From Silverman Museum Racing,1904/05 FN Four-Cylinder Engine no. 1538

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Lot 411
From Silverman Museum Racing,1904/05 FN Four-Cylinder
Engine no. 1538

Sold for US$ 102,375 inc. premium
From Silverman Museum Racing
1904/05 FN Four-Cylinder
Engine no. 1538
Like BSA in Britain, La Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (‘FN’, for short) began as a munitions manufacturer, turning to the production of motorcycles in 1900. Today the Belgian company is best remembered for its sensational four-cylinder models, the first of which appeared in 1904 and was first exhibited publicly at the 1905 Paris Cycle Show. Designed by Paul Kelecom, the FN was the world’s first practical four-cylinder motorcycle, its smooth, almost vibration-free operation setting it apart from rival singles and v-twins. Advanced for its day, the 362cc air-cooled four featured ‘atmospheric’ inlet and mechanical (side) exhaust valves; a robust five-bearing crankshaft; individual crankcase oil wells ensuring adequate lubrication for the connecting rods; and reliable Bosch magneto ignition. Shaft final drive was another innovation. Supported on ball bearings, the drive shaft ran inside the right-hand frame member to a bevel gear on the rear axle. At first there was no clutch, the direct-drive machine being started by pedaling away until the engine fired. Two brakes (drum and rim-type) both operated on the rear wheel. The engine was enlarged (to 410cc) in 1906 and again in 1910, on this occasion to 498cc, and in 1911 the factory introduced its own two-speed transmission, similar to that already offered by Horstmann in Britain, which was contained within the drive-shaft housing.

FN fours were first imported into the USA by Earl Ovington of New York City. Demand for these refined motorcycles was strong right from the start, leading to the introduction for 1908 of a ‘Special American Model’ featuring an enhanced specification. At this time the FN was the only four-cylinder motorcycle for sale in the USA, and the Belgian design would have a profound influence on American motorcycle engineers.

The demands of the sidecar market led to the introduction in 1914 of a 750cc sidevalve engine of ‘T-head’ configuration, while other advances included mechanically pumped lubrication, steel multi-plate clutch, three-speed gearbox and conventional kickstarter, the bicycle pedals having at last been abandoned. After WWI, during which its factory was run by the occupying German forces, FN did not resume production of the lightweight four, preferring to concentrate on the sidecar-orientated 750cc model. In 1923 the FN four arrived at what would be its final incarnation: a totally new 750 featuring overhead valves, integral gearbox, wide ‘balloon’ tires and chain final drive. Sadly, these revisions failed to stimulate sales, particularly in the USA where superior home-grown fours dominated the market. FN discontinued production in 1926, thus bringing to a close the story of the world’s first commercially successful four-cylinder motorcycle.

Dating from circa 1904/05, this is the earliest known surviving FN four and features in the publication, The Magical Book of Fours. Previously the property of a scientist from Los Alamos, the FN subsequently passed to a collector in San Francisco before being acquired for the Silverman Museum collection. Restored by Brad Wilmarth over a period of eight years, it is fitted with a coaster brake to the rear and has run only once since completion.
From Silverman Museum Racing,1904/05 FN Four-Cylinder Engine no. 1538
From Silverman Museum Racing,1904/05 FN Four-Cylinder Engine no. 1538
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