What is behind the continuing stream of new motorcycles (and cars) badged with old names from companies long dead? Any business major or business owner will tell you there is value to good will and name recognition and both entice investors to pay a premium when taking over a going concern but what does the name really mean to potential customers of a resurrected firm? If your new motorcycle has great design, high quality and performance or low cost and reliability or stunning new technology, what is wrong with letting buyers find that out? Why not create a new name that will live long into the future instead of borrowing the reputation of someone else’s work?
When an individual or investment group buys the rights to call their new creation the continuation of the great XYZ company, do you feel all warm and fuzzy remembering old bikes from your childhood? They hope you do but the name and shape of the logo mean nothing except in fond memories and fast moving antique auctions, the new motorcycle must stand on its own merits. Why should a new company run the risk of dragging a great name into the mud or, if the new bike is a great success, why would they want to share the pride of building a new marque from nothing? Some call it a tribute to the old company, others might say it’s like impersonating Elvis.
The exception is when someone literally picks up where the old company left off, building the old bikes exactly as they were so current owners can experience what they were like brand new. In some sense, Royal Enfields, now manufactured in India are like that. The difference is they never shut down, the British firm went under while India kept producing the original Bullet. Modifications made now are true continuations of that original.
But what of these constant efforts to bring back the Indian? Without the multitude of legal problems having to do with use of the name and trademark, they might have had a motorcycle out there. The Excelsior Henderson tanked and the name didn’t help. Will the new Norton do better? The new Commando is a nice looking bike and may perform well but what is the real connection to Norton beyond the name? Vincent Motors has a new Vincent, a beautiful motorcycle built by a successful individual but a Vincent in name only. How about the upcoming new Duesenburg car and motorcycle? The failures in this group put a cloud over the heads of those still getting started and the most unfortunate thing is these bikes might stand on their own if the owners would try it that way. They could say their bikes are “built in the spirit of (insert name here).” The originals are in museums or the garages of collectors. Respect the past but look forward.
All of these old names were wonderful in their day and beautiful restorations or even hot rod custom versions show what appreciation and imagination can do. But the names do not have some magic or restorative qualities nor do they guarantee new business success.
We should admire the guts and drive necessary to start a new company and build a new motorcycle, but why diminish those efforts by inviting the inevitable comparisons with the original? Begin your own marque. Had John Britten lived longer, he would have done it, Michael Czysz with his Motoczysz is doing it, Confederate Motorcycles has done it. These companies and others like them deserve our respect and support and they serve as inspiration to those many dreamers ready to try. The example of their success may also prevent someone from bidding for the right to use another name on a tombstone.