Some bicycles are interesting to collectors because of their design or features; others are sought-after because they were made by a company with a top reputation. This machine is just an ordinary postwar roadster with no apparent special interest. However, it is an extremely rare machine because, despite being manufactured by the Norman Cycle Co, it is not badged as a Norman. This is one of Norman’s export bicycles, badged as a Rambler. As export models were presumably all sent overseas, a Rambler is a rare sight on these shores.
It sounds like I’m describing a rare bird that suddenly appears after decades away, with its sighting attracting bird-spotters by the car load!
I’ve been looking for this particular ‘rare bird’ for many years. This Rambler turned up, not on the Isle of Harris like the White-Throated Needletail, which was spotted in June this year and has only been seen in the UK five times since 1950 …but on ebay. I was the only bidder. But, there again, I’m also the only member of the ‘Rambler Owners Club.’ I suppose some vintage bicycles are just too obscure for general enthusiasm.
Rambler was the main model name used by one of the top early American cycle manufacturers, Gormully & Jeffery. Two British companies used the Rambler name too: Rambler Ltd of Empire Works, Holliday Road, Birmingham, in the 1920s; and Norman Cycle Co of Ashford, Kent after WW2. Their logos were very similar, except that the earlier Rambler company’s logo says ‘Birmingham’ at the bottom, and the Norman version – used for its export range of bicycles and autocycles after WW2 – says ‘Bicycle.’
The badge on this bicycle is the latter variation.
1939/1946 Rambler Roadster
Sturmey Archer ‘Model AW9’ Three Speed
Similar to the Norman ‘Gent’s Model C’ Light Roadster
As you can see from the two pictures above, this Rambler is similar to Norman’s Model C. However, the Norman illustrated above features brazed-on pump clips, while this example has none. Later Ramblers used a metal headbadge, while this example has a transfer. It also has a Sturmey Archer AW9 hub (1939).
It’s conceivable that Norman used up old parts when they started production of their Ramblers straight after WW2, or the 1939 hub may have been added later. But I believe that this Rambler is actually a pre-war model – which suggests that Norman’s export drive, using the Rambler name for overseas sales, started before the war, and was put on hold, like so many other business activities of the day, by the outbreak of war.
The company had started building Norman Motobyke Autocycles in 1938. Like every manufacturer, they would have had their eye on the export market, the Commonwealth countries being eager buyers of British machines. Australia, in particular, was a prime candidate for the introduction of a lightweight motorcycle: Norman subsequently supplied their autocycles to Australia for them to be badged under various names, including Rambler, Roamer and Malvern Star.
In early 1940, Norman also took over production of the Rudge Autocycle, for EMI, who had purchased Rudge-Whitworth, but now needed to use their factories for war work.
Norman stopped production of autocycles and bicycles in autumn 1940.
Great Britain was short of cash when the War ended, so the British export drive kicked in immediately. The British cycle industry had in effect been ‘nationalised’ during the War, with its factories turned over to war production. With peace declared, Great Britain had to repay its American war loans. In the days of Empire before the War, Great Britain led the world in bicycle sales. The Empire was now crumbling as the result of six years of war, and America was taking England’s place as the dominant power. Car, motorcycle and bicycle exports remained our best strategy for much-needed foreign exchange.
The difference between the above Norman Roadster (Model C Light Roadster) and the one below (Model A Standard Roadster) is the wheel size. The one above has 26″ wheels like this Rambler, while the one below has 28″ wheels.