Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 134,016 pages of information and 212,992 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
Manufacturer of bicycles, cars and motorcycles, of Selly Oak, Birmingham.
As early as 1847 the Ariel name was used for a bicycle wheel design, and/or for an early pneumatic-tyred wheel for horse drawn carriages.
1870 The name was revived by James Starley and William Hillman in 1870 when they invented the wire-spoke wheel which allowed them to build a lighter weight bicycle naming it Ariel (the spirit of the air). The Ariel name was given to a factory (certainly the successor to the licensor of the Ariel name, Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co, was located at the Ariel Works in Coventry). For a summary of the various users of the Ariel name see Ariel - an overview.
1896 Use of the Ariel name had lapsed but it appeared again in 1896, this time on motorised transport - the first Ariel motorised vehicle was a tricycle that used a 2.25 hp De Dion engine mounted at the rear. More tricycles were produced and quadricycles were added in 1901 as Ariel then moved into car production.
1897 the firm was bought by Cycle Components Manufacturing Co.
1898 The first powered tricycle was built using a 1.75hp De Dion engine, made under licence, but mounted ahead of the rear axle - this location improved both weight distribution and stability.
1900 Ariel now offered a quadricycle with a larger, 2.75hp engine and a water-cooled cylinder head.
1901 The firm first demonstrated a motorcycle, using a 1.5hp Minerva engine, hung from the frame downtube, and a car.
1901 March. Details of the 3.5-hp voiturette.
1902 Machines went on sale, also fitted with a Kerry engine.
1903 The first Ariel engine was built.
1904 February. Details of the petrol cars.
1904 The firm adopted the centre-engine position. They also offered the Liberty cycle attachment as a form of transport. This involved attaching a bicycle to the side of a motorcycle to form a quadricycle and avoid side-slip.
1905-1909 Other models were added, including the tricar. Larger, 6hp V-twin JAP engines were used.
1906. Produced the Ariel-Simplex car in 28-38, 30-40, 35-45, 40-50 and 50-60 h.p. models. The three larger models were six-cylinder while the the others were four-cylinder.
1906 March. Ariel Motors (1906) Ltd was formed to take over Ariel Motors Ltd and to carry on the business of manufacturers of 'Ariel' and 'Ariel-Simplex' cars. Planning to open negotiations with Bruce Peebles and Co for reciprocal working. Directors are: J. F. Albright, Arthur C. Peebles, Gerard B. Elkington, J. E. Hutton and Charles T. B. Sangster.  
1910 One basic model replaced all the others. This used a 3.5hp White and Poppe engine with valves spaced apart on one side of the cylinder and the Bosch magneto in front of the crankcase. Later that year the new and advanced Arielette was announced. Various engines were used, including White and Poppe, Abingdon King Dick and Motosacoche.
By 1911 Ariel had purchased the rights to White and Poppe and had begun to make engines themselves, with a much higher capacity. They soon produced models, from tourer to TT racer, with a variety of belt-drive transmissions.
1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Cars see the 1917 Red Book
1913 July. Details of the new 16-hp car with four-speeds.
1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Motorcycles see the 1917 Red Book
1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices of Petrol Motor Commercial Vehicles see the 1917 Red Book
1914 An Abingdon engine was used and it, and some singles, adopted a three-speed gearbox and a chain-cum-belt drive. The saddle was connected to a spring frame on the saddle tube to give a comfortable ride.
1916 Throughout the rest of the Great War, the company supplied the War Office with 3.5hp singles and a few V-twins.
1925 The company recruited Val Page to design new machines and improve the archaic engine. The new line of Ariels, introduced at the end of the year, were an instant success. This was not so much because of its technical innovations but mostly for its very attractive styling: lower saddle position, shortened wheel base and high saddle tank. Victor Mole was the new man in charge of sales at the Ariel works and he designed the new eye-catching emblem of the Ariel horse and coined the advertising slogan “Ariel, the Modern Motor Cycle”. Within a few years Ariel sales and profits rocketed.
1927 to 1928 Sales were now ten times as high as the 1925 sales before the introduction of the new line of machines. The firm won the prestigious Maudes Trophy both years. This highlighted the tough, new design and promoted the Ariel marque.
1928 Edward Turner conceived the Square Four engine. The idea was rejected by BSA but adopted by Ariel. Thus it became the Ariel Square Four, and not the BSA Square Four. Edward Turner was then invited by Jack Sangster to join Ariel.
1930 The Selly Oak firm ran into financial trouble around that time and closed shop for a short period, while the founder's son, Jack, took over and restructured the company. He bought all of the tools for almost nothing, re-hired the cream of Ariel's staff, and moved 500 yards down the road to a new plant. They came back with a bang.
1931 Inclined engines became the fashion of the day. The Edward Turner design was introduced and this made a great impact with its four cylinders arranged in a square, the crankshafts geared together, an ohc and 498cc capacity. It was listed as the Square Four but soon came to be known as the Squariel. The company won the Maudes Trophy once again but, despite this, the firm was in financial trouble. They pared down their range and Val Page left to join the Triumph team.
1932 Became a private company Ariel Motors (J.S.) Ltd
1932 The Red Hunter was added to the range.
1933 Name changed.
1937 Name changed.
World War II. The company built a military version of the 346cc ohv single and worked on many projects for the forces.
1949 Val Page again took over design work post-war. He designed the 500cc KH, a parallel twin to compete with others in that market.
1950s Many revisions were made, but Ariel failed to make much of an impression on the motorcycle industry.
1958 In complete contrast to anything they had ever produced before, Ariel introduced the Leader - with a 247cc twin-cylinder two-stroke engine and a four-speed gearbox. It also had the panel-enclosed engine unit hung from the main frame beam in pressed steel with trailing-link forks. This modern design could be mass-produced and offered scooter protection with motorcycle handling. Although light, agile and lively, and receiving great press reviews at the time, it was a sales disaster.
1959 Following the establishment of the Leader, the whole four-stroke range was dropped.
1960 The arrival of the Arrow, which was based on the Leader but lacked the enclosure.
1961 Trade marks were Fleet, Ariel and Liberty.
1961-1964 A Super Sports model joined the range. It was known as the Golden Arrow because of its finish. A low insurance model was also produced along with a new model known as the Pixie, but these were short lived.
1961 Manufacturers of motor cycles and motor cycle accessories. 
1963 BSA closed the Selly Oak factory and moved production to Small Heath. Val Page had a design for the Leader as a 70cc four-stroke with in-line four engine, but the executives did not share his vision, so it was never built.
1965 The parent company, BSA, stopped the production of all Ariel models.
1970 An odd three-wheeled moped was briefly produced, using the Ariel name. It cost BSA dear and was one of the major contributors to the company's collapse.
National Motorcycle Museum exhibits:-
List of Models
An Overview of the use of the Ariel name