If there is one brand that every Indian can proudly identify with, be the village ‘dudhwala’ (milkman), a city corporate executive or the new generation pink rider, it is the Royal Enfield Bullet.
Now, the first image that comes in to one’s mind when we see the words ROYAL ENFIELD is the doog-doog-doog-doog Bullet. To most of us, that deep beefy muscular sound emitting from its silencer has to be that of the 350 cc machine that still rocks India and the world even after 50 years.
And to most, beyond the doog-doog, there is no other image that appears.
Well, change your mind as we will take you through a journey with products that were made by Royal Enfield. Yes, by the same brand that made other “Made Like a Gun” products.
It all began in Worcestershire town of Redditch, where George Townsend & Co. that was a bicycle and saddle making firm went bankrupt and were taken over by their financiers. They brought in one Mr. Albert Eadie (Manufacturer) and Mr. R. Smith (Designer). Both of them were associated with different firms that also made bicycles and spares. So in November, 1891 they re-christen the loss making firm as the Eadie Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
However, it was only in 1893 they get the firm officially registered at the Registrar’s Office. With a new name, Enfield* Manufacturing Co., open their first showroom on Edmund Street, Birmingham.
* the word Enfield was borrowed from a 1086 AD book called the "Domesday Book" which means 'an open land of a man called Ēana, where lambs are reared'.
In the same year, the word "Royal" was added to identify itself with the Royal Small Arms Factory, a firm that was owned by the British Royal Family to make small arms, guns and swords. The words "Made Like a Gun" was also coined in 1893. The company meanwhile continued making bicycles.
In 1899, they ventured into making of tricycle. Some well known customers for their tricycles included the Dictaphone Co., the popular English newspaper Daily Mail, cigarette maker Philip Morris & Co. and London's best known landmark for all shoppers, Selfridges who were also well known, then.
And then they produced the Royal Enfield Quadricycle, that was powered by a French made De Dion-Bouton 1.5 hp engine.
They also tried their hands on producing a motorized bicycle by fitting a Belgian made Minerva engine. Technically, this was a front wheel bike with the engine attached to front wheel and the rear wheel driven by belt.
It is rumoured that one of their employee, Louis Gobiet who designed the motorized bicycle also designed a car for Royal Enfield with the help of French automaker Vinot & Deguingand in 1901. This was done through an arrangement with the London office of Vinot Cars Ltd. This car had a 120 degree V Twin water cooled engine, 3 + 1 (reverse) gears. The gear change lever was located on the steering wheel, had an independent leaf spring suspension at the rear and a single spring in the front. The car weighed about 550 kg. and sold for 347 British pounds.
Several cars, labelled as "Enfield" were sold in England between 1901-1902.
Royal Enfield continued to make cars on a trial basis from 1904 by forming a separate car division for 3 years. One of their cars during this period had a 400 cc French made De Dion-Bouton engine. They made these and few others in small numbers but none of them were successful. Struggling all the while, in 1906, they roped in another British firm E. H. Lancaster & Co. to produce newly designed cars that could sell in large numbers. Three, new models were produced but even these failed to make any dent in the growing car segment.
Eventually, Royal Enfield sold the cars division to a firm called Alldays & Onions Co. Ltd.. whom produced cars with the "Enfield" name until the year 1926, before finally shutting down.
It was also in 1901 that Royal Enfield made their first motorcycle with a 240 cc engine. From the Flying Flea to the Bullet, their bikes became increasingly popular and made history. They sold them everywhere, including several that were shipped across the Atlantic to the USA, where the Royal Enfield's were re-branded as the “Indian” by the Indian Motorcycle Company (America's first motorcycle manufacturing company, established in 1901).
During the longest lasting economic meltdown of the 30’s after the stock market crash of 1929 (also called the ‘Great Depression’), the Royal Enfield factory could not afford to keep her labour ideal and so diversified in to making of lawn movers (grass cutters). They made these until 1956.
Well, a long legacy will certainly have a L O N G story? Now, you know that the Royal Enfield is more than the Bullet, you thought?