Updated date:

Top 10 Coolest Vintage British Motorcycles

The author knows a lot about cars and motorcycles, especially older and more affordable ones.

Recently, new motorcycles made to look vintage have become all the rage. This trend covers everything from cruisers to cafe racers to dirt bikes. While many of these bikes are really cool, they just aren't nearly as cool as the originals. Here are what I consider to be the best vintage bikes of British origin.

10 Best Vintage British Motorcycles

  1. Vincent Black Shadow
  2. Royal Enfield Bullet
  3. Velocette Venom
  4. Panther Model 100
  5. Norton Manx
  6. BSA Lightning
  7. Matchless Silver Streak
  8. Ariel Red Hunter
  9. Triumph Bonneville
  10. Norton ES2

1. Vincent Black Shadow

Vincent Black Shadow

Vincent Black Shadow

The Vincent Black Shadow is considered to be the ultimate dream bike by many people. It is extremely desirable and extremely expensive, selling frequently in excess of $60,000. Fewer than 1700 of these highly desirable bikes were made. They were popular race bikes and had astonishing performance for a production bike in their time.

2. Royal Enfield Bullet

Royal Enfield Bullet  Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

Royal Enfield Bullet Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

The Royal Enfield Bullet has been in production for a very long time, having been in constant production since 1931. Production in the U.K. ended in 1960s and has been carrying on in India ever since. In the U.S., you can buy one of these bikes new from a Royal Enfield dealer. It does have good looks, but isn't known for having good quality anymore. These are a good way to get a vintage looking bike with some modern accessories.

3. Velocette Venom

Velocette Venom

Velocette Venom

The Velocette Venom was a 500cc single-cylinder bike that was quite fast in its day. It still holds the 24hr speed record for bikes its size, 100.05 mph average for 24 hours. It was made from 1955-1970 with around 5700 total being made. It's not as rare as a Vincent Black Shadow, but it sure isn't common. These are very good-looking bikes and were very well made.

4. Panther Model 100

Panther Model 100

Panther Model 100

These attractive bikes were made from 1932 to 1963. They were very stout and workman like. Top speed was around 70 mph, considerably slower than the other bike on this list. I like them because of their looks and their reputation for being good, sturdy transportation.

5. Norton Manx

Norton Manx

Norton Manx

Norton made these bikes from 1946-1962. They were developed solely for winning the Isle of Man TT. Molnar Precision Limited bought the tooling for these bikes and they are once again being produced to exact 1961 specs. Top speed was 150 mph, depending on gearing. I really like the way these bikes look and would love one for myself. In 1950, these bikes received the legendary Norton Featherbed frame, which gave them a considerable competitive advantage.

6. BSA Lightning

BSA Lightning

BSA Lightning

The Lightning was developed with the U.S. market in mind, and is suited well to our tastes. The 110 mph top speed is more adequate than most. The ride is smooth up to 5k rpm, when the vibration sets in. This bike is considered one of the most successful of all British motorcycles. It was features in the James Bond movie Thunderball. Hunter S. Thompson also famously owned one.

7. Matchless Silver Streak

Matchless Silver Streak Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

Matchless Silver Streak Photo Courtesy of Thruxton

The Matchless Silver Streak entered production in 1938 and was a great machine. This is one of the few places where I think that massive amounts of chrome and polish are a good thing. Even the fuel and oil tanks are chromed on these. They were considered Super Sport bikes when they were new. They had close ratio gearboxes which made them potent on the road, and high ground clearance and low bottom gear which made them acceptable cross country.

8. Ariel Red Hunter

Ariel Red Hunter Photo Courtesy of Piero

Ariel Red Hunter Photo Courtesy of Piero

I don't know a whole lot about these bikes, but they do look cool. They were made from 1932 to 1959. They gained a rear suspension in the '50s.

9. Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville

These bikes are the bikes that many people picture when they think "English motorcycle." These bikes were loved by the cafe-racer crowd and were modified in large numbers. The original Bonnevilles were made from 1959-1983. Triumph has recently started making a new Bonnevile, although it looks the same it's a modern bike. These are still fairly common, and are cheap compared to many bikes on this list. I know several people who use old Bonneville as daily drivers still.

10. Norton ES2

Norton ES2 Photo Courtesy of Piero

Norton ES2 Photo Courtesy of Piero

Norton made the ES2 from 1927-1964: a very long stretch for such a traditional design. It was a sports bike when it was initially produced, but its performance was soon surpassed by other bikes. These bikes were well known for being reliable and easy to repair. While they all look pretty old fashioned now, they were constantly updated during their production run.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


IAN on March 16, 2019:

Had James 150cc Single 1952 BSA B40 350cc Single then a Triumph Bonnieville T140V 1982 for touring Australia but had a company so was unable to use at weekends so in the end my favourite was the BSA.As I just used it for work country lanes.I was a BSA member for 30 yrs.My bike days are over now with injuries but would loved to have Sunbeam 500 with a double chair,Panther 120 and a velocette viper.Dreams are easier than reality.

mickey fish on October 23, 2017:

norton es 2 i am 71 now and had one when i was 17 it was a1955 model i bought it for 25 quid from Kilburn motorcycles in Chertsey it broke down for the umpteeth time in Weybridge wont say were i dumped it but cringe now thinking about it

Alistair Bernard on March 16, 2017:

Nice article Mate. Being a Brit Bike Enthusiast sure agree with you. Cheers

GNS on October 20, 2015:

These are all great bikes. I would choose the Vincent Rapide over the Black Shadow, and the Brough Superior definitely should have made the list.

Larry Harvey on April 21, 2015:

Let's face it all the British bikes are in a class all by themselves. I have had 17 motorcycles in my 71 years,three that were British.The britiish bikes were by far the best cornering.you can lay one of these baby's way down and it would come back up in a heartbeat

david fernandes on February 23, 2015:

I think the 1959 Bonnie in red and ivory was a beauty.

Wayne from west vancouver BC Canada on January 07, 2015:

Great hub, I would have replaced the BSA Lightning with the BSA A10 RGS but that is just my opinion.

Wayne from west vancouver BC Canada on January 07, 2015:

Great hub, I would have replaced the BSA Lightning with the BSA A10 RGS but that is just my opinion.

kkvma on June 04, 2014:

Bullet is not known for having good quality anymore funny because newer bullet have far fewer oil leaks and better reliabilty, breaking and mileage than older versions.

prbradshaw on May 13, 2014:

Just came across your hub. Excellent job mate, thoroughly enjoyed the read. +1 in the Triumph camp

Tammie Hardrick from Illinois on February 24, 2014:

I am a triumph fan as well. There are a few in our area and I am always envious!

SR on February 03, 2014:

You forgot a very important British Bike . Brough Superior , any motorcyle list that doesnot include it , is in my opinion not complete.

Those Bikes were legendary, and today its the worlds most expensive motorcyels ( second hand )

Avinesh Prahladi from Chandigarh on November 07, 2013:

I really loved, Vincent Black Shadow. Wow looks like an awesome bike to me. I would love to own this bike and keep it forever with me.

Thanks ttravis5446 for sharing this hub.

simmy 5 on August 25, 2013:

Hi what about the Silk 700s ! one of the last great pieces of britsh motorcycle history ,so rare people never mention them !

White Boar on June 11, 2012:

Isn't the bike in Picture 7 an AJS?

vijay dubey on April 22, 2012:

Hi guys its proud to be an owner of this bikes and people those who posses this bikes i should say they are the blessed owners.The Triumph,Bsa,Matchless,Ariel,Ajs,Norton,Velloctte,Indian this were the fantastic vehicles ever been produced, hats off to the Engineers and the Technitians who have made such models. I have my self Bsa of 1959 model swing arm with electrics which i used for day to day life its awesome, regards to all the viewers

RICHARD ALLOCCA on March 31, 2012:


Mike c on February 26, 2012:

Nice list...of course I have my input....the Scott flying squirrelly..cool two strokes with polished brass and red or black motors. ...the Brough Superios ...of course ..... But those were so exclusive it is hard to be too seriously bothered that they are missing. To the point they are made new as is the REAL nortons both the commandos and atlas model..not the ones based on the Greer machine but the ones based on the norton machine... Back to point..the Hesketh and I think for user cool the triumph cub and BSA c 15 these were both pedestrian machines and built in much larger numbers then their big brothers and transported the masses after and between the wars. They are still in use in the back country last time I was in GB. The c 15 wound up being the basis of the bike that gave BSA the MX titleafter the gold star no longer could. This was the B 50 version....

thoofan on February 22, 2012:


Andrej on February 10, 2012:


I think Ariel SQ4 and Brough superior are definitely missing!

Autoindiapro from India on January 15, 2012:

That was an amazing article I have read!

Doug Nassif on December 20, 2011:

Very good list, but the Norton Production Racer ("Yellow Peril") begs for inclusion

Billy Boy on September 06, 2011:

What about the Brough Superior?

docsen9777 on August 27, 2011:

where is the brough superior dude ??

raging bile from Seething-on-Sea on August 12, 2011:

Nice selection. What about the BSA Gold Star DBD34 Clubman? That was a superb 500cc single and my personal favourite.

Tony Pitcher on May 23, 2011:

The Matchless you show above is in fact an A.J.S. I lived in Plumstead for 30 years and spent a lot of time in and around the A.M.C. factory.

earnestshub from Melbourne Australia on November 26, 2010:

I loved the Norton Dominator as well. An English bike with a smooth gearbox, a decent clutch and a nice vibration free cruiser at the speed limit. I have had a lot of Nortons.

earnestshub from Melbourne Australia on November 25, 2010:

The ES2 or "easyto" Norton as we called it affectionately had a wonderful powerful motor and was a marvelously well engineered bike for it's day. I kept mine for many years.

Robert on October 25, 2010:

I have a 1950 m100panther and i ride it all the time it's a great ride and one of the best looking motorcycles ever made

at lease mine is

Recalled Cigars on April 04, 2010:

Nice list, but I agree the BSA Goldstar should have made it.

Here's a funny video about how cool restoring is as a hobby:


chumma on October 25, 2009:

nice write up but the BSA goldstar is a huge miss.

Scott Roney on October 18, 2009:

This is one of those things that could be argued endlessly...so here goes...Where's the Norton Commando Roadster! The 1969 Commando was an instant classic. I would argue that the 1970 model with the classic upsept "Pea shooter" exhaust pipes and forward slanting engine top-end should dfinitely be on the list. Nice looking bikes...

Sankalp on October 12, 2009:

Nice picture of Royal Enfield. I'm simply in love with those old legends of history. I'm having a 1951 swing arm model of my own which I use for my daily commute to college.

DaveHarris from London, UK on October 05, 2009:

Interesting collection! i think I would have included the Squariel (Ariel Square 4) which was an amazing looking machine although not that reliable. And, of course, the ultimate Brit performance machine of yesteryear was the Triton - the strong Triumph engine in a Norton Featherbed frame.

BTW, are you sure about the 150 MPH top speed of the Manx Norton? I can imagine a race prepared bike with a limited engine life might do that but not a normal road-going bike of he era.

SimeyC - the Triumph car company was not the same as the bike company and as far as I know hey had no connection. I still have fond memories of driving a Triumph 2.5 PI Auto car :)

ttravis5446 (author) from U.S. on September 05, 2009:

Thanks a lot guys. I have only seen one of the Panther 100's in person at a show. I have seen more Model 120's, they look the same and have larger motors but lack the build quality and reliability of the 100's. I would watch craigslist, ebay, and maybe visit some Vintage Motorcycle shows and talk to people to find one. I have also had luck at British Car Shows as a lot of those people have British bikes as well.

Shine Auto Spa from Fairfield County, CT on September 05, 2009:

Nice write up Travis. I love that Panther 100. Do you have any more info on the bike in the picture? How could I get my hands on that one or similar?

Simon Cook from NJ, USA on September 05, 2009:

I just love the triumph! they always made great bikes and cars!

Related Articles