by John Malfoy.
As most people know, the Quasar has been around now for a good few years. Despite this, its handling, comfort, economy and its ability to consume great distances very rapidly have yet to be matched by the most modern 'superbikes'.
The Quasar story started in about 1968 when Malcolm Newell owned a motor-cycle shop in Devises with the unusual name of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He designed a trike using a Mini engine/gearbox unit, and christened it Revolution. The trike was assembled at Devizes but the frames were made by a Chippenham firm, a Director of which was a Mr Ken Leaman. An appearance at the Earl's Court Show resulted in some orders, but at that time the banks were very tight with money and Malcolm was not able to expand his production. After making about seven Revolutions he closed his shop and went on to other things.
The idea of a Quasar-type bike was going through his mind at the time and various ideas were put down on paper. Ken Leaman had by then also moved on to pastures new, and while on holiday in Scotland he found himself on the same camp site as Malcolm. From this chance meeting the Quasar project was born. Ken started producing drawings and eventually Malcolm found a small engineering company in Melksham to manufacture a prototype. Unfortunately when the prototype was finished the company felt that it could not devote the necessary time and money to develop the bike to the production stage so a new backer had to be found.
By this time Ken Leaman was Chief Design Engineer with Wilson and Sons, a Bristol engineering firm. He managed to persuade them that they should take on the development and eventually the production of Quasar, and in 1974 the project moved from Melksham to its new home in Bristol.
Development was continued over the next couple of years and in December 1976 the first Quasar was sold.
During the development period it was important to make the motorcycling public aware of the Quasar, and, to this end, Malcolm was busy getting as much publicity as possible. He sought publicity in national and local papers, radio, motorcycle shows and, with Ken, gave talks to clubs, universities and professional institutes such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
A tremendous amount of interest was generated by these means and the enquiries came in steadily. One would think that this interest would have given the company sufficient encouragement to commence production properly but unfortunately this was not the case. Between December 1976 and October 1979 a total of only six bikes was made and sold.
My own involvement with Quasar started in March 1976 when my employer at that time, Transtrip Ltd, was asked to supply the inverters for the rear-light system. Never having seen Quasar before I was absolutely amazed by the bike. A further surprise was that Malcolm lived in a small village only about five miles from my home - and yet I'd never seen the bike!
One evening during November 1979 Malcolm was at my house bemoaning the fact that Wilson's were not doing anything about increasing production. Jokingly, I said that as my company had just taken over a 5000 sq. ft. factory with, at that moment, no firm plans for it, we could perhaps slot Quasar into one corner. Then I noticed that Malcolm was not laughing. We talked for a long time - mainly about how I could convince the Managing Director that we, a company manufacturing transformers and electronic equipment, could start producing motorcycles - and a rather radical one at that. We drew up an impressive document detailing the story to date and future developments, possible market shares etc., then, when the time was right, I presented it to John Marshall, the Managing Director. To cut a very long story short, by April 1980 a verbal agreement was reached with Wilson's for us to make a batch of five machines to check out costs, methods etc.
Material was ordered, and in July Malcolm and I started assembly of the first two bikes for the Earl's Court show in August. Our demo bike, in police colours, was on the Cibie stand, and the other one, which was already sold, was on the Piranha stand. On our return from the show assembly continued with the remaining three machines of the batch. Malcolm was not involved in the production now having gone free-lance, One bike was sold in October, one in December and the last of the five in March 1981.
By this time no definite arrangement with Wilson's had been reached, but it was mutually agreed that a further batch of ten bikes should be made. Interminable delays in obtaining components resulted in production starting in late August 1981, the first bike going out on 2 November. This machine went to a British soldier in Germany, and the hassles with Customs and Excise over non-liability for VAT and Car Tax has indelibly fixed this date in my mind! Another bike went out in December. and the next was ready for delivery to a Plymouth buyer in March 1982.
At the end of that month I was made redundant.
Returning to the factory the following week, I started concentrating on disposing of the stock, etc. Obviously a lot of groundwork had been done during October, but equally obviously nothing was sold until I was on commission! The red bike went to a guy from Lancing, and the purple bike to a buyer near Marlborough. The black machine, originally destined for Plymouth, was purchased, together with a rolling chassis and a considerable amount of spares, by a gentleman from the Birmingham area.
By the end of the month everything had been disposed of and it was time for me to finally leave the company after collecting my agreed commission. This was the Quasar demonstrator, as well as all relevant correspondence, drawings etc., so when I left there was nothing at Romarsh to mark the Quasar's 2½ year tenancy.
During December and into January 1983 I rebuilt Wilson's demo bike. This was the one that Malcolm Newell used, which was taken back by Wilson's when Malcolm left the project. The bike had to be completely stripped and rebuilt using many new parts as it had been left outside for eighteen months. It was painted beige with a dark brown stripe.
I then built a new Quasar for the gentleman who had bought the rolling chassis and spares.
While the Romarsh collapse hastened the end of Quasar, its days were in any case numbered. As stated earlier, the decision to finish production at Romarsh had been taken in mid-1982. The project would then have reverted to Wilson's and no further bikes would have been made there. To have been a success, costs would have had to be cut, and the only way to do that while retaining the quality would have been to increase the rate of production. Unfortunately, neither Wilson's nor Romarsh had the finance to do this.
It is a great shame that in ten years or so since the prototype was completed, so few bikes were made: seven by Newell at Wilson's and ten by me at Romarsh. In addition to these, one is being slowly built from material bought from Wilson's, and one was built by me as mentioned above. There are also two "unofficial" Quasars, origins unknown.
It took around four weeks to assemble a Quasar, including all the preparation of the fibreglass. Materials, labour, overheads etc. brought the ex-works cost up to £4750. On top of this went Car Tax, £365. and VAT, £770, making a total of £5885. Believe me, the taxes added to more than the manufacturer's profit.
Top speed was around 110 mph, but the machine's ability to cruise at 100 mph (at 4250 rpm) is more important than absolute maximum speed. Fuel consumption overall was 70-80 mpg at pretty high cruising speeds, up to 90 mpg at 50 mph. Acceleration, on paper at least, looks not exciting at 10 sec for 0-60, 17 sec. standing 1/4-mile to t.v. 75 mph. Braking distance from 30 mph: 28 ft.
Quasar was years ahead of its time, and remains a credit to its designers, Ken Leaman and Malcolm Newell. Its futuristic lines still make heads turn and crowds gather when it is parked. The most modem UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) doesn't start to compete with this design of the early 1970's.
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Last updated 6th July 2001