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Bike Review - Posted 13th August 2014
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1921 Unibus Scooter

A technological wonder of its day, the Unibus scooter aimed to combine the convenience of a car with the flexibility of a bike. Mike Webster's 1921 Unibus is now on display for all to admire...

The Unibus was manufactured by the Gloucester (later Gloster) Aircraft Co shortly after the First World War and into the early 1920s. Designed by Harold Boultbee, the Unibus was built at the firm's Sunningend Works in Cheltenham and was a 269cc single: 'one of the best and most advanced designs of that era,' with a luxurious ride from its leaf-spring suspension and 16-inch pressed steel split-rim wheels. Motor Cycling magazine said in June 1920 that the Unibus was 'an engineer's job from start to finish. The design marks a new era in the march of progress of the two wheeler.'

1921 Unibus Scooter

According to the adverts which ran not only in the motorcycling press but also in more mainstream publications like Punch magazine; 'The ever increasing popularity of the Unibus is due to the fact that it entirely fulfils its purpose. It is comfortable and clean to ride, inexpensive to run, light and speedy, easy to handle and easy to clean.'

1921 Unibus Scooter

Gloucester claimed it was 'the car on two wheels' and 'the ideal runabout… It is the most useful solo machine that has yet been introduced to the public. The Unibus runs without noise or vibration at any speed up to 25mph over any road surface. The rider is completely protected from oily engine parts and road splashing, so that there is no need to dress in motoring clothes - you never get muddy. Mile after mile you may drive as comfortably and free from strain as in a very good car. The Unibus fulfils its purpose so completely that doctors and other professional men find it indispensable.' However, its asking price is roughly equivalent to £25,000 today: more than a trifle excessive for even 'the ideal runabout.'

1921 Unibus Scooter
Classic Scooters on Now...

RC reader Mike Webster has just completed the refurbishment of one of these extremely unusual two-wheelers. 'I have owned this machine for many years,' says Mike, 'in a mainly complete but unrestored condition. It last ran in 1958 and featured in Motor Cycling that year at the TT. I was recently approached by the trustees of the proposed Jet Age Museum who wanted to buy it for the museum, as part of a tribute to the company and its pioneering efforts towards jet flight. I pointed out that the Unibus was not for sale but was inspired to assist them. I've agreed that the scooter can be on display in the museum, although I can remove it for occasional use, of course. It will be exhibited in ideal storage conditions within a purpose built glass case within the museum.

1921 Unibus Scooter

'Having restored many unusual vintage motorcycles and cars, I imagined it would be relatively simple, and agreed that the machine would be road legal and ride to the museum under its own power for the opening ceremony. This has proved somewhat challenging and tested all my abilities throughout, but I am happy to say she is now ready. I managed to complete the project with just two weeks in hand.

1921 Unibus Scooter

'The Unibus might be a scooter but it is incredibly advanced for the 1920s, being the very first enclosed scooter in the modern style. It also has front and rear suspension, shaft drive, two speed gearbox, posi-lube oil metering system, two separate internal pairs of brake shoes in the rear hub, a large under-seat storage (like modern twist and go scooters) and a starting handle. Unless I am mistaken, in 1920, many motorcycles were usually devoid of suspension, with single speed, belt drive, external rim brakes, and no starting device other than pushing. I believe the kick start was not invented until Alfred Scott used it in about 1922? As for the oil metering, it was the early 1960s before this became common on two-strokes.

1921 Unibus Scooter

'Sadly all this advanced technology resulted in a 95 guineas price tag which rendered the scooter too expensive to sell, so few were ever made.'

However, the Unibus' very rarity makes it all the more interesting today. If you'd like to see it in the metal, it's on display at the Jet Age Museum, part of the Gloucestershire Aviation Museum: www.jetagemuseum.org

1921 Unibus Scooter

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