This article is about the Ariel motorcycle and motor car company, for the modern sports car manufacturer see Ariel Ltd.

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Ariel wings emblem 1


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).[1] 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 over the years 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.[1]

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 abandonded the car market to concentrate on motor cycles.

The new company using the old Ariel name makes only a single model, the Atom, a minimilistic 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 were made with engine either bought in or assembled to other peoples design until 1925 when a new designer, Val Page, joined Ariel from JAP. His work on engines coupled with a new frame design resulted in the launch in 1927 of the Red Hunter, a name that would last until 1959. This was the basis for a successful line of singles bearing that name.

The other famous inter-war machine was the Ariel Square Four with 500 cc engine designed by Edward Turner first appearing in 1932, but before this became established the company went into receivership. A new company was started up and reintroduced the Square Four now with a 600 cc engine. This earlier production Square Four was an OHC engine, and had overheating problems with the heads. A redesign in 1937 resulted in a 995 cc OHV version designated the 4G.[2]

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 was released with the barrels and heads cast in aluminium, instead of cast iron. With the lower weight the bike was now a genuine 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).[3]

In 1953 the Mark 2 Square Four was released with a redesigned cylinder head that made it a 100 mph machine.

In 1959, to the dismay of some stalwart traditional motorcyclists, Ariel suddenly dropped the whole of its four-stroke engine range 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 very short period. These engines and frames, completely new to Ariel, were, in fact, 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 famous BSA Bantam models. To give Ariel credit, the Arrow and Leader models were at least 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 backwards. The Arrow was more open though it still kept the enclosed chain case and deep mudguards.

Ariel motorcycles ceased production in 1967.[4]

In 1970 BSA used the name for the "Ariel 3", a 3-wheeler 50cc 2-stroke moped, different from other mopeds at the time not just for having 3-wheels but because it was a tilting vehicle. The front half of the moped was hinged to the rear and so it could tilt into corners whilst keeping all 3-wheels on the ground. Production of the Ariel 3 was short and the moped 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
  • The Military Model WNG 350
  • Trials HT5
  • Badger
  • Trials HT3
  • Scrambles HS

See also



Atom · Nomad


Square Four · Red Hunter · VB · Model A · Model B · Model C · Model D · Model E · Model F · Model G · Arrow · Leader · Fieldmaster · Pixie · VCH · Huntmaster · Model WNG 350 · Trials HT5 · Badger · Trials HT3 · Scrambles HS


James Staley and William Hillman Corporate website independent


  1. 1.0 1.1 [1] British Bikes (Retrieved December 29, 2006)
  2. [2] Square Four (retrieved 13 October 2006)
  3. Title: Thoroughbred & Classic Cars - May 1999, Article: Daimler's Queen of Excess, Author: Martin Buckley, Publisher: EMAP Automotive Ltd, Lynchwood, Peterborough, 1996-, pp103-106. ISSN Template:ISSN search link
  4. [3] Ariel History (retrieved 13 October 2006)

External links