Heritage Henderson- Cycle Canada Aug. 2010

Heritage Henderson

Long Ago by Sam Longo


The dictionary defines heritage as anything that has been carried over from the past or handed over by tradition. This un-restored, original 1925 Henderson Deluxe with sidecar certainly qualifies. Almost completely devoid of its original paint, it was purchased as a runner in 1999 from an estate whose successive generations had ridden and cherished it for over 65 years. Bernard Tong, its current custodian, purchased the 85-year-old diamond in the rough from the second owner, whose family campaigned it from 1933 until 1999. Originally sold out of McBride Motorcycles in Toronto, it is a 1300 cc Police Pursuit model, still sporting its factory sidecar complete with the remnants of its early leather and horsehair upholstery.


These four cylinder, air cooled motorcycles were produced from 1912 until 1931. Initially the design brainstorm of the Henderson brothers, William and Tom, they were built in their factory in Detroit, Michigan until 1919 subsequently moving manufacturing to Chicago for the balance of production until 1931. During the Chicago years, the Schwinn bicycle company was involved for a period until there was a falling out. William Henderson also designed another inline four called the ACE during this highly productive period; unfortunately the talented designer was killed while testing an Ace in Philadelphia in 1922. His brother Tom soldiered on with Excelsior jumping on board resulting in the 1300cc Model K Henderson-Excelsior with a redesigned overhead valve engine. All of these bikes were of similar design and proved to be robust and reliable mounts at a time when shaky singles and v-twins were the standard of the day. Unfortunately, as with many business ventures of that time, the stock market crash of 1929 ultimately caused the company to close its doors forever.


The 1925 Henderson Deluxe was definitely a motorcycle ahead of its time. These engines featured a deep sump with spur gear fed pressure lubrication through a drilled crankshaft spinning on Babbitt-lined bearings, a testament to good design and ensuring engine longevity. A single Zenith carburetor metered fuel, with spark being generated by magneto ignition. Its unit construction cases housed a 3-speed gearbox utilizing an optional reverse gear for sidecar use. The Police Pursuit model also featured the Corbin speedometer, a twin needle instrument where one needle remained at the highest attained speed…a handy item for a Police Officer when dealing with law breaking 1925 era hooligan speeders!


The ultimate question with a bike like this is whether to restore it to concourse condition or leave it alone with its lovely 85-year-old patina of age. Bernard Tong has pondered that question since his purchase in 1999. He has been diligently collecting parts while debating the bikes final outcome. Personally I hope he leaves it in its current condition, fixing only what is needed to keep it running. Handling history is a tricky business, and this heritage Henderson is truly a rare survivor. Museums are full of over-restored gleaming antiques, but the fact still remains, you can’t be a born-again virgin, and any classic motorcycle can only be original once.     

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