Lewis motorcycles go racing

A.B. Carnell on his 500cc racing Lewis

Many motorcycle manufacturers went racing, but Vivian Lewis Limited were among the few who built and sold a machine specifically for the purpose. The racing machine was announced at the Spring Show in September of 1913, and it was described in The Mail, on the 13th of the same month:

"Still another fine piece of workmanship is a new racing model that this firm is now putting on the market. Great care has been exercised in selecting a special racing engine, which is fitted up with overhead valves. The frame is specially designed in having a dropped back frame, so as to enable the rider to get an extremely low position when riding at speed, thus doing away with a great portion of the wind resistance. The pedalling gear on this machine is also dispensed with. In place of the pedals and cranks there is an extra set of foot rests, giving the rider two sets of foot rests for change of position when riding a distance. The brake is tandem coupled, and is operated from pedals from both rests. The machine is handsomely finished and scientifically thought out, and should prove a popular mount this season." 

Just how much care was exercised in selecting the special racing engine is hard to say, because, like all Lewis engines at the time, the overhead valve unit was a product of F.E. Baker, Ltd in Birmingham. In the 1914 "Precision Engines" catalogue, this motor was described as the Model D.O., with dimensions 85 x 88 mm (499 cc), overall height 21" and weight (without silencer) 63 lb. In common with the rest of the Lewis range it was supplied by F.E. Baker to meet the customer's requirements, with "Lewis" cast into the timing cover and "The Lewis" in script on the magneto chain case. It was a tall and - as it turned out - potent engine.

In December of 1913, a reporter from The Register described the Lewis models for 1914:

"The Lewis Motor Cycle Factory is now engaged in remodelling its machines for the coming year. One of the new designs is a 3 1/2 h.p. racer, an example of which I inspected on Monday. It has just been delivered to a well-known racing motor cyclist, and looks capable of attaining high speed. It is finished in bright flesh-coloured pink, which is quite startling. It will certainly attract considerable attention wherever it is seen."

The Lewis racers were seen out and about at most of the local speed events from late 1913 until the late war years, by which time they were becoming outclassed. A.B. (Allen) Carnell was arguably the most successful exponent, with similar machines being campaigned with success by his brother Perce (P.W. Carnell) and Edgar Ferguson.

Depending on the event, the machines were either stripped or fitted with full road equipment. At the top of the page, we see A.B. Carnell with his road-equipped Lewis after winning the Motor Cycle Club of South Australia's hill climb at Sellick's Hill on October 8, 1913. A nice touch is "Lewis Motors" written along the exhaust pipe near the outlet, but what a pity that the black-and-white photo doesn't allow us to see whether the machine is finished in "bright flesh-coloured pink". It would seem not. The registration number 2747 was issued to Carnell, and so it is likely that he owned the machine himself. At other events, he was seen with a stripped machine registered 1991, also registered in his name.

By contrast, Edgar Ferguson's stripped machine (below) is carrying 268, a Vivian Lewis Limited trade number.

Edgar Furguson on his 500cc racing Lewis

Before we leave the subject of the Lewis racing motorcycle, we can share in a mystery of sorts. The c1917 photograph below shows a machine fitted with a 3 1/2 h.p. water-cooled Green-Precision motor. Beyond the unusual motor, the machine has all the hallmarks of a post-1914 Lewis. Whether the motor was fitted at the factory or was a later addition is not known, nor is the identity of the owner. Information welcome.

An unknown Lewis-Green-Precision racer

The number of Lewis racers built is not known but at least three, and possibly four, survive. The cycle parts of the racing machines are quite distinctive: the top frame tube has a pronounced kink and the tank has a cut-away in its underside to clear the valve gear on the tall engine.

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