Top 10 Coolest Vintage British Motorcycles

Recently new motorcycles made to look vintage have become all the rage. This trend covers everything from cruisers to cafe racers to dirt bikes. While many of these bikes are really cool, they just aren't nearly as cool as the original. Here are what I consider to be the best vintage bikes of British origin.

Vincent Black Shadow
Vincent Black Shadow

1. Vincent Black Shadow

The Vincent Black Shadow is considered to be the ultimate dream bike by many people. It is extremely desirable and extremely expensive, selling frequently in excess of $60,000. Fewer than 1700 of these highly desirable bikes were made. They were popular race bikes and had astonishing performance for a production bike in their time. 

Royal Enfield Bullet  Photo Courtesy of Thruxton
Royal Enfield Bullet Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

2. Royal Enfield Bullet

The Royal Enfield Bullet has been in production for a very long time, having been in constant production since 1931. Production in the U.K. ended in 1960s and has been carrying on in India ever since. In the U.S. you can buy one of these bikes new from a Royal Enfield dealer. It does have good looks, but isn't known for having good quality anymore. These are a good way to get a vintage looking bike with some modern accessories. 

Velocette Venom
Velocette Venom

3. Velocette Venom

The Velocette Venom was a 500cc single cylinder bike that was quite fast in its day. It still holds the 24hr speed record for bikes its size, 100.05mph average for 24 hours. It was made from 1955-1970 with areound 5700 total being made. Its not as rare as a Vincent Black Shadow, but it sure isn't common. These are very good looking bikes and were very well made.

Panther Model 100
Panther Model 100

4. Panther Model 100

These attractive bikes were made from 1932 to 1963. They were very stout and workman like. Top speed was around 70 mph, considerably slower than the other bike on this list. I like them because of their looks and their reputation for being good sturdy tranportation. 

Norton Manx
Norton Manx

5. Norton Manx

Norton made these bikes from 1946-1962. They were developed soley for winning the Isle of Man TT. Molnar Precision Limited bought the tooling for these bike and they are once again being produced to exact 1961 specs. Top speed was 150mph depending on gearing. I really like the way these bikes look and would love one for myself. In 1950 these bikes received the legendary Norton Featherbed frame, which gave them a considerable competitive advantage. 

BSA Lightning  Photo Courtesy of Stavros1
BSA Lightning Photo Courtesy of Stavros1

6. BSA Lightning

The Lightning was developed with the U.S. market in mind, and is suited well the our tastes. The 110mph top speed is more than adequate than most. The ride is smooth up to 5k rpm, when the vibration sets in. This bike is considered one of the most successful of all British motorcycles. It was features in the James Bond movie "Thunderball". Hunter S. Thompson also famously owned one. 

Matchless Silver Streak Photo Courtesy of Thruxton
Matchless Silver Streak Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

7. Matchless Silver Streak

The Matchless Silver Streak entered production in 1938 and was a great machine. This is one of the few places where I think that massive amounts of chrome and polish are a good thing. Even the fuel and oil tanks are chromed on these. They were considered Super Sport bikes when they were new. They had close ratio gearboxes which made them potent on the road, and high ground clearance and low bottom gear which made them acceptable cross country.

Ariel Red Hunter Photo Courtesy of Piero
Ariel Red Hunter Photo Courtesy of Piero

8. Ariel Red Hunter

I don't know a whole lot about these bikes, but they do look cool. They were made from 1932 to 1959. They gained a rear suspension in the 50's. 

Triumph Bonneville Photo Courtesy of Joachim Köhler
Triumph Bonneville Photo Courtesy of Joachim Köhler

9. Triumph Bonneville

These bikes are the bikes that many people picture when they think English Motorcycle. These bikes were loved by the cafe racer crowd, and were modified in large numbers. The original Bonnevilles were made from 1959-1983. Triumph has recently started making a new Bonnevile, although it looks the same it's a modern bike. These are fairly common still and are cheap compared to many bikes on this list. I know several people who use old Bonneville as daily drivers still.

Norton ES2 Photo Courtesy of Piero
Norton ES2 Photo Courtesy of Piero

Norton ES2

norton made the ES2 from 1927-1964. A very long stretch for such a traditional design. It was a Sports bike when it was initially produced but its performance was soon surpassed by other bikes. These bikes were well known for their reliability and how easy they were to repair. While the all look pretty old fashioned they were constantly updated during their production run. 

Comments 34 comments

SimeyC profile image

SimeyC 7 years ago from NJ, USA

I just love the triumph! they always made great bikes and cars!


Shine Auto Spa profile image

Shine Auto Spa 7 years ago from Fairfield County, CT

Nice write up Travis. I love that Panther 100. Do you have any more info on the bike in the picture? How could I get my hands on that one or similar?


ttravis5446 profile image

ttravis5446 7 years ago from U.S. Author

Thanks a lot guys. I have only seen one of the Panther 100's in person at a show. I have seen more Model 120's, they look the same and have larger motors but lack the build quality and reliability of the 100's. I would watch craigslist, ebay, and maybe visit some Vintage Motorcycle shows and talk to people to find one. I have also had luck at British Car Shows as a lot of those people have British bikes as well.


DaveHarris profile image

DaveHarris 7 years ago from London, UK

Interesting collection! i think I would have included the Squariel (Ariel Square 4) which was an amazing looking machine although not that reliable. And, of course, the ultimate Brit performance machine of yesteryear was the Triton - the strong Triumph engine in a Norton Featherbed frame.

BTW, are you sure about the 150 MPH top speed of the Manx Norton? I can imagine a race prepared bike with a limited engine life might do that but not a normal road-going bike of he era.

SimeyC - the Triumph car company was not the same as the bike company and as far as I know hey had no connection. I still have fond memories of driving a Triumph 2.5 PI Auto car :)


Sankalp  7 years ago

Nice picture of Royal Enfield. I'm simply in love with those old legends of history. I'm having a 1951 swing arm model of my own which I use for my daily commute to college.


Scott Roney 7 years ago

This is one of those things that could be argued endlessly...so here goes...Where's the Norton Commando Roadster! The 1969 Commando was an instant classic. I would argue that the 1970 model with the classic upsept "Pea shooter" exhaust pipes and forward slanting engine top-end should dfinitely be on the list. Nice looking bikes...


chumma 7 years ago

nice write up but the BSA goldstar is a huge miss.


Recalled Cigars 6 years ago

Nice list, but I agree the BSA Goldstar should have made it.

Here's a funny video about how cool restoring is as a hobby:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG18hRu416c


Robert 6 years ago

I have a 1950 m100panther and i ride it all the time it's a great ride and one of the best looking motorcycles ever made

at lease mine is


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

The ES2 or "easyto" Norton as we called it affectionately had a wonderful powerful motor and was a marvelously well engineered bike for it's day. I kept mine for many years.


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

I loved the Norton Dominator as well. An English bike with a smooth gearbox, a decent clutch and a nice vibration free cruiser at the speed limit. I have had a lot of Nortons.


Tony Pitcher 5 years ago

The Matchless you show above is in fact an A.J.S. I lived in Plumstead for 30 years and spent a lot of time in and around the A.M.C. factory.


raging bile profile image

raging bile 5 years ago from Seething-on-Sea

Nice selection. What about the BSA Gold Star DBD34 Clubman? That was a superb 500cc single and my personal favourite.


docsen9777 5 years ago

where is the brough superior dude ??


Billy Boy 5 years ago

What about the Brough Superior?


Doug Nassif 4 years ago

Very good list, but the Norton Production Racer ("Yellow Peril") begs for inclusion


Autoindiapro profile image

Autoindiapro 4 years ago from India

That was an amazing article I have read!


Andrej 4 years ago

Hi!

I think Ariel SQ4 and Brough superior are definitely missing!


thoofan 4 years ago

nice


Mike c 4 years ago

Nice list...of course I have my input....the Scott flying squirrelly..cool two strokes with polished brass and red or black motors. ...the Brough Superios ...of course ..... But those were so exclusive it is hard to be too seriously bothered that they are missing. To the point they are made new as is the REAL nortons both the commandos and atlas model..not the ones based on the Greer machine but the ones based on the norton machine... Back to point..the Hesketh and I think for user cool the triumph cub and BSA c 15 these were both pedestrian machines and built in much larger numbers then their big brothers and transported the masses after and between the wars. They are still in use in the back country last time I was in GB. The c 15 wound up being the basis of the bike that gave BSA the MX titleafter the gold star no longer could. This was the B 50 version....


RICHARD ALLOCCA 4 years ago

THE 1965 ROYAL ENFIELD INTERCEPTOR TT IS JUST SOO BEAUTIFUL AND POWERFUL. I HAD ONE AND SOLD IT, STUPID ME !!!!


vijay dubey 4 years ago

Hi guys its proud to be an owner of this bikes and people those who posses this bikes i should say they are the blessed owners.The Triumph,Bsa,Matchless,Ariel,Ajs,Norton,Velloctte,Indian this were the fantastic vehicles ever been produced, hats off to the Engineers and the Technitians who have made such models. I have my self Bsa of 1959 model swing arm with electrics which i used for day to day life its awesome, regards to all the viewers


White Boar 4 years ago

Isn't the bike in Picture 7 an AJS?


simmy 5 3 years ago

Hi what about the Silk 700s ! one of the last great pieces of britsh motorcycle history ,so rare people never mention them !


AvineshP profile image

AvineshP 3 years ago from Chandigarh

I really loved, Vincent Black Shadow. Wow looks like an awesome bike to me. I would love to own this bike and keep it forever with me.

Thanks ttravis5446 for sharing this hub.


SR 2 years ago

You forgot a very important British Bike . Brough Superior , any motorcyle list that doesnot include it , is in my opinion not complete.

Those Bikes were legendary, and today its the worlds most expensive motorcyels ( second hand )


tammiejo67 profile image

tammiejo67 2 years ago from Illinois

I am a triumph fan as well. There are a few in our area and I am always envious!


prbradshaw profile image

prbradshaw 2 years ago

Just came across your hub. Excellent job mate, thoroughly enjoyed the read. +1 in the Triumph camp


kkvma 2 years ago

Bullet is not known for having good quality anymore funny because newer bullet have far fewer oil leaks and better reliabilty, breaking and mileage than older versions.


Pixelhound profile image

Pixelhound 23 months ago from west vancouver BC Canada

Great hub, I would have replaced the BSA Lightning with the BSA A10 RGS but that is just my opinion.


Pixelhound profile image

Pixelhound 23 months ago from west vancouver BC Canada

Great hub, I would have replaced the BSA Lightning with the BSA A10 RGS but that is just my opinion.


david fernandes 21 months ago

I think the 1959 Bonnie in red and ivory was a beauty.


Larry Harvey 19 months ago

Let's face it all the British bikes are in a class all by themselves. I have had 17 motorcycles in my 71 years,three that were British.The britiish bikes were by far the best cornering.you can lay one of these baby's way down and it would come back up in a heartbeat


GNS 13 months ago

These are all great bikes. I would choose the Vincent Rapide over the Black Shadow, and the Brough Superior definitely should have made the list.

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