1929 Shaw Special, 10.5 hp. Registration number AW 6769. Frame number 3534083 (ABC). Engine number M32171 (Austin).
In my time as an auctioneer one occasionally comes something that you are at a loss of how to catalogue, this wonderful creation is one of those times, so I think the best way is to tell a story with a little bit of poetic license.
In 1929, engineer, John Shaw of Scarcroft in Leeds, began designing and building his own motorcycle using an ABC motor cycle frame and an Austin Seven motor car engine. One presumes that he either had an old ABC with a broken engine or an Austin with a damaged chassis/body. The ABC was produced by the Sopwith Aircraft Company and designed by Granville Bradshaw, who had developed a 398cc overhead valve flat twin engine during the Great War and placed it in a duplex loop frame with sprung front and rear forks. It was one of the most advanced designs of its time but did not sell well and the company folded in the mid 1920’s. The Austin, being of small size, fitted quite well within the frame and he then designed the shaft drive to power it. There is a photograph on file of the shaft drive being on the right-hand side of the machine, maybe a mark one version, as he soon decided on across the frame with flexible couplings to the rear wheel via a cardan shaft.
By late 1929/early 1930 he had decided on the finished article which used the c.1927 Austin Seven and gearbox, mounted at an angle, with twin radiators, (similar to a Scott). With three forward gears and reverse, it used either a hand or lever operated clutch, coupled brakes by hand or foot, electric or foot start, riding on AJS 26” wheels, the rear being detachable.
During 1930 and 1931 Shaw then undertook some 8,000 miles of touring on all kinds of roads and tracks in Britain including Park Rash (Kettlewell), Keigthley Gate (Ilkley) and Middle Tongue (Cumbria) which provided information on the performance of the motor bike. By 1931 he was satisfied that his machine was running perfectly and he successfully patented the coupling mechanism with the shaft drive (patent number 393,947, submitted on the 10th December 1931 and granted on the 12th June 1933). In the mid 1930’s he toured the continent with his wife as pillion rider for two or three weeks at a time on several occasions.
Interestingly George Bough introduced the Brough Superior Austin Four for the 1931 Olympia Motorcycle Show. It was listed in the 1932 Brough Superior catalogue as the 'Straight Four' but it was commonly known as the Brough Superior Austin Four, or BS4, or '3-wheeled Brough'. The machine is powered by a modified Austin 7 engine and gearbox unit, from which a driveshaft emerges on the centre-line of the motor. Rather than design a new gearbox, George Brough kept the central driveshaft, and use a pair of close-couple rear wheels driven by a central final drive box. This 3-wheeled design was legally considered a motorcycle as the wheel centres were within 24". One wonders if Brough had seen Shaw’s machine?
During 1931 The Motor Cycle magazine had four articles on the Shaw Special, August 31st under the title “The Nameless Wonder”, September 3rd, December 10th when Shaw, under the pseudonym Austin Primus, describes its particulars and the 24th December under “An Enthusiast’s Austin-engined Machine”.
At some point the engine was bored out by 40 thousanths, possibly to gain more power.
John Shaw was an engineer of some repute having also designed and built an aluminium bodied car with the A55 engine and latterly even designed his own house in Scarcroft. He was recruited as works manager to the purpose built factory at Crewe to produce the Merlin aero-engines which powered the Spitfire and Avro planes during WW2.
Shaw passed away in 1967 and his wife loaned the machine to the Nostell Priory Museum, where it remained until Sotheby’s sold the Harry Fenby collection that had made up the bulk of the museum in 1980. It was returned to Mrs Shaw who gave it to her nephew in law, our vendor. Unfortunately, the museum had lost its original number plates and substituted others and therefore our vendor applied to the Local Vehicle Licensing Office in Hull in 1983 for a V5 with the correct registration mark and this was provided. As they could not locate a frame number, they issued it a new one and asked for it to be stamped, and this was to be undertaken during restoration. However during the stripping the original number appeared on the headstock when the frame was restored. Unused for many years, he decided in 2010 to have it restored by Chris Woodcock of Norton. The engine was stripped and rebuilt, (when the rebore was discovered) , gearbox and clutch overhauled, a replacement Zenith carburettor was fitted as the original Amal had metal fatigue (included with the sale), frame and metalware was powder coated, radiators overhauled, nickel plated and rechromed where required, speedo, magneto and dynamo reconditioned and the seat recovered (original included).
Since the restoration it has been regularly started up but not ridden and he has now decided to part with this wonderful creation, when viewed the engine fired on the first pull of the starter and sounded very quiet and smooth.
Sold with the V5C, copy V5, copy of the patent, the original magazine articles, various period photographs, a CD of the restoration work and other paperwork. It is the subject of a magazine article by Classic Bike.