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British Motorcycles

Royal Enfield Bullet

  • 1931- 1939 
  • 1939- 1949 
  • 1949- 1956 
  • 1956- 1964 
  • 1955- 1995 
The Royal Enfield Bullet was originally a British overhead valve single cylinder 4-stroke motorcycle made by Royal Enfield in Redditch, West Midlands of England, but now produced by Royal Enfield Motors (the successor to the British company) at Chennai (Madras), Tamil Nadu of India.

The Royal Enfield Bullet has the longest production run of any motorcycle having remained continuously in production since 1948. The Bullet marque is even older, and has passed 75 years of continuous production. The Royal Enfield and Bullet names derive from the company's links with the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield.

  • 1931- 1939. Introduced in 1931 as a four-stroke single cylinder motorcycle, this model was the first to feature the Bullet name. It differed in a number of ways from its successors: it had an inclined engine with exposed valve gear featuring four valves per cylinder with 350 cc and 500 cc options. In 1933, a 250 cc option was also added to the range. Its frame was also considerably different, having centre-spring girder front forks, being among a new range of models from Royal Enfield that featured them, along with a saddle-type fuel tank. Common to motorcycles of this period, it had a rigid rear-end, necessitating a 'sprung' seat for the rider, which resulted in the iconic look of the motorcycle that is much replicated today, even though the sprung seat is unnecessary in modern models.
  • WWII. After competition success the 350 cc Royal Enfield Bullet was bought by the British Army for dispatch riders and 3,000 were also supplied to the RAF during the Second World War.
  • 1939- 1949. This model refreshed Royal Enfield's model line-up for 1939. It differed in cosmetic details, as well as in having two rocker boxes, which resulted in higher volumetric efficiency for the engine. The basic design with front gaiter forks was retained.
  • 1949- 1956. This was the most radical redesign yet. A slew of changes were implemented in order to bring the bike up-to-date. This model featured a vertical engine with alloy head and higher compression. The frame was also changed to a fully sprung design using a swing-arm with non-adjustable hydraulic shockers at the rear, while the front used a brand-new telescopic fork of Royal Enfield's own design. This enabled the introduction of a bench seat made of simple foam (no large springs). Power transmission was via the same four-speed Albion gearbox as the previous model, with a unique 'neutral-finder' lever the rider could press from any gear other than first to shift to neutral. The crankshaft continued to have a fully-floating big-end bearing. The headlight assembly was enclosed with the speedometer and ammeter into a nacelle, which also served as the attachment of the front suspension as well as the handlebars.
  • 1953 An otherwise similar model, but with engine displacement of 499 cc, made its debut in 1953.
  • The prototype had done well in a performance trial and went on to win the trophy at the 1948 International Six Days Trial and two Bullet riders won gold medals. In 1952 Johhny Brittain won the Scottish Six Days Trial on a Royal Enfield Bullet and in 1953 he also won the International Six Days Trial without losing a single point.
  • In 1949 the Indian Army ordered Royal Enfield Bullets for border patrol use and the company decided to open a factory in Madras, India.
  • In 1955 the 350 cc Bullets were sent from the Redditch factory in kit form for assembly in India, but Enfield India Ltd. soon developed the factory and produced complete motorcycles independently under licence. The 1955 model remained almost unchanged for years and Madras produced over 20,000 Bullets annually.
  • 1956- 1964. Engine 346 cc & 499 cc single cylinder OHV. In 1955, Royal Enfield carried out some retooling and redesign at their Redditch plant, in the UK, to modernise the Bullet, and in 1959 some changes were made to the gear ratios. These changes, however, were not incorporated by the Indian arm due to its commitment to supply the Indian Army. Thus the British and Indian lines diverged, never to meet again.
  • Between 1956 and 1960, the British Bullet was released in several models, including a 350 cc Trials "works replica" version, a 350 cc "Clipper" model and in 1958 the Airflow version. This model had full weather protection from a large fibreglass fairing and included panniers for touring. The design was developed in partnership with British Plastics and featured as a series in The Motor Cycle magazine. The engines were the same and the only differences were in exhaust, seating, instrumentation, handlebars and fuel tank.
  • Numerous technical improvements were also made, including moving to alternator charging (1956) and coil ignition (1960). The 350 cc model continued in production, but the 500 cc model was discontinued in 1961.
  • In 1962 the UK company was sold, the Bullet was discontinued and in 1967 the Redditch factory closed.
  • Finally in 1970 Royal Enfield closed down completely.
  • The Enfield India Ltd. factory did well and continued production of the 1955 Bullet design almost unchanged, re-introducing it to the British market in 1984 under the name 'Enfield'. This was a period of stagnation for the Bullet as the Indian owners did not make improvements to the motorcycle, and the quality of parts deteriorated.
Sources: Grace's Guide

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