Friday, 16 September 2011

Folding Empire Roadster

Barn Find Discovery (picture above my friend with his, now my Empire)

About a year and a half ago I made contact with an old friend who a hadn’t seen in 40 years, we grew up next door to each other in the small County Antrim village of “Dundrod” well known for being the location of the ”Ulster Grandprix” motorcycle race held each August.

We got to chat about old times and what we were doing now, the usual old pals chat; he told me that he had inherited his Grandmothers farm some years back. And now lives in a cottage on the property he built some time ago, however he retained all the old buildings and farm house that were in his family for 100’s of years, he told me he collected things like old cars motorbikes and the like. I asked if he had any bicycles and he said yes lots lying around. I arranged to go to the property later that week. On arrival he took me into outhouse after outhouse and right enough he had lots of bicycles, most unremarkable Raleigh roadsters and a few 70’s racing bicycles, I did buy a 1950 Rudge gents roadster from him, as I did not want to go home empty handed.

We had another chat about the old days for a while and I said “well if that’s it I’ll head on home now” “hold on a minute there is one more place to see yet” he said, and lead me to an old stone barn in a very poor state of repair with a set of very rotten wooden steps up the side of it to the loft, we made our way very carefully up the steps to the barn loft, their he showed me some 1930’s or 40’s Loup roadsters and some more racing bicycles, I was about to call it a day, then I spotted a set of handle bars sticking out of the straw at the back, we pulled out another roadster but this was different I could hardly contain myself, it was a “folding Roadster” original paint complete and in good condition for its age; The head transfer says “Empire” with “Made in England” at the bottom.

I never saw a machine like it or even heard of “Empire” but I knew I had to have it; however try as I might he would not part with it, he knew he had something special even if he didn’t know he had it till now.

I was very disappointed I had to go home without it, but I did not give-up on it yet; over the next 18 months or so I contacted him many times but still no joy, then last Saturday Dundrod held a vintage Raleigh so I drove over to the village as I knew he would be there, sure enough their he was and I could not believe it along with a few of his other bicycles motorbikes and a Cycle Master was the “Empire” folder.

I went in for the kill as it were no more messing about I had to have it, After a bit of, you’ll sell me it, no I won’t, yes you will, I had no choice I got the cash out and offered him what at the time I thought was twice what it was worth; he caved in and the “Empire” was mine, he said “it’s not the money, you’ve tortured me for over a year now I’ll sell you it to get peace, but promise me you won’t sell it” “no Problem” I said so we shook hands and I took the machine home that afternoon.

The next day was the Northern Ireland Sections last run of the season so I got stuck into the machine and by 11.30 that night I had done enough to get it out on the run, the most enjoyable run I have been on so far.

Can anyone help me with info on this machine? there is nothing out there on an “Empire” roadster, never mind a folder, what I have so far is it might be an “Empire” badged clone of the BSA WW1 trench bike made by “Phillips” for the civilian market in the 20’s, or maybe not, it has Phillips handlebars, black 26 X 1.1/2 wheels not sure if the back wheel is original or not has a Perry coaster. I have been unable to find a serial number.

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I have spent a few more hours on the internet doing some more research, I have still been unable to find any reference to an “Empire” like mine however I have examined lots of photos of the BSA and the similarity in uncanny, so I have concluded that, it has to be a copy/clone of the BSA/Phillips and must be post WW1 likely early to mid-1920’s, I will keep digging around till I find some info on the “Empire” there must be something on it somewhere.

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