Douglas Dragonfly

The Dragonfly was the final model produced during the chequered and diverse history of the Douglas factory. As well as producing motorcycles, the Kingswood, Bristol company built aero and stationery engines, Vespa scooters, trucks and even dabbled with cars.

Doug las, despite their rather staid reputation, began their days wit h competition success. Within three years of producing their first motorcycle in 1907, they took the coveted team prize in the International Six Days Trial. T wo years later, WH Bashall brought them their first TT win, the 1912 Junior. Such triumphs paved the way to making the company a major manufacturer during World War I, supplying the army with some 70,000 machines.

Specifications

Engine

Horsepower

transmission

Frame

Brakes

top Speed

Years in Production

air-cooled OHV 348cc flat twin

17 bhp @ 5500 rpm

4-speed

tubular double cradle

drum / drum

72 mph

1955 – 1957

Further successes followed – first 500cc machine to lap Brookland s at 100mph in 1921; Senior TT victory in 1923 (with a form of disc brake); Sidecar TT laurels the same year. ‘Duggies’ had become so established that even King George VI acquired one. Whatever else they might offer, ‘the best twins’ always exuded an aura of class.

Throughout these years, until the end of production in 1957, Douglas championed opposed twin engine layouts, either transverse (like BMW) or, in the early years, fore-and-aft. But the post-war years hit Douglas severely, and in 1948 the receiver was called in, forcing the company to ‘rationalise’ with a line of models all based on the same 350cc flat twin. At the time, the decision seemed sound . The 1949 ‘Sports’ model was timed at 84mph, allowing Douglas to dub it the world’s ‘fastest 350 roadster’. But by the time the Dragonfly succeeded the ‘Mark’ series in 1954, things were very different.

The Dragon fly featured horizontally opposed cylinders and a car-type single plate clutch, but chain final drive. Earles-type Reynolds front forks complemented swing-arm rear suspension, and the novel styling included a headlamp faired into the large petrol tank.

In many ways it was a sophisticated yet rugged design. Cooling was good, the gear cam drive robust, and clutch action uncharacteristically light for the period. Handling and steering was light yet
precise, it toured well, and the brakes were good for the time. And, gentlemanly though they were, they also revved, at least in race trim; the last-ever official Douglas TT entry was by a special 90 Plus model in 1954. This spun to 11,000rpm, developed 31 bhp, and was timed at 108mph. But, although Duggies had been highly competitive in production-based clubman’s racing in the immediate post-war years, by now they had been comprehensively eclipsed . The new clubman’s king was BSA’s Gold Star. This was the problem – the Dragonfly was an expensive machine, but it was heavy (365lb), no faster than the Mk V it replaced, and failed to satisfy an increasing yearning for performance. Paupers could certainly not afford them, and princes were no longer interested.

At the 1951 Motorcycle Show, Douglas had responded with a 500cc prototype, but even this was not quick and never went into production. However, certain elements – enclosed engine styling, in the manner of BMW, along with a stiffer crankshaft and crankcases and improved lubrication found a home on the Dragonfly. But, handsome and civilised though it was, the public was unimpressed.

Sales were poor, and the Dragonfly was now the only egg in the company’s motorcycle basket. Indeed , Douglas’ new owners, Westinghouse, seemed more interested in the production of Vespa scooters than the regeneration of the motorcycle range, and by the time motorcycle production ceased in 1957, only 1570 Dragonflies had been built. What was left of the company, Douglas (Sales and Service) Ltd. , continued to import and assemble Vespa scooters and later Gilera motorcycles.

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