History of the 1963-1971 Royal Enfield Interceptor
Royal Enfield may be the only motorcycle manufacturer to span three centuries. The company began in England in 1899 and is still making motorcycles today, even if they are a bit old-fashioned. The 736 cc Interceptor introduced in 1962 was aimed squarely at the all-important U.S. bike market. It was a 52 hp, 120 mph twin developed from the 700 cc Meteor and Constellation. It was a rare bird during its 10-year production and it’s an rarer one today, but it’s a worthy competitor to the 1969 Honda’s CB750, and proof that not all British bike makers died with a whimper in the 1970s.
The Royal Enfield motorcycle factory in Redditch, Worcestershire developed from a bicycle maker, like many in England. It also made parts for firearms as far back as 1890, which explains the cannon on the company’s badge and the motto “Built like a gun, goes like a bullet”. The company dabbled in lawnmowers and stationary engines as well, and built quadricycles with De Dion engines in 1898.
Royal Enfield made a dizzying number of models in the early years, everything from 225cc 2-strokes to 1,000cc, side-valve V-twins but settled into solid Bullet singles, the first appearing in 1932. The company was a regular TT competitor from 1911 but the four-valve, 500cc of 1935 was its last entry and it retired without a single win. Wartime work was divided between 250cc and 350cc military bikes and the odd 125cc “flying flea”, which was dropped by parachute.
The 500cc Meteor twin appeared in 1949 - essentially two 250 cc singles - and was gradually developed through the 1950s to 700cc, with a reliable 100 mph possible. Royal Enfield also tinkered with streamlining at this time, offering a handsome Airflow fairing.
Royal Enfield had enjoyed trials success ever since their introduction of a rear swing arm in 1949, and in 1961 Eddie Mulder won the Big Bear Enduro. Elliot Shulz dominated the half-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, and Enfield won 31 of 39 races.
The stage was set for a Bonneville-sized hit, but it would be fumbled away by poor distribution and lack of support. Royal Enfield was a cottage industry at this point, with bikes built by hand in a subterranean World War II factory building.
The first 211 Interceptors headed for American shores in 1961. They were 700cc models in Enduro form - without lights, alternator, gauges and muffler, with a skid plate and 3.25 gallon tank. By all accounts they were a handful in the dirt and many were retrofitted to street form. Only a few of these, however, have been found.
The Mk I Interceptor arrived in 1962 with twin pipes and chrome on the tank, fenders, headlight and gauges. It had a hefty 25-pound crankshaft, located by a roller main on the timing side and ball race on the drive end. This was opposite to common practice, but effective. Separate barrels and heads made for easier maintenance, but dry sump oiling pressurized the entire system and timing cover leaks were inevitable, which led to the “Royal Oilfield” soubriquet. There were 979 Mk Is built, including the “VAX” bikes.
Significant mechanical updates arrived with the Mk IA in 1967. Magneto ignition was changed for coils, and Amal concentric carburetors replaced monoblocs, trading smoother performance for poorer gas mileage. In all, 759 Mk IAs were built.
Big changes came with the Mk II in March 1969. The Interceptor adopted a Norton Atlas front fork and wheel and a wet sump engine to cure some of the oil leaks. In all, 1,122 Mk IIs were produced, but the writing was on the wall for the British Motorcycle Industry and the factory closed in June 1970.
At the last, another attempt to revive the Indian name led Floyd Clymer to order a run of Interceptor motors, but he died with the engines on the dock, and they were snapped up by the Rickman brothers, who were always looking for motors. Between 1970 and 1972 the Rickmans built 130 Interceptors with Metisse frames. These are notable for footpegs actually welded to the exhaust pipes, which nonetheless works. Finding a solid Interceptor is difficult, and it is believed that a lack of parts availability has left many abandoned in garages and barns. It’s therefore best to find as complete an example as possible of this admirable English sporting motorcycle.
1968 Royal Enfield Interceptor Info
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