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Chater Lea Motorcycles

Chater-Lea

of Letchworth, Herts.

Chater-Lea produced motorcycles from 1900 to 1936 and cars from 1907 to 1922.

The company was founded in 1890 by William Chater-Lea who was based firstly in Colden Lane, London, and later at Banner Street. He started out as a components supplier to the trade.

Chater-Lea began in Victorian times making bicycle parts for other firms and in due course graduated to making complete motorcycles using a wide range of proprietary engines.

The range including the 545cc side-valve which had started life as a "sports model". This machine had found favour with the AA as a good strong reliable sidecar unit for patrol work and over the years a total of 1200 combinations were supplied, the last one in July 1936. Motorcycle production ceased but the firm remained in existence carrying out sub-contract work for the motor industry.

  • 1900 The first motorcycles appeared. They were built to order using whatever engine the customer specified. After a few years they had only one model, robust in construction, that was meant for sidecar use. It had a 6hp JAP engine, a two-speed gearbox, all-chain drive and leading-link front forks. They then produced a 2.5hp solo with a JAP engine and belt drive.
  • 1909 By now they were using a three-speed gearbox and crankshaft-mounted clutch on the sidecar outfit. Then an alternative V-twin appeared, plus various solos.
  • 1913-1916 They reverted to one model for a while - an 8hp twin sidecar. They then added a 369cc two-stroke with two-speed gearbox and belt final-drive.
  • World War I. Production stopped.
  • 1920 After the Great War, the company returned to the market with only the two-stroke.
  • 1921 A 976cc JAP V-twin was added.
  • 1922 They produced a 488cc sv single, of their own design.
  • 1923 More models were added that year.
  • 1924 Their own model was enlarged to 545cc and they produced other models with sv and ohv Blackburne engines. It was the last year for the big V-twin. They started fitting saddle tanks to their models. They made a name at Brooklands when records were broken by Dougal Marchant riding a machine with a modified Blackburne engine. It helped sales, but the machines were expensive.
  • 1925 Only three singles were listed.
  • 1926 They unveiled a new 348cc ohc model of the face-cam type, with vertical shaft drive. There were also two sports models with either Blackburne or JAP engines. At 100mph it was the world's fastest 350cc machine. Marchant set a World Record Flying Kilometre for 350cc and 500cc motorcycles at 102.9mph for the firm, though the engine was his special and not the later face-cam Chater-Lea engine
  • 1927 The only models produced that year used their own Chater-Lea 348cc and 545cc engines. The name changed to Chater Lea Ltd. when the founder died in 1927. The business was then taken over by sons, John and Bernard.
  • 1928 The company moved to Letchworth Garden City in Hertfordshire.
  • 1929 They added a 247cc lightweight with a Villiers engine, and a Dirt Track model.
  • 1930 Only three road models were in production and the two-stroke was dropped.
  • 1931 Their style now had a somewhat 'vintage' look and the only machines built were the camshaft and sv models.
  • 1935 The camshaft model ended.
  • 1936 The sv model ended, the last machine was delivered to the AA, and the firm returned to general engineering.
  • WWII Manufactured parts for the De Havilland Mosquito


Automobiles

The first car was the Carette of 1907, a two-seater with a 6hp air cooled V-twin engine with chain drive to one of the rear wheels. It was still advertised in 1908 but few seem to have been made.

A more serious entry into the car market was made in 1913, with an 8hp 1094cc, water cooled four-cylinder model with shaft drive. The engine was of their own manufacture. Some may have had the earlier V-twin engine fitted. After the First World War, in 1921, it was re-released as a 10hp with a 1,315cc engine and three-speed gearbox. The two-seater version cost £350 later falling to £300. A few hundred were produced with the last ones made in 1922.

There was a proposal to take over manufacture by Gillyard of Bakerend Road, Bradford, Yorkshire, but this did not come about although a prototype might have been made.

Sources: Grace's Guide


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