For those whose motorcycling began in the first decade of the new millennium the only kind of motorcycles known are ones that have a four stroke engine. Also all motorcycles are either Japanese or Indian. Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki are here. The last mentioned is a very minute niche player while Yamaha and Suzuki are struggling to gain traction in the Indian market. Honda is the one player who has made its presence felt, thanks mainly to the successful start it had with the Activa and later on the Unicorn but still as things stand it is only the fourth biggest player in the Indian market. Its erstwhile partner who still depends on it for technology, Hero, is the numero uno but all their motorcycles are essentially Hondas. Bajaj and TVS have carved good positions and reasonable reputations for themselves while Royal Enfield who is the oldest manufacturer of motorcycles in India is confined to selling motorcycles of the 1940s vintage to a market that is steeped in nostalgia. That too is a small market. But there was a time when Royal Enfield or we should actually say Enfield India had other ambitions as well, those that did not reach fruition. In fact, this story is about one model of motorcycle which was to have catapulted Enfield into the main stream market, but sadly did not. But that motorcycle has a pedigree which is pretty interesting to look at and one wonders what may have been had its story been scripted otherwise. The said motorcycle goes by the name of Fury and is a legend in its own right albeit among a small bunch of people. To understand this story it is necessary to rewind to the 1980s and that is what we shall do.
The 1980s are to Indian motorcycle buffs what the 1960s were to Europe in general. In Europe the 1960s were all about revolution, change and great new society, a spirit well captured by Jean Luc Goddard in one of his films. For the motorcycling enthusiasts and for the general commuters, the same was happening in India. In Europe the societal revolution that everyone wanted never happened but fortunately in India in the 1980s a revolution swept across changing everything in its wake. To understand the success of that revolution one has to understand what was happening in the economy of the country then.
Years of socialist rhetoric and dysfunctional industrial sector controlled by the Government had meant that the Indian economy was beginning to lose the ability to generate sufficient social wealth for the people to enjoy. That was the time when the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi decided to introduce a new regime that would do away with the licence Raj in some sectors and open them up for new players to emerge. It was also the first dose of liberalization that opened up possibilities of new collaborations and allowing foreign manufacturers to have an investment as long as it did not cross a certain limit. One of the sectors that was opened up was the two wheeler sector and initially there was a restriction on the engine capacity of the motorcycles that could be made with foreign collaboration – a restriction of 100cc. The first player to avail of this opportunity was India Motorcycles Limited (later to become TVS Suzuki) which collaborated with society to form a company called Ind-Suzuki motorcycles and it launched the two stroke AX 100. The next was this company called Hero Honda that made the all conquering four stroke 100cc called the CD 100 which later spawned the Splendor, the Passion and the various 100cc motorcycles that Hero still makes. The third player was Escorts the maker of the venerable Rajdoot who tied up with Yamaha to make the Yamaha RX 100 yet another two stroke 100cc. The story of Escorts is interesting because it first made the now famous and then infamous RD 350 under licence from Yamaha but owing to pathetic fuel efficiency the motorcycle died a very sad and premature death. The fourth player in the market was Bajaj who brought the Kawasaki name into the market through a technical collaboration.
This meant that the old Indian bike manufacturers Enfield India and Ideal Jawa the makers of the Jawa (later changed to Yezdi) were left without any collaboration. Of the two the position of Enfield was more precarious as the Bullet 350cc that it made was notoriously unreliable and complicated to maintain. It was but natural that it was the first to feel insecure since the sales of the Bullet began to plunge. Enfield then was under the control of the Viswanathan Group/family of Madras (now Chennai) and they decided to do something about it.
The Viswanathan family or the Enfield of then knew the weaknesses of its product-the Bullet. They had therefore tried to innovate with another product which was a 200cc two stroke motorcycle which was called the Mini Bullet. It sold in reasonable numbers but not enough to perturb any of the old players leave alone the new ones. If you have been reading this story so far, you would have noticed that with the exception of Hero Honda nobody did anything with four stroke technology. The reason being two strokes were more reliable and much more easier and economical to maintain since those engines had fewer moving parts. Also, a two stroke engine fires once every revolution of the crankshaft, whereas a four stroke fires every two revolutions. Also every alternate stroke in a two stroke is a power stroke unlike in the four stroke where for every four strokes you have a power stroke. This meant that two strokes were more powerful, delivered the power faster and in a heady sort of way. The reputation of the Bullet did nothing for the cause of four strokes and therefore, wherever the Indian partner had the way, it was two stroke. Only in the case of Hero Honda the story was different since Hero had no experience of motorcycles but more importantly were willing to listen to what Honda had to say and Honda has always favoured four strokes.
But to come back to our story, Enfield India decided that it needed more two strokes to be able to withstand the new pressures brought by the new players. By the time they decided to do something like that the Japanese manufacturers had been snapped up already and therefore they looked towards Europe. In Europe, thanks to the Japanese, most motorcycle manufacturers had disappeared and that included England the original home of the Bullet. Italy had a few manufacturers left but they were teetering on the verge of collapse and they made only large capacity sports bikes. Enfield somehow managed to locate the German manufacturer Zundapp that had shut shop and was willing to sell not only its technology and designs but also its production line itself. And the Viswanathan group decided to acquire them all.
But in what can only be considered a “difficult to understand” strategy Enfield decided that it would take a bottom up approach and decided to start with 50cc machines, the step through Silver Plus and the motorcycle Explorer, then step up to 100cc with the Enterprise and finally to the 175cc Fury. This was during the middle years of the decade that was the 1980s. Amazingly for that time all the vehicles were to come with things such as alloy wheels and in the case of the Fury, even a disc brake. The company released advertisements that gave the launch scheme to the people. Some of these models were also displayed at the first ever Auto Expo in the January of 1986 (there was a break of 6 years before the second edition of the Auto Expo happened). Enfield had a bizarre strategy of “demonstrating” the capabilities of their motorcycles by using test riders. But to Enfield’s credit it must be said at least people got to see the bikes turning their wheels while in the case of LML and Andhra Pradesh Scooter Ltd people only got to see pictures of their scooters before placing money for bookings (for the XE and the PL 170 respectively) and the other manufacturers of the new Ind0-Jap motorcycles only displayed their models while some generous dealers actually started the motorcycles. The Silver Plus had a pretty good start in Southern India and it is not uncommon to see some of them on the road even today since they sold well into the 1990s. A lesser success but a success of sorts nevertheless was the Explorer and that too like the Silver Plus sold till the mid 1990s.
However by the time the Silver Plus and Explorer established themselves, it was obvious that the 100cc space had become too congested thanks to the four Indo-Jap bikes, the AX 100 (TVS Suzuki), the CD 100 (Hero Honda), the RX 100 (Escorts Yamaha) and the KB100 (Kawasaki Bajaj) and in what can only be considered to be good thinking Enfield decided to postpone the launch of the 100cc Enterprise and advance the launch of the 175cc Fury. When it entered the market the Fury was an extremely interesting motorcycle. There were certain things that set it apart from others. Its engine capacity was different (previously only the Rajdoot had an engine capacity of 175cc among motorcycles apart from the Lambretta Mac scooter which also had that capacity). It was only much later that Ideal Jawa launched the 175cc single exhaust model with the Kawasaki Bajaj KB 100 parts bin providing the turn indicators and certain rubber bushes. The Fury was also (with the exception of the Bullet 350cc) the most powerful motorcycle with a power out put of 14 PS.
The way its engine was mounted was also interesting. It was in a traditional double cradle frame but rubber bushes were used in between the engine and the frame. This was done apparently to minimize vibrations from being transmitted to the frame and the rider and what is interesting is that due to the rubber mounts the engine used to appear to sway a little bit during idling, something that would disappear once the engine picked up speed. This led to some really wild stories about how the rubber bushes were not simply rubber bushes but that they also had a viscous fluid contained in them. Another interesting feature of the Fury was the exposed frame that served as a design detail. The people’s response to the Fury was not exactly lukewarm. It was after all the only second bike after the Explorer, its own stable mate, to sport a bikini fairing, a tachometer (the first was the Explorer but it was only optional, the KB 100 being the only motorcycle to come with a tachometer as standard), alloy wheels, and it was the first bike to sport a disc brake on the front wheel. It sold pretty well initially before traditional Enfield gremlins came to the fore.
The biggest problem was the gear box and inconsistent build quality accounted for other problems such as front fairing rattles. Perhaps the gear box of the Fury tells a story, one about why most European manufacturers disappeared once the real onslaught of the Japanese began in right earnest. It was obvious that the Europeans just did not bother to strengthen their motorcycle engineering since after the World War II, the motorcycle was no longer seen as mode of transport. It became a tool of recreation and the car took over as the mode of transport. The electricals of the Fury (and those of the Explorer) were considered to be not as good as say those of the KB100. The Fury though a reasonable handling motorcycle, could not capture the market due to its unreliability and expensive maintenance which were highlighted by its awful gear box. Gear selection was more about providence rather than riding skill and this along with a dealer network that was not properly trained to handle the problems and also competition from other manufacturers meant that the numbers of the Fury began to dwindle quite alarmingly.
What did not help was the unfortunate tinkering with the already troublesome gear box by Enfield. Even in the case of the Explorer, Enfield reduced the number of gears from four to three (due to the preconceived notion that Indian riders of small capacity bikes did not like too many gears) and therefore reaching second and third gears was more due to prayer than due to intent. Enfield’s tinkering with the Fury’s gearbox was also typically a case of the cure being worse than the disease. When this tremendously negative feedback hit Enfield they went to IIT Madras (the mechanical engineering department there actually) for support. The mechanical engineering department at the IIT Madras worked diligently for sometime on the gearbox but could not do something radically different and the problems did not entirely disappear (could we say that teaching is one thing and actually doing something is another?). Enfield then decided to revamp the model and achieved another first. They launched the motorcycle with a two tone colour scheme.
That motorcycle was called the Fury GP or Grand Prix. The two tone colour scheme used two very contrasting colours such as black and silver or deep red and silver. The other company that used such a scheme was TVS Suzuki on its Supra model. Enfield also tried to take a leaf out of the Ind0-Jap motorcycles by offering a heel and toe shifting mechanism to shift gears, this to alleviate the problems of riders. Sadly however, the gear box was not entirely cured even though the heel-toe mechanism offered greater convenience while locating the gears. The people however had gotten used to the bullet proof reliability of the Indo-Jap motorcycles and anything lesser was increasingly becoming unacceptable.
Enfield for the first time in their history took to advertising very strongly. They advertised the Fury as the machine with “Guts For Glory”. Then they also asked people to choose from bike that would serve for years or pack up soon. By doing this they were trying to build on a popular misconception that existed in the market then, that the Indo-Jap bikes were flimsy and would not last long. Their advertising went “The quick pick up or the quick pack up” and asked the customer to choose. Suddenly it also dawned on them that they had a disc brake on their motorcycle and decided to harp on that. While the usual advertising in those days harped on the time taken to reach 60 km/h from zero, Enfield decided to advertise the stopping power by saying 60-0 in certain number of metres. Try as they may, the Fury GP simply did not sell. Examples of that are very rare, but those who have them like to keep them, since that means that they are keeping a certain piece of Indian Motorcycle history with them. Some others which are shabby, if found, are rescued by the likes of Mr. Muthu Kumar Kanakachalam, who has done this glorious restoration of the Fury that you see in these pictures. No matter what, the Fury is an important player in the chequered history of Enfield in India and also in the history of the Indian motorcycle market. Its story tells us why the Indian motorcycle market went in the direction that it did. For those fortunate people such as this author, the Fury is reminder of a rush of power and pretty good handling despite the troublesome gearbox. If you ever find a Fury ask for a ride, it will be something different and something worth remembering.
P.S: Now this bit is like the thing that you see in films when the credit are being shown. What happened to the characters in the movie is also shown. So imagine that you are seeing the credits, even though in this case the credits will show only the name of Mr. Muthu Kumar Kanakachalam.
In the 1990s the Viswanathan family sold Enfield to the Eicher Group.
Somebody in Enfield India realized that since the parent British Company, Royal Enfield Motors was dead, the rights to that name could be bought by Enfield India.
The Eicher group decided that there was no point in flogging the Zundapp range of motorcycles in the market.
The Enterprise was never launched and it was last seen in the second edition of the Auto Expo at New Delhi.
The Explorer was the second motorcycle, after the Fury, to breath its last.
The Silver Plus continued for a while before it too went to the grave silently and without ceremony.
Under Eicher, Royal Enfield Motors decided to become a niche player and cater only to those who loved the Bullet.
Consultancies such as AVL were used to make the Bullet a little more Bullet proof.
The 500cc was launched.
The Bullet spawned various versions such as the Electra and Machismo
Most recently Royal Enfield created a new Unit Construction Engine of 500cc and 350cc.
The Classic 500 and the Classic 350 were launched to resounding success (by Enfield standards).
If you want to know more, Mr. Muthu Kumar is the man for you.
The story is over, now what are you waiting for.
If you read this far, it means that you really love motorcycling history and failure means nothing to you.
And if you have read properly you will see that the article has not been proof read.