Ascot-Pullin 496cc Sports Utility
Cyril Pullin, winner of the 1914 senior TT (Rudge Multi, 49.49mph average) is the amazing man behind this amazing 1929 motorcycle that bears his name.
Pullin was born in Wandsworth, London in 1892 and died in Poole, Dorset in 1973. In his 80-odd years on the planet, he certainly made his mark upon the world. He was an engineer, an aeronautical pioneer (notably working on helicopters and autogiros), a racer, a record breaker and something of a visionary.
▲ Cyril Pullin in 1914. Riding this modified Rudge Multi, Pullin beat Howard R Davies (Sunbeam) and Oliver Godfrey (Indian) to win the 1914 Isle of Man TT. The Rudge, with its 20 gears, loped home with a 6.4 second lead.
Pullin, we understand, was one of only four designer-racers of the age to win the TT, the others being the Collier brothers (Charlie and Harry), and the aforementioned Howard R Davies.
In March 1922, Pullin cracked 100mph on a 3hp 500cc Douglas and was officially timed doing so; apparently the first British motorcyclist to achieve those "magic" numbers. In that same decade, he started experimenting with helicopter technology and subsequently became a respected authority in his field.
In 1928, Pullin began producing the Ascot-Pullin motorcycle, working from a factory in Letchworth, Hertfordshire (just a short hop up the A1 Great North Road from where a certain Philip Conrad Vincent would set up shop). This 496c machine, which was displayed at London's Olympia, featured a bore of 82mm and a stroke of 94mm. The price was £75. A matching sidecar was available for another £17.
At the same plant, Cyril Pullin developed a 10hp pressed-steel car based upon a Hungarian design, but the vehicle never made production. He also built the Ascot Gold Cup Six car, a 2423cc roadster that was available in other configurations. Survival numbers are not known.
Pressed steel frame
The two-wheeled Ascot-Pullin, however, was different. It was a radical design in an era replete with radical ideas about how a motorcycle ought to look, how it ought to function, and how it ought to be produced.
Pressed steel, as pioneered by numerous designers of the age, was a technically sound choice—albeit a risky one in conservative Britain (small “c”) where tubular-framed bicycle design and tubular-framed motorcycle design were generally considered to be egg and bird.
Nevertheless, Pullin pushed ahead with his vision and realised this beautiful concept powered by a single cylinder 496cc air-cooled, two valve horizontal (flat) single. The frame is pressed steel throughout and contains the fuel and the oil. The front fork is also pressed steel. Ditto the “dashboard” which carries a comprehensive array of instruments.
The brakes are hydraulically operated and linked. The foot brake operates both front and rear. The handlebar lever, via cable, operates just the front brake.
The exhaust valve lifter is linked to the kickstarter to aid starting, fuel and oil gauges were and are an unusual but welcome feature, and the engine to (3-speed) gearbox coupling is achieved via helical gears.
Options included legshields, an adjustable windscreen, a windsreen wiper and even a rear view mirror. One feature of particular interest is the telescopic centre stand which can be operated in two modes: easy park and wheel removal.
▲ A newspaper story of the day boasted 100mph from the single cylinder "Ascot Paulhan" (sic).
In reality, 60-70mph was more likely. This, after all, was a utility machine, not a sports bike.
The New Wonder Motorcycle
This was how the machine was advertised, and justifiably so. The concept pre-dated the arguably similar Charles Udall designed LE Velocette (1948) by around 20 years, and pre-dated the (also arguably similar) Val Page designed Ariel Leader (1958) by around 30 years. And certainly, the utilitarian Vincent Black Prince (1954) owes an oblique nod at the Ascot-Pullin. For that matter, so does the Honda Pacific Coast (1989), and numerous other pretenders.
This 1929 example carries the registration number: BF 4244. The frame number is: 119A. The engine number is: AP123. Around 7 or 8 examples are known to have survived.
The bike was restored by the Light Brothers (Derek 'Jack', Colin and Rex) and was on museum display for many years. It’s now headed for the Stafford Show (April 2014) where Bonhams will be offering it for sale.
In October 2013, Bonhams sold a near identical example for £29,900 including buyers premium.
At Sump, we love this oversized tin-toy to pieces and are prepared to lop limbs to get one. So okay, it doesn't have the streamlined art deco exuberance of one or two other European machines we could mention, and neither does it have the long-legged backwoods appeal of some of the Yankee tin of the 1920s.
But it does have charm, and it dares to be different, and we've got a soft spot for pretty much anything that defies yawning convention.
Beyond that, we doff our lids at Cyril Pullin, a designer who will perhaps always be overshadowed by Edward Turner, Val Page, Bert Hopwood, Phil Vincent, and Phil Irving, but whose name should, whenever possible, be mentioned in the same breath.
▲ Girder forks were nothing new when this vintage machine was built. However, pressed steel fork blades were
less common, but by no means unknown. There was no rear suspension, incidentally, which seems like
a notable omission on a bike that was otherwise bristling with practical features and technical refinement.
▲ Clock, ammeter, switch, oil pressure gauge and speedometer. There is also a fuel gauge, oil level
▲ The wheels of the Ascot-Pullin are interchangeable, and the two-position centre stand makes changes
▲ Note the exposed valve gear on this 496cc OHV horizontal (flat) single. The carburettor is downdraught.
▲ The enclosed drive chain helped keep mechanical noise to a minimum. Note the hydraulic rear brake
▲ This 17bhp example was sold by Bonhams in October 2013 for £29,900 including buyers premium.
▲ The LE Velocette (Noddy Bike) as used by the British police (amongst others) and famed for its
— Del Monte
£14.99 plus P&P
Copyright Sump Publishing 2014