Bikes | Features | Events | Books | Tech | Magazine | About | Messages | Classified | Links

more bike profiles...

Bike Review - Posted 20th September 2013
Home -> Bikes -> Road Tests and Profiles ->

Ambassador Supreme

Not all small capacity classic bikes were built as low-cost budget bikes. This two-stroke tiddler was intended to be the aristocrat of the road...

When Ambassador started making motorcycles after World War Two, their initial plans were for a four-stroke twin which used a pre-war sidevalve vertical twin JAP engine. This didn't prove practical - indeed, that JAP engine all but sunk another manufacturer's efforts - and instead Ambassador bought in Villiers two-stroke motors, kicking off a range of 197cc lightweight singles in 1947.

Renowned the world over for strength of construction... Ambassador Supreme

The early machines featured a three-speed gearbox, rigid frame and Webb's pressed steel girder forks. To differentiate themselves from all the other manufacturers offering similar small capacity two-strokes at low cost, Ambassador aimed for an unusual market: the luxury lightweight.

The 5E Villiers unit was replaced with its three-speed 6E successor in 1949, and a telescopic front end from supplier Metal Profiles arrived for 1950. Initially, bikes were designated by a 'Series' number, all the way up to Series 5 which supposedly combined 'lightweight convenience and cost with heavyweight performance.'

The finest value on two wheels...

The company continued building bikes until 1965 (it was sold to DMW in 1963), and manufactured many models which were given names like the Popular, Courier and Embassy from 1951, but is perhaps best-known for the Supreme and the Supreme's self-starting offshoot.

The single-cylinder Supreme was introduced in 1951 as the top-of-the-range Ambassador and it retained that position until 1958. It was the firm's first full sprung motorcycle, with 'Road Flow' telescopic forks at the front and plunger rear suspension which provided an inch and a half of undamped travel at the rear. Luxury - at least, luxury for a small capacity motorcycle of the era. The Supreme was in fact well-equipped for a tiddler two-stroke, was compact, nimble and easy to handle, and it featured proper electrics - not just the energy transfer sparking systems which cheaper machines often utilised. Ambassador claimed it was 'Britain's most distinctive lightweight… the easiest step you can make into the world of the luxury machines.'

In addition to its surpassing good looks... Ambassador Supreme advertisement
Villiers Stuff on Now...

Then for 1952 the firm pulled a really remarkable rabbit out of the hat in the shape of an electric start model. Few motorcyclists had even considered the merits of an electric start, and even fewer manufacturers had tried to put the notion into practice. It was even more unlikely that this innovation came not from one of the giant mass-manufacturers of the West Midlands, but from a small concern based in Ascot.

The SS Supreme (an unfortunate designation you might think, so soon after WW2, but the SS stood for Self-Starter) incorporated a relatively crude electric start with the Lucas starter motor mounted above the engine with its various batteries carried in panniers. The starter turned the engine via a V-belt around the flywheel magneto, and required a weird combination of 4-volt and 2-volt batteries wired in series to give it the gumption to get the SS started.

The background won this one, I think...

The kick-starting Supreme gained a six-inch front brake for the following year, and then adopted the larger Villiers 1H engine for 1954. So the Supreme grew to 225cc with a four-speed gearbox and Cruiserweight front forks. It also benefited from proper rear suspension with a full swinging arm chassis, twin shocks, and a modern dual seat (by contrast, BSA's Bantam didn't upgrade to swinging arm suspension until 1956). The Supreme looked and rode like a much bigger bike, and Ambassador were keen to promote its virtues: 'in addition to its surpassing good looks, the Ambassador Supreme is a magnificent performer and very economical… The new swinging arm rear suspension smooths out rough roads and can be adjusted to the load carried.

'The streamlined Villiers 225cc engine has amazing verve and smoothness. Those who wish to enter the world of the luxury lightweight should certainly not miss the Supreme.'

Blue is the colour... 1956 Ambassador Supreme

The Supreme continued its evolution into 1956, upgrading to the later version of the Villiers motor, with a new livery featuring snazzy chrome tank panels. Full-width hubs arrived on the 18-inch wheels, which were equipped with six-inch Albion brakes - the latter proving entirely adequate at counteracting the mighty 11bhp output by the 223cc motor at 4750rpm.

However, the short-lived Self-Starter was discontinued this year. It seemed that Ambassador were far too ahead of the game in this instance. Their mechanism proved too clumsy to justify its additional cost, and most riders had no problem kicking up even a 225 single. Even so, Ambassador refined the idea and persevered, creating an Electra model (a couple of years before Norton tried the same concept!)

Gone is the colour... 1958 Ambassador Supreme 250

The last incarnation of the Supreme for 1957 was a full-size 250 - intriguingly available either as a single, which used the Villiers 246cc 2H motor, or as a twin which utilised the 249cc 2T engine; both being marketed as 'the machine for the connoisseur.' The final fling of the Supreme lasted just a couple of years until the trend for bulbous bodywork overtook even Ambassador and the new top-of-the-range model disappeared beneath a swathe of sheet steel.

Although they built quality motorcycles for nearly two decades, the Ambassador experiment wasn't entirely successful. It appeared that few riders at that time were interested in a luxury lightweight - while BSA sold Bantams by the boatload, Ambassador's fortunes declined. The firm's founder Kaye Don retired and Ambassador was absorbed by DMW in 1963 and production ended a year later.

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Images: RC archive, Mortons archive


Like this page? Share it with these buttons:


More old bikes on Right Now...


Like what you see here? Then help to make even better

Bikes | Features | Events | Books | Tech | Magazine | About | Messages | Classified | Links

More Bike Profiles...

RedLeg Interactive Media

© 2002 The Cosmic Motorcycle Co. Ltd / Redleg Interactive Media

You may download pages from this site for your private use. No other reproduction, re-publication, re-transmission or other re-distribution of any part of this site in any medium is permitted except with the written consent of the copyright owner or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.