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Classic Motorcycle Review - Posted 9th July 2012

Wolf Motorcycles

Before WW2 there were dozens of small British motorcycle manufacturers. In 1932 the Silver Wolf was top of the range for this particular bike builder...

You may have seen the cover of the 1932 Wolf Motorcycle catalogue on this site before: it's one of our favourite images from the era of art deco. This just goes to prove the power of advertising - Wolf Motorcycles went out of production before WW2 and these well-built bikes were hardly household names even when they were new. So what's the story behind the smiling beach babe?

1932 Wolf Motorcycles Brochure

The Wolf marque started life along with so many other pioneers of the motorcycle industry in the West Midlands as part of a bicycle-building concern. Based in Wolverhampton, the Wolfruna Engineering Company offered two-wheelers of varying types badged as Wolf, Wearwell and Wolfruna machines. In their early 1900s the firm had links to the Stevens family business and used the same engines for a while. By 1908, the company was building about 20 motorcycles each week alongside some 500 bicycles. Then in 1909 financial scandal involving embezzlement led to the firm going bust; it was reborn as Wearwell and Wulf, again building bicycles and motorcycles.

Before the First Word War, the company offered a wide range of models which, in keeping with the times, used proprietary engines. The exact specification of chassis and engine changed constantly - this was a period of rapid development, and motorcycle manufacturers bought in whatever motors and equipment were available at the right price to suit their product and their customers. So the Wolf/Wufrana range included two-stroke lightweights, four-stroke 500cc singles and sturdy V-twins between 770cc and 1000cc. Some came with three-speed gearboxes and early clutches - the more basic bikes provided direct drive without a clutch - and most employed belts for their final drive. Some were equipped with Druid forks, while others used the Brampton Biflex front end. No specification ever seemed to be set in stone…

Eighteen pounds ten for cash... 1935 Wolf 125

The range was rationalised somewhat after WW1, using Villiers, OHV Blackburne and JAP engines, although sales were tight. By 1927 the firm could only offer two lightweight models, and then production trickled to a halt. A new family - the Waines - took over at the end of the 1920s. HV Waine, an enthusiastic motorcyclist, concentrated on developing a new range for 1931, and TA Waine created the marketing campaign (and so presumably can take the credit for the beach bike illustration which has worn so well).

Now Wolf Motorcycles only used Villiers engines. Most of the company's output was targeted at the economy market, as you might expect in the middle of the Great Depression. They were tough and cheap machines, often equipped with legshields and other practical items which made them excellent value. A solid 196cc, well equipped, go-to-work Wolf cost less than £25 when the very cheapest two-stroke Royal Enfield retailed at £31. A 148cc Sheffield Dunnelt (winners of the Maudes Trophy) cost £25, while the Wolf 147cc machine was only £17.15s. And the very cheapest BSA you could buy at the time was £37: more than double the price of an entry level Wolf.

Panniers for carrying Dairy-Lea cheese... Silver Wolf

The basic models included the Cub (98cc), Minor (147cc) and Utility (196cc). These were joined by the rather more upmarket twin-port Silver Wolf Super Sports, which cost twice the price of the entry-level Cub, and is what our beach babe appears to be riding.

The Silver Wolf came in two guises: for £34 you got a proper twistgrip throttle, and stood half a chance of finding your way in the dark with a Miller dynamo lighting set-up. If you could only afford £29.10s then you lost the modern throttle and had to make do with direct lighting. The posh version came with proper pannier bags fitted either side of the rear wheel, while the cheaper Silver Wolf used that space for a toolbox. Both used Villiers' 61mm by 67mm two-stroke engine with an aluminium piston and detachable aluminium cylinder head. The three-speed Albion gearbox was operated by hand, while fuel was fed from the steel saddle tank via a Villiers two-lever carb. Primary and final drive were by 'special, heavy' chain, neatly tucked away behind guards and covers thus 'giving ample protection to the riders' clothes.'

Eighteen pounds ten for cash... 1938 Wolf 148

On their lighter models Wolf used a pressed steel frame, but the Silver Wolf benefitted from a loop steel tube frame of the 'very best quality' which provided a 'very low and comfortable riding position.' The girder forks combined a central spring and additional dampers; the steel hubbed wheels were fitted with 5-inch drum brakes. The Silver Wolf also came with a proper centrestand - very up to date - rather than a rear stand. An electric horn was fitted as standard (on other models you had to pay 10 shillings and sixpence for this) as were kneegrips (5s). You still had to buy a speedo (£2.5s) and pay extra if you wanted the petrol tank chromed (£1.10s).

This outburst of opulence only lasted a couple of years, and before long Wolf had dropped the 196cc models to concentrate on the utilitarian models including the new Vixen, a 148cc long-stroke working machine.

Two new engines arrived in 1936; a twin-port 122cc and a 249cc Super Sports. For 1938, Wolf's marketing majored on the brands 'first classic specification' and boasted that the bikes were 'easy to handle' with low petrol consumption and excellent reliability.

Villiers Engines on Now...

Had it not been for the outbreak of WW2, Wolf Motorcycle might have stayed in production but when the war ended the company opted to concentrate on bicycles instead. That's a shame: their marketing strategy would have gone down a storm in the 1960s…


Words: Rowena Hoseason
Thanks to Dave Holloway for the original Wolf brochures


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