The Famous James: Brit firm looking for investor to put it back on the map

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There’s no shortage of reborn historic brands from the heyday of British motorcycling on the market at the moment. Brough, Triumph, Royal Enfield, Norton and (more recently) BSA are all trying to tap into a sense of nostalgia for a time when Birmingham and the surrounding areas were the workshop of the world.

Well, another brand that was a household name in the first half of the last century was The Famous James – a company established all the way back in 1880 to make Penny Farthing bicycles. By 1902, the first James motorcycle had been built and this was followed by a series of affordable two-strokes and eventually four-strokes including a V-twin.

Like many other British marques, James struggled to compete with the increasingly competitive market and new models from overseas and it was forced to close its doors. The brand name and IP rights are owned these days by John Oakley, who wants nothing more than to see it rise from the ashes.

James sketch in progress

“There aren’t many companies with the history that James has got,” Oakley told MCN. “It was founded by the famous Harry James and it employed hundreds of people in the heart of England, in Birmingham. They made the ‘Ordinary Bicycle’ which is a Penny Farthing under licence and they also made one of the first bicycles with a pneumatic tyre from Dunlop. It’s a wonderful history.

“In the forties [a James] really was THE bike to have in terms of the working person’s motorbike. During the war, they manufactured parts for the Spitfire engine, they made ammunition for the war effort and they also made 6000 motorbikes for the frontline British Army.”

As well as supplying ML125 (Military Lightweight) models to help the war effort, James enjoyed sporting success in the trials world and even won a Belgium GP on the track.

Old James badge

Oakley continued: “What I wanted to do was take that wonderful brand and that superb history and put it back on the British map, get British employment going, get a British manufacturer to take it on.”

Although Oakley is looking for more established companies to take the James brand on, there is already a two wheeled vehicle in the range in the form of a beautiful bicycle. The James Revival is built from British steel with a novel twin spar cross beam and loads of classy design touches.

There’s also a mock-up design of what a modern-day James motorcycle could look like – a retro V-twin hardtail with a girder front end.

Famous James artist's sketch

Oakley added: “Somebody could pick the brand up tomorrow and start manufacturing under the Famous James brand. It’s got three associated logos and they go back a long way.

“I even heard from a relative of Harry James who said they’re so proud something is being done to uphold the history of such an innovative British brand. I’ve done everything possible to turn it into a sustainable company again It is now time for me to look for the right vehicle to invest or purchase the brand and take it to the accolades The Famous James deserves.”

If you’d like to find out more or contact John, head to the James website.