October 2009 - 87 years old and still going strong
The 2 ¾ HP Douglas came of age in the mud of The Somme. Although it did not have the same kind of power as the larger 550cc Triumphs, it nevertheless gave excellent service under conditions that were quite appalling. The dispatch rider depended on this little machine to reach his destination safely and in the shell holes, the incessant bombardment and strafing by enemy aircraft, the little Douglas proved reliable and light and generally acquitted itself well even though it was originally designed for a far different purpose.
It had a charm all of its own, it was very sweet running and would respond well to tuning. It was on occasion prone to running on one cylinder, the front spark plug being vulnerable to the wet. It was often equipped with a large box or basket on the rear carrier which could carry anything from spare parts to written orders to homing pigeons. Many experienced riders would strap a leather belt around the forks and the headstock, it was not unknown for the forks to fail and the unfortunate DR to be catapulted over the bars, sometimes with serious or even fatal injury!
The Army workshops were able to repair many of their damaged machines and get them back on the road again quite quickly, but some, those too badly damaged and beyond the means of field repair were returned to the Manufacturer where they were completely renovated in the Bristol factory.
Although the War ended in 1918, it was not until January 1919 that the Ministry of Munitions gave permission for the industry to resume production of civilian models. There was by then a huge demand for motorcycles, indeed any means of motorised transport, from the recently demobbed soldiers who wanted to spend their war time gratuities. At first only reconditioned war machines were available, and these were sold by some dealers at hugely inflated prices. Soon however Douglas started to improve their models and their specifications and designs reflected the needs of their customers for something better than the basic wartime model. Even without improvements though, the little bikes would sell, and with the 2 ¾ model it led to some stagnation.
Whilst other variants benefited from continuous development the 350 side valve soldiered on, its loyal customers often customising it with many add on “goodies” that were available at the time. The Zoom Zoom exhaust for instance bolted straight on and, it was claimed, gave a big increase in power. Or there were the ace discs, big aluminium wheel discs that were highly polished and could be fun in high winds. As the twenties wore on the 2 ¾ gained a kick starter and a third gear, along with various versions of their clutch. By 1924 though it was looking decidedly old fashioned. The factory was producing higher powered, chain driven OHV machines, and was doing well in competitions with the more modern versions. The little 2 ¾ was dropped in the following year from production, the last in a continuous line that stretched back to the models designed before the First World War.
The machine shown here is largely unrestored, and remains pretty much in its original condition. It has the Zoom Zoom exhaust on it, though there is no detectable difference in performance from a bike with the factory made system on it. There are some nice period features, it has all its gas lights, a mechanical Klaxon horn, and a few contemporary badges. It starts easily, either on the kick start or just as easily by paddling off. It still needs the oil to be pumped manually, and the belt, which in this case is a modern plastic Brammer, tensioned properly. It will go up Sunrising Hill at Banbury with a bit of footwork at the top and cruise at around 35mph. All in all it’s a lovely little bike, very typical of the low powered machines that were available in the early twenties, yet still distinctive enough in sound and appearance to make it stand out from the rest of the bunch.