Premier Motorcycles

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William Hillman produced his first motorcycle in 1902 under the name Hillman. It had had a number of interesting features, including all-chain drive. The 1½ hp engine was mounted high up behind the headstock, and the crankcase became part of the downtube. The magneto was driven by crank and rod, so oscillated, and the chain drive was in two stages, via the bottom bracket. The mixture was provided by a crude spray-carburettor - a very advanced feature for the era. Only one model was built. [1]

In the early 1870's he founded Hillman, Herbert and Cooper, a bicycle manufacturer which later became the Premier Cycle Co. James Starley became a partner, and he and Hillman built penny-farthing bicycles under the name Ariel. The importance of this partnership in the history of motorcycling cannot be overemphasised - their business association led to the formation of Rudge-Whitworth, the invention of the safety bicycle and the invention of the rubber tyre.

  • Premier motorcycles were manufactured from 1908 to 1920 in Coventry by William Hillman.

    1908 A model was produced that had a 3½ hp White and Poppe engine, Brown and Barlow carburettor, Bosch magneto and belt drive.

    1909 By now they were building their own version of the engine and their own design of forks replaced the original Chater-Lea. They took an injunction against Premier Motor Co over the use of the name Premo.

    1910 The single was joined by a 3¾ hp V-twin that had horizontal cooling fins and a crankshaft that allowed both pistons to move together despite its angle. Late in the year, a completely new 3¾ hp V-twin engine was announced, and this had cylinders set at 45 degrees and kept the horizontal cooling fins. A two-speed gear was available.

    1911 A 2hp lightweight model joined the range. It had its engine mounted inclined in a loop frame above the pedals. It had a rear-mounted Bosch magneto, belt drive and Druid forks. Later, a 2½ hp single was added.

    1912 Premier Cycle Co listed at Hertford St. and Lincoln St (Tel. 796), Read St (Tel. 514), Coventry and as manufacturers of motorcycles.

  • 1912 The range now included a 3½ hp ladies' model with open frame.

    1913 They produced a 499cc side-valve 3-speed machine, and brought in a two-speed gearbox and Druid forks for the 3½ hp single. In came a new V-twin with increased power and out went the 2hp model.

    1914 A new model was announced, but few were built. It had a 2¾ hp in-line, twin-cylinder, two-stroke, over-square engine of 322cc, mounted in a duplex frame.

    Premiers in the Army.

    A number of 3½ h.p. Premier countershaft three-speed machines has been supplied to the War Office for use with the Expeditionary Force, and two machines for Lord Lonsdale's Colonial Corps.

    The Motor Cycle, August 27th 1914.

    1915-1916 The range was still listed.

    Post-WWI. The company concentrated on a three-wheel Runabout.

Sources: Graces Guide, et al

Notes: 1. The 1902 Hillman reference also appears in a piece by the Coventry Transport Museum, which says, "Hillman himself waited until 1902 to develop an experimental motor-bicycle."

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