HRD Motors Ltd was a British motorcycle manufacturer in the 1920s. It was founded by Howard Raymond Davies. He had worked in motorcycling, and had raced with some success in the mid-twenties, but often not finishing due to unreliability. This inspired him to build a reliable performance motorcycle, using the advertising slogan "Built by a rider". Others also aimed at a similar market, like George Brough of Brough Superior motorcycles.
After World War I many motorcycle makers assembled their machines from engines and other major components sourced from different manufacturers. Davies' goal was to build a superior motorcycle from the best components available.
Motorcycles were produced from 1924 to 1928, but the undercapitalised company, although having a reputation for performance, struggled to survive, and was ultimately sold to OK-Supreme, who then sold the name and goodwill to Philip C Vincent. The name was then incorporated into a new company, The Vincent HRD Company Ltd.
The company was founded by Howard Raymond Davies, who used his initials for the name ‘H.R.D.’ He was a former tester at Sunbeam and a well known, and successful motorcycle racer. His best results in the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy series were in the 1914 Senior when he came second on a Sunbeam, and when riding for A.J.S. in 1921, he came second in the Junior, and first in the Senior.
Howard had been thinking about producing his own machines since returning from the first world war, in 1918. After the war he gained a lot of experience at A.J.S. and became well known after his success in the 1921 T.T. The 1922 and 1923 T.T.’s were a disappointment because of the unreliability of the A.J.S. engines. On both occasions Howard only managed a few laps, after which his machine broke down. He had a similar experience in the 1924 T.T. when riding an O.E.C., and so must have decided that the only way to regain success was to produce a reliable machine himself.
Howard joined forces with E.J. Massey to form H.R.D. Massey was an artist and ex motorbike manufacturer, whose first venture in the industry had been to design the Massey-Aran machines that were built in Birmingham.
He then joined forces with the F.J. Cooper Sidecar Company of Belgrave Road, Birmingham, to produce the Massey motorbike.
The new company, H.R.D. Motors Limited, was registered in September 1924, with a nominal capital of £3,000. Howard Davies was Managing Director. Premises were acquired in Heath Street, Heath Town, but the building was in a poor state and the ground floor was in a derelict condition. The building had previously been used by a locksmith and before that by Tomes & Beard who made the ‘Original Universal’ bicycle.
The plan was to build a comparatively small number of high class motorcycles, at competitive prices, that were designed to appeal to the connoisseur. The best materials would be used, along with the highest standards of workmanship. The company was in no position to manufacture any of the major components and so the best available would be brought in.
Howard’s first task was to ensure that the company had some machines to go on display at the forthcoming Olympia show. This was the industry’s premier show and it was essential for H.R.D. to be there, to get much-needed publicity, and for the machines to be seen by the trade and public alike. The exhibition opened on 3rd November and so it was a difficult task to meet the deadline. The first machine had been designed on paper in May, but a lot of work was required to make it a reality. Obtaining the various components from manufacturers and getting other parts made in time was a nightmare. Howard quickly assembled a small experienced team to build the machines. Included in the team was his old friend Albert Clark, whose grandfather was Henry Clarke of Cogent Cycles.
Four models were produced for the show. Top of the range was the HD90, which included a special JAP 500c.c. racing engine and had a guaranteed top speed of 90m.p.h. The machine sold for 90 guineas. Next was the HD80, which had a special 350c.c., overhead valve, double port, JAP engine, a top speed of 80m.p.h., and sold for 80 guineas. There was also the HD70 which included a special 350c.c., overhead valve, JAP engine. It had a top speed of 70m.p.h. and sold for 70 guineas. Last but not least was the HD70/S, which was available separately or with a sidecar. The machine had a 500c.c., sports, side valve JAP engine, fitted with an aluminium piston and racing cams. The solo version sold for 66 guineas and the combination sold for 83 guineas. The machines were the first motorcycles to be fitted with a saddle petrol tank and included a lot of new features, such as a compact loop frame, low riding position and good accessibility of the controls.
The machines had good ground clearance, straight torque rods, massive steering head, underslung handlebars and ‘D’ section mudguards. The rear mudguard was hinged to allow the rear wheel to be removed.
The major components included JAP engines, Burman close ratio gear boxes, Druid or Webb forks incorporating shock dampers, enclosed Renold or Coventry chains, Binks two lever carburettor, M.L. magneto, exceptionally large internal expanding brakes, and a ‘Pilgrim’ mechanical lubrication pump.
The four machines were completed just in time for the show. The major problem had been getting outside manufacturers to produce the parts on time. There were many delays. The machines were finished in black and lined in gold. The new models showed a very promising start, receiving a lot of interest and good publicity. After the show it took sometime for the first production models to appear. Machinery had to be purchased and the workshop organised. Billy Price was head-hunted from A.J.S. to oversee production. The problem of obtaining parts on time was still there, particularly with the special sports JAP engines. J.A. Prestwich only made these in limited numbers. E.J. Massey’s practical abilities were very limited and this led to several problems when setting up the machinery. In January he left for pastures new.
1925 was destined to be a good year for the company. Many of the early machines were sold for competition use, and were very successful. Excellent road test reports appeared in the press and by May about 60 machines had been produced. The company now got ready for the forthcoming Isle on Man T.T., with Howard Davies in the senior and Harry Harris in both the Junior and the Senior. Five motorbikes were prepared for the T.T., three 350c.c. machines and two 500c.c. machines. They were standard production models with minor differences. They had larger capacity petrol tanks, extra engine supports and larger ribbed brake drums. On arrival at the island, Howard took over J.W. Shaw’s Junior entry and so would race in both the Junior and Senior. Practising started on 1st June and the machines performed extremely well. This was to be a very successful outing for the company, as Howard came second in the Junior race, just behind W.L. Handley on his Rex Acme, and Harry Harris finished in fifth position. The Senior was a repeat of Howards 1921 success. He won the race in 3hours 25minutes 35secs, just ahead of F.A. Longman on his A.J.S. Howard’s average speed was 66.13m.p.h.
Unfortunately Harry Harris was forced to retire from the race because of a broken chain. He was lying in 7th place at the time. On their return to Wolverhampton, a big celebration followed in the Half Way House. There was a large enthusiastic crowd, a Union Jack was raised and the trophy displayed.
The success in the T.T. produced a lot of very good publicity and an increase in orders followed. It soon became obvious that the Heath Street premises were totally inadequate for the manufacture of such a large number of machines. Larger premises were essential and a new factory occupying 12,000 sq. ft. was found in Fryer Street, behind the Chubb Building. The new works occupied the piece of land that was between Long Street and Broad street. The main entrance was in Fryer Street and the works entrance was in Long Street. The change of address was announced on 21st September in The Express & Star newspaper and the move was completed by the middle of October. This was a busy time for the company. There were orders to complete, the move to be organised, thought had to be given to next year’s models, and machines had to be got ready for the show at Olympia.
Although the new factory was quite large it was never fully equipped and its full potential wasn’t realised, because the company always suffered from a lack of money.
The company received some welcome publicity just before the Olympia show. On 18th September, H. Le Vack entered his HD90 in the events at Brooklands and gained a world speed record of 104.41m.p.h., for classes C & D, and a British record for the flying mile.
The 1925 Olympia show opened on 21st September, over a month earlier than usual. H.R.D. displayed five models, which were much the same as those displayed at last year’s show. The HD70 was dropped, but the HD70/S was retained, both in its original form or with a 600c.c. engine and a larger petrol tank. The new 600c.c. model cost an extra 5 guineas. The original 500c.c. solo model still sold for 66 guineas and 83 guineas for the combination. The HD80 was unchanged and still sold for 80 guineas. The HD90 was modified to make it as close as possible to the T.T. winning machine.
It had larger foot-operated brakes, with a ribbed rear brake drum. The capacity of the petrol tank was increased from 2 gallons to 2 gallons 3 pints, an extra engine mount was fitted and the machine still sold for 90 guineas.
Top of the range was the HD Super 90, which was the same as the HD90 but was fitted with a new 500c.c. twin port engine. Its top speed was around 100m.p.h. The machine was fitted with a Smith’s speedometer, Lucas electric lighting, and sold for 98 guineas.
Sales continued much as before, 267 machines were sold that year. Although sales were on the increase, the company was still not profitable. A new duplex frame was developed, and H.R.D. road tests were published in the February 1926 edition of ‘Motor Cycling’ magazine and ‘The Motor Cycle’. Both magazines were very enthusiastic and the machines were highly rated.
There were three H.R.D. entries for the Junior, two from the factory and one private, supported by the company.
Thoughts soon turned to the T.T. and a servo braking system was developed in readiness. It performed very well in trials, but in the end it was decided that the tried and tested traditional brakes, would continue to be used.
The company’s entrants were Eddie Twenlow and Kenneth Twenlow. T.R. Jones entered privately. In the Senior there were five factory entries and three supported private entries. The company’s entrants were Howard Davies, Eddie Twenlow, Kenneth Twenlow, Harry Harris and Clarry Wood. The private entrants were Ossie Wade, his son John, and Sidney Jackson.
The practice sessions went very badly from the start. It was obvious that the H.R.D.’s could not match the speed of many of the other entrants. The fastest H.R.D. time was 77.6m.p.h., whereas Frank Longman’s A.J.S. achieved 84.9m.p.h. Over 80m.p.h. was reached by many others, including Guzzi, P&M, Rudge, Scott, and Triumph. Moral was low and tempers frayed. Howard Davies sacked Theo Hupperdine on the spot. Theo, who was one of the mechanics, made some derogatory remarks about the performance of the machines.
Behind the scenes a lot of work was carried out to try and improve the performance, but all to no avail. In the Junior race, Eddie Twenlow fell during the first lap at Quarter Bridge and managed to continue. Unfortunately he had to retire in the fourth lap with a dead engine. T.R. Jones also retired on the fourth lap with a broken engine. Kenneth Twenlow, the only team member to finish, ended in 11th place.
In the Senior race, Howard Davies was in 3rd place at the end of the 3rd lap. On the 4th lap he crashed at Gooseneck and grazed his chin. He managed to continue, but the mishap had dropped him down to 6th place. His engine soon failed and he had to retire. Eddie Twenlow also finished in the 4th lap, with a dead magneto. John Wade crashed at Bradden Bridge. The race was won by Stanley Woods on a Norton. Clarry Wood finished in 5th place, Sidney Jackson finished in 8th place, Kenneth Twenlow finished in 9th place, Harry Harris finished in 16th place and Ossie Wade finished in 21st place.
It was a disaster for Howard, who had hoped to repeat his performance of 1925.On his return to Wolverhampton Howard had to decide on next year’s machines and what would be on display at Olympia.
The exhibition was due to open on 14th October and so there wasn’t much time to sort things out. The models that were on display, consisted of a few of the old favourites and some entirely new machines.
The HD90 was replaced by the HD75. Although the new machine sold for 75 guineas, it retained most of the original HD90’s features and so was good value for money. It had a 500c.c., overhead valve, JAP engine, with the original fixing. Webb forks were supplied with adjustable shock dampers. The machine also included a Pilgrim mechanical lubricator and was capable of 75m.p.h. The HD70/S remained at its old price and a de luxe version was produced. The new machine was the HD 600 De Luxe. It was powered by a 600c.c. sports, side valve, JAP engine and sold for 72 guineas.
The HD Super 90 remained at its old price and was also available with a 600c.c. engine for an extra 5 guineas.
The HD80 remained at its old price and was joined by two new 350c.c. models. The HD60 was aimed at the lower end of the market. It had a sports 350c.c. side valve, JAP engine. Druid forks with shock dampers, a top speed of around 60m.p.h., and sold for 60guineas.
The other new model, the HD65 was more or less identical to the HD60, but was fitted with a standard 350c.c. overhead valve, single port, JAP engine. Its top speed was around 65m.p.h. and it sold for 65 guineas.
There was also a de luxe touring sidecar which sold for 22 guineas. A total of 337 machines were sold in 1926, an increase of 70 on last year’s figures. But the company was still loosing money. For the 1927 range, H.R.D.’s sales policy remained unchanged. Relatively small numbers of machines were produced and buyers were urged to order well in advance.
There was always a waiting list and the earlier production problems were never resolved. Throughout 1927, H.R.D. machines continued to have a lot of success in competitions and so the company continued to get good publicity. The competition successes were featured in the company’s adverts and also in the adverts produced by some of the component suppliers.
Around Easter, plans were made for the forthcoming T.T. It was important that the H.R.D. machines should perform well, as this had a direct effect on sales. The general strike of 1926 and the trade recession had effected sales. H.R.D. machines were always expensive and were aimed at the top end of the market. This part of the market was badly hit by the recession and so something had to be done.
There was some doubt as to whether Howard would compete in the 1927 T.T., as he had put on a lot of weight and was quite unfit. In the end he decided to only enter for the Senior. The entries for the Junior were Freddie Dixon for the company and R.V. Crauford, privately. The entries for the Senior were Howard Davies, Clarry Wood and Freddie Dixon. The practice sessions went quite well. The H.R.D. team were being tipped finish in the first three in the Senior, even though their speeds were lower than those of the Norton team.
In the Junior, R.V. Crauford retired on lap five at Bray Hill, with brake problems, but Freddie Dixon and his machine performed flawlessly. Freddie went on to win the race at a record speed of 67.19m.p.h. In the Senior there were problems in the first lap. Clarrie Wood took a fall at Quarter Bridge, where the road was in a greasy condition. Luckily he was unhurt and managed to continue. Howard’s machine was suffering from lubrication problems and he had to retire on the next lap, at Sulby. Clarrie Wood had to retire on lap 4 at Hillberry with a buckled rear wheel.
This was a result of his fall in the first lap.Freddie Dixon’s machine again performed extremely well and he finished in 6th place. The winner was Alec Bennett on a Norton.
Back in Wolverhampton, the team was given a warm reception and many celebrations followed. There was a Civic reception on 21st June for both H.R.D. and Sunbeam, whose team gained the team prize in the Senior race. Three decorated lorries carrying H.R.D., A.J.S. and Sunbeam machines arrived at Chapel Ash. They were joined by the police band, the mounted police, and two cars.
The first car carried Howard Davies and the second carried Freddy Dixon. A procession quickly formed, which was led by the police band and the mounted police. A large crowd saw the procession depart for Victoria Square, where the reception was held at the Victoria Hotel. A crowd of about 2,000 people gathered outside the hotel and Howard Davies, Freddie Dixon, the Chief Constable and Alderman Myatt, climbed on to the narrow balcony to receive the crowd’s greeting. Another reception was given by Freddie Dixon’s club, the Middlesbrough and District M.C.C.
When the celebrations were over, a lot of hard work was necessary to make the company profitable again. A sales drive was organised and everyone did all that they could to promote sales. Six machines were prepared for the Olympia show in October. The model range remained the same as the previous year and prices were reduced to try and improve sales. Sales however got worse, only 214 machines were sold that year and each machine lost money. The company had never been profitable. The net loss was £440 in 1925, £1,223 in 1926 and £6,600 in 1927. The company went into voluntary liquidation in January 1928, and at the end of the month was purchased by Ernest Humphries, of O.K. Supreme Motors. He decided to sell the name, jigs, tools and patterns, and these were soon sold to Philip C. Vincent, for £500. Vincent wanted to start manufacturing motorcycles and needed an established name to get things off to a good start. Production moved to Stevenage and the new machines were called Vincent H.R.D. The H.R.D. part of the name was soon dropped and the machines were sold under the Vincent name.
Very few of the original H.R.D. machines have survived. Only about 18 complete machines and a number of incomplete machines are known to exist, although others may well be found in the future.
In 1924, with E J Massey, the first HRD motorcycles were built. Motors were sourced from JA Prestwich Industries Ltd (JAP), close ratio gearboxes from Burman, forks from Druid or Webb, chains from Renolds, oil pumps from Pilgrim, and carburettors from Binks. The bikes targeted the more affluent among the mechanically-minded, with sporting performance and quality components.
In 1925 Davies rode his own motorcycles at the Isle of Man TT, coming second in the Junior and winning the Senior. This brought in orders, but while appearing successful the firm was losing money. The first premises were too small, so they had to enlarge, but were undercapitalised. There was always a waiting list, but only small numbers were produced. In September H Le Vack set a speed record of 104.41 mph (168.03 km/h) on an HRD at Brooklands.
In 1926 the opposition at the TT were faster, and the best placing for HRD was fifth. The model range was broadened, but production didn't meet demand. A general strike inflicted more financial damage.
In 1927 Freddie Dixon took first place in the Junior TT, and sixth in the Senior for HRD. Despite this victory, the financial situation worsened.
In January 1928, the company entered voluntary liquidation. It was bought by Ernest Humphries (of OK Supreme Motors), who sold the name, tooling and patterns to Phil Vincent for £450 in May, 1928. Vincent subsequently formed The Vincent HRD Company later that year.