AUSTRALIA My interest with this weird little tale started back in the late eighties when a mate, Alan Jones bought a rare and nicely preserved 1972 Alron 405 with the intention of turning it into a vintage racer. Being a bike we¹d never really taken much notice of before, Alan and I spent a fair amount of time going over it and the more we studied it, the more familiar it became. After delving into some old magazines in search of more information, the beginnings of a great story started to emerge. Back in 1972 the Australian motorcycling press had gone into a jingoistic hissy fit reporting the release of the new Australian built Alron motocross and enduro line. The bikes were reportedly being hand built in Western Australia by Perth enterpeneurs, Alan and Ron Lyon using, to quote Ron Lyon in the press of the day, ³the best parts available in the world². It was reported that the initial batch of bikes would be using frames made by ³a specialist UK frame maker² and a choice of either a Sprite 405cc open class engine or a choice of four Spanish OSSA power plants. In addition, Lyon told the excited press that the company had plans to set up a chassis manufacturing plant and would soon start development of an engine of their own design. For the moment though, the bikes would be assembled in Perth using imported components... "the best available in the world". The Alron range was released amid a barrage of hype to an inquisitive Aussie market which waited with baited breath to see what the motorcycle press thought of the new "Aussie bike". Former Australian motocross champion Brian Clarkson was appointed the East Coast distributor and he set about racing a 405 to try and raise some publicity. ³It was a bloody disaster² said Clarkson recently. "It was an absolute piece of shit with possibly the worst gearbox known to man". When asked if the bike had any positive traits Clarkson added that "The bike had a nice, well built frame and handled and stopped well enough, kinda like a Husky but after two solid seasons of racing I still couldn¹t come to grips with that bloody gearbox". Clarkson sold a small number of Alrons but became disillusioned with the bike and was greatly relieved when his own race 405 was stolen from his shop late one night.
The press tried to be fair, commenting at length about the fine handling and shiny finish but in the end had to tell the sorry truth about the disastrous 405 engine and its lack of competitive performance and weird transmission. They were far more enthusiastic about the OSSA powered Alrons however. The Phantom 250 powered bike was actually quite a reasonable motocross weapon and the Pioneer powered enduro model was well received by the enduro fraternity but why buy the less developed Alron 250 when you could buy a far better engineered and much lighter genuine OSSA Phantom or a competition proven ISDT Replica much cheaper? Like the press, potential Alron dealers also tended to sit on the fence, secure in their Japanese and European franchises and unprepared to gamble on an untested homegrown product. The true number of how many Alrons were made and sold varies depending on who you talk to. Less than twenty OSSA powered 250s and ten or so of the ill fated 405 Sprite powered bikes were sold before the Lyon brothers folded the Alron division of their company after a couple of years.
BELGIUM At the same time in Belgium, businessmen Jan Boonen and Jaques Van Velthoven started producing the BVM, in an attempt to create a homegrown motocross bike in the spiritual home of motocross. Belgium hadn¹t produced a serious motocross bike of their own since the legendary F.N. machines of Rene Baeten back in the fifties and because of the small countries proud motocross traditions, a home grown bike would theorhetically sell up a storm. The initial plan was to produce sixty to eighty bikes in the first year fitted with a Sprite 405 engine and a British sourced chrome moly frame (starting to sound familiar?) REH hubs, Motoplat ignition and their own designed¹ Aluminium tank. Not surprisingly the bike was poorly received in Belgium and production ceased well short of the intended production numbers. The restored bike shown below is on display in bullet proof display case* at the owners home in Lommel, Belgium.
*(One could cruelly speculate that the bullet proof case is an attempt to prevent disgruntled former BVM investors from shooting the crap out of the bike)
Belgium and Australia are two countries that are not particularly known for their motorcycle production, the Alron and BVM being rare exceptions. Sadly, it¹s my duty as a purveyor of truth and justice to report that both of these bikes had absolutely no local input into their production whatsoever. The Alron and BVM are exactly the same motorcycle built by Frank Hipkin¹s Sprite Developments in England. The only Belgian or Aussie input was presumably to hire a couple of guys to assemble the kit bikes and apply the tank stickers after their arrival from the UK. For over thirty years the Australian public have believed that the Alron was an all Aussie enterprise, a failed one sure, but Aussie just the same. I presume the Belgians were also sold the same story about their "all Belgian BVM".
COMPARE THE ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL BVM AND ALRON BELOW
1972 BVM The bike is featured in VMX issue #31
1972 American Eagle 405: Although the photos aren¹t the best quality, even Stevie Wonder could see the Sprite/Alron/BVM family traits
UNITED STATES . This great tale of badge engineering¹ isn¹t limited to motorcycle maunfacturing backwaters like Australia or Belgium either. Have you ever heard of the AMERICAN EAGLE 405? Yep, it¹s another member of this ever growing little club. The bikes were initially imported to the US by a company called McCormack International.
The bikes must have sold reasonably well because they appear to have hung in there from 1969 to at least 1972, importing an undisclosed number of bikes until they suddenly went bankrupt holding many unpaid for bikes in warehouse stock. The stock was eventually auctioned and purchased by the giant Mitsubishi Corporation who heavily discounted the bikes as well as selling them by mail order and through department stores. The final model offered is almost identical to the BVM/Alron versions using the lighter and vastly improved so called fastback¹ frame.
One interesting difference to other Sprite clones are the outer engine cases of the Sprite engine being cast with the American Eagle logo. This helped perpetuate the assumption that the American Eagle was an American product. Although the American distributors didn¹t actually lie about the origin of the bike, they also didn¹t exactly shout from the rooftops that they were made in England. The advertisement below gives all of the vital statistics except its place of manufacture. You still occasionally see brand new, never ridden¹ American Eagles on eBay going for not unreasonable money.
Sold in the U.S. as American Eagle. Brad Lackeys 1969 American Eagle.
Below: Rick Super Hunky Siemans take on the American Eagle from his column in Off-Road.com.
AMERICAN EAGLE 405 MX The American Eagle burst on the scene in the early 70s with a lot of advertising and a small motocross team. The bike was light, with plenty of torque and the handling was OK, but the reliability was wretched. The engine was a rip-off of a 400 Husky and some of the parts were interchangeable. For example, the entire Husky gearbox would fit in the Eagle cases, but no individual gear would. In less than two years, the Eagle vanished like a spooked buzzard.
Here are some specs on the bike:
below: : A Sprite frame kit.
GREAT BRITAIN Wikpedia extract: Sprite was an English manufacturer of trials and motocross (scrambles) machines that were mostly available in kit-form. They were built with 123-, 244-, and 405-cc two-stroke engine.
In mid 1964 Frank Hipkin, a British racer of considerable talent, started building specialised motocross frames for his own use. Before long fellow racers, eager for something to replace the agricultural road based gear they had been forced to ride, had inundated him with orders for his well designed frames. In the wake of such interest, Sprite Developments was born.
From the start Sprite frame kits for Villiers and Triumph Cub engines were extremely successful. The design is neat and well thought and advertised as being constructed from lightweight Reynolds tube. In reality the frames were made from comparatively thick walled mild steel which no doubt contributed to the bargain basement price.
Hipkin, with a business sense more than equal to his engineering prowess was able to exploit a legal loophole in the British tax system by selling his products in kit form they became exempt from sales tax. Sprites sold very well, often as just as a frame kit into which the customer could fit whatever engine he chose along with their own wheels and suspension components. This then revolutionary idea enabled racers to update their heavy and obsolete motocross bikes for a tiny percentage of the cost of a complete new bike.
Hipkins early complete kit bikes featuring iron barrelled 250 Villiers engines along with Sprites own Earles type forks sold for a bargain price of 154 pounds, a bargain even in the depressed financial markets of the mid sixties. Within a short time Hipkin was producing their own blatant copies of Italian Ceriani forks as an option and offering them and the new all alloy Villiers Starmaker engine. Production grew from a handful of bikes per week to hundreds, most destined for export. Naturally enough, other companies had taken note of the Sprite success and before long unassembled complete bikes or simple frame kits were being marketed by a growing number of companies such as Rickman. The British Government, concerned at the loss of tax revenue eventually closed the loophole that Hipkin had exploited so cleverly.
Nevertheless, Sprite sales continued gaining momentum.
Kits for both Husqvarna and Maico engines followed in the wake of the
collapse of the Villiers company and then in 1969, Hipkin announced
the release of Sprites own engine, a not too well disguised copy of
Husqvarnas 360cc engine bored out to 400cc and a similar 250. Together
with an upgraded frame and Sprites Ceriani copy forks and triple clamps,
in house produced hubs and other quality parts, the complete kits were
exported all over the world and marketed as whatever the importer wished
to call them. Unfortunately a huge order to the McCormick Corporation
directly led to Sprites demise. The American company went bankrupt after
delivery of a shipment of scramblers had been made which was too much
of a financial loss for Sprite Developments to absorb. The company never
recovered and soon stopped motorcycle production. The company exists
to this day, with the energetic Frank Hipkin still at the helm but has
no further ties to the motorcycle industry.
A full version of Firkos Sprite/American Eagle/Alron saga, spread over two issues will appear in VMX Magazine sometime in 2011
check this very detailed OZVMX
Blog about the Alrons
article ©2008 MARK FIRKIN