The Osborn Engineering Company was founded in 1919 by Frederick John Osborn with Frederick Wood. Its works were the Atlanta Works in Lees Lane Gosport at the site of a former wood yard on which had been built the old United Aircraft Factory. O.E.C. bought the premises together with the house next door, Forton House.
Frederick Osborn had built his first machine in 1901 – a track-racing motorcycle powered by a 4 h.p. Auto-Motor mounted on the front down tube of the lightweight frame. He had earlier made a name for himself as a racing cyclist, and had then turned to the manufacture of motorised bath-chairs. One of the first examples of Osborn’s innovative motor cycles was marketed in 1922 – a 10 h.p. O.E.C. Blackburne Sidecar Taxi, priced at £285 and weighing all of 300 lbs. The sidecar itself was a totally enclosed cab, four feet in height, and the motorcycle was fitted with a steering-wheel instead of handlebars. Rumour has it that Osborn even toyed with the idea of a speaking-tube (from passenger to driver), but Wood persuaded him that such a device was unrealistic in view of the fact that the driver would have to wear head-phones to make it effective. The first O.E.C. motocycles used Minerva and MMC engines but O.E.C. later used the Blackburne, Villiers, MAG, Bradshaw and JAP engines. During the 1920s O.E.C. produced the Atlanta, the Temple and the Temple-Anzani.
The 0.E.C. Blackburne
In 1927, O.E.C. obtained a patent on their revolutionary ‘Duplex’ steering mechanism. This made O.E.C. famous amongst motorcyclists. In conjunction with a novel rear-sprung frame, this new form of steering caused a real stir among designers. Described in the technical press as the most unorthodox machine of the year, the 0.E.C. Duplex was the first real milestone in the company’s history. During the early days at Gosport, they had contracted to assemble the famous Blackburne engines. For many years O.E.C. used Blackburne engines in all their models.
It was with an O.E.C. Blackburne that Portsmouth motorcyclist Harry Evans won the 350cc Aggregate Cup at Brooklands in 1925. There were 0.E.C. machines being raced in the Isle of Man T.T. throughout the ‘twenties, and, in later years, Joe Wright attempted the world motorcycle speed record with a 1000cc 0.E.C. J.A.P.
He achieved 142 m.p.h. The frame for this historic machine, like those for all other O.E.C. specials, was designed by Fred Wood and constructed by George Williams.
An article in 1929 gives the following prices:
For the 350cc side valve model £45 , or with overhead valves £55.
For the 500cc models £49 and £59.
Mounts can be supplied for speedway racing, whilst any of the machines can be purchased with two-seater equipment at an extra cost of £3, the pillion seat being scientifically embodied in the design.
OEC-1926-500cc-advertDuplex steering was incorporated in O.E.C.’s next design, a three-wheeler single-track machine with a large wheel in front and two smaller ones behind) which was built for military use and for cross-country. With a ground clearance of nearly 12 inches, and both rear wheels driving, it came in three engine sizes: 350cc – £100; 500cc – £120; 750cc – £150. A caterpillar track could be fitted to the twin rear wheels for traversing boggy ground.
One of the 1929 frames constructed by George Williams housed a water-cooled Tinkler power unit with radiator, engine and gearbox all enclosed in a sheet-metal casing. It attracted a lot of attention at the 1929 Motorcycle Show in Olympia, but it was too unorthodox and it never went into production.
At Cork on 6 November 1930 J.S. Wright gained the world’s motor-cycle record for the flying kilometre (solo class) on a British O.E.C. machine. This record was confirmed by the Federation Internationale des Clubs Motorcyclists (F.I.C.M.).
Following this at the Olympia Motor Cycle Show in November 1930 controversy resulted in an exhibition of a O.E.C. – J.A.P. machine on the stand of J.A. Prestwich. It was claimed that the machine displayed was the one on which Mr.J.S.Wright recaptured for Britain the world’s motor-cycle 150 M.P.H. speed record at Cork. Two official time-keepers claimed that the exhibited machine was not the one that won the record. A ‘spare machine’ was ridden, which was not fitted with the special O.E.C. cradle-frame and patented ‘duplex’ steering, although it was powered by the same type of supercharged J.A.P. engine as the one exhibited as the ‘world’s fastest motor-cyle’.
The chairman of O.E.C. Mr. Les Forbes said ‘ I have learned through the Press that an investigation into the matter is proceeding but I have received no official communication from the British Cycle and Motor-Cycle Manufacturers and Traders’ Union. I am most anxious to attend the investigation and make a statement, but in fairness to the other parties concerned I prefer to say no more at the moment.’
J.A. Prestwich and Company Ltd explained that for the attempt to gain the record two machines were prepared but apparently the record was taken by the reserve machine and an unintentional error was made in the issue of a small number of posters stating that the original machine had gained the record. The Osborn Engineering Company apologised for their failure in this respect.
The Later Years
In the recession of the 1930s, OEC faced major financial problems. Production was halted, but Osborn and Wood received support from a group of British engine dealers and took up production again.
In 1931 the premises in Lees Lane were put up for auction. The Portsmouth Evening News: Saturday 28 November 1931 advertised it as an auction of assets by the Receiver:
‘substantial brick buildings, having floor space of about 32,800 sq. ft., with offices, stores, and manager’s house, and brick-built residence adjoining, known as Forton House. Immediately afterwards will be offered in Lots, in detail, the MODERN ENGINEERS’ MACHINE TOOLS AND PLANT and other contents of the works, including lathes, milling and shaping machines. drilling and grinding machines, sheet metal plant, including power stamping press, bond presses, bonding and swaging rolls, etc ‘
In 1932 O.E.C. moved to Highbury Street, Portsmouth, still calling their works ‘Atlanta’, under a financial arrangement with Glanfield and Lawrence (the well-known motorcycle agents then operating in Lake Road, Portsmouth) which gave O.E.C. a new lease of life under the name of O.E.C. Ltd. Another “luxury” model that was built from late 1935 (or early 1936) to 1937 was the Atlanta Duo, a Feet forward bike where the rider was leaned back on a comfortable saddle and that had some sheet metal to protect the rider from the weather.
From 1936 to 1939 Osborn Engineering produced a kind of car on two wheels, the “Whitwood Monocar”. This was delivered with both open and closed bodywork and had two support wheels that were put on the ground when stationary. The Monocar was available with various JAP engines, ranging from 248 to 490 cc.
In 1937 O.E.C. motorcycles were produced with Matchless engines. they then switched to AJS and a JAP twin. In 1938 the produced only three models using AJS single engines, the Commander 500, Commodore 500 and Cadet 350cc.
During the Second World War, OEC ceased motorcycle production to concentrate on war work until the factory was bombed. According to Osborn’s grandson, J S Baker, During WW2 OEC made wheels and legs for Ansons, Spitfires etc and above all built the Great Panjandrum (a massive, rocket-propelled, explosive-laden cart) for D Day an incredible device and a failure!
In 1949 the company commenced production of the Atlanta, a lightweight machine with a choice of 122 cc or 197 cc Villiers engines, followed in 1951 by the Apollo (at the Atlanta Works, Stamshaw Road, Portsmouth) , with a 248 cc side-valve Brockhouse engine. O.E.C. ceased production in 1954.
The Atlanta Works in Lees Lane Gosport became Ashley’s Wallpaper Factory, and then The Sanderson wallpaper factory and finally the Sanderson Centre, which it is today.
|Cork. 150 miles an hour on a motor cycle! Streamlined in every possible way even to his helmet – J S Wright and an O.E.C. – Jap-engined – wins back record for Britain from Germany.|
Various newspaper articles 1920s and 1930s.
The Obsborne Engineering Company by Stuart Venables: Gosport Records No. 5 Pages 12 to 14 : March 1973
Grace’s guide OEC
OEC Motorcyle wins speed record