1949 Elswick: the journey continues…

Much of the Elswick-Hopper history I’ve unearthed thus far is largely repetitive, citing a timeline of key dates. I suspect that most who have written about this company have acquired their years and sequence from the same one or two sources, so in a way these various family histories are somewhat incestuous! The high points seem to be that Fred Hopper got off the ground in the 1880s, his son took over in the mid-20’s, the brand was taken over in the mid-50’s, and then merged with Coventry Eagle, then Falcon, and then other marquees, ultimately dissolving bit by bit by bit until there was nothing left that had to do with bicycles. Elswick, in fact, became a label maker – a fact so strange that I can’t even wrap my mind around how such a corporate evolution took place.

I decided I was really more interested in the company itself and began to seek out what I could of the firm. Not surprisingly, I turned up an intriguing letter on Sheldon Brown’s website. David Cross, CEO of Elswick Hopper PLC from 1984 to 1994 wrote to Sheldon and offered some insightful information about the company history and what took place in their waning years.

Classic Rendezvous too, has reproduced a story about Elswick Cycles, Ltd, “makers of the famous Elswick and Hopper Bicycles.” The article by “Peter Pedlar” which originally appeared in the September 29, 1937 issue of Cycling provides a snapshot of one aspect of the company. (Oddly enough, the shipping department.) Further history, along with reproductions of various Elswick ephemera can also be found on the Old Bike blog.

The 1949 showroom floor, featuring all of the Hopper and Elswick models.

I was very surprised to come across an article about Elswick, reproduced from the April 1949 issue of British Cycles and Motor Cycles. 1949…holy cow, this was my year! My very bicycle could have been languishing in the background of one of the photographs in the article! (But it wouldn’t have languished long. As the article points out, bikes were manufactured and literally rolled right out the door onto trucks and shipped out all over the world. Storage? Fuggedaboudit!)

Bikes are being assembled in 1949. Was my bike one of those in the picture?

Top of the line machining equipment in 1949.

So back to the future. It’s now 2012, sixty-three years since that article was written and since my bike rolled across the Elswick loading dock. I’ve begun the process of restoration. To be clear, my own thinking about restoration has evolved – especially from the days when I might have stripped the frame and painted or powder coated it. Finding replacement graphics is unlikely in any event, and my plans call for clean up, bring out the paint as best as possible, eliminate the rust, and make certain all mechanical details are addressed. No repaint. No touch up.

At the moment, the bike is in various pieces. The frame itself was on my bike stand for a few days where I cleaned every bit of grime from the painted and chromed surfaces. The wheels are pulled, as is the saddle, the cranks, and other small bits and pieces. I plan to re-use the chain and it is patiently waiting in line for cleansing.

Using Windex and aluminum foil, I’ve removed the worst of the rust from the shiny parts.  A soft brass brush was necessary in some places; WD-40 breaks down grime and is a terrific cleaning agent; fine grade finishing steel wool is a good final buffer. A light coat of boiled linseed oil is an excellent preventive measure to ensure that the rust doesn’t return any time soon. Once coated, it takes quite some time for the linseed oil to “dry” – in fact it polymerizes, sealing the surface.

I also use linseed oil to bring back the luster in the black paint and to recapture what details remain in the pin striping and graphics. I’ve especially enjoyed watching these details re-emerge on the fenders and tubes. (The head badge, once cleaned up, is pretty cool also!)

The chainring has been buffed and is looking nice, I think.

I will likely replace the cable housing; I will definitely replace the tires (the rear is totally shot, but the front looks terrific.) Although not original, I am debating cream tires…possibly. The front fender is going to require some special attention and quite honestly I have not yet strategized precisely how I’m going to approach fixing it. And the saddle? Wow. I’m not sure if I can recreate the cover and may need to look for a vintage replacement. (Ironically, a beautiful one sold on Craig’s List two evenings ago for eight dollars. I was the second caller and lost out. Urgh!)

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7 thoughts on “1949 Elswick: the journey continues…

  1. Boiled linseed oil? Interesting. I’ve been using straight-up oil on the frame of the 1953 Rudge I am currently restoring. Oil was the traditional way the British kept their frames and paint protected. When I first heard that I thought, ewww. But after trying it, I can say that it makes the paint come alive again. Looks like the Linseed oil did the same for your Elswick!

    Sucks about the bag on CL though. Hope you can find something appropriate.

    • As I understand it, “Boiled” linseed oil isn’t. Boiled, that is. Be aware of the inherent and very, very real dangers of working with linseed oil, by the way. Rags used with the stuff can spontaneously combust – and this is for real. Dispose of rags properly by wetting them thoroughly, storing them under water, and out-of-doors. Preferably in a metal can. No matter how shiny your paint gets, it’s not worth burning down your house from a fire started when you were comfortably asleep in your bed at night!

      As for the Craig’s List loss… oh well. It happens. Maybe fortune will smile on me next time around, and if not then I’ll be on the lookout at the next vintage swap meet.

      • By the way, I may look for another vintage Carradice bag for this build. I love how functional the one you have on your blog appears to be, and the aesthetic is just about perfect for a vintage British roadster, don’t you think?

    • Brooks was my first thought as well, and it is very likely that I’ll be going with a Brooks replacement. I’ve been keeping my eyes out for a nice, well-worn, and appropriate vintage saddle to come up on Craig’s List or from one of my fellow C&V enthusiasts. If it is a Brooks, it’s not one of their better models – and honestly, I haven’t yet begun to research it yet. I have been told that it might also be a Wright’s Saddle. Either way, I’m not excited about attempting to re-cover the original, regardless of who made it!

  2. Hello, nice job! I have the same bicycle except in a ladies model, the hub date is 12 48. I have the original middlemore seat but will ride it with a Wright in order not to harm the original. I would like to replace the decal which displays the model as it is in poor condition, except for a bit of rust which will be reduced as much as can be it is in decent condition. I have the Elswick marked pedals and will replace the pedal shafts from a Phillips in order to eliminate the rusty shafts. These bikes appear to be prewar bikes with little postwar changes. The grips were shot so I ordered similar ones from the Greek sellers on ebay. These are the short prewar style. I bought mine for $65.00 in a Seattle bike swap meet where US antique bikes hold center sway.

    Good luck with it!

    Mike

    • A word of advice before you replace parts or decals: Remember that it’s only original once. The decals may be in poor condition, but it’s often surprising how much of the original art can be brought back to life with a bit of gentle cleaning and then a coat of wax. As for the crank arms, you can almost certainly clean those back to a nice finish without replacement. Oxalic Acid (OA) is readily available at hardware stores just about everywhere and a dilute mix is one of the mainstays of bicycle restoration of chrome and steel (not aluminum though!) For more information, check out http://www.bikeforums.net/archive/index.php/t-799591.html

      Regarding the decal, I don’t know if replacements are available. H Lloyd Cycle would probably be the first place I’d check, at http://www.hlloydcycles.com

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