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1963 Ariel Leader
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Often viewed as an oddity, Ariel’s Leader was years ahead of its time. Horace Mattox just collected a trophy for his well-kept example...

By the late 1950s it became obvious that the Ariel range of four-stroke motorcycles were lagging behind their contemporaries – most Ariel singles and the Square Four could trace their origins back to before WW2, and sometimes by more than two decades. Something bold and new was needed for the 1960s, and it was decided that this bold new thing would be an all-weather 250cc two-stroke. As Jeff Clew said, ‘it broke new ground for the factory in virtually every respect.’

The world's most cheerful advert? 1959 Ariel Leader advert

Engineers Val Page and Bernard Knight designed a new motorcycle with a parallel twin engine inspired by the German-built Adler twin, and an entirely unusual pressed steel frame which startled everyone at the time. Today the Leader’s description sounds remarkably modern; it used a box-section beam frame from which the engine was suspended, and was swathed in a full enclosure of detachable bodywork. The petrol tank, battery and gubbins lived under the saddle, while the dummy petrol tank provided luggage space big enough to carry a spare crash helmet. Anyone mention the BMW 650CS?

The 249cc ‘square’ engine of 54mm bore by 54mm stroke was built in unit with a four-speed Burman gearbox, and drive was taken to the rear wheel by a fully enclosed chain. At 6750rpm the motor produced some 17bhp, which was good enough to waft the leader up to 70mph or thereabouts. Used with a little less verve it would return about 80 miles to the gallon of fuel, and it cost around £210 new when launched in 1958. Over 22,000 Leaders were built, plus the Arrow and Golden Arrow offshoots, until production stopped in 1965.

You can't go wrong with whitewall tyres... H's 1963 Ariel Leader - in showing-winning condition...

The example you see here was chosen by the judges as the Bike of the Show at the 2008 Transtar Midlands Festival of Transport. It was bought by Horace (‘just call me H!’) Mattox back in 1978 for the princely sum of £250, and since then it has travelled over 20,000 miles. The Leader was 15 years old when H first clapped eyes on it and was in ‘average to poor’ condition; ‘the engine was running and there was no major rust but it needed a re-paint.

‘When I first bought the Leader it was black and white because it was originally a Police bike. I stripped it down and sent the components off to be enamelled, then rebuilt it with new rims and a new windscreen.

Radioactive glow was standard... 1959 Ariel Leader brochure

‘Then a decade later I stripped it down again and this time changed the colours in twin-pack acrylic. The engine needed a rebuild, too, so I fitted new bearings and oil seals with standard barrels and pistons. Both times I was able to re-use the original cotton-covered wiring’

Check out the inner bag in the pannier; wonder if any survived? 1959 Ariel Leader brochure

H recommends Draganfly Motorcycles (www.dragan for most supplies, plus Vale Onslow of Birmingham for rare NOS components.

H’s bike is suitably equipped for use all year round in all weathers, with optional extras like its windscreen extension, hard panniers, indicators, a rear carrier, parking light and all mod cons. It even has eight-day clock ‘although that didn’t work!’

Ariel leader stuff on

The Leader now returns about 65mpg which gives it a tank range of 200 miles or more and it’s been pretty reliable in service, troubled only by one big end failure when the gudgeon pin circlip came loose, which wrecked the bore and the piston.

‘Only the brakes let it down’ says H, ‘they could be a lot better.’ But that’s his only grumble about the Ariel. He was thoroughly impressed with it from when he first saw it and will always recall the impact it made; ‘the overall design of the bike was stunning when it first appeared in the 1950s’.

Woman in yellow is clearly impressed with the rider's ability to take it 'right to the edge'... 1961 Ariel advert - by now there's more than one model in the family...

If you’re looking for a similar machine then H suggests you should aim to get one with all its tinware intact, even if it’s very scruffy. Then you can enjoy owning an unusual machine, much as he does; ‘every time I ride the Leader is very special for me!’


Top Club!
Enthusiasts of all kinds of Ariels are very well served by the Ariel Owners MCC.


Show Off!
If you’d like to enter your classic into a RealClassic Concours, there are a series of classic and vintage vehicle events organised by Transtar which take place throughout the summer. Enter your bike in advance and you’ll get discounted admission to the show, plus the chance to win an RC award.
See or call 01922 643385 for an entry form

Transtar Promotions 2008 Events

May 4th: Catton Hall Classic Car & Transport Show
Catton Hall, Alrewas, near Lichfield, Staffs

May 11th: Sandwell Historic Vehicle Show
Sandwell Country Park, West Bromwich

May 25/26th: Ragley Hall Classic Car & Transport Show
Ragley Hall, Alcester, Warks

June 15th: Trentham Transport Festival
Trentham Gardens, Stoke on Trent

June 29th: Sheffield Festival of Transport
Graves Park, Sheffield

July 6th: Kent Classic Car & Transport Show
Boughton Monchelsea Place, near Maidstone

July 20th: Beaumanor Classic Car & Transport Show
Beaumanor Hall, Woodhouse, Leics

August 3rd: Walsall Classic Car & Transport Show
Walsall Arboretum, Walsall

Sept 7th: Dudley Classic Car & Transport Show
Himley Hall, Himley, near Dudley

Sept 21st: Stinkwheel Classic Bike Show
Beaumanor Hall, Woodhouse, Leics


Ariels on Right Now...


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