The Czechoslovakian Orion company was established in 1859 by Vilém Michl in Slaný which, at the time, was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The company produced bicycles, and built its first motorcycle in 1902 badged 'Michl Orion'. Production of their quality machines ceased at the onset of war in 1914, resuming shortly after the armistice. From 1919 they built mainly two-stroke machines, including a 594cc twin which delivered 4½ h.p. which was designed for mountain riding or sidecar work. Another famed machine was a four-stroke, the 500cc OHV F58A sports model which could achieve 120 km/h - a very respectable performance in the day.
Orion machines were quite successful in competition.
Vilém's wife became the first female motorcyclist in the country, and their son Zdeněk was responsible for a number of successful designs including the F58A. Zdeněk was murdered by the Nazis during the German occupation.
The company foundered in 1933 as a result, presumably, of the Great Depression.
"Michl is technically very talented, so a steam engine of his own design appears in his workshop, which serves the entire turning workshop. The factory is already very well equipped for its time, it has its own foundry and melting furnace. Vilém Michl draws and invents new models and improvements in the evenings, so he is only a step away from motorcycles. Interest in his bicycles is constantly growing and in 1895 he began to build a new factory. In 1901, the company already offers a choice of 8 types of mass-produced bicycles in the company's catalog. His right hand becomes the workshop manager Pachman, who has been working in the factory since its inception. Michl is technically very talented, so a steam engine of his own design appears in his workshop, which serves the entire turning workshop. The factory is already very well equipped for its time, it has its own foundry and melting furnace. Vilém Michl draws and invents new models and improvements in the evenings, so he is only a step away from motorcycles.
In 1902, the motorcycle frame, the engine itself and other components were already developed. The motorcycle, which begins another history of the factory, bears the name Michl-Orion. The first motorcycle model is a motorcycle with a four-stroke engine with an evaporating carburetor and a belt drive to the rear wheel. With this motorcycle, Michl participates in the exhibition in Leipzig and the entire collection of 10 pieces is immediately sold. In 1903, Orion motorcycles were exhibited in Prague. The manufacturers are getting well-deserved recognition and admiration. Michl also thinks of women and designs motorcycles for ladies as well. Of course, bicycles are still being produced and are still the mainstay of the factory. They are not only sold in the Czech Republic, but are also exported to the Balkans and Russia.
In addition to the production of "vehicles", Michl also starts the production of sewing machines for both domestic use and large-scale production, it even produces other household tools, such as irons, pans, cast iron pots, etc. The production program also includes steam engines, gasoline stable engines, fine control devices called tachographs, which are used in coal mines and many other farm products. Despite the fact that the production program is very very varied and extensive, the company is still thriving. A railway siding is soon being built next to the factory, which allows products to be shipped directly by rail.
We learn from period documents that in 1904 the factory already had 110 workers, three workshop managers and seven clerks. Although there are not many motorcycle manufacturers in the Czech Republic yet, Michl is already following the competition and is also actively participating in every exhibition. Due to very good sales of products, it is not produced in stock. Appropriate documentation often illustrated, was always supplied with the products. It is interesting that most customers were from northern Bohemia and Orion hardly knows a complaint. Michl responds flexibly to customer requirements.
In addition to sidecars and motorcycle trailers, the factory also offered an interesting car with an engine located under the floor. The cost of producing this passenger car was too high, so Michl prefered to focus on production for farmers, where he sees opportunities for greater sales. With its own tractors and mounted plow, all of course of its own design and tested under difficult conditions, experience well-deserved successes.
With the arrival of the First World War Michl refocused on arms production and the factory began to produce for the army. As some of the workers joined the armed forces and the factory cannot stop, Michl tries another replacement production, namely the production of already proven tachographs. This substitute production helps to partially offset the decline in production of the factory's basic program and is so successful that the products are exported as far afield as China. Although agricultural machinery is still selling well, Michla is increasingly drawn to motorcycles, and in 1923 he designed a new type of Orion motorcycle with a 170cc two-stroke engine and rear-wheel drive. The following year he replaced the belt with a chain. Zdeněk's son, who was designing a chassis for the Orion 600 motorcycle, was starting to get involved in the design work.
Orion motorcycles are also beginning to be used in sports, when, for example, a special 350 cc with a two-stroke engine was developed for the first year of the Knovíz - Olšany race, which took place in 1924. That year 13 machines started, and the races met with such a positive response that in 1925 even took place as national races. In 1926, the famous racing duo Čeněk and Eliška Junková in a Bugatti car also took part in the races. The race took place again in 1927, but this was the last time. Orion motorcycles were mostly robust construction with all the accessories and were relatively expensive.
His sons are also more active in the factory. Vilém junior becomes the company's manager,
JAWA's competition is appearing on the motorcycle market, and although Michl has no problem with sales yet, it is preparing another production alternative, which is to be an aircraft engine of its own design. The development of this engine was successful in the factory, production started successfully and by 1929 it had managed to produce a total of over six hundred aircraft engines. Factory products were characterized by high quality materials and workmanship, so the final price is up to a third higher than the Jawa. Sales of aircraft engines are low, there are also problems around the factory and people in Skalky complain about disturbing the night quiet during engine tests. However, there is no money to soundproof the hall. Michl assembles the last motorcycles and by selling them he obtains funds for the construction of other aircraft engines. The situation is further complicated by the departure of aeronautical engineer Paroubek,
The situation became sustainable and in 1932 Michl declared bankruptcy. However, the honest Slaný factory owner did not owe a single cent to his employees. In August 1934, one of Michal's creditors, the Přibyl factory, who bought the production of components for ROKOL bicycles, bought the factory for 395 thousand crowns. Vilém Michl senior with his older son Vilém moves to a family house in Skalky in Slaný. The second son Zdeněk Michl leaves for the Aero factory in Prague and Miloš started working at the Liberec Zoo. Thus ended the glorious history of Orion Michl, the oldest motorcycle factory in Slaný."
~ orionklubslany.cz (via archive.org)
Sources: Tragatsch; jlbweb.fr; orionklubslany.cz
Other marques with the Orion name: Disambiguation
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