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(Autocycle Roadshow) Second Act

by Mark Daniels

The stage curtains undulate toward the middle, and the compère’s head appears through the parting.  He pats down his top hat and stares wildly around the sparse audience...

Raynal De Luxe brochure picture
Raynal De Luxe brochure picture

Some new faces I do not recognise … some I feel we may have seen in this place before [he winks at us] … would presumably wish to know how our tale of old Raynal continues?  Allow me to recap for the benefit of those unfortunate to have missed our first performance…

He twiddles his moustache while glaring at a couple of late arrivals stumbling to their seats.

In launching its autocycle in 1937, Raynal became the first manufacturer with the new Junior engine, but there was to be no monopoly, as Villiers licensed its motor to many more companies over the following years.

With the decline in business of building ‘own-make badged’ cycles for trade customers, Raynal purchased the rights to Dunelt Cycles in 1937, buying into an established brand name, and ready access to its network of retailers.  1938 advertising finds the Dunelt Cycle Co now listed at Raynal’s address at Woodburn Road, Handsworth, Birmingham 21.

Production at Raynal ended during 1940, for the rest of the duration, over which period there appears no confirmation about how the plant was deployed.  In common with other cycle manufacturers, munitions work seems likely.

The wobbly vertical leaf sprung pivot fork failed to re-appear with the emergent machine after the war.  Gone too was the rod-linked, back-pedal brake arrangement, in favour of an inverted lever operated cable set.  Production and sales resumed in 1946 with the ‘Popular’, a naked-frame JDL powered autocycle fitted with a straight tube, centrally sprung girder fork set of own manufacture.  For 1947, the machine was re-posted as the ‘De Luxe’, now equipped with a combined engine/legshield set, and the covers hinged at the tank to allow easy service access.

A listed price at £52 19s 6d now starkly illustrates how the inflationary rate had practically tripled the cost of a Raynal over the decade since the autocycle was originally launched for just £18 18s 0d in September 1937.

A new Raynal standing in the centre of the stage

The curtains sweep aside to reveal a new Raynal standing in the centre of the stage, and the compère strides over to strike a theatrical pose while indicating features with his cane as related in the monologue.

Raynal De Luxe

This post-war Raynal De Luxe model registered on 26th June 1947 wears frame number 6820 and comes complete with all original fittings and full panel set.  The coloured tank patterns of pre-war models were succeeded by the melancholy all-black paint finish of post-war austerity, only broken by minimal gold coachlines to the petrol tank, and small items of chrome brightwork on the handlebar set, pedal cranks, and fork links.

Still tucked at bottom right of the tank, we note the petrol tap now sports a reserve lever, so there’s progress for you!

The engine shield set very effectively deters any thoughts of groping in their dirty cavernous gloom in search of the carb flood button, so we just pull the choke knob on the left side of the tank, decompress, spin the motor a couple of times, and it readily fires up with a tweak on the throttle.  The bike sits ticking over steadily as we get kitted up, roll off the centre stand (much less fuss than rear stand arrangements), then a light boost on the pedals to aid the single gear take-off, and the JDL responds with a steady urge as we load on the throttle.

Vibrations wave through the handlebars and pedals at certain speeds, and panel resonation becomes noticeable under hillclimbing load, but neither particularly intrudes upon the ride. Handling was confident enough to be able to take your hands of the bars without any fear of the bike diving into the hedges, and the girder fork set rode well enough that the pilot was never conscious of any bumpy feedback.  While brake function was good, their operation was cumbersome and difficult, made awkward by the inverted lever arrangement.

Raynal De Luxe

With the rider sitting upright, the pace bike recorded best on flat as 29mph, and still maintaining a fairly upright posture since the handlebar form and riding position discourage adopting any effective crouch, our wing man clocks off a 36mph maximum for the downhill run.

In 1947, Raynal was bought by British Plasterboard but seems to have carried on as before.  Raynal was further bought out by Tube Investments in 1950, and melted into anonymity within the sprawling British Cycle Corporation.  Long time Managing Director A B Jackson left Raynal at this time, to set up his own company ABJ, and produced a new autocycle frame to take the Villiers 2F motor.

Raynal never did go on to develop a chassis for the 2F engine, choosing instead to soldier on with the last remaining stocks of the JDL for their outdated frame, while all the other manufacturers moved on.  They were the first manufacturer selling the new Villiers Junior, and the last manufacturer selling the old Villiers Junior De Luxe engine.

Raynal advert
Raynal advert used
1947, 1948 & 1949

It’s hard to draw a line exactly when Raynal ceased making autocycles, their obsolete machine just seemed to gradually fade away.  They were clearly listing their autocycle up to the end of the sales season in late 1950, though other references suggest that old stock was still being sold up to 1953.

At conclusion of manufacturing, frame numeration indicates around 8,000 autocycles having been built.

Raynal never sold any of its autocycles under the Dunelt badge, which may have been secured just too late to apply the brand and, having launched under their company name, they seemingly decided to stay with the label.

TI acquired Raynal purely to secure the Dunelt Cycles brand, and in 1951 we find the business now listing its office address as Dunelt Cycle Co Ltd, Cornwall Road, Smethwick, Birmingham 40 (though only the next road down from the old Raynal cycle works).  It appears that, while TI had acquired the rights to Raynal and Dunelt, the actual factory premises had been retained by British Plasterboard.

Dunelt cycles advert
Dunelt cycles trade advert

TI Reynolds Tube Manipulators produced a series of prototype model mopeds in the mid 1950s, one version of which, fitted with a Rex engine, became listed under the Dunelt brand—though never actually went into production.

February 1959 finds Dunelt Cycle Co Ltd registered from Rabone Lane, Smethwick, Birmingham 40, though apparently no more than an office from another side of the old Raynal factory block, which now seems to have been renamed ‘Attercliffe Works’ in some reflection back to Dunford & Elliot’s history from that area of Sheffield.

Dunelt branded cycles continued to be sold up to the last years of the 1960s, though headstock badges reveal these later machines of Nottingham origin as the brand transferred to Raleigh.  Some Raynal branded cycles were also sold at this time; these also came from Nottingham and were for export only.

The performance is over, and with the audience, we drift back into the musty gloom of the lobby.  One last look around for sentiment’s sake, knowing we may never return to this theatre, nor see the strange Autocycle Roadshow ever again, but we must press on with our quest.

Rain still falls from the darkened skies—Birmingham certainly gets its share!  We hail a taxi to avoid another soaking and, through the back window, watch people leaving the foyer as the lights of the theatre fade into the night.  Another chapter is ended, but we are suddenly aware how unnaturally cold it has become within the cab!  The dials of the meter seem to be running backwards, then suddenly, we appear to have arrived—the driver turns, ‘That’ll be 1946 thanks guv’.

Next—Sometimes there are different ways of doing things, and Antonio Meucci has the vision to see an Alternative to the Autocycle.  Originally written in 2008 for IceniCAM, a franchised version of this article was suddenly called for publication in another magazine before a slot appeared in our own programme—now we’re just catching up with ourselves!

[Text and photos © 2009 M Daniels.  Period documents from Keith Flood and the IceniCAM Information Service.]


Raynal documents in the On-line Library:

Cycle and motorcycle catalogue 1922

Raynal-Auto advert 1937-09-17

Raynal-Auto advert 1937-12-31

Raynal-Auto advert 1938-05-20

Raynal-Auto advert 1949-10

Raynal-Auto article 1937-09-15

Raynal-Auto article 1937-09-16

Raynal-Auto article 1937-09-17

Raynal-Auto cutting 1937-09-22

Raynal-Auto instruction book 1939

Raynal-Auto leaflet 1937

Raynal-Auto leaflet 1938

Raynal-Auto leaflet 1939

Raynal-Auto leaflet 1949

Raynal-Auto road test 1938-05-26

Dunelt documents in the On-line Library:

CCL advert 1956-04-28

Company cutting 1937-09-17

CRL advert 1955-08-20

CRL advert 1956-02-04

CR advert 1956-06-23

Cycles adverts 1937

Cycles advert 1938-02-18

Cycles advert 1938-03-18

Cycles advert 1938-06-10

Cycles cutting 1937-09-17

DC advert 1956-03-31

E advert 1955-11-12

E advert 1956-05-26

K advert 1956-03-03

LT Diadem advert 1953-11-18

LT Diadem advert 1954-11-17

Z + ZL Dart advert 1953-11-11

Z + ZL Dart advert 1954-11-10

Z Dart advert 1951-11

Making Second Act

Ashley Stanbridge as ‘the compère’
Ashley Stanbridge as The Compère

A derivative of IceniCAM’s Autocycle Roadshow of April 2009 edition was simultaneously published in the April/May edition of the Ipswich Transport Museum’s Priory Press magazine, as Raynal Autocycle Exhibit, though this two part franchise version was a very different presentation.  With the ITM on a bi-monthly schedule, their second part appeared in the June/July 2009 edition of Priory Press, while IceniCAM’s more stylised production of Second Act had to wait for its September slot to come up.  While all the pictures, road test elements and first draft had pretty much been in the can since March 2009, the file hadn’t actually been worked into any finished text, so there was still quite a bit of writing required to work it into the Autocycle Roadshow sequel.

The featured post-war model came thanks to Keith Flood, who also gave IceniCAM full access to his comprehensive files, collected over many years as Raynal specialist (now retired).  With publication of our sequel article concluding the Raynal feature, we’ve hopefully done justice to all Keith’s years of research, and completed reasonably definitive reference pieces to the disappeared marque.

Contrasting the night shoot of the first part The Autocycle Roadshow, the cover pictures of Second Act were taken the following day on the stage at the local village hall, with Ashley Stanbridge again appearing as the character of the compère.

Pictures were all digital, but again fuel for running about was what accounted for the main production cost of £25.  Regular autocycle feature supporter Jeff Lacombe scores another sponsorship credit for the Leicester Enthusiasts.


March 2022

My grandad, Richard Darlow, closed down production.  My dad (his son-in-law) worked at the factory from 1960 to 1963 and said there were still lots of parts laying about.  His first job (in junior management) was to clear the whole lot out.  In fact my mom and uncle both had one built out of spares.  At the time it was in Woodburn Street in Handsworth.  My grandad was the Managing Director of H Gill (Stampings) Ltd.

Andy Williams.

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