Thursday, June 16, 2011

SILK FOR SALE AT BANBURY


Bonhams' Banbury Run sale next weekend in Oxford has a little-known gem in the ranks, a true connoisseur's machine, and the end of a long line of English two-strokes.  There was a time when most UK manufacturers had a 'smoker' in their lineup, even the esteemed Velocette built only quality two-stroke lightweights for many years before introducing their overhead-camshaft 'K' series in 1925.
The first Scott of 1908
 But the Scott was always something special; a remarkably advanced design when introduced in 1908, genius engineer Alfred Angus Scott created a water-cooled, twin-cylinder two-stroke, with a rigid, fully triangulated frame, two speeds, and telescopic forks!  Scotts were always very quick and handled beautifully, a fact borne out by making the fastest laps at the Isle of Man TT from 1911-14, and winning the event outright in 1912 and '13.  Very few English motorcycles had multiple gears and all-chain drive at the time, and the 'spec' of the Scotts was streets ahead of anything but the Indians which were imported for these early IoM races.
A late two-speed model ca. 1927
 The original Scott two-speed system used a two primary chains on different sized sprockets, with a clutch between, giving two different ratios, the gears changed via a distinctive 'hi and low' rocking gear pedal.  Easy to use, the early two-speeders were very smooth, light, and handled beautifully.  Having only two gears is less a problem than one might imagine, while riding up hills and around bends, as corners could be taken as quickly as you dared, with no braking required!  It sounds like a boast but I've experienced it firsthand on mountainous California backroads (on the 'von Dutch' Scott, no less). A charming and endearing quality for any 'scratcher', Scotts made friends and kept them.
A late 3-speed 'Flying Squirrel
AA Scott left the company after WW1, and the range was evolved over the years to include 3-speed gearboxes and clutches, becoming gradually heavier with added sophistication, although a Flying Squirrel Clubman in the late 30s, weighing a scandalous 400lbs, could still top 90mph.  They never won another TT, and never won a 'Gold Star' at Brooklands, but they were fast and fun on the road, and easy to maintain.
A postwar 'Birmingham' Scott with teleforks
After WW2, the Flying Squirrel with telescopic forks was launched, but the thrill had gone, and Matt Holder bought the company in 1950 (he later bought the remains of Royal Enfield, Vincent, and Velocette).  Holder manufactured Scotts in Birmingham until the late 1960s, and the Holder family's Velocette Motorcycle Company still has stacks of triangulated frames in the old Triumph despatch warehouse at Meriden.
The last of the Silks, with Lester mags and Lockheed discs, ca. '79
George Silk was a serious Scott enthusiast and a talented engineer, and as he watched late 60s two-stroke racers challenge the top of GP racing, he felt a Scott could be fitted with modern cylinder barrel and heads to increase power, and be competitive in racing.  Silk's original racing machines, using Scott crankcases and Silk's own top end, had respectable horsepower, and their Spondon racing frames echoed the old Scott frame, being completely rigid, ultra-light and triangulated, with exceptional handling qualities.  These Silk/Scott racers were underfunded and underdeveloped, typical of a solitary builder working at GP racing, but they were fast and held promise.

More importantly, by 1972 George Silk announced he would begin production of road-going 'modernized' Scotts in Spondon chassis.  Apparently he made his announcement before informing Holders of his plans, for he did not receive permission to use the Scott name or Holder crankcases, and prospective Silk owners had to supply their own 'cases!  Amazingly, as the basic design of the Scott engine hadn't changed since 1908, it was possible to use 60-year old crankcases on a new, 50hp sporting Silk in a racing chassis!

The Silk for sale at Bonhams is the last of the line of 'owner provided' machines, (#23 - clearly this was a low-volume effort), as George Silk manufactured his own engines in their entirety by 1975.  The last Silk left the factory in 1979, by then with a disc brake up front, the last of the Scott family, produced for just over 70 years.  All Silks are rare, and are coveted by 'those who know' for their remarkable handling, ultra-light weight (305lbs), and super-smooth power.  Silks aren't revvy and nervous like their contemporary two-stroke cousins from Japan, but used old-fashioned 'deflector' pistons which generate torque at low rpm, while sacrificing the screaming, wheelying, light-switch powerbands of its rivals.  A gentleman's two-stroke!

12 comments:

Ty said...

Never heard of Silk motorcycles in the past. Thanks for the enlightenment Great post!

Anonymous said...

I once read somewhere that riding a Scott is like being drawn along by a big elastic tow rope. The Silk in the photo is very proper in Scott purple! I've only seen them in white.
- Wesley

Anonymous said...

Alfred A. Scott's wife chose the purple color in about 1909.
- Zachary Z.

David R said...

I've had the pleasure of seeing this purple bike and it is magnificent. I have not, unfortunately, heard it run. What a fabulous machine. Thanks for the photos Paul.

Andrew Macpherson said...

I'm old enough to remember them being road tested in the mags back in the day, and even considered getting one. My Dad had a Flying Squirrel, and it was a real delight to ride. The engine was exceptinally smooth and quiet, feeling much more sophisticated than you could imagine looking at it. As you said they were indeed the gentlemans two stroke.

Pipérade said...

I had a '48 Scott exactly as your picture - with Dowty Airdraulic forks and a rigid back end. I taped that bike on a reel to reel tape recorder in the late 60s - and the tape was lost.. I never felt entirely happy with the Pilgrim pump lube system so, years later, when I was in a position to acquire a '78 Silk, I jumped at the chance.
If my Scott had been a pleasure to ride on a twisty country road, the Silk with its race-bred frame, low mass (it weighed less than a Honda 250) and ~650cc of watercooled 2 stroke twin was a revelation. In a way, that was bad because I could get a corner completely wrong, change my mind and my line, accelerate, brake, whatever - all while leaning over at a rakish Vintagent angle (!) - and the bike would do the necessary.
What convinced me to sell is was the shortage of unique spares. For example, I had the last primary chain from Ivan Rhodes' son (can't recall his name now) who rebuilt the bottom end for me.
As a concept though, it couldn't be faulted. Add lightness and everything else follows.
The Silk didn't yowl like my Scott though.. it made a dry unmusical rasp.
Best handling bike I ever rode.

Anonymous said...

A "gentlemen's two stroke". One often hears the term "Gentlemen's Bike" applied to older machines, particularly of British origin.

One must wonder how many true "Gentlemen" threw a leg over. Especially in the post WW2 era.

To me, the term is a bit overused and is basically a round about way of saying "It aspires to be a nice bike."

The Vintagent said...

Interesting point...before WW2, there were indeed 'gentleman bikers', the sort who bought a Zenith or Brough and blasted it around Brooklands in a necktie, 'in it' for the love of the game.

Let's define a Gentleman's Motorcycle as being of high quality, perhaps even luxurious, with sporting blood in its veins. The Silk satisfies this criteria, being not a true Sports machine (it would only do 105mph...), nor a touring bike, but a bike for someone who loves riding a well balanced, well built, limited production sporting motorcycle. It is indeed a 'Gentleman's' two-stroke, not being nervous and high-strung thing, but a machine with impeccable road manners.

The Lads want the fastest thing available, heedless of actual rideability and manners (ie Kawi H1/2/3), whereas a connoisseur wants something special, which is often called 'breeding'.

So, as a complement to your argument, I would say that the 'Gentleman's Motorcycle' still exists and has almost always been available somewhere, but Gentlemen per se are a rare commodity!

macfly said...

If I may, I'd add that two of todays gentlemans motorcycles are the BMW HP2S & HP2MM. The everyman takes the S1000RR and the GS, both arguable more capable, but IMHO less interesting.

Of course that means I consider myself gentleman! ;-)

Roger Moss said...

The basic Scott engine in good condition has enough power and smoothness to please even the most critical. The large flywheel running centrally contributes greatly to the stability of the machine. As the last design uplift was in 1928, when fuel octane was 60, the engine has considerable scope for internal improvements. Roger Moss

Anonymous said...

I HAVE PURCHASED A SCOTT MOTORCYCLE FROM HAWAII LAST YEAR. I HAVE THE ENGINE NUMBER BUT WHERE IS THE FRAME NUMBER?. ANY HELP IS APPRECIATED THANK YOU RANDY WIGGINS 805-217-2644

Anonymous said...

CAN ANYONE HELP ME TO IDENTIFY MY SCOTT MOTORCYCLE. I GOT IT FROM HAWAII LAST YEAR. NO PERSONS IN THIS COUNTRY CAN OFFER ANY HELP. IT IS A BIRMINGHAM SCOTT PERHAPS FROM THE EARILY SIXTIES. PLEASE CALL RANDY AT 805-217-2644. ANY AND ALL HELP IS REALLY APPRECIATED. THANK YOU. RANDY WIGGINS.