1931 Excelsior KJ 1300cc 4 Cylinder,
Lot 54
1931 Henderson 1,301cc KJ Four Engine no. KJ 30694
Sold for £36,150 (US$ 56,567) inc. premium

Lot Details
1931 Excelsior KJ 1300cc 4 Cylinder, 1931 Excelsior KJ 1300cc 4 Cylinder,
1931 Henderson 1,301cc KJ Four
Engine no. KJ 30694
Founded by Tom and William Henderson in Detroit in 1912, Henderson built nothing but four-cylinder motorcycles in its 19-year existence. In 1917 the firm passed into the control of Chicago-based cycle maker Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Excelsior. Schwinn shifted production from Detroit to the Excelsior factory in Chicago and soon abandoned the Hendersons' original design, which was replaced by one drawn up by Henderson engineer Arthur O Lemon. Introduced for 1920, the all-new Excelsior-built Henderson Model K boasted a 1,301cc sidevalve engine equipped with forced lubrication, a twin-downtube frame, strengthened front fork and enclosed rear chain. Modifications to the De Luxe (introduced for 1922) mainly concentrated on improvements to the gearbox. Top speed was a guaranteed 80mph and with the optional alloy pistons installed a De Luxe could touch 100mph, an astonishing performance for the time and one matched by few contemporary cars. Police forces across America snapped them up. Most importantly, its forced lubrication meant that the new Henderson could sustain these high speeds with a degree of reliability unattainable by its splash-lubricated predecessors.

In competitions, standard Henderson Fours often had the beating of tuned v-twins, and numerous detail improvements were made throughout the 1920s to ensure that the Henderson remained 'the finest motorcycle in the world'. Nevertheless, by the decade's end it had become obvious something better was needed to stay ahead of the pack. The result was the 'KJ', designed by ex-Harley-Davidson engineer, Arthur Constantine. Introduced in April 1929, the KJ reverted to 'F-head' valve gear while incorporating a five bearing crankshaft (replacing the old three-bearing item) and increased cylinder finning among a host of other improvements. In addition, the handsome newcomer boasted sleek, up-to-the-minute styling, earning itself the sobriquet 'the Streamline Henderson'. Producing 40bhp at 4,000rpm (or 45 horsepower in KL form) the Streamline Henderson proved exceptionally smooth and tractable, being capable of accelerating from 10mph to over 100mph in top gear. Sales were encouraging but with the Depression biting, Ignaz Schwinn decided to quit while he was ahead, ending production of all Henderson and Excelsior motorcycles in 1931. Although it might be argued that production was ended prematurely, Henderson was at least spared the ignominy of going into decline, bowing out as 'the finest motorcycle in the world' with its reputation intact.

Dating from the final year of Henderson production, this restored KJ was previously owned in Switzerland and comes with Swiss registration papers dating from 1988.

Saleroom notices

  • The frame number for this lot should read KJ30694. The engine number for this lot should read KJ30694. Contraire to the cataloguing, there is no Swiss registration paper accompanying this lot.
Auction information

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