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Ariel - marque/manufacturer information

List of all Ariel cars

Ariel was a bicycle, motorcycle and automobile marque manufactured in Birmingham, England. Car production moved to Coventry in 1911. The company name was reused in 1999 for the formation of Ariel Ltd, a sports car producer.


The company dates back to 1847 when Ariel made an early pneumatic-tyred wheel for horse drawn carriages. The name was revived by James Starley and William Hillman in 1870 when they invented the wire-spoke wheel which allowed them to build a lighter weight bicycle naming it Ariel (the spirit of the air). They put the name on the factory where they made penny-farthing bicycles and sewing machines. In 1885 Starley invented the Rover Safety Bicycle - a rear-wheel-drive, chain-driven bicycle with two similar-sized wheels, which is essentially the design still used on bicycles today. Use of the name lapsed but in 1896 it appeared again, this time on motorised transport.

The first Ariel vehicle was a Tricycle that used a 2.25 hp De Dion engine mounted at the rear. More tricycles were produced and quadricycles were added in 1901 as Ariel then moved into car production.

In 1902 Components Ltd., owned by Charles Sangster bought the company and began producing motorcycles, but the company suffered several financial crises including spells in receivership in 1911 and the early 1930s. In 1932 Components Ltd went bankrupt, and Jack Sangster, Charles Sangster's son, bought the Ariel subsidiary from the receivers at a bargain price. The company was renamed Ariel Motors (J.S.) Ltd, and promptly resumed production.

Car Production

Cars were produced over two periods: from 1900 to 1915, and again from 1922 to 1925.

The first proper Ariel car was a 10 hp twin-cylinder car produced in 1902. In 1903, their first four-cylinder was a 16 hp model. Both these vehicles had a leather cone clutch that was entirely separate from the flywheel. A six-cylinder model, built on a seemingly inadequate tube-frame chassis, entered production early in 1904.

An entirely new range was announced at the end of 1905; called the "Aero-Simplex", these cars were Mercedes inspired four-cylinder designs of 15 hp and 25/30 hp and a six of 35/40 hp. In 1907-1908 the company began production of the monstrous 50/60 hp six, which offered an engine of 15.9 litres for a chassis price of £950. In 1907 Ariel sold its Bournbrook, Birmingham factory to the French Lorraine-Dietrich company who wanted to enter the British market, and thereafter had its cars assembled at the Coventry Ordnance Works, a branch of Cammell Laird. The arrangement with Lorraine-Dietrich was cancelled in 1910. Production of a 1.3 litre light car was quashed by the outbreak of World War I.

After 1918 the company tried one last, abortive attempt to cash in on the small car market with the Ariel Nine designed by Jack Sangster, the son of the owner, who had previously worked for Rover where he designed the similar but air cooled, twin cylinder, Rover Eight. It was launched in 1922 and featured a flat-twin, water cooled engine of 996 cc and was capable of 55 mph. About 700 were made. It was joined by 1097 cc four cylinder Ariel Ten in 1922 with the gearbox combined with the rear axle. The car was advertised at £180 for the chassis and about 250 were made until in 1926 Ariel abandoned the car market to concentrate on motor cycles.

The new company using the old Ariel name makes only a single model, the Atom, a minimalistic 2 seater road going sports car.

Motor Cycles

The first Ariel to be fitted with an engine was in 1898 when a powered tricycle appeared. In 1901 the first Ariel motorcycle proper was launched powered by a 211 cc Minerva engine.

A range of motor cycles was made with engines either bought in or assembled to other peoples design until the 1926 season when a new designer, Val Page, joined Ariel from JAP. Page created a pair of new engines for the 1926 season which used many existing cycle parts and then redsigned the cycle for 1927. These Ariels are known as 'Black Ariels' (1926 - 1930) and were the basis on which all Ariel 4-stroke singles were based until their demise in 1959 (except the LH Colt of the mid 1950s). During the 'Black Ariel' period the Ariel horse logo came into being as did the slogan 'The Modern Motor Cycle'.

The Ariel Square Four with 500 cc engine designed by Edward Turner first appeared for the 1931 season, but around this time the company went into receivership and then a new company was formed. The Square Four became a 600cc. The Square Fours had overheating problems with the rear cylinders which resulted in distorted heads throughout their history. A redesign in 1937 resulted in a 995 cc OHV version designated the 4G.

In 1939 Anstey-link plunger rear suspension was an option. It was still available when production restarted in 1946, with telescopic forks replacing the girder forks.

In 1949 the Mark 1 Square Four had cast aluminium barrels and heads, instead of cast iron. With the lower weight the bike was a 90 mph plus machine.

In 1951 Jack Sangster had sold Ariel and Triumph (bought in 1936) to the Birmingham Small Arms Company group (BSA), and joined their board. By 1956 Sangster was voted in as the new Chairman, defeating incumbent Sir Bernard Docker 6 to 3. Sangster promptly made Edward Turner head of the automotive division, which then included Ariel, Triumph , and BSA motorcycles, as well as Daimler and Carbodies (London Taxicab manufacturers).

In 1953 the Mark 2 Square Four had a redesigned cylinder head, and was capable of 100 mph.

In 1959, to the dismay of some motorcyclists, Ariel dropped its four-stroke engines and produced basically two models, the 250cc twin cylinder two-stroke engined Arrow and Leader models. There was also a 200cc Arrow version made for a short period. These engines and frames, completely new to Ariel, were copies of the pre-war German Adler models. The designs had been claimed by the Allies as part of war reparations after WW2 in a similar way in which BSA used the German DKW design as the starting point for their BSA Bantam models. To give Ariel credit, the Arrow and Leader models were an attempt to bring the company up to date having recognised the threat from the new Japanese imports.

The Leader had a fully faired body from the headlamp aft. The Arrow was more open, though it kept the enclosed chain case and deep mudguards.

Ariel motorcycles ceased production in 1967.

In 1970 BSA used the name for the "Ariel 3", a 3-wheeler 50cc 2-stroke moped, different at the time because it was a tilting vehicle. The front half was hinged to the rear and could tilt into corners whilst keeping all three wheels on the ground. Production of the Ariel 3 was short and was dropped along with the Ariel name shortly afterwards.

Famous Models

  • Ariel Square Four
  • Red Hunter
  • VB
  • Models A - G
  • Ariel Arrow
  • Leader
  • Fieldmaster
  • Pixie
  • VCH
  • Huntmaster
  • Cyclone (model owned by Buddy Holly)
  • The Military Model WNG 350
  • Trials HT5
  • Badger
  • Trials HT3
  • Scrambles HS

List of all Ariel cars

Source: Wikipedia


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