Friday, April 21, 2023

An Albion gearbox by another name

Words "Royal Enfield" appear on gearbox.
"Royal Enfield" brand appeared on some old Albion gearboxes, but not all.

 Royal Enfield's old four-speed Albion gearbox with its iconic neutral finder lever are frequent topics on this blog. A feature of vintage Royal Enfields, including my own 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet, the obsolete gearbox fascinates me. 

But while I've written a lot about its history, much remains that I don't know. One thing that intrigues me is that enthusiasts refer to it as "the Albion," but no where on the exterior of my gearbox do I find the word "Albion." 

It's clear from old advertisements that Royal Enfield referred to the Albion, if at all, as "the Royal Enfield" gearbox. Mostly, the thing appears with no label at all, besides a small coded stamping -- three letters followed by three numbers -- useful to experts who want to determine its age. 

Even though Royal Enfield would tout "its" gearbox in advertisements, the words "Royal Enfield" don't appear on the exterior of my gearbox. 

I had begun to think this was generally the case but, recently, I noticed an Albion gearbox for sale on eBay that was clearly and prominently branded "Royal Enfield." 

Surprised, I wrote to Graham Scarth, probably the best expert at deciphering the age and model of vintage Royal Enfields based on motor, frame and gearbox numbers.

I was in for another surprise: finding "Royal Enfield" on the exterior of a gearbox is not as unusual as I'd thought. Graham was able to identify the eBay gearbox as a 1951 model, and he confirmed the seller's claim that it was meant to fit Royal Enfields that lacked sprung rear suspension.

"It has the neutral finder lever, which was only on post-war gearboxes, and is of type fitted to the Model G and J machines with rigid rear end (he got that bit right) and telescopic forks. As far as I am aware all these boxes had 'Royal Enfield' on the cover, unlike those fitted to the Bullets and twins," Graham replied in an email.

"The gearboxes were indeed made at Albion’s own factory so 'bought in.' The end cover with Royal Enfield on was no doubt at (Royal Enfield's) request (insistence?)."

Words "Royal Enfield" appear on gearbox.
"Royal Enfield" (picked out in red by the owner) on gearbox of WD/C.

Graham sent a photo of another Royal Enfield that displayed "Royal Enfield" on the gearbox. It is a 350cc WD/C side-valve military Royal Enfield from World War II. The words "Royal Enfield" are at an odd slant on this motorcycle (although perfectly horizontal on the motor). The wartime WD/CO overhead valve military motorcycle also had "Royal Enfield" on the gearbox, but written horizontally.

Pre-war Royal Enfields with Albion gearboxes of those same series also had the name, Graham advised.

Graham couldn't resist a good-natured jab at the sometimes balky "Royal Enfield" gearbox by Albion.

"No idea why the post-war bolt-to-crankcase gearboxes for Bullets and twins don’t have the name on, unless by then Royal Enfield didn’t want anyone to think it was their own handiwork (corny joke !)."

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