A Brief History, 1907-1957

The Douglas Engineering Company was formed in Bristol in 1882 by brothers William and Edwin Douglas, at first as a blacksmiths shop but soon expanding to become an ironfounders. With the turn of the twentieth century and the advent of the motor vehicle, the company quickly became involved in the development of internal combustion engines.

The first Douglas motorcycle appeared in 1907, although the Douglas foundry had earlier supplied engine castings to the Bristol engineer Joseph Barter for his Fairy motorcycle, which would become the basis of the Douglas design. There followed a long line of horizontally-opposed twin cylinder machines of 2.3/4hp, right through to the late 1920s.

Douglas motorcycles advert from 1908
Douglas motorcycles advert from 1908

The 1914-18 War saw production of 2.3/4hp machines in large numbers for the war effort and also the start of the 3.1/2hp and 4hp models. During the 1920s many new machines followed, such as the popular 350cc EW, more powerful 500cc and 600cc models, and speedway or ‘dirt track’ machines. In the difficult trading conditions of the 1930s, a wide range of machines was produced including lightweight models, the S6/T6, the Endeavour (Douglas’ first transverse twin) and finally the pre-war Aero models.

Douglas Motorcycles Bristol showroom, 1930s
Douglas Motorcycles Bristol showroom, 1930s

After the Second World War, during which Douglas manufactured horizontally-opposed stationary engines, motorcycle production restarted with the 350cc Mk I or T35, followed by the Mk 3 and Mk 4 models, both with sports versions.

The start of the 1950s saw the Mk 5 variant, with the Competition and high-performance 80 Plus and 90 Plus versions. The final model, the Dragonfly, still a 350cc horizontally-opposed twin, was announced in 1954 with production finally ending in 1957 after an overall marque life span of just 50 years.

Further Reading

Douglas Motorcycles Literature
Douglas Motorcycles Literature

Many books and articles have been written about Douglas motorcycles. Few titles are in print today, but copies of older books often appear on Amazon, on auction sites such as ebay, or are available from specialist book sellers such as Pook’s Motor Bookshop. Contemporary magazine reviews, which are a fascinating  source of information from the era, can be found in publishers’ archives, such as Morton’s Motorcycle Media, and occasionally copies of old magazines also appear on ebay. The titles below are recommended. In addition, the Club publishes a wide range of reprints of period technical and advertising material, listed in the Club’s magazine, The New Conrod.

The Douglas Motorcycle – The Best Twin Jeff Clew, 1974, revised 1981. The original marque history of Douglas motorcycles.

Douglas – The Complete Story   Mick Walker, 2010. The full history of Douglas, the motorcycles and the Company’s other activities.

One Man Caravan  Robert Edison Fulton, Jnr., 1937, reprinted 1996. A fascinating first-hand account of a solo round-the-world tour by a young adventurer in 1932-3.

The Book of the Douglas  Pitman’s Motor Cyclists Library, 1925, revised and reprinted 1928 – 1948. A guide to owning and maintaining pre-war models.

The Book of the Pre-War Douglas  This is a modern reprint of the Pitman’s title listed above, published in 2013 by Veloce Press.