Canterbury Belle

From the contact us, we got another enquiry asking “What was the Canterbury Belle”. I would have at a guess, all of the older sidecarists / sidecar enthusiasts know exactly what is was, so here is a revamped article of Martyn’s plus an a cutting from “The Motor Cycle” Nov 1959.

It was launched (so to speak) in 1959 in front of several hundred motorcycle dealers and journalists.

Canterbury Sidecars Ltd was formerly called Jacob Brothers. They made their sidecars at 93-95 Chigwell Road, South Woodford, London E18. Around the time the Belle was produced they moved to Arisdale Avenue, Ockendon, Romford. Essex to consolidate the business. They produced a large variety of sidecars including racing and scooter sidecars, plus the three seater Carmobile.

The “Belle” was fitted with an inboard 80cc JAP engine, and the reviews / reports were good.

So why don’t we see loads about today, well, from the practical side it is neither one or the other as it didn’t make for a good sidecar to travel in. Secondly although it chuffed along on the water OK, it was light at only 50kgs and a certain amount of care was needed on the water.

Sadly, this was the era of the disappearing sidecar, by around 1961 / 1962 Canterbury were not making sidecars anymore, but moved over to converting Volkswagon campervans. Strange really, I have always wondered how come the sidecar rider has an affection for campervans, and why they keep appearing on the camping field.

In the magazine called “The Oldie” an article appeared titled “What was the Canterbury Belle”. The article writer goes on to say, “I have never seen an example of the “Belle” nor come across anyone who has and have appealed in the motorcycling press for former owners to come forward”. The thing is I doubt there are very few former owners. He also asks “did the company go in for large-scale production, or was it torpedoed (very funny) by the spread of car ownership?”

I doubt if car ownership would have affected the demise of the “Belle” it was never going to sell in any quantity even if the sidecar market was vibrant as in the past. Basically, I think it was a bit of British eccentricity, probably thought up in the local pub on the back of a cigarette packet after they had a dozen pints.

The thing is we still see it today on the Dragons Den, when punters present some of their inventions to the dragons, I ask myself “who in their right mind is going to buy that?”. It was reported that around 400 dealers and an unknown amount of journalists attended the all-expenses paid dinner and cabaret show for the unveiling of the “Belle”,  my question is; why didn’t any of the dealers say “who in their right mind is going to buy that?” The article in “The Oldie” ends “, I realise that I was never going to clap eyes on that rarest of amphibians, the Canterbury Belle.”

Just so happens he may well be able to if he would like to travel to the Sidecar Museum in Cingoli, Italy. This picture below was taken by (Len Salisbury) on a visit to the museum.

Now, I did a little digging and researched the launched bit in the article. The Motor Cycle magazine ran a report in the 26th of November 1959 issue. With the title “All Aboard” and Canterbury Sidecars introduce Coupe cum Motor Launch. It says the design is not finalized but it features a picture what I can only assume is the prototype.

As you can see, the one in the museum is a little different from the one featured in the advert.

The article goes on to say, that production will start in the new year and will be marketed as a genuine dual-purpose “package” as much boat as sidecar and as much sidecar as boat.

Built in timber and marine ply, with a small anchor clipped to the forward decking, and there, too, is a miniature foghorn which acts as an intake for air to cool the power unit.

The screen was two flat pieces of safety glass with chrome surrounds.

Interestingly, according to the article, production was to begin at a new Canterbury factory so confirms the move to the new premises was around early 1960.

The puns keep coming, it was as Mr Hugh M. Palin, director of the Industries’ Association said “a buoyant occasion” which was (from a little working out with the dates) at the celebration dinner on Thursday 19th Nov 1959.

So there you have it, almost sunk without trace but what of the other Canterbury sidecars.?

There was a list as long as my arm. Around 1954 we saw the likes of the, double adult “Viking” and “Invader” , child-adult “Saxon” and Gladiator” and single seat “Crusader” and  “Warrior”.

Plus, pictured on this page are the “Conqueror” (left) a double adult and the single seat coupe called the “Challenger” (right). All great sounding names.

Below is the Canterbury racing sidecar. Only available to special order at the princely sum of £129 15s 4d.

One can only wonder if any of these are still about.

A few years later we see the likes of the Hawk, Venom, Eagle, Javelin, Continental, Snipe, Demon, Valiant,  Victor, Avenger, Sportsmobile, and the well remembered (for the size of the thing) the Carmobile. On top of that there were trade and commercial boxes and 4 different chassis.

The Arrow
The Dart The Petite

By 1960 / 61 we see the Carmobile MkII, plus the Petite, Dart, Envoy, more commercial boxes of various sizes and weights, and listed in the price list is the “Canterbury Belle” at £177 19s 10d, which was the production version and an increase in the price in the advert.

The one everyone remembers, The Carmobile.

I quite believe there were more models than I have featured here., sadly that was about the end of sidecar production, but the name is synominous with the Fed every year with the best team at the annual rally being awarded the “Canterbury Cup”, although the actual cup is in Coventry Transport Museum

The 2022 Canterbury Cup winners Team “Two Yams and a Banana”