1912 Rover Imperial 3 ½ HP 500cc

1cyl s/v Motorcycle.

Barry Murdoch


John K Starley formed the Rover Cycle Company Limited in June 1896 at the New Meteor Works in Coventry having had considerable success manufacturing "safety" bicycles. He decided in 1899 to import some Peugeot motorcycles from France for development.


John Starley died in 190I, aged 46 and was succeeded as Managing Director by Harry Smith, who continued motorcycle development and launched the Company's first model 'Rover Imperial' in 1902 a motorcycle that was considered well ahead of its time with a well- designed engine that had mechanical operated valves, spray carburettor, a strong frame with double front down tubes and an excellent finish.


This bike created a lot of interest and thousands were sold in 1904. However, in 1905 a serious slump in motorcycle sales began because public confidence in motorcycles had waned considerably due to the marketing of many inferior brands and badly engineered models.

Rover didn't want to risk its good reputation and stopped motorcycle production entirely to concentrate on the bicycle business.


In 1910 the motorcycle's future seemed rosy again and designer John Greenwood (later of Sunbeam fame) was commissioned to draw up a new engine.


Prior to WWI Rover had produced their own 500cc side valve engine with an 85mm bore and an 88mm stroke.  The new engine had spring loaded tappets. The Bosch magneto was placed high and dry behind the cylinder barrel and it was driven by a silent "inverted tooth" chain. The Carburettor was by Brown and Barlow and Durid front forks were fitted.




1912 Rover Imperial 3 ½ HP 500cc 1cyl s/v Motorcycle.





The new model appeared at the Olympia show at the end of 1910. Some 500 machines of the 1910/191 l type were sold, with hardly any changes were made to the 1912 model proving that design had been a good one.


There were three types of transmission available at the time – a direct drive, a Philipson Pulley and a three-speed Sturmey Archer rear hub, this bike is fitted with a Philipson pulley         and it is this drive that attracts a lot of attention. The Philipson pulley has an internal spring tensioned reverse thread and is operated by centrifugal force, as the pulley spins faster the centrifugal force closes the V pulley that raises the drive belt in the V and increases the drive ratio, a 1912 automatic transmission!!!!


The wonderful restoration of this 1912 Motor­ cycle is the work of Chris Nixon and his father from Muswellbrook. Chris is an Rover Owners’ Club member.


Barry Murdoch

April, 2020