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1920 advertisement for Chater-Lea

Chater-Lea was a British bicycle, car and motor cycle maker with a nine-storey factory in Banner Street in the City of London and, from 1928, premises at Letchworth, Hertfordshire. It was founded by William Chater-Lea in 1890 to make bicycle components. It made cars between 1907 and 1922 and motorcycles from 1903 to 1935. William died in 1927 and the business was taken over by his sons John and Bernard. After vehicle production finished, the company remained trading as a component maker until 1987.[1]


Car production

The first car was the Carette of 1907, a two-seater with a 6hp air-cooled V-twin engine with chain drive to one of the rear wheels. It was still advertised in 1908 but few seem to have been made.

A more serious entry into the car market was made in 1913 with an 8hp 1094 cc, water-cooled 4-cylinder model with shaft drive and three speed transmission. The engine was of its own manufacture. Some may have had the earlier V-twin engine fitted. After the First World War, in 1921, it was re-released as a 10hp with a 1315 cc engine and three-speed gearbox. The two-seater version cost £350, later falling to £300. A few hundred were produced with the last made in 1922.[2]

There was a proposal to take over manufacture of the 8hp model by Gillyard of Bakerend Road, Bradford, Yorkshire, but this did not come about although a prototype may have been made.[2]

Motorcycle production

The company made frames for bicycles from 1900 and soon offered engines to add to them. Complete motorcycles were made from 1903 and by 1908 were entering the Isle of Man TT races. They used a variety of proprietary engines before the first world war.

Peacetime production started in 1919 with twin-cylinder models followed by large singles in the 1920s. In the early 1920s Chater-Lea tried to change its touring image into a sportier one and employed Dougal Marchant as development engineer.

He converted a Woodmann-designed ohv Blackburne engine to overhead camshaft and it became the first 350 cc to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h), recording 100.81 mph (162.24 km/h) over the flying kilometre during April 1924.[3] Later, Marchant set a world record flying kilometre for 350 cc and 500 cc motorcycles at 102.9 mph (165.6 km/h) for the firm, though the engine was his special and not the later face-cam Chater-Lea production engine. Few resulting sports Chater-Lea models were sold but the firm won a contract to supply 800 AA Patrol sidecar outfits to offset their costs.[4] Austrian rider Michael Geyer won many races riding the "Camshaft" model.[5]

The last motorcycles were made in 1936. At one time they made the world's fastest 350 cc model. Production stopped when Chater-Lea's engine supplier, Blackburne, ceased operations.[4]

See also


  1. UK Companies House listing for 00231874
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  3. [1] Edward Turner excerpts (Retrieved 29 December 2006)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  5. [2] Vintage pages about Dr. Helmut Krackowizer "Mister Rudge" Chater-Lea (Retrieved 29 December 2006)