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Bike Review - Posted 7th March 2014
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Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

In the era of austerity motorcycling, Coventry-Eagle claimed they had the goods in the shape of their remarkable Silent Superb two-stroke...

In the late 1920s, Coventry-Eagle were building top of the range bikes like the fabulous Flying-8, which attracted the same kind of admiration as the Brooklands racers and Brough-Superior machines of the time. Coventry-Eagle's handsome OHV 980cc V-twin was almost the most expensive motorcycle available in the UK at the time - and then came the great depression of the 1930s. By 1932 the firm's range had contracted to just seven models, the biggest of which was a 500 single. But that wasn't the model which got all the attention: far from it.

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

Instead, a 147cc two-stroke took centre stage in the 1932 brochure and at the motorcycle show. The Silent Superb used Coventry-Eagle's patented pressed-steel frame which the firm had first introduced on their lightweights in 1927. The firm boasted that their frame was 'built on car chassis lines' with 'no malleable lugs, no brazing, no tubing' which meant it was 'absolutely unbreakable… the finest engineering frame in the trade, giving the most delightful and absolutely perfect steering.'

The front forks also used 'channel steel' as Coventry-Eagle described it and provided 'the very acme of comfort.' They said exactly the same thing about the Lycett Aero sprung saddle, too…

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb
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Although Coventry-Eagle later switched to buying in Villiers motors, the first Silent Superbs were equipped with the company's own double-port motor of 55mm bore by 62mm stroke. They were pretty proud of their design: 'The cylinder combustion chamber is machined all over and the ports are designed to give maximum efficiency and by a special method of casting no alteration in the size or position of the ports can take place.

'The crankcase is an aluminium die casting which gives a clean external appearance. It is fitted with long bushes made from a special material adopted after extensive tests. The piston has two piston rings and floating gudgeon pin which is lapped to fine limits and crown polished. The conrod is a steel stamping, hardened in the main bearing end and fitted with roller bearings,' and the crank was similarly hardened steel. For ease of maintenance by the average unskilled owner, the compact motor allowed rapid access to spark plugs, dynamo, points and so on.

To get the most from their two-stroke motor, Coventry-Eagle enlisted the aid of Amal, who 'specially designed and tested' a suitable carburettor 'to suit this engine, giving quick starting and most economical petrol consumption' of between 100 and 130mpg - they weren't kidding about it being frugal! While some motorcycles were still using thumb throttles, the Silent Superb utilised that new-fangled twistgrip device: 'the throttle responding instantly without moving hand from handlebar.'

These days we use 'fuel enrichment systems' to start an engine from cold. Back then, C-E were pleased to announce that the Silent Superb came with a 'handy and efficient air strangler… to further assist easy and quick starting.' Modern life would definitely be better with more air stranglers.

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

The rider could select, by hand, one of three gears from the Albion gearbox: 'a sound, reliable engineering box, built by experts and specialists with all running parts skilfully hardened and accurately ground. Notice the neat and handy gate gear change on frame.' Yes indeed; not quite positive stop, but heading that way…

Drive was transmitted to the rear wheel by primary and final chains, both neatly tucked away behind chain covers. If the 'very hard wearing' Firestone tyre should develop a puncture then the rear mudguard was fully hinged to swing open and allow near-instant access to the wheel when the bike was parked on its rear stand - which, incidentally, came with 'fibre buffers and strong spring' to 'prevent rattle.' Nothing worse than rattle.

Well, there IS something worse than rattle, and it's the typical drone of a small two-stroke on full song. Coventry-Eagle weren't trying to sell this bike to young thugs; they were seeking a more civilised kind of customer. Hence the model's name, and all the effort they put in to subduing its aural output. The exhaust system was 'of unique and most efficient design, giving wonderful silence without back pressure. Two large aluminium manifolds lead from engine into a most spacious exhaust expansion chamber before the gases reach the usual silencers which themselves are of large capacity and artistic design, the whole combination providing what must be one of the most silent motorcycles on the market.'

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

The rest of the Superb's specification was just as upmarket. Indeed, C-E made much of the Superb's comprehensive equipment: 'there are no extras to pay for' they claimed. 'Every Coventry-Eagle is ready for the road.' This meant the Superb came with a pressed steel carrier, Miller electric horn, adjustable handlebars, locking metal toolbox with tool roll and inflator, 'large and most efficient' legshields, lifting handle, adjustable footrests and even a licence holder; 'thus completing the most marvellous specification ever heard of at such a low price. You have nothing to think of and nothing to buy, it is absolutely ready for the road.'

And that low price turned out to be £23.10, cash, under half the price of C-E's 350 four-stroke single or a similar OHV Royal Enfield. Better yet, the Superb fitted into a road tax bracket which cost only 15 shillings a year. As the brochure explained, 'economy is the word today. Expenditure must go on but every penny must be justified. What better return for your outlay can you find than the Silent Superb?' or its slightly cheaper counterpart, the Eclipse.

'Where also can you turn for enjoyable motoring at such small first and after costs? These machines will bring motorcycling within reach of vast numbers of people for whom hitherto no suitable machine existed. C-E have for several years concentrated on this type and these models have been built up by the cold logical selection of mature, unhurried judgment.'

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

Coventry-Eagle certainly managed to convince some of the buying public with their advertising. The Silent Superb and its stablemates stayed in production until World War Two and turn up fairly regularly on the classic market today. One such machine, pictured hereabouts, was auctioned a few years ago after it was discovered in a shed. It was stored in 1939 when its original owner went to war. He failed to return and the machine was finally unearthed in 1999, in totally original condition. Since then it has been renovated and returned to the road, and found a new owner at a Bonhams auction a couple of years ago.

Back in 1932, despite the economic gloom, C-E reckoned 'eyes are sparkling' and 'tongues are chattering' about their Silent Superb, with its 'features that are unequalled at anything like the price.'

Coventry-Eagle Silent Superb

These days, owning a Superb would be a charming and uncomplicated way to experience the flavour of pre-war classic motorcycling - although if you're seriously considering a purchase then you might want to opt for the later model with the Villiers engine, which has better specialist trade support.

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Words: Rowena Hoseason Images: Bonhams.com / RC RChive

Thanks to Dave Holloway for his treasure trove of research material which made this article possible


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And for an alternative view of a 1979 R100, read Part I and Part II of Martin Gelder's R100S tale


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