From PEI "Motorcycle Engineering" - Jap invasion..

Spqreddie

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At page 125 of my 1964 revised edition, i've found this paragraph of our great PEI.

Another proof of how inexpected was the japanese invasion of the late sixties for the british industry.

Edmondo


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ClassicBiker

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Edmondo,
I don't think it was unexpected actually I think it was a case of self delusion. If you read Ivor Davies book "It's a Triumph" he recounts the report that Triumph managing director Edward Turner made after a trip to Japan and visiting Honda. Turner was impressed by everything he saw, their machinery, their workers dedication, their engineering prowess, their manufacturing capability, etc. But then he dismiss the Japanese ability and desire to make large capacity motorcycles and to compete head to head with British manufactures. How or why he draws this conclusion I don't recall. I can only suspect that it is because the majority of motorcycles sold in Japan at the time were small capacity and the licensing system requires additional training/expense to move up to larger capacities. Additionally I would also say the failure to accept the inevitable was greed. One only has read Bert Hopwood's book "What Ever Happened to the British Motorcycle Industry?" to realize that the investors and directors were more interested in getting their dividend checks than staying on top. Hopwood relates the inefficiency of the plant layouts and in particular age of the machinery used in the manufacture of the bikes. Hopwood also relates that after Norton moved from Birmingham to Plumstead Norton experienced problems with boring cylinders. Most of the employees had been made redundant because they did not want to relocate across the country. So Norton contacted the individual who had been boring their cylinders since Moses was a boy bought him to Plumstead and asked him what they were doing wrong? He watched and asked where the board was that he used to press against the spindle of the boring machine to minimize the run out of the bearings? Four things can be inferred from this; 1) In relocating a wealth of historical and collective knowledge was lost. 2) There was no investment by stock holders in up to date tooling. 3) Those responsible for quality control were either asleep at the wheel, negligent, or hamstrung in the extreme. Now I know there are those who will argue that in post war Britain things were austere and it was "Export or Die" and I won't argue this, but by the time Turner visited Japan BSA/Triumph were making money hand over fist. One only has to recall Lord and Lady Docker to understand this. 4) The fix and make do mentality was so ingrained in the populace that the idea of investing in new tooling was anathema to all involved. One only has to read PCV's biography to understand this. Prior to his riding accident he had order new machinery and tooling to increase production capacity and cover the increased demand for the product (motorcycles). While convalescing in Argentina after the accident the directors cancelled the order for the machinery and tooling. Orders and opportunity was lost. I'm sure the directors only saw that the capital investment would effect their dividend checks.

After visiting Japan and seeing all that he saw Turner should have recalled the experience that Harley-Davidson had when it tried to get the U.S. Trade Commission to place restrictions on British motorcycle importers in the U.S. During the hearings the importers brought their wares to the commission room via the passenger elevator, the HD's needed to use the freight elevator. The result was no restrictions, then the fight for market and market share was on.

Being a contract engineer involved in different aspects of quality control the U.S. auto industry for the last 25 years I've seen similar things here. In the late '90's I remember we were told from on high "We must achieve Toyota level quality". We asked the power that be to quantify that and were told they would know it when they saw it. We were also told to achieve this mythical level by using the "best practices" but without changing tooling or the processes and to use as many carryover parts as possible. As I'm sure you know two out of the three domestic U.S. manufactures needed bailouts to avoid going to the wall and for one of them this was the second time in thirty or so years. If you walk around most U.S. auto plants you realize they are old for manufacturing plants and the machinery is antiquated.

In the 1960's the Japanese plants were relatively new having been built new after the devastation of the war. Triumph's plant at Meridan was probably the newest having been constructed after Coventry was bombed into oblivion. Where as the other manufactures were probably in plants at least 60+ years old if not older by the 1960's having been constructed at the turn of the century to either make bicycles or other goods originally or setup in buildings that were available at the time but totally unsuited to the manufacture of vehicles.

So I don't think it was unexpected I think it was self delusional at best and or negligent at worst.
Steven
 

Spqreddie

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Dear Classic Biker,
thanks for your interesting analysis!
i was also surprised, in the PEI paragraph, by the fact that the Jap invasion came with the transversal 4 cylinder, that in PEI opininion would never go back to favour. Him being a supporter of v-twin.

However it went result is surely less money comeing in and therefore less research and developement and ultimately the failure of the industry...
what we ride (vincent, Norton, BSA.. etc..) of the 50ies and late 60ies remains the best of the british production, propably this is why many people contine to cheris those old bikes! the new British bikes such the Triumph Bonneville and the Norton 961 are not anymore the bike on top of the range as thye use to be, they are mild nice bike, but not superbikes of their times. I hope Norton will put out again a sport bike as planned..

And if Vincent series "E" would have come into production...?? who knows...
Ciao,
Edmondo
 

Howard

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Never been a Triumph fan, Meriden or Hinckley, but their "mild nice bike" just won a TT (120+ mph average), probably the most demanding motorcycle race in the world. Strangely, not with a transverse four.

I don't think PEI was bad at predicting engineering, just not as good at predicting human changes. He was writing in an age of austerity, about what was an economic choice, with riders using bikes because they couldn't afford cars - hence motorcycling took a dip with the introduction of the Mini etc. Today, we have bikers who buy bikes because they have excess cash, and want all the thrills without getting their hands dirty.

H
 
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roy the mechanic

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As usual ,I don't expect too many fans for what follows- The two Phils were both trained in engineering in the twenties and thirties. By older engineers! The only "fours" back then were Excelsiors, Aces and Indians. No wonder they were dismissive of these dinousours. They were heavy, and everything they did not want for their own product. Having made "the fastest standard production machine in the world" it should be no surprise that the doorways to their offices had to be widened to enable them to get their heads through them. Enter Soichiro Honda, he had a nice new factory and a bunch of young, hungry engineers, as they say-the rest is history.
 

greg brillus

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I kind of recon your right Roy, only it must have been a huge burden to know that behind the scenes and all the glamour of producing such a high end product, that they were at the constant point of bankruptcy. Wasn't it 1949 that the first administrator got appointed....A Mr. E.C Bailey. As an aside, that bike in your picture Roy....is that for use on the road or track....? Cheers......Greg.
 

Howard

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It's a bit like TT lap records, Bruce Anstey does 132 mph average where Hailwood only managed 107 in the 60s - you have to judge achievements by contemporary results. Only a dyed in the wool Vincent man with no knowledge of modern machinery would claim that Vincents are still the best bikes ever made, nowadays they probably only win on character and residual value. The question is, if you gave Mr Honda's men a piece of paper, a pencil, a slide rule, a lathe and a milling machine what could they make? We can only marvel at what the two Phil's would have produced with computers, modern machinery and (to them) futuristic materials.
Now, do I dare press the "Post Reply" button?

H
 

vibrac

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Having just spent a totally enjoyable 30 miles at 30mph max with 2 gears no clutch and just the snick snick of the belt and the burble of the 90 year old flat twin totaly engrossed in adjusting and pumping the oil ,matching the choke the throttle and the ignition and watching the scenery pass at a measured pace, I have to say so long as it has 2 wheels and an engine-who cares what decade it comes from or where it was made or indeed what speed it does?
 
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