The Best of of the EJ Cole Motorcycle Auction

March 20-21, 2015 - Las Vegas, Nevada

Sold for $205,000 on March 21, 2015

William Henderson was obsessed with the idea of building a motorcycle since he was a child. Born in 1883, his father was the Vice President the Winton Motor Carriage Co., one of the oldest auto manufacturers in the world, and a maker of very fine automobiles. Alexander Winton, founder of Winton Motors, was William’s grandfather, and so he began work at Winton alongside his father in 1899, but spent his nights and weekends sketching out motorcycle engines, which his father, an engineer with Winton, would critique. By 1909, all the criticisms were corrected, and a complete four-cylinder motorcycle was laid out on paper, down to the last nut and bolt. His father Tom advised him to quit the idea, but gave his blessing (and no doubt a little money) to build a prototype in 1911 thinking the difficult process would deter his son. The motorcycle worked though; an inline four-cylinder with a belt drive, and built-in seating for two on its long chassis, with the passenger seated in front of the rider, between a long pair of ‘wheelbarrow’ handlebars.

William was joined in forming a business by his brother Thomas, and with their father’s help, they found $175,000 of capitalization to begin production. The first production Henderson emerged from their Detroit factory in January 1912, which had been upgraded to chain drive from the prototype. The engine was a four-cylinder 57 cu-in. (934cc) F-head with a single-speed chain drive and clutch, which was started by a folding hand crank – shades of Winton practice. Beside the four-cylinder motor, the most distinctive feature was that very long chassis with built-on passenger seating with a short leading-link front fork along the familiar FN/Sager/H-D lines, and a lovely ‘torpedo’ fuel/oil tank, which was used for one year only. The Henderson was a lovely machine, beautifully built, and expensive at $325.

The following year (1913), Carl Stearns Clancy became the first person to circle the globe on a motorcycle, riding a Henderson. He began his 18,000-mile journey in October 1912 and finished in August 1913. This certainly proved the durability of the Henderson, but the American motorcycle market was flooded with competition before World War I, and economic difficulties led the Henderson brothers to offer their company to Ignaz Schwinn, who purchased it in 1917.

This ultra-rare first-year 1912 Henderson 4 is perhaps one of 6 survivors. It’s an older restoration, and was purchased from Cape Town, South Africa in 1983.