The return of Excelsior-Henderson motorcycles
The Excelsior-Henderson brand is a mystery. Almost none of today’s motorcyclists have even seen, let alone ride, an Excelsior motorcycle, or Henderson, and even more so – Excelsior-Henderson. And yet it somehow happened that this name has considerable weight and inspires warm feelings. And now it is preparing to return to the roads!
The Indian company Bajaj, known to us for its products under its own name, and as a contractor for a number of models for manufacturers such as Triumph, KTM, Kawasaki, seems to have struck a deal that will revive Excelsior-Henderson.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Excelsior and Henderson brands were taken over by the bicycle manufacturer Schwinn. The Excelsior, famous for its V-Twins, began its journey in 1907 and was acquired by Schwinn in 1912, and Henderson has established itself as in-line fours since 1911, and was bought out in 1917.
Becoming strong players in the nascent motorcycle market – Excelsior trampled on the heels of Harley Davidson and Indian as the third largest motorcycle manufacturer in America, and Henderson gained a reputation for making the largest and fastest motorcycles in the world – both brands most sadly ceased to exist in 1931 when Schwinn decided to close the motorcycle business and return to its main bike business during the Great Depression. This is where the story of Excelsior and Henderson could have ended if not for entrepreneur Dan Hanlon, who bought the rights to both names in 1993 and created one of the most ambitious moto startups in modern history, Excelsior-Henderson.
The first model of the new firm, the Super X, which appeared in 1998, was equipped with a 1386cc twin-shaft V-twin, created on the basis of a British company Weslake design, and an amazing link front suspension with massive, exposed springs. Manufactured in a purpose-built plant in Minnesota, the Super X was the result of an investment of $ 100 million and about 1,900 were manufactured before the company filed for bankruptcy at the turn of the millennium.
Over the next 20 years, there was little news about Excelsior-Henderson, except for an attempt to sell the brand at auction in January 2018. And then suddenly it turns out that Bajaj has filed several applications for registration of trademarks in this name in Europe and India as a manufacturer of motorcycles, components, accessories and clothing. The acquisition of the name appears to be part of a rivalry among major Indian motorcycle manufacturers to enter global markets under historic brands.
As we recall, Bajaj’s rival, TVS, laid its hands on the name Norton, while another competitor, Mahindra, owns the BSA and Jawa names. And this is not to mention the fact that Royal Enfield, which belongs to the Indian Eicher group, is entering Europe with might and main, and Hero just recently signed an agreement on the production and sale in the domestic market of motorcycles under the Harley Davidson brand!
What will Bajaj do with Excelsior-Henderson? Let’s wait for the official confirmation of the deal. Hindus love to talk about their far-reaching plans, and there is a good chance that soon we will see Excelsior-Henderson on the roads and even be able to ride it!