was a German brand from 1928-32. Scott would have made a better top 10.

    • SamBlob

      True, and Cushman, too. Or Lambretta, even.

  • SamBlob

    For “Rupp”, read “Cushman”. Along with other Salsbury imitators it put thousands of people on wheels in the Depression and its use by couriers with the occupying Allied forces in Italy sparked the creation of the Vespa and the Lambretta (Britain’s Welbike may be a part of that as well, though).

    Might be a toss-up between the Flying Merkel and the Cyclone, too.

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  • Ur Momma

    Too bad Bridgestone and Hodaka didn’t make the cut.