Post-War History of the Cotton Motorcycle

The Villiers Era


The Cotton Works continued their light engineering work after the 1939-1945 War and made no effort to re-enter the motorcycle market, although spares were still supplied for existing machines. The firm was in somewhat dire straits by the 1950s, and Mr. Cotton decided to retire. It was re-constituted as E. Cotton (Motorcycles) Ltd. under the direction of Pat Onions and Monty Denley.


The vintage triangulated Cotton frames were now obsolete as the post-war market dictated rear springing. The first machine, produced on a part-time basis until 1957, was the VULCAN. All parts, except the frame, were bought in and assembled on the premises. The various models were mostly powered by Villiers units, either singles or twins, but for a short spell c.1956-7, certain models such as the COTANZA were offered with British Anzani engines. Other models included the HERALD, MESSENGER, DOUBLE GLOUCESTER, CONTINENTAL, CORSAIR and CONQUEST.


Diversification followed by going into the field of competition, and by the end of 1960 a range of roadsters, trials and scramble models were available. This was also the year when the Ministry of Supply moved out, leaving the whole floor area of the Vulcan Works for motorcycle production by some two dozen employees.


It was in 1961 that the COUGAR scrambler was introduced and a works team formed with riders such as Bryan "Badger" Goss and John Draper. Cotton also made an impact on road racing when they became involved with the prototypes after Villiers introduced the Starmaker racing engine in 1962. The 247 cc TELSTAR road racer and CONQUEST were introduced in 1962 and 1964.


Between 1964 and 1966, under the guidance of technical adviser Derek Minter, Cottons ridden by Minter, Ivy, Inchley and others won races on every British mainland circuit including the Southampton Clubs 500 mile production race for two years in succession and the British 250 cc Championship.


Cotton production swung away from road models towards an all-competitions programme. However, the factory suffered when Villiers withdrew their engines, and Cottons then had to seek engines abroad. The CAVALIER trials bike used an Italian Minarelli engine, but only five bikes were being made a week. Cotton's kit bike business was also hit by government legislation.


Cottons moved to Stratton Road in 1970 where, in addition to motorcycles, they produced the Cotton Sturdy, a three wheel works truck. During the next ten years they moved premises several times in and around Gloucester before finally moving to Bolton in 1978. They produced a good 250 cc racing machine fitted with a ROTAX engine. However, they were unable to continue due to financial difficulties and closed down in 1980.


In the 1990's, following a series of successful exhibitions mounted at the Gloucester Folk Museum, the Cotton owners club was formed. The club has an international membership and holds an annual summer rally at the Museum.