Survival Of The Fittest – Ambassador & Panther

Ambassador Super S 250 1959

Ambassador Super/S 250cc 1959 model

If Darwin had studied machinery as well as living organisms, his theory
of evolution could well have shown how the survival of the fittest
applied to motorbikes as well as to plants and animals. The travel
environment changes over time and transport changes with it. A
fascinating day spent in the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum in Station
Yard, North Walsham showed this very clearly. One great bike that we
studied in detail there was an Ambassador.

Kaye Don

Kaye Don (1891 – 1981), an experienced racing driver and racing
motorcyclist, won the Ards-Belfast circuit in 1928. At one time he also
held world speed records for both land and water. He started what
later became the Ambassador Company in 1946. It was first known
as U.S. Concessionaires Ltd. and imported American cars. Don’s idea
was to expand into bike manufacture, and he created a prototype with
a J.A.P. engine. A year later, he changed this to a Villiers engine and
these were still being fitted in 1964. The company was based in Ascot
in Berkshire.

Change of Name

The company name became Ambassador in 1951 – when I was 16 and
riding my first bike. The bikes they made began with Webb girder forks
and were given different series numbers and specific names. Series five
was the first to get telescopic front forks. Models called the Popular
and the Courier were also around as early as 1951. The Embassy and
the Supreme followed shortly after.

Supreme

It was as far back as 1951 that the first fully sprung Ambassador, the
Supreme, arrived: like the series 5, it was fitted with telescopic front
forks, but it also had plunger-style suspension at the back. The firm
kept the name Supreme until 1958 for their best-of-the-range models.

Panther 250 - 1960

Panther 250 – 1960

Exports

Ambassadors were relatively expensive, and this did not help sales
in the UK, but they were exported successfully to New Zealand and
Australia.

Retirement and Marque Transfer

Kaye Don retired during the 1960s and the Ambassador marque was
transferred to DMW in 1963. DMW had been founded in 1940 and
based in Wolverhampton. They continued making Ambassadors until
1965. Although DMW stopped manufacturing motorcycles in 1971,
their bikes always enjoyed a deservedly high reputation for trials and
racing – and they still appear at some sporting events.

Panther

Another very interesting bike that we studied in the Norfolk Motorcycle
Museum collection in North Walsham was the Panther. Phelon and
Moore made motorcycles in Cleckheaton in Yorkshire, beginning in
1904 and finishing in 1967. They are remembered especially for their
famous Panther marque which is best known for its 500cc and 645cc
models.

40-degree Sloping Engine

There was just one characteristic design feature: the big sloping 40°
single-cylinder engine which was a stressed front-frame unit. That
design was patented by Harry Rayner and his uncle Joah (John) Carver
Phelon as far back as 1900. They also created the first chain-driven
bikes in 1900 and the Humber Company produced them for the next
seven years. Tragically, Harry died in a car crash and his uncle took on Richard Moore as his new business partner. The company became
Phelon and Moore in 1904, and this company name continued until
1929, although the first Panther appeared in 1924.

Once Every Lamp-Post

The Panthers had very low rpm but massive power and the popular
saying among Panther riders was that they fired “once every lamp-
post”. Panthers were ideal for sidecar work because of their big
flywheels and high torque output. They are very robust, and many
Panther enthusiasts are still more than happy riding them today. A
good place to look for one would be among the huge range of excellent
machines available from Webuyanybike.

This Month’s Charity

Service By Emergency Rider Volunteers — known as SERV –
can be reached on website http://www.serv.org.uk. They are
registered as Charity No. 284455. SERV delivers blood products
to emergency and accident hospitals across Southern England
free of charge — whenever and wherever it’s needed. Dedicated
volunteer motorcyclists and drivers give their time and petrol to
do their bit, using their bikes and cars to help those who need
emergency supplies of life-saving blood.

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