Reference: A to Z classic reference: Douglas – DSK



Douglas Dragonfly was last throw of dice

Douglas 1908-57 UK
One of the most successful and versatile motorcycle manufacturers ever. They won the Junior, Senior and Sidecar TTs, excelled off-road including ISDT, built the ultimate speedway machine, supplied motorcycles in their droves to the allied forces, pioneered disc brakes, built industrial engines, military equipment, cars, scooters (under licence), electric floats, industrial trucks, aircraft engines, aircraft components, tractors, cast drain covers, lamp posts, shoe lasts and 1001 other things in iron and experimented with ‘other’ forms of transport including the Dynasphere? Sadly, this innovative company was continually strapped for cash and struggled for survival.

Scottish brothers William and Edward Douglas founded the Bristol based Douglas Engineering Company in 1882 and, with £10 borrowed capital, bought a portable forge, vice and grindstone. Soon their foundry was supplying lasts to the local footwear trade and they diversified into other castings.

In 1902, Bristolian Joseph Barter patented his first motorcycle engine with a camshaft driven drive pulley. A tiny, 2hp, horizontal twin engine, the Fee, followed.

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Barter established his business, Light Motors Ltd, Orchard Street, Bristol in 1905, the product name changed to Fairy and the 2hp twin was joined by larger models. Light Motors Ltd failed within two years and Joseph Barter joined Douglas who began building prototype 350cc flat twin motorcycles, with production beginning in 1907 and in full swing a year later.

In 1910, Douglas offered an optional two-speed gearbox, in 1911 they tied for the team prize in the Six Days Trial and, in 1912, Harry Bashall won the IoM Junior TT with colleague Teddy Kickham second.

Douglas factory in 1916. Models lined up awaiting despatchContracts to supply 23⁄4hp and 4hp motorcycles as well as industrial engines and military equipment to the Allied war effort during WWI followed. Civilian motorcycle production restarted after the war with side-valve models but, by 1920, Douglas had an ohv racing model – a road going version being introduced a year later. Although early post-WWI TT results were disappointing, Douglas rider Tudor Thompson went on a solo and sidecar World Record breaking spree at Brooklands in Autumn 1921.

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With Royal patronage, forthcoming TT wins for Freddie Dixon (1923 sidecar), Tommy Sheard (1923 Senior), Len Parker (1925 sidecar), disc brake models, a range of side-valve workhorses and ohv sports machines, the later EW range, a brief period manufacturing the most successful speedway machine until the Rudge came along, the future for Douglas should have looked rosy. But it didn’t. With eight different model ranges between WWI and 1932, as well as a multiplicity of engine permutations, Douglas eventually needed outside financial help. Douglas Motors (1932) was formed.

Within a year, that company folded, despite the new model range including a two-stroke lightweight as well as the familiar twins. Somehow William Douglas started again, this time as William Douglas (Bristol) Ltd with a nine model range comprising five side-valve flat twins (250-750cc), two ohv versions (500/600cc), an army 350 and the two-stroke. Sales were slow and the introduction of the interesting, but problematic and expensive, shaft drive, 494cc, side-valve Endeavour didn’t help.

Douglas again collapsed. Gordon England of the British Aircraft Company bought the smouldering embers and sold the remaining motorcycle stock through London dealers Pride and Clarke. A new motorcycle manufacturing company, Aero Engines Ltd, was established in 1937, offering a range comprising 350/500/600cc side-valve flat twins and a 150cc, two-stroke single. During WWII, the factory was at full tilt building things military including industrial trucks, generators and aircraft parts.

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In late 1945 Douglas announced their new motorcycle, a 350cc transverse twin with chain final drive and torsion bar front and rear suspension. Coded the T35, the model seemed, to Douglas enthusiasts, a breath of fresh air compared with the pre-WWII models offered by rival companies. The ‘Mark’ series and the faster 80 and 90 plus derivatives followed.

Financial disaster struck again in 1948, an official receiver was appointed and another new company Douglas (Sales and Service) Ltd was formed to market Douglas motorcycles. They also began assembling Vespa scooters under licence from Piaggio.

The attractive 350cc 90 Plus, in effect the racing version, pushed out a healthy 28hp and Douglas, albeit briefly, enjoyed racing success again. Despite the 1952 announcement of a 500 transverse twin and Freddie Dixon’s improvements to the racing model, Douglas’ grip of the motorcycle market was slipping for the last time. In 1954 the range comprised only the new Dragonfly, with its 348cc transverse twin engine housed in a Reynolds tube frame with Reynolds-Earles front fork. Sales were slow, production ended in 1957 and Pride and Clarke sold the remaining stock. However, the scooter involvement was to continue for some time.

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Douglas enthusiasts are served by one of the best one make clubs in the world, who offer spares, technical help and identification advice.

D-Rad 1921-33 Germany
The first D-Rad, a 393cc fore and aft side-valve flat twin, was based on the British Douglas design. A heavy, durable, 496cc side-valve single with sloping engine followed. In 1927, former Victoria and BMW engineer Martin Stolle joined the Berlin-Spandau works and updated the range to include an ohv single. D-Rads excelled in long distance trials and were raced in national events. The company branched out into lightweight two-stroke production before the plant was taken over by NSU in 1933.

Dreadnought 1915-25 UK
Nothing to do with the 1903 MMC (De Dion) engined long distance trials machine built by Harold (Oily) Karslake (now owned by the VMCC), but a 269cc Villiers two-stroke powered lightweight built by William Lloyds Ltd, Birmingham who also built LMC and Quadrant motorcycles.

1927 Villiers-engined 250cc DSHDresch 1923-39
France Paris based Moto Dresch’s catalogue, ranged from 98cc utility models to luxurious tourers. The lightweights had their proprietary engines fitted into single loop frames, while many of the larger MAG and JAP engined motorcycles used superb double cradle frames often with cast front fork blades. Other models included in line 500/750cc fours and 500cc vertical twins, all with pressed steel frames and shaft drive.

Sadly, Dresch production ended in 1939 – a shame, for many models bristled with leading ideas of the period including centre stands, servo brake action and anti-vibration, leaf spring handlebars. Dresch rolling chassis spares are non-existent but, as JAP, MAG, Chaise and other proprietary engines were employed, there’s hope for engine parts. A few models have found their way to the UK and examples crop up at French autojumbles.

DSH 1924-32 Austria
Range of proprietary-engined two and four-stroke motorcycles designed by the founding company Doller, Seidl and Hauler, and later by Rupert Karner and then Franz Doller. Sports models excelled at Continental and Austrian road race meetings.

DS-Malterre 1920-58 France
DS (Deblades & Sigran)-Malterre from Paris built durable side-valve four-strokes before WWII plus 125-250cc Ydral two-strokes and AMC four stroke lightweights after the war – a number of which have found their way out of France. Second-hand engine spares can be found at French autojumbles for the Ydral/AMC engines, but little else.

DSK 1954-62 Japan
A range of lightweight two-strokes and a 500cc ohv flat twin loosely based on BMW design, predominantly for the Japanese home market. A few highly prized examples have escaped to European collections. bike


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