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24th November 2003


Made In India - The Royal Enfield Bullet by Gordon G May

Made In India - The Royal Enfield Bullet by Gordon G MayThis book fills quite a sizeable gap in the library of classic motorcycling, as well as being an absorbing read.

There have been three or four titles devoted to Royal Enfield in Britain, but they have rarely done more than look sideways at the Bullet singles which since 1953 have been put together outside Chennai (formerly Madras). And that's is a little unfair, since the Redditch-based UK company built less than 10,000 Bullets before they went under at the end of the Sixties - while the Indian operation has produced more than 600,000, and are still going strong.

This book by enthusiast Gordon May, who is also editor of the monthly 'Bullet-in' owners' magazine, tells the whole story. Though superficially it appears to lead with its 200-plus black-and-white photos, in fact the text, while succinct, is both fact-heavy and fascinating. It charts the expansions and contractions of Enfield India Ltd, including models powered by versions of Villiers' engines made under license, and diesel motorcycles.

It also details, with a year-by-year chart, the remarkable improvements to the Bullet breed both before, and particularly since, control passed in 1994 to the Eicher Group. Benefits include both the economic but effective electric start, and the new 5-speed, left foot gearbox.

The New Zealand-born author has spent time at the factory itself, and can testify to the 'common purpose and comradeship' still alive and well there. And the stage-by-stage photos of the production line do illustrate how, while some processes are now state-of-the-art - the crankcases being in-line bored by CRC machine - some are still decidedly craft-based, with gears continuing to be matched by hand. But it's a long way from the recent past, when the frames were welded by hand without even a jig - and then corrected by a small team with blow-torches and hammers…

Check out the cleanest shirts in the whole factory; this is obviously the MD and the sales manager trying to look as though they know one end of a crankshaft from the other...

It's easy to smile at the sight of stacks of new petrol tanks arriving in chicken crates by tricycle rickshaw, or at domestic model names like 'The Lean Burn 350 Machismo'. But the 800-strong factory and their outside suppliers turn out over 20,000 Bullets a year, and they're getting better all the time. As the new young CEO Siddharta 'Sid' Lal says, 'It's about the riders enjoying themselves, having a fantastic time on vehicles that meet their emotional and physical requirements.' With the Bullet, Westerners of a certain age, as an ad from US importers Classic Motorworks put it, can 'relive the glory days when your hair was thicker than your waist'! And here's where you read all about it.

Steve Wilson

Made In India - The Royal Enfield Bullet, by Gordon G May
Haynes, ISBN 1 85960 878 7
Published by Six & Six Publishing and costs £15.45


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