Bizarre Bikes is a series that examines the history of an unconventional motorbike. We’re looking at the most unusual and outlandish machines from around the world to see how they were designed. The Henderson Streamliner was a motorbike that combined art-deco decoration with a luxury mentality. The Streamliner had the kind of appearance that made it look it belonged in a museum of fine art, all thanks to the efforts of designer Orley Courtney.
A futuristic concept
In terms of vehicle design, the period between WW1 and WW2 can be classed as an era of opulence. Manufacturers were eager to create elegant machines that harnessed the power of aerodynamics. Streamlining was popular and Harley-Davidson and Indian, the two biggest motorcycle developers in America, were part of the craze. But it was the smaller Henderson company that took the idea to the next level.
Orley Courtney believed that motorbike companies had gone overboard with their pursuit of speed, so he wanted to develop a vehicle with a new style. He based his idea around the 1300 cc four-cylinder engine of a Henderson Model KJ. The result was a streamlined motorbike that featured 10-inch wheels, a shell-like exterior and flowing components. Courtney used a power hammer and steel to create the bodywork and paired it with a complex suspension system.
Courtney debuted the Henderson Streamliner in 1934 as a concept vehicle. Although it was beautiful, the motorbike community considered the Streamliner to be alien and futuristic. It was so far from a traditional viewpoint that it couldn’t be understood.
In reality, the Streamliner did come with certain problems. With the low design, the motorbike wouldn’t have offered a comfortable experience for tall riders. The materials also couldn’t be reproduced in a cost-effective way.
Lost and restored
In 1941, Courtney decided to patent the idea of equipping a regular motorbike with a fully enclosed shell. Eventually, he put the Streamliner aside to develop a more commercial version called the Enterprise. Longer than its predecessor, the Enterprise could fit two people and made use of an Indian Scout engine.
The Henderson Streamliner and Enterprise might have faded into obscurity if not for the efforts of two men, Roy Finch and Frank Westfall. The pair of them carried out an extensive restoration job on the Streamliner, claiming to spend 600 to 700 hours on putting it together.
The Streamliner is certainly a beautiful motorbike and represents Courtney’s brilliance.