It may surprise some to learn that motor-scooters not only existed before the stylish post-WW2 Italian Lambretta and Vespa machines, but that there was a small but flourishing British scooter industry producing them too.
In 1920, the Coventry-based Kenilworth was one of half a dozen or so scooters you could buy in the UK, alongside others such as Kingsbury (London), Macklum (Birmingham), Autoglider (Birmingham), Whippet (Twickenham) and the Stafford Mobile Pup (Coventry). Some were little more than a child’s push-along scooter with an engine, some were known as a ‘miniature motorcycle’ or ‘motorcyclette’ due to their slightly nondescript appearance, but they are mostly looked back on today as early examples of the motor-scooter.
The Kenilworth scooters coming for sale later this month were designed by Captain Smith Clarke and manufactured by Booth Brothers of Coventry. Booth Brothers later went on to manufacture Alvis cars, with Captain Smith Clarke as chief designer.
The first Kenilworth machine was a ‘stand-up’ scooter powered by an overhead valve Norman engine of 142cc. It had single speed direct drive and a single bicycle type brake. There was no suspension. Top speed was around 15 miles per hour.
In late 1920s the Kenilworth Miniature was introduced. This was basically a scooter with a sprung seat pillar, saddle, battery-powered electric lighting and two brakes. The introduction of the Motorcyclette in 1921 saw a re-designed tubular frame with sweptback handlebars and legshields. The engine and were transmission were unchanged but still no front suspension! In 1924, Kenilworth produced its last model, a conventional miniature motorcycle. Front suspension was by Supreme forks, and 24” wheels were used.
On 27 October auction house H&H Classics will offer two rare Kenilworth machines from the post WW1 period at an auction at the National Motorcycle Museum. The Scooter BF8876 (above) is apparently the earliest known Kenilworth machine from 1919 and thought to be a prototype. Known as ‘Lenny’, it is apparently a very original machine, and, “Great attention to detail has gone into making sure his history has been correctly preserved. It has been featured in the VMCC Journal and is believed to be running well. It comes complete with V5c and VMCC dating certificate.”
The Kenilworth Motorcyclette HP 3141 (above) is apparently the only one known to be in roadworthy condition and retains its original number plate. This later model includes the luxury of a seat and was purchased in 2005 from the Murray Motorcycle Museum on the Isle of Man where it had been for about 30 years. No previous history known. It has apparently been in regular use at events such as the Banbury and Graham Walker runs as well as being used for local shopping trips!
H&H Classic state that both these scooters are estimated to sell for £5,500 to £6,500, although in our experience of auction prices we do expect them to fetch a little more. After all, Kenilworth scooters and bikes are pretty rare. How many were produced? From known engine numbers about 550 over five years, of which there are ten known survivors; some incomplete and others in museums. As far as is known only three of these are complete and in road use, two scooters and one Motorcyclette.
Among other lots at the auction at the end of October is another classic British scooter, a Sun Geni from 1958. Not as old as the Kenilworths maybe, but almost as rare I’d wager, certainly not something you see on the roads or at events today.
Another scooter of interest is this Lambretta GT200 (above) that has been in storage since 1976. Still wearing it’s old tax disc and a number of period accessories such as the outrigger exhaust, rare carrier and front bumper bar, this scooter was original registered in Grimsby in 1964.
For more details on the auction at the National Motorcycle Museum on 27 October, click here.