New Imperial Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Clifford Aero

CLIFFORD AERO & AUTO Ltd Spring Road, Hall Green [source]

The Clifford Group in the fifties consisted of 16 companies, some of which are listed below;

Clifford Aero and Auto
Clifford Covering
Clifford Cultivators
Clifford Motor Components
Farnborough Engineering
Valves Ltd
Clifford Motor Components
Clifford Developments

Birmingham born Solomon Clifford Joseph was the son of a Birmingham fine art dealer who specialised in Jade. The family home was in Speedwell Road, Edgbaston. One of three brothers, Joseph was Birmingham's only World War One flying ace, with 13 confirmed victories. Joseph served in the Royal Naval Air Service 10N squadron, flying Sopwith Camels, which became 210 squadron when absorbed by the newly formed RAF in 1919. For bravery, in two separate flying sorties, Captain Joseph was awarded the DFC and Bar.

Joseph formed his first company in 1913, of which little is known.

After being de-mobbed, in 1919, it is believed that Joseph formed either a partnership or an alliance with Harry Joyce, who appears in Kelly's Directory of 1897 as a tube bender in Cheapside, Digbeth.

Joyce subsequently moved to Sydenham Road in Sparkhill, where he was shown as a tube manufacturer and for a few years was also shewn[2] as a bicycle manufacturer. Later he is shown as a manufacturer of cycle accessories. Joyce eventually moved to Bridge Street, Smethwick, where he is recorded in Kelly's directory as being a tube manufacturer again and records shew he was still there up till 1929. After this period it is believed he was then a director of Clifford Covering Ltd..

Joyce may also have been involved with the inception of a company called Motor Components (Coventry) Ltd of Moor Street in Earsldon; this company was believed to have formed in 1912. At some stage this company moved to Birmingham and around this time another company was set up by Joseph called Clifford Covering. It is known that Clifford Covering initially was involved in the dipping of pram handles in celluloid but very soon was exclusively dipping automotive steering wheels. Motor Components made the steel frames and Clifford Covering provided the dipped finish. Harry Joyce most likely became a director of Clifford Covering in the late 20s. In April 1926 Joyce is shown, together with Clifford Covering, as the applicant for a patent for the improvement of steering wheels and other hand wheels. at the time of this application both Joyce and Clifford Covering where shown at the same address, 57 Graham Street, Birmingham. Joyce went on to patent other steering wheel and bicycle frame improvements.

In 1927 Clifford Covering are shewn in Burbidge Road, Bordesley and a patent is applied for with Albert Edward Greenland.

In 1928 George Warwick and Clifford Covering were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels

In 1931 Bertram Douglas Baker and Clifford Covering were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels

In 1934 Solomon Clifford Joseph and Clifford Covering, now at Wharfedale Road, Tyesley, were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels

In 1937 Solomon Clifford Joseph and Clifford Covering were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels

In 1944 John Henry Tuppenny and Clifford Covering were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels

William Wheeler and Clifford Components registered a hydraulic pump, Wheelers address is shown as Little Blakes, Shelsey Beauchamp, Worcestershire.

Bill Wheeler was also the Managing Director of Clifford Aero and Auto at Spring Road and Hoobrook, Kidderminster.

1948 Norman Cyril Tuppeny and Clifford Covering were shown as applying for patents for the improvement of steering wheels.

Clifford Covering was an immensely successful company, gradually expanding its business so that it ultimately supplied 70% of all steering wheels to the automotive market. Joseph diversified into many branches of engineering but it was the production of steering wheels that was his most successful business.

It has been stated elsewhere that Clifford Aero & Auto was Joseph's first company but this is not correct. Clifford Aero & Auto actually started life as the motorcycle manufacturers, New Imperial Ltd., who are shewn in Board of Trade records as having changed their name to Clifford Aero & Auto Ltd on the 6th October 1939.

New Imperial started as bicycle manufactures in 1887 although records shew no mention of the name New Imperial at that time. It is known that they formed a limited company in 1908 called New Imperial Cycle Company. In 1912 they formed, New Imperial Motors Ltd. At the end of the twenties New Imperial were expanding and as a result of this a new factory was commissioned in Hall Green. In 1929 they moved from the gun quarter in Princip Street into their new purpose built factory on a 6 acre site in Spring Road, Hall Green, the land having been owned previously by New Imperial founder, Norman Downes. Note, Clifford Aero and Auto later stated in some of its advertisements that the company had been, 'precision engineers since 1912'. This undoubtedly is because 1912 was the year New Imperial Motors Ltd was registered.

Unfortunately New Imperial motorcycles had expanded into the 30s recession and towards the end of the decade they ran into financial trouble. After the death of Norman Downes, the company went into liquidation, the receiver being appointed by Lloyds Bank on the 7th November 1938.

The company was advertised for sale by the Receiver on the 18th November 1938, and was subsequently bought by Jack Sangster, who then owned both the Ariel & Triumph motorcycle companies. Sangster notified the press that his offer had been accepted on 30th December 1938 and assured everyone that production of New Imperial motorcycles would continue.

On the 20th January production of motorcycles resumed but by the 27th of the month there were rumours of a sell out to Solomon Joseph who, as mentioned above, owned Clifford Covering and Motor Components. This rumour became fact with an announcement of the sale to Joseph on the 10th February, 1939. On 3rd September war started and on the 22nd September all the New Imperial spares were sold to Colliers, who then appointed spares suppliers.

On the 25th May 1939 Solmon Clifford Joseph was shewn as a director of New Imperial Motors Ltd. Other directors recorded at that time are William Robert Wheeler, Albert Arthur Glover, Leonard Shirley Horton (Norman Downe's brother in law), Karl Tompkins and Louis Murphy. It is known that Bill Wheeler, Arthur Glover and Len Horton were New Imperial men. Note that Jack Sangster is not shown as a director at this time.

It is very likely that Joseph did continue with the manufacture of New Imperial motorcycles and/or New Imperial motor cycle spares for a time. Joseph took control in February and the name change to Clifford Aero and Auto did not occur till October and as we do not know of any other products made at Spring Road at this time we must assume that motorcycles or/and their parts were being made at the factory.

Joan Lucas, who worked at both New Imperial and Clifford at the time of Josephs takeover, is adamant that motorcycle production continued until the factory turned over to war work, which she says was on the outbreak of war. Interestingly she also said that the change over was seamless, she was in fact told that the only change would be in the name she used when she answered the phone! This of course suggests that the name change was made straight away but it was certainly not changed in official records until October. Joan's memory about the actual date of the name change may be uncertain but it is difficult to believe that she would not have remembered a change of the main product being manufactured. When you consider that she was the telephonist and receptionist it makes it even more difficult to believe that she would get this wrong.

Why then did Sangster change his mind, in fact did he change his mind, did he just intend to be an asset stripper in the first place? Did the obvious problems of the war in Europe and at that stage our probable involvement change his mind? Did Joseph receive a contract for war work and needed a work force and factory quickly? We will probably never know the answers to these questions but we do know that both Sangster and Joseph were Jews and it is very likely they were friends, they even lived in the same area of the City. Certainly it would seem that very little changed in the day to day running of the company. Most New Imperial office and managerial staff were kept on in similar positions. Even some technical staff remained but there were some redundancies.

We must also consider the name, New Imperial, this was allegedly sold to BSA at a later date by Sangster. So it would seem Sangster sold the company but retained the rights to the name or bought the name back off Clifford Aero and Auto. It is also believed that some New Imperial machines were sold to the government in the early forties possibly from Sangster's Triumph works in Coventry. Kelly's Directory shews no entry for Clifford Aero & Auto in 1939 but in 1940 it shews the company as Aeronautical Engineers and this is most likely because they were exclusively involved in aeronautical war work.

We know most certainly that Clifford Aero and Auto produced small parts for the Lancaster bomber at Spring Road. Joan Lucas remembers making bushes for this aircraft after being moved from the offices to the factory floor. We can be reasonable sure that they also made rollers for the movement of bombs within the aircraft bomb bays. It is also known that Clifford's made engine valves for the Rolls Royce Merlin engine which was used in both the Spitfire and Lancaster, although we cannot be sure these were made at Spring Road as Clifford Covering had a factory nearby in Tyesley. Clifford Aero and Auto also had a factory at Hoobrook Mill at Kidderminster which was used solely for war work, making aircraft components for the Lancaster and Spitfire. This factory was originally a paper mill and was requisitioned by the government at the commencement of war. Clifford vacated the works soon after the war's end.


Between 1950 & 1952 Clifford built the Cymota clip-on 45cc two-stroke engine, which was a copy of a French clip on engine, for use on bicycles. This engine was reputedly built by Cymo at Leamington Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham but is shown in some histories as being built by Clifford Motor Components Ltd. It is possible of course that Cymo were Clifford Motor Components. The engine was distributed by Blue Star Garages but production was short lived...

It is interesting to note that CYMO was the telegraphic address for Hercules Cycles at Aston.

See also: Cymota 1950-1952


After the war the Spring Road factory seems to have been used for various new projects. The company was now shown in Kelly's as automobile engineers. Around 1947 Clifford Aero & Auto began manufacturing forklift trucks, and also experimented with washing machines, domestic gas drying cabinets and cookers. Clifford's patented a rotary pump in 1943 which was used in caravans. At a much later date the company also made unlined brake shoes at Spring Road...

CLIFFORD CULTIVATORS Ltd, Cranmore Boulevard, Shirley & Spring Road, Hall Green

During the war the MOD requisitioned vacant properties capable of operating as factories and one of these sites was the Old Mill at Hoobrook, Kidderminster. This former paper mill was taken over by Clifford Aero and Auto and run by Harry Rowe who was a Spring Road man who lived at Hockley Heath, indeed several of the skilled workers were Spring Road men and travelled over from Birmingham every day. Clifford produced parts for various aircraft, in the early part of the war solely Spitfire parts were produced but later parts were even produced for Russian aircraft. Around 1943 a cultivator project was launched most likely as a private project for Clifford as it was unlikely this was connected with war work. Clifford engineers are believed to have produced their own engine for this cultivator, believed to have been a two stroke. This cultivator was trialled in the caretakers garden which was overgrown with weeds, in the spring of 1944 at Hoobrook on at least two occasions. I am obliged to the caretakers son, Robert Hart, for this information on Hoobrook.

It is believed that Clifford Aero and Auto continued with war work (aircraft parts) until around the end of 1945. In 1946 Clifford Aero and Auto put a cultivator into production fitted with a 4 HP JAP engine, steel land wheels and spring tines. By the end of that year they had made just over 2200 Clifford Rotary Cultivators, as the first ones were known as until they became the Model A1.


Joan Lucas who started in the offices of New Imperial in 1934 aged 15 remembers a protype cultivator being tested in her garden which had a bomb crater in the garden, in nearby Runnymede Road around 1946. It must have needed a bit more development work because one of the times broke during the trial but there again these would have probably been the weaker spring tines.

Source: Text on this page is derived from an archive of, which has been offline for some years. Efforts to contact the site owner have been unsuccessful.

1. "shewn" - antiquated version of the word "shown". Possibly used in this context due to its appearance in some of the original sources; the word is currently still in use in legal terminology.

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