Against a background of financial uncertainty,
the Douglas factory was always willing to rise to the challenge, pioneering
innovative designs and styling. In 1954, they launched a sophisticated and
original looking design at the Earls Court show.
Developed during 1953, the model was intended to
supersede their rather dated range and take the company into a new era. Many of
its features foreshadowed those of the slightly later BMW, which went on to
achieve considerable success.
Douglas' new engir,e design was a 350 based on their previous engine - although
it also borrowed heavily from an interesting 500cc prototype shown in 1951.
The engine had been strengthened internally and
cleaned up externally, with a streamlined appearance and a crankcase that
housed the electrics and other ancillaries, while the gearbox was attached to
the rear. A single Amal Monobloc carburettor fed both cylinders. Coil ignition
and alternator electrics were among the model's advanced features. Most of the
cycle parts were bought in.
The frame was completely new, made by the
Reynolds Tube Company. A swinging arm with twin dampers looked after the rear
suspension, while the front suspension used a design patented by Midlands
engineer Ernie Earles and built by Reynolds. This used a long swinging arm,
controlled by twin dampers. A similar design was used by BMW on their production
bikes, while MV Agusta, among others, tried it for racing.
The other main styling feature was the petrol
tank and light unit. Containing a massive 52 gallons, the tank pressing
continued forward of the steering head to house the headlamp and instrument
panel, which did not turn with the steering. Originally called the 'Dart', by
the time of the show the model was called the 'Dragonfly'. Finished in a cream
shade called 'light stone' with toning green panels or black-and-gold, it was an
attractive if unconventional machine.
Unfortunately, after its much-vaunted show launch, Douglas was unable to offer
quantity production for another nine months. Despite a favourable road test in
April 1955, the price had gone up by almost 10 per cent by August, and a less
favourable road test followed.
Its handling could not be faulted, although the
brakes were rather poor. But ultimately the problem for the Dragonfly came down
to a mismatch of its capacity and its presentation. With the styling and
fittings of a tourer, it had an engine that was pushed to top 75mph and cruised
at considerably less.
It found few customers - only around 1500 were made - and Douglas' shaky
finances restricted both manufacturing and marketing. Towards the end of 1956,
the company was taken over by the Westinghouse electrical group, and motorcycle
production ended in March 1957.
ouglas Dragonfly (1956)
Years in production: 1953-56 Engine type: horizontally-opposed
twin-cylinder four-stroke Bore and stroke: 60.8 x 60mm Capacity: 348cc Ignition:
Coil, with Miller
alternator Carburettor: Amal Monobloc Weight 3651 b