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Ariel Motorcycle - WW II

Thanks to Megashorts ( ) for allowing me unlimited access to download and use this excellent photo as the subject for my digital illustration. His original photo of this fine vintage, WW II Ariel motorcycle can be viewed here.


Note that I added a “black out” hood on the head lamp as well as the subdued Ariel manufacturer’s emblem on the side of the petrol tank. This would be seen as more typical of the scheme employed on this vehicle during war-time England.


Hope you enjoy.


Ariel W/NG 350 cc


Ariel Motorcycles was a British motorcycle manufacturer based in Bournbrook, Birmingham. It was one of the leading innovators in British motorcycling, and was part of the Ariel marque. The company was sold to BSA in 1944 and the name was discontinued in 1970. Influential Ariel designers included Edward Turner and Val Page.


The original company was established in 1870 by James Starley and William Hillman to make bicycles. The name came from the first penny farthing bicycle, which was so light they called it the Ariel "spirit of the air". It merged with Westwood Manufacturing in 1896 and made a powered tricycle in 1898 with a de Dion engine. Hillman left soon afterwards to found Premier Motorcycles.


In 1902, Ariel produced their first motorcycle, which had a Kerry engine with an innovative magneto ignition and a float carburettor. In 1905, Ariel was taken over by Charles Sangster, who built a three-speed, two-stroke he marketed as the "Arielette", but his small factory closed on the outbreak of the First World War. In 1918, Sangster's son Jack took over and developed a motorcycle with a 4 hp White and Poppe engine that proved successful. Jack increased the range of motorcycles to include 586 cc and 992 cc machines and persuaded the designer Val Page to join the company. Ariel was merged with a company called Components Ltd. but this venture failed and in 1930, Jack was able to regain control and set up a new factory in Birmingham. One of their first bikes was the Ariel Square Four, designed by Edward Turner followed by the Ariel Red Hunter.


During the Second World War, the Ariel factory was turned over to military production, including the Ariel W/NG 350 army motorcycle based on the Red Hunter with higher ground clearance. In 1944, the company was sold to BSA and the 500 cc KH model was produced, together with the more powerful Huntmaster, which had a modified BSA A10 650 cc engine. Reliable and capable of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h), the Huntmaster proved popular with sidecar enthusiasts.


Ariel was one of many manufacturers in England to supply motorcycles for the war effort.

In August 1939 Ariel offered the 1939 VA 497cm3 OHV single for evaluation against the War Office's Norton 16H. They also tested the 1939 W/VA 497cc side-valve single which had been lightened. The Ariels performed very well, but by the end of testing Ariel had designed a new prototype, the W/NG.

The new 1940 W/NG was a 348cm3 OHV single that was based on a winning Scottish six-day Trials bike, and it was ready by mid-1940. The French government immediately placed an order.

The British War Office only rated it as "fair, for use only in emergency purposes" by August 1940. However, due to the massive evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 and the loss of the majority of England's top equipment, the War Office began ordering replacement motorcycles from all British makers.


Ariel then supplied all possible models including civilian orders and even used bikes in good order. VH & VG (500 OHV singles), NH & NG (350 OHV singles), and even the VB (598cm3 SV single) models were put into service, although most of these only saw mainland war service for training & civil defense uses.

The W/NG models were supplied from 1939 - 45 and featured several unique parts over their production life. Dual tool boxes were standard, as were pannier frames, bags, rear carrying rack, and headlamp mask. Most rubber items were discontinued in 1942 - 43 due to severe rubber shortages, so the handgrips were made from canvas, the footrests were cast steel, and a solid clamp replaced the rubber handlebar mounts. In an effort to conserve aluminum alloy, a pressed steel primary chaincase and timing cover were used.


Length: 2.13 m (84 inches).


Width: 0.76 m (30 inches).


Height: 1.06 m (42 inches).


Weight: 169 kg (376 lb.).


Engine: Own 1-cylinder, 348 cm3 (21.2 cubic inches) displacement, air cooled, carburetor.


Horsepower: 12.8 at 4.500 rpm.


Transmission: 4-speed, type Burman.


Electrical system: 6 volt.


Brakes: Mechanical.


Tyres: 3.25 - 19.


Fuel type: Petrol.


Fuel capacity: 16 liter (2 5/8 gallons).


Range: 340 km (210 miles).


Reference sources:

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Taken on November 20, 2010