Whatever happened to British exhausts?
When did the sounds of Marshall, Allspeed and Micron get silenced?
British exhausts? I thought the best pipes were all foreign?
You’re probably thinking of Akrapovic (from Slovenia) and Termignoni (from Italy). Or perhaps Yoshimura (Japan) or Vance & Hines (USA). Admittedly, these are all among the leading exhaust brands today – but that wasn’t always so.
What? We used to have great British ones instead?
Not instead of, no – V&H and Yoshi, in particular, have been around for eons (though Akrapovic was only founded in 1990) – but some of the great British exhaust brands define 70s, 80s and 90s motorcycling just as powerfully as, say, classic helmets from the era such as the Griffin Clubman, Kangol Falcon and TMX2000 by Centurion do…
Really? Give me some examples…
Well, in the late 70s, when Japanese fours started to be everywhere, one of the best ways to improve or accessorise it was to switch the 4:2 pipe for a rorty Marshall or Piper 4:1. While in the 80s, no LC or powervalve was complete without a set of Allspeed or Micron ‘spannies’. Then there was the Motad n-Eta. I could go on…
Let me guess: you’re gonna say the 4:1 exhaust was a British invention
It sort of was. Dave Degans (of Dresda fame) reputedly introduced 4:1s for Japanese fours as a by-product of helping develop the Japauto (Honda France) endurance racer in the early 70s. His exhausts increased not just performance but also ground clearance and the Dresda-framed Hondas won back-to-back Bol d’Ors in 1972/3. As is the norm, street riders followed suit with brands like Piper and Marshall coming to the fore, although that’s actually one of the first myths…
Marshall? Didn’t they make guitar amps?
Well, that Marshall does. This Marshall makes exhausts, specifically the famous Deeptone 4:1 so beloved on 70s superbikes, although, despite the name, they’re not actually British at all, being part of the Jama/Laser group in Holland. In fact, you can still buy them today (www.laser-exhausts.com).
And did they work?
Sometimes. Because of the nature of the bikes many were actually universal fit or mildly adapted so some worked, some didn’t, some needed a bit of jetting. Most of that’s missing the point, though, because they looked and sounded great and were the obvious replacement for the stock Japanese systems which, back then rotted quicker than supermarket strawberries…
So what about companies like Allspeed and Micron?
Well, they were British, and also in the late 70s/early 80s were the expansion chambers to have for your Yamaha RD, Suzuki RG or Kawasaki KH. Both were hugely popular – and hugely polarising, too. You were either a Micron (two-piece pressed steel construction with welded seams made in Derbyshire) man, or an Allspeed (multipiece cone construction from Romford) man . Personally, I preferred Allspeeds, and still do.
Another specialist British motorcycle exhaust manufacturer which started up in London in the 60s before moving to the West Midlands in the 80s. More replacement than performance exhausts, although its unpronounceable n-Eta 4:1 system in the late 80s were simply everywhere.
And now they’ve all gone?
Not quite – although even those that survive have a much lower profile than before. Allspeeds were produced by Gibson Exhausts as was founded in the 70s by racer Peter Gibson. The Allspeed brand was sold on and Pete retired in 2006 but under new owners Gibson exhausts still produce ‘Allspeed-style’ spannies today.
What about the others?
Micron, after a long period of expansion (they went on to make four-stroke pipes, paddock stands and more) and huge investment in hydroforming technology, ceased trading in July 2008. While Motad, although hit hard by the loss of Triumph’s business when much of Hinckley’s production was shifted to the Far East, lives on to this day, although less conspicuously, supplying, amongst others, Norton.
Any other survivors?
There are others still going strong(ish). Quill, for example, in Warrington; or Blue Flame in Staffordshire or even Scorpion in Derbyshire. So, yes, many of the old favourites of the British aftermarket exhaust industry have gone, but others remain. Maybe they’ll be great one day, too.