Zenith Motors was established in Finsbury Park London in 1903 by W.G. Bowers and was originally an automobile manufacturer, however this only lasted from one year with one model the ‘Popular’ which had a two-cylinder, 6HP Stevens engine and a belt driven rear axle.
Motorcycle production started in 1912, these bikes used engines from various suppliers including Precision, Villiers and moat famously JAP. The first Zenith motorcycle the “Gradua” featured a variable-ratio belt drive transmission, designed by Zenith chief engineer Freddie W. Barnes, in an era when direct-drive, single speed transmission was the industry norm. Variable gear ratios proved a significant advantage in competition, leading riders of other marques to complain the Gradua gave an unfair advantage; eventually Zeniths with Gradua gears were banned from many competitions. Zenith capitalized on this ban, adding the word “Barred” to their advertising and logo. The Gradua system was replaced by the now-standard gearbox and chain transmission in 1924.
A relatively small manufacturer Zenith had significant success in motorcycle racing and competition in the early 1920‘s, Zeniths held more ‘Gold Stars’ at the Brooklands racing circuit than any other marque, and award that was given for lapping the outer circuit at over 100 mph.
In 1931 Zenith declared bankruptcy due to the Great Depression although their principal dealer Writers of Kennington purchased the name and restarted production at a Hampton Court factory in Surrey it was interrupted by WWII. Production did start again from 1947 but only lasted until 1950.
Early Zeniths are not only rare they are highly sort after as they featured some of the best and most powerful motorcycle engines of the era. This early Gradua with its JAP 770cc side valve V twin motor is one of the jewels of the Hitchcock collection. Although in ‘barn find’ condition it is more or less complete and supplied with a Pioneer Certificate stating the date of manufacture as 1914. Purchased for the collection from Bert Greeves, Greeves Motorcycles, it also comes with a Buff logbook showing the ownership of Invacar Ltd / Mr Oscar Bertram Greeves in 1955, the UK V5C logbook also supplied shows this (incorrectly) as the date of manufacture, however this highly collectable motorcycle does retain it’s original registration number of 800 BHK. This is without doubt a real find and unlikely to be repeated.