Among the many single-cylinder motorcycles from the period before World War One, FN machines were of a particularly high standard, as befitted an arms manufacturer for whom precision and reliability were literally a matter of life and death.
Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre was established in 1889 in Herstal, Belgium to make arms and ammunition, and does so to this day. In 1901 it added the manufacture of motorcycles, initially lightweight machines with belt drive.
In 1905 FN introduced the world’s first production inline-4 motorcycle – developed during 1904 and launched at the 1905 Paris Motorcycle Show. It had shaft drive. The bike was a great success, with increasing production over its twenty-year lifespan.
With the advent of this four-cylinder shaft-drive model, the early singles with their high frames were beginning to look very dated. For 1907, a new single-cylinder belt- and chain-drive machine was introduced, with a frame design inspired by the four-cylinder and a power unit putting out 1¾ h.p. It is this bike that is the subject of our Snapshot. The Lightweight model had only a brief life; it was replaced in 1909 by the shaft-drive single which lasted until the early 1920s.
The company continued to make a range of motorcycles well into the 1960s, but in 1955 it introduced a range of outsourced mopeds built for them by Royal Nord, another Belgian constructor. The last FN moped left the factory in 1967 and the firm reverted to full concentration on arms manufacture.
It must not be forgotten that FN also made a range of cars, starting in 1900 and finishing as late as the 1930s – making it the longest-lived Belgian car maker. A lovely 1912 example was once owned by the late Malcolm Jeal, distinguished motoring historian, past chairman of the SAHB, original editor of our annual publication Aspects of Motoring History and instigator and initially sole creator of these very Snapshots. Coincidentally also, the SAHB Awards Committee is currently judging entries for the award in Malcolm’s name – appropriately for the best magazine article on a motoring subject appearing over the past year.
The FN factory is still in Herstal, but personal experience of trying to find the erstwhile FN motorcycle museum established that the company’s address on its website is false. Which, when you think about it, is a rather good idea in these challenging times.
Picture courtesy of the Richard Roberts Archive