Top 10 Coolest Vintage British Motorcycles

Updated on August 21, 2017

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.

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, 100.05mph average for 24 hours. It was made from 1955-1970 with areound 5700 total being made. Its 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 tranportation.

5. Norton Manx

Norton Manx
Norton Manx

Norton made these bikes from 1946-1962. They were developed soley for winning the Isle of Man TT. Molnar Precision Limited bought the tooling for these bike and they are once again being produced to exact 1961 specs. Top speed was 150mph 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 | Source

The Lightning was developed with the U.S. market in mind, and is suited well the our tastes. The 110mph top speed is more than 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 50's.

9. Triumph Bonneville

Triumph Bonneville
Triumph Bonneville | Source

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 fairly common still and are cheap compared to many bikes on this list. I know several people who use old Bonneville as daily drivers still.

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 produce, 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.


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    • profile image

      mickey fish 

      11 months ago

      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

    • profile image

      Alistair Bernard 

      19 months ago

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

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Larry Harvey 

      3 years ago

      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 can lay one of these baby's way down and it would come back up in a heartbeat

    • profile image

      david fernandes 

      3 years ago

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

    • Pixelhound profile image


      3 years ago from west vancouver BC Canada

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

    • Pixelhound profile image


      3 years ago from west vancouver BC Canada

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

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      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 profile image


      4 years ago

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

    • tammiejo67 profile image

      Tammie Hardrick 

      4 years ago from Illinois

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

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      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 )

    • AvineshP profile image

      Avinesh Prahladi 

      4 years ago from Chandigarh

      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.

    • profile image

      simmy 5 

      5 years ago

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

    • profile image

      White Boar 

      6 years ago

      Isn't the bike in Picture 7 an AJS?

    • profile image

      vijay dubey 

      6 years ago

      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

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image

      Mike c 

      6 years ago

      Nice list...of course I have my input....the Scott flying 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....

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago


      I think Ariel SQ4 and Brough superior are definitely missing!

    • Autoindiapro profile image


      6 years ago from India

      That was an amazing article I have read!

    • profile image

      Doug Nassif 

      6 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Billy Boy 

      7 years ago

      What about the Brough Superior?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      where is the brough superior dude ??

    • raging bile profile image

      raging bile 

      7 years ago from Seething-on-Sea

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

    • profile image

      Tony Pitcher 

      7 years ago

      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 profile image


      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      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 profile image


      7 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      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.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      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

    • profile image

      Recalled Cigars 

      8 years ago

      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:

    • profile image


      8 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Scott Roney 

      9 years ago

      This is one of those things that could be argued 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...

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      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 profile image


      9 years ago from London, UK

      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 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from U.S.

      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 profile image

      Shine Auto Spa 

      9 years ago from Fairfield County, CT

      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?

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      9 years ago from NJ, USA

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


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