The H.E.C has a fairly low engine gear ratio (14 to 1), and this combined with the light weight of the machine and an
extremely ‘peppy’ engine, provides acceleration well above the average. Response to the throttle was immediate and a
speed of 25mph was attained comparatively rapidly. Higher speeds are available if required; indeed, under favourable
conditions the speedometer registered 35mph, which is remarkable for an 80cc power unit. In these circumstances,
slight vibration was felt, and without doubt the engine was happiest at a speed of about 25mph.
– The Motor Cycle, 25th May, 1939
This HEC Power Cycle, manufactured by Hepburn Engineering Co (HEC) of Kings Cross, London, was fitted with an 80cc deflector-top two-stroke engine made by Levis. The machine made its debut at the Earls Court Show in November 1938 and went on sale in 1939. However, sales were short-lived. With the outbreak of war, the company relocated to Birmingham. But, on 3rd May, 1940, the HEC factory in Thorpe St, Birmingham was bombed. No more autocycles were built, and Levis and HEC merged to manufacture air-compressors.
Although the Power Cycle was very well-received by both the motorcycling press and the public alike, with a sales run of only one year few machines were sold. Production stopped at frame number 885 (the frame number of the first machine is not known, but companies rarely started with number 1; more usually 101).
Nearly every other British autocycle was powered by the Villiers two-stroke engine. Only Excelsior, Cyc-Auto and HEC/Levis struck out with engines of their own design. The Villiers is a fine engine, and the Excelsior is very similar. But the Scott and the HEC/Levis are far superior in design and performance: both of their engines give the impression of riding a larger motorcycle rather than a machine under 100cc.
As well as having one of the most interesting engines, with its limited production run, the 1939-1940 HEC Power Cycle is Great Britain’s rarest autocycle.
1939 HEC Power Cycle
Levis 80cc two-stroke engine
THE HEC AUTOCYCLE, 1938-1940
HEC Power Cycles Ltd, 234 Pentonville Road, London N1
The HEC Power Cycle was one of very few autocycles that did not use the more common Villiers engine. Instead, it had an 80cc two-stroke engine designed by Hepburn Engineering Co(HEC) and built by Levis. The die-cast crankcase incorporated an oil-bath primary chain-case that enclosed the clutch and the duplex chain primary drive. The final drive was also by chain. This was unusual in using the same size chain as the pedals. Overall gear ration was 14:1.
Introduced in 1938, the prototype machines differed only slightly from later production models. The usual controls were fitted, using inverted levers to operate the brakes. The improvement of a back-pedal brake was later offered as an option – HECs fitted with this had a conventional brake lever. A rear stand and a carrier were other useful features that had not been included on the prototype but were incorporated on the production version. To accommodate the rear stand the exhaust had to be changed. On both models the engine exhausted into a large alloy expansion chamber; the long tail-pipe of the earlier machine continued to the back of the rear wheel but later models had a second tubular silencer and a short pipe to leave room for the stand to be lowered. A less obvious improvement was a change to a three-point, rather than two-point, mounting for the engine. Before World War II the HEC was marketed at the price of 17gns [£17.85].
Butterfield Ltd, Levis Works, Old Station Road, Stechford, Birmingham.
The company was started by John Osbourne as a cycle manufacturer in 1905. As Levis Motorcycles, or Butterfields of Birmingham, they became famous as one of England’s leading manufacturers of two-stroke motorcycles. The company built two-stroke machines from 1911, and added a line of four-strokes in 1928. The company ran until 1941 when production ceased because of the war.
The first 211cc machine was designed by Bob Newey; he initially offered it to Norton, but James Norton turned it down. Newey then joined with brothers Arthur and Billy Butterfield and sister Daisy, to set up the Levis motorcycle company. (Newey later married Daisy.)
The 1916 211 cc vertical two-stroke engine produced 3 hp. An enclosed chain from the crankshaft drove the Fellows magneto and drive to the rear wheel was by Pedley ‘Vee’ belt. The machine weighed approximately 120 lb.
Their first racing success was in the 1920 Lightweight 250 class within the 1920 Isle of Man TT Junior with a 247 cc machine, repeated in the 1922 Isle of Man TT Lightweight race. They then adopted the slogan: The Master Two Stroke.
Levis built 211 cc and 246 cc three-port single-cylinder machines, including sporting versions. Most had 67 mm (2.6 in) bore and 70 mm (2.8 in) stroke. There was also a six port model.
In 1919, with the scooter craze starting in Great Britain and America, they built an experimental scooter (below).
From 1928 onward Levis produced 247 cc (67 mm (2.6 in) bore x 70 mm (2.8 in) stroke) and 346 cc (70 mm bore x 90 mm stroke) four-stroke ohv machines and later added 498 cc and 600 cc ohv four-strokes. For a brief period a 346 cc sv single, and also a 247 cc sohc single with chain-driven overhead camshafts were available.
‘I congratulate you on turning out such a grand job. It has given absolutely no trouble and is a pleasure to ride’
LEVIS: A GRAND JOB: Butterfields Ltd, Stechford, Birmingham