When you’re an OEM with a storied past, wanting to preserve as much of your history as possible is a completely understandable sentiment. The motivation to delve into your history—be it personal or otherwise—is something most humans share. So, what if you try to find a particularly important building block, only to find that it’s nowhere to be found?
If you’re Royal Enfield, you gather as much information as possible, and then you get the best people on the case to recreate that thing in the modern era. That’s exactly what the company did with Project Origin, its quest to create as close a replica of its lost 1901 motorcycle as possible. The original was developed by a Frenchman named Jules Gobiet, along with Enfield co-founder and chief designer Bob Walker Smith.
A lot can happen in 120 years, though — and somewhere along the line, the 1901 machine seems lost in the sands of time. So far, no one has been able to find the machine, its pieces, or even any design blueprints or technical drawings. All of Enfield’s 2020-era spy team had to rely on a few promotional ads, period photos, and some illustrated news articles from the time the original bike was released. So, naturally, they took what they had and decided to make as faithful a recreation as possible.
That motorcycle, of course, was worlds away from a modern motorcycle – even with the classic, traditional principles of a modern Enfield. Originally the engine, which made a stonking one and three-quarter horsepower, sat above the front wheels, holding the steering head. From that lofty perch, it used a crossover raw bar to drive the rear wheels.
In 1901, Enfield had the foresight to split its crankcase horizontally, to avoid the problem of oil dripping onto the front wheel, often experienced with the more common vertically-split crankcases found on other machines. used to be—but that was 1901, and we’re still talking about total loss lubrication systems as state-of-the-art. Riders of the time had to use a hand-oil pump every 10 to 15 miles or so to keep the engine in good working order. In 2022, drum brakes are considered a little outdated in most cases, but in 1901, band brakes were how this motorcycle stopped in its tracks. Sometimes, history is like landing on a completely different planet.
Still, after gathering as much information as they could, the modern-day Enfield team set to work to recreate that 1901 machine. From the folded brass tank, to the brazed brass tubular frame and hand-machined brass levers and switches, Enfield and Harris Performance worked hard on all the intricacies needed to pull the project together.
Some turn-of-the-century parts, they were able to source, refinish, and nickel-plate where necessary. These included paraffin lamps, horns, leather saddles, and even wheels. Other items—the tank, frame, engine, and carburetor, to name a few—had to be built from scratch, as one-off pieces. It was definitely a labor of love but one the team was happy to undertake, and seemed quite happy with the result.
While the video is great to watch, we echo the views of more than one commenter on YouTube, who sincerely wish Enfield would make a full documentary on the build process of this machine. A series would be great too – just something that dives a little deeper into the process would be totally awesome for anyone who loves moto history.