One of the most charismatic names in American motorcycling history, Henderson produced nothing but four-cylinder motorcycles in the course of its 19-year existence. Founded by Tom and William Henderson in Detroit in 1912, the firm passed into the control of Chicago-based cycle maker Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Excelsior, in 1917. The Hendersons soon moved on to found the Ace motorcycle company – later taken over by Indian – and thereby had a hand in the design of all the major American-built fours.
Although early models featured an unusually lengthy frame extending well forward of the engine, the Henderson, like the contemporary Indian and Harley-Davidson, was an advanced design for its day. Displacing 965cc initially, the air-cooled cylinders were arranged longitudinally in the frame and employed mechanically operated ‘F-head’ (inlet-over-exhaust) valve gear. There was single-gear transmission but the Henderson outclassed its rivals for convenience by having a clutch and a hand-crank starter instead of pedals. A shorter frame, folding kick-starter, and three-speed sliding-gear transmission were all Henderson features by 1917. Introduced for 1920, the Model K benefited from a redesigned 1,301cc sidevalve engine equipped with forced lubrication, a new 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.
This particular Henderson found its way to Scotland, (the Henderson family homeland) and was bought new by Frederick Burnett of 11 Grindlay Street, Edinburgh, no doubt influenced by the excellent spares service offered by the Henderson organisation. When Frederick Burnett was called up for military service in World War One, he took the Henderson with him to Norfolk while on active service there. Remarkably, a photograph survives of Burnett in his military uniform astride the Henderson (see history file).
Scottish collector, Michael Mutch, discovered the Henderson, still in the hands of its original owner, in an Edinburgh cellar in 1960 and acquired it for display in the Myreton Motor Museum in East Lothian, Scotland. In 1961 he proudly rode it on the Vintage Run organised by The Perth & District Motor Club, achieving a coveted Finisher’s Award in what would undoubtedly have been a hilly and challenging event. Subsequently the machine saw little use and was displayed in the museum following a sympathetic restoration, carefully retaining original factory features in all major respects. The machine retains that delightful patina which the most skilled restorer cannot recreate.
The photocopied V5 on file shows that after Michael Mutch, the Henderson was owned by the well-known collector, Peter Harper. It later found its way to the USA. The current vendor purchased the Henderson at Bonhams’ ‘Legend of the Motorcycle’ sale, San Francisco, in May 2007 (Lot 39). Extensively re-commissioned, it successfully participated in the 74th Pioneer Run in 2013 and was last taxed to 31st December that year.
Noteworthy features include Powell & Hanmer acetylene lighting, a Gloriaphone hand-operated klaxon, Cowey Engineering Co Ltd 0-80mph speedometer, and a well-sprung Brooks leather saddle. In additon, the machine comes with a substantial file of history, including an old-style continuation logbook (issued 1925) listing Frederick Burnett as first owner and Michael Mutch as the second; a quantity of correspondence form the 1960s, Sunbeam MCC Pioneer Certificate; a V5C Registration Certificate; some expired MoTs; a quantity of technical and historical Henderson-related literature; and a printout of an article written by Alan Cathcart for The Classic Motor Cycle (September 2017 edition).
Report by bonhams.com