Fabrique Nationale de Herstal
The company Fabrique Nationale de Herstal has been counting the years of its existence since 1889 when this newly created production factory started manufacturing firearms. Six years later bicycle frames were built and still later on completely assembled bicycles. In 1901 an attempt was made to install into the bicycle frame a clip-on engine with 250-cc displacement, an automatic inlet valve and a belt drive to the rear wheel.
The first FN motorcycle appeared in the same year. A lighter, 133-cc engine was developed to drive it, which was mounted vertically in the cente of the frame. The flywheel was external, the belt drive was compeleted with tension roller and a massive pulley wheel was made of wood. To start the engine, pedal drive was used.
There was an oil tank inside the fuel tank as well as recesses to position a battery and high-voltage coil-starter.The front fork was made enhanced from the start.
A motorcycle presented in 1904 became a sensation: it had an inline 4-cylinder engine. It was there and then that the FN company made its name ever-lasting: it was the first factory in the world that started the large batch production of motorcycles in this class. Its chefi designer Paul Kelecom created an extraordinary machine. Its inline, 362-cc, 4 h.p. engine was installed longitudinally.
Cylinders were made separately and not as one unit, which lowered their cost and simplified the servicing of the servicing of the cylinder-piston group. Starting the motor was done via pedal drive, and the transmission to the rear wheel was effected by a rotating shaft located in the lower right-hand tube of the frame. To top it all, this motorcycle got soft suspension—the front fork was made as a short leading link.
Engine displacement as well as its power kept being increased. By 1908 the machine already had a cone clutch and a two range transmission with a kickstarter. That same year a racer named R.O. Clark went to third place in a Tourist Trophy race for multi-cylinder class. That same year a single-cylinder FN motorcycle made its debut with a similar transmission: the clutch, 2-range transmission and rear wheel driven by a torsion shaft.
Only the kickstarter was lacking. The single-cylinder engine was still started pedal-driven, from the rear wheel and transmission.
WWI interfered for a whole while with the production of motorcycles. In 1919, after a serious revamping, both single- and four-cylinder models appeared on the market yet again. Their time was gone, however, and buyers were interested in more advanced, simple and reliable technology. At the end of 1923 a completely new FN motorcycle was presented: it was new both in its concept and its implementation.
The main novelty of the machine dubbed M 60 was its power block. The unified case contained an OHV 346-cc engine and a three-range transmission. The rear wheel was chain-driven, and an open flywheel was located on the right of the case.
Also in 1923 a race version of the engine was created having its distributor shaft in the cylinder head.
The economic crisis of the 1920s did not affect the FN company because it produced not only motorcycles, but also cars, and, what was more important, its main output was in arms and ammunition. FN’s automotive equipment as well as arms was supplied to the army. Towards the end of the 1920s the company opened an assembly branch in Aachen, on German territory.
This helped it dependably secure its brandname positions on the voluminous and important German market. Reduced taxation had a positive effect on motorcycle prices, which fostered the growth of sales. In 1933, after Hitler came to power, the affliated Aachen branch was formally declared “independent”.
In 1937 the FN company was one of the first to initiate the production of FN 12a SM. a military motorcycle with a drive gear to the sidecar wheel, which would drive both on road and cross-country. In this sphere, the company was ahead of better known German all-terrain motorcycle vehicles made by BMW and Zündapp. Based on this machine a three-wheeler version was built called Tricar (12 SM — T3).
It had an automobile-type rear axle, on top of which there was a platform with hand rails and seats.
In 1936-1937 the FN corporation experienced a high-point of its sports racing program. The FN’s OHV motorcycles were already successful in racing competitions in the 1920s, when the factory team was headed by George William Pratchett who later left the company to become the head designer of Jawa. In 1930 he was replaced by Dougal Marchant who transferred to FN from Motosacoche. He improved these engines to such a degree that FN motorcycles could compete as equals with BMW.
DKW, NSU and many models of other firms. When motorcycles appeared having air boost systems, however, the FN racing team fell behind the leaders, so Henri Van Hout, a new designer who joined the company in 1933 took up the development of similar engines while improving OHV motors. That year race driver René Milhoux riding a 498-cc FN motorcycle with a fairing over a distance of 1 kilometer set a new speed record of 224 km/h.
After that he was the winner at various stages of the Grand Prix series.
With the outbreak of WWII motorcycle production at the FN company almost stopped. This big arms manufacturer fell into the hands of the occupants and started working for the benefit of the German army which took in a certain number of cross-country motorcycles. The plant went on with producing and refurbishing them for some time.
In 1946 civilian-use FN motorcycles appeared on the market yet again. Henri Van Hout’s genius played, however, a bad joke on him: the designer created a long-lever front fork that looked rather weird for anyone who had a chance to see it. Staying in production for a few years this bulky arrangement yielded finally to the usual telescopic fork.
Around that time the production list was supplemented by an OHV 246-cc M 13 motorcycle with a four-range transmission.
In the early 1950s the FN motorcycles were rigged with not only the traditional 4-stroke engines, but also with 2-stroke, single- and twin-cylinder Villiers engines (their displacement is, correspondingly, 198 and 246 cc). At a later stage the were replaced by similar ILO motort blocks. Heavy machines were gradually taken out of the plant production program replaced with more light-weight motorcycle vehicles, including 75-cc motor bikes.
They were, however, not enjoying big sales, so by 1965 the production oif motorcycles and motor bikes (mopeds) was completely terminated, and the FN corporation focused again on manufacturing arms and fulfilling aircraft industry orders.
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