motorcycles | Tales
from the TT Days
The Cotton Motorcycle Company,
was a British motorcycle manufacturer of 11a
Bristol Road, Gloucester, and was founded by
Frank Willoughby Cotton in 1918. F.W. presided
over the company until his retirement in 1953.
The company was reconstituted as E. Cotton (Motorcycles)
Ltd, and traded till 1980.
The Triangulated Frame
By 1913, F.W. Cotton had engaged
in hill climbs and trials, and recognised the
limitations of the "diamond frame"
design, little different from a bicycle. He
designed his own, and had examples made by Levis.
Being a lawyer, in 1914 he patented the "triangulated
frame" to protect his design that was a
Cotton feature right up till World War II. World
War I intervened and it was not until 1918 that
the Cotton Motorcycle Company was founded with
the first Cotton motorcycle appearing in 1920.
Stanley Woods and the TT
In 1922 Stanley Woods rode a Blackburne-engined
Cotton to fifth in the 350 cc Junior TT, and
the following year, won the 1923 Isle of Man
TT, averaging 55.73 mph, bettering Douglas rider,
Manxman Tom Sheard's winning 500 cc Senior TT
time, an average of 53.15 mph. Cotton motorcycles
took a second and third in the Ultra Lightweight
TT, and a second in the Lightweight TT. They
only managed a second place in the 1925 Junior
TT, but in the 1926 races, swept the field taking
the first three places in the Lightweight TT.
These victories helped establish Cotton as a
race-winning machine, with exceptional handling
for its time.
The 1923 win, and consequent
full order book, enabled a move to new premises,
the Vulcan Works in Quay Street. In 1927 the
frame dimensions were altered.
When the Great Depression came,
Cotton responded by offering a wider range of
engines in its patented frame, usually with
When the triangulated rigid frame
was introduced in 1920, it was ahead of its
time. By 1939, when the sprung heel and rear
swingarm frames had begun to appear so rigid
frames had seen their day. Vincent had patented
a cantilever frame in 1928.
After World War II
Continuing with engineering work
that sustained the factory during World War
II, Cotton did not re-enter the motorcycle market
at the War's end, but struggled on into the
1950s, when F.W. Cotton decided to retire. The
company was re-constituted under Elizabeth Cotton
in 1953 as E. Cotton (Motorcycles) Ltd., and
was managed by Pat Onions and Monty Denley.
E. Cotton (Motorcycles) Ltd
As before, Cotton made their own
frames, and bought in the rest of the components
for assembly. The first machine, produced till
1957, was the Cotton Vulcan, with a Villiers
In 1955 the Cotton Cotanza was
released using a 242 cc Anzani engine, and a
new frame with "pivoted-fork" rear
suspension. The frame was also used in a new
1955 Vulcan model, fitted with a Villiers 9E
engine and three speed gearbox.
In 1956 that changed to a four
speed gearbox, and the Cotanza became available
with a 322 cc Anzani twin. A Cotton Trials,
a stripped down version of the Vulcan with competition
tyres and no lights was released. The original
Vulcan was dropped. The only change for 1957
was a Villiers 2T twin added to the Cotanza
There were no further changes
until 1959, when all models were fitted with
Armstrong leading link forks, and the Villiers
2T twin was dropped.
Other Cotton models included the
Herald, Messenger, Double Gloucester, Continental,
Corsair and Conquest. Cotton became involved
in competitive motorcycling, and a range of
road, trials and scrambler models were available
by the end of 1960.
Racing in the Sixties
In 1961 the Cougar scrambler was
released and a works racing team formed, including
such riders as Bryan "Badger" Goss
and John Draper. The Villiers Starmaker racing
engine was introduced in 1962, so Cotton went
road racing. The 247 cc Telstar road racer and
Conquest were introduced in 1962 and 1964 respectively.
Over the next two years, Cottons were winning
The Loss of Villiers
Then Villiers withdrew from engine
supply, and Cotton was forced to source engines
from elsewhere. The Cotton Cavalier trials bike
used a Minarelli engine, but production was
slow. Cotton had been profitably selling bikes
in kit form, but changes to legislation proved
They moved their factory to Stratton
Road in 1970, where they diversified into production
of the Cotton Sturdy, a three wheel factory
truck. Over the next decade production was moved
a number of times, and they managed to produce
a good 250 cc racing machine with a Rotax engine.
The difficulty of finding a supply of engines
after the loss of Villiers was compounded by
the appearance of mass produced Japanese motorcycles
in the 1970s.
The factory closed in 1980. Following
a series of successful 1990s Cotton exhibitions
at the Gloucester Folk Museum, the Cotton Owners
Club (an international organisation) was formed,
where a rally is held each summer.