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26th October 2016

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Classic Images: The Earls Court Shows

Motorcycle historian Ken Hallworth selected some 200 images from the heyday of the British bike industry, showcasing the new and unusual machines which appeared under the spotlight in the 1950s...

This book is the second in the Classic Images series; other titles include ‘Feet Up In The Fifties’, ‘Isle Of Man TT Races’ and ‘Tried and Tested’. The pictures are taken from Mortons glass plate archives, built up over decades from the weekly editions of The Motor Cycle and Motor Cycling, and this hardback book was published in 2001. It covers the annual new-bike shows from 1949 to 1960, back in the days when these shows also included pedal cycles. My old push bike, now languishing in the back of my shed, was on the Elswick-Hooper stand at the 1955 show.

Times were different in the 1950s and speeds were slower. One of the early photos shows a BSA Bantam attached to a Garrard Gazelle sidecar. Having ridden a Bantam solo I am sure that its performance with a sidecar must have been pretty steady! Douglas Vespa scooters were riding on eight-inch wheels at the time.

Classic Images: The Earls Court Shows
Stars of the Show, on Now...

Several of the pictures were taken during the construction of the shows, with workmen, steps and scaffold boards in the pictures. One idea to show the machines off better at the time was to hang a white sheet behind the bike being photographed; sometimes you can see the chap holding up the sheet! In 1952 Ambassador Motorcycles had the only British-built electric-start motorcycle on display. The first foreign bike that I spotted in the book was a Mobylette moped - this was a very popular machine and it sold worldwide.

It is interesting to watch the development of the bikes over the years, and also to see the attempts by the British manufacturers in the scooter market, trying to stem the flow of Italian scooters coming over here. Pedal cycle specialists, Dayton, who had not produced a powered two-wheeler since 1914, sprung a surprise in 1954 with their Albatross model, powered by a 225cc engine. There were several pictures of bikes with sectioned engines. Some of the photos surprised me - for instance, I did not know that Maserati made a few motorcycles.

This is a fantastic book - having attended several motorcycle shows in the 1960s and having ridden several of the models in the photos myself, this book is a right trip down memory lane. I really enjoyed reading it and I felt that the last picture was spot-on for things to come.

RC Reviewer: Roy Workman


Classic Images: The Earls Court Shows was researched and compiled by Ken Hallworth, published by Mortons Motorcycle Media. Softback £15 from:

Also available secondhand in hardback from

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