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Zenith Motorcycles

Zenith Motorcycles
Industry Manufacturing and engineering
Founded 1904
Defunct 1950
Headquarters London
Products Motorcycles

Zenith Motorcycles was a British motorcycle and automobile manufacturer established in Finsbury Park, London in 1904. Automobile manufacture only lasted from 1905–1906. The motorcycles used engines from various suppliers and featured the "Gradua" variable drive transmission, which competitors claimed was unfair and many clubs banned the Gradua Zeniths. Thus Zenith added the word "Barred" in their badge. The Gradua system was replaced by gearbox and chain in 1924.

In the 1930s Zenith ceased production but 'Writers of Kennington' restarted at the Hampton Court factory in Surrey. The Second World War interrupted production again, and they finally closed in 1950.


  • Motorcycle history 1
  • Automobile history 2
  • Speed records 3
  • Models 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6

Motorcycle history

Zenith Motorcycles was established in Finsbury Park, London in 1904. Zenith motorcycles used engines from various suppliers, including Precision, Villiers and JAP.[1] Under chief engineer Frederic "Freddy" Barnes, Zenith developed the "Gradua" gear, a variable pulley which adjusted the length of the drive belt by sliding the rear wheel backwards or forwards in the slots. This gave Zenith a great advantage which competitors claimed was unfair and many clubs banned the Gradua Zeniths, who simply included the word "Barred" in their badge. The Gradua system was replaced by gearbox and chain in 1924.

In the 1930s Zenith hit hard times and closed down production, but the name was bought by Writers of Kennington, who had been one of their main dealers, and production restarted at the Hampton Court factory in Surrey. The Second World War stopped production again, but they managed to stockpile enough 750 cc JAP engines to continue straight after the war. JAP had ceased production, however, therefore once the last engine had been used it was the end of the line for Zenith and they finally closed in 1950.[2]

Automobile history

Between 1905 and 1906, the company introduced the Popular model, which had a two-cylinder, 6HP Stevens engine and a belt driven rear axle.[3]

Speed records

Zenith were always keen to promote themselves via competition. Freddie Barnes competed and won regularly in 1909–1913,[4] and in 1922 it was a Zenith that was the first British machine to do a 100 mph (160 km/h) lap of the Brooklands circuit with rider Bert le Vack.[4] In 1925 Zenith held the record for the number of over 100 mph laps of the bumpy Brooklands circuit.[4] Works rider Joseph S. Wright held the lap record at Brooklands from 1925 until 1935.[4]

Zenith held the motorcycle world speed record on two occasions, the first FIM record of 124.55 mph (200.44 km/h) set in 1928 by Owen M. Baldwin at Arpajon, France, the site of the Autodrome de Linas-Montlhéry.[5] Bert le Vack surpassed Baldwin the following year on a 995 cc (60.7 cu in) Brough-Superior at the same location.[5] In 1930 Zenith was in financial trouble due to the recession, and were taken over by one of their dealers, Writer's of South London.[6] The ex-Zenith works rider Joe Wright, riding an OEC with a 994 cc (60.7 cu in) JAP engine, took back the record on August 31 at 137.23 mph (220.85 km/h), again at Arpajon, France.[5] But the record was broken twice more in 1930, first to Ernst Jakob Henne riding a supercharged BMW to 137.85 mph (221.85 km/h) at Ingolstadt, Germany.[5] Claude Temple made arrangements to try to win the title back in Cork, Ireland using his supercharged OEC again with Joe Wright on board.[7] Joe Wright had managed to acquire the works 995 cc (60.7 cu in) supercharged J.A.P-engined Zenith, and he took this to Ireland as a spare machine (visible on the Pathe news when the OEC is tow started[7]). The OEC bike suffered a mechanical failure and was not able to complete the required two runs, so Wright used his Zenith to set a new world record of 150.65 mph (242.45 km/h).[5] As Zenith were temporarily out of business, and OEC were paying the bills, the fact the Zenith had made the run and not the OEC was conveniently overlooked in much of the publicity of the time,[7] and even in the FIM record books [1].


1924 Zenith JAP 346 cc
Model Year Notes
Zenith Gradua 770 cc 1912 "Gradua" variable drive belt
Zenith Gradua 964 cc 1914 Green V-twin water cooled engine
Zenith Gradua 680 cc 1918 JAP Twin
Zenith-Bradshaw 494cc 1922 Oil-cooled horizontally opposed Bradshaw engine
Zenith "Brooklands". 1923 344 cc JAP engine
Zenith 346 cc 1924 JAP engine
Zenith 680 cc 1926 Side-valve JAP engine
Zenith C5 Special 500 cc 1936
Zenith 750 cc 1948 JAP engine

See also


  1. ^ "Zenith Motorcycles". Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  2. ^ Currie, Bob (1988). Classic British Motorcycles over 500cc. Patrick Stephens Ltd. p. 94.  
  3. ^ Harald Linz, Halwart Schrader: Die Internationale Automobil-Enzyklopädie. United Soft Media Verlag, München 2008, ISBN 978-3-8032-9876-8.
  4. ^ a b c d d'Orleans, Paul (October 17, 2008), "F.W. 'Freddie' Barnes", The Vintagent 
  5. ^ a b c d e  
  6. ^ Zenith Motors, Graces Guide
  7. ^ a b c "Cork. 150 miles an hour on a motor cycle! Streamlined in every possible way even to his helmet - J S Wright and an O.E.C. - Jap-engined - wins back record for Britain from Germany.", Pathé News, Film ID 751.17, 10/11/1930
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