The History of Coventry-Eagle Motorcycles

Lyle Ellerbee

Coventry Eagle began in 1890 as Hotchkiss, Mayo & Meek, but they changed their name to Coventry Eagle in 1897 when John Meek left the company.  In 1898, they also began to experiment with motorized vehicles and by 1899, production of motorcycles had begun.

The bikes were hand built and finished carefully, and proved reliable.  By World War 1, the range had expanded and included a Villiers powered two speed 269cc lightweight, a 3.5hp single, and a three speed 5hp V-twin. 

Production was hampered during the war, but in 1919 production resumed, and through the guidance of Mayo, began to build machines of wide appeal.

In the early 1920s, the line up chopped and changed depending on what engines were available at the time and the company swapped between Abingdon, JAP, King Dick and Villiers motors.

In 1925, the two stroke engine was enlarged to an Aza 175cc with an Albion two speed gearbox.  But then two strokes were dropped altogether for a couple of seasons as the company concentrated on a wide range of four strokes in single and twin forms and even with sidecar outfits.

In 1928, the policy of four strokes only ended with the arrival of the twin port, super sport Villiers engines in 147cc, 172cc and 172cc twin port, super sports forms.  The company also began to use forks from pressed sheet steel, and although this was common in Europe, Coventry Eagle were the first major British company to use this method, a move that proved to be very successful for the next decade.

Coventry Eagle got the formula right with perhaps the most iconic bike of its time the ‘Flying 8’.  This was a development of the JAP V-twin, and initially used the 976cc side valve motor, although a 50° 980cc OHV version trundled along for the 1926 season, with heavy duty Webb girder front forks, and 8 inch Royal Enfield brakes on both wheels, it weighed 395lb and it’s wheelbase was 59 inches.

The Flying 8 had a round and tapered fuel tank, and bore a striking resemblance to the Brough Superior of the same period.  This is not surprising as George Brough and Percy Mayo spent some time together towards the end of World War 1 discussing the type of motorcycle they would like to manufacture when the hostilities were over and they found their tastes were remarkably similar.  It had a guaranteed top speed of 80mph and when it was equipped with a Jardine gearbox, it did not come cheap and the OHV Flying 8 was the second most expensive motorcycle on the market at the time.

By 1928, the Flying 8 was equipped with mag dyno electric lighting, ghost silencers and a steering damper, and this version was considered one of the most handsome British bikes on the market.

When the world economy crashed in the 1930s, Coventry Eagle was forced to change tack and they concentrated on the two stroke “bread and butter” lightweights.  The last OHV Flying 8 left the factory in 1930 and the final side valve model the following year.  Coventry Eagle continued building bikes until the outbreak of World War 2, and listed a range for 1940, but very few were built after the hostilities started.

In 1931, twins were dropped and the production of two strokes continued for some years.  Many of the models were stylish and distinctive with large exhaust systems, as on the ‘Silent Superb’.  The most basic model was the 98cc ‘Marvel’.  Other models were the ‘Wonder’ and ‘Eclipse’ and most were in a pressed steel frame.

The ‘Pullman’ arrived in 1935 with a new type of pressed steel frame with enclosure of the mechanics and rear wheel.  The rear suspension was controlled by leaf springs running along the frame sides.

In 1937, the four stroke single returned, using Matchless engines in three sizes.  These, plus a variety of two strokes ran on to the end of the decade.

In 1940 production, drastically cut because of the war, soon ceased – never to be resumed.

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