Supposed Factory TT Test Mule – 1930 Rudge Ulster Racer

In England, Race, Vintage by Tim HuberLeave a Comment

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Post Listing Update: This Rudge did not get any interest at the BIN of $39,900.


Founded after an acquisition in 1894, Rudge introduced its first production motorcycle in 1910 — reportedly re-badged versions of France’s Werners. The marque really made its mark in 1924 however when it unveiled a new four-speed production model featuring a four-valve cylinder head. Sales of the new four-valve model were adequate, but in 1928 Graham Walker — father of commentator Murray Walker — supposedly became the first (or second, according to some sources) racer to pilot a bike at a road race (in this case the Ulster GP) at an average speed of over 80mph on his half-liter works Rudge racer.

The next couple years saw Rudge hardware dominating high profile road race events, with the TT’s podium often crowded (if not entirely comprised of) Rudge pilots. To capitalize on the company’s racing success, it introduced a production race replica dubbed the “Ulster”, commemorating Walker’s feat at the North Irish road race.

Produced for a decade from ‘29 to ‘39, the Ulster was supposedly touted by Rudge as “probably the fastest 500cc motorcycle in production”, and whether or not that was true, for a time the Ulster was objectively the bike to have for serious racers thanks to its relatively nimble performance and its claimed 90 mph top-speed. As I mentioned in my recent writeup of a ‘55 Fratelli Ferrari 150, the famous Enzo Ferarri actually ran a race team that competed using Rudge bikes.

The earlier Ulster models featured “pent roof” (think pitched roof) four-valve heads though this was replaced in 1932 by a radial four-valve head — the same year Rudge started offering an optional pedal-operated gear-shift.

If what this ad says is true, this 1930 example is believed to be a test mule used by the British brand while testing and developing its works racers. The seller claims “extensive research through factory records” have revealed this example was pieced together at the factory in May of 1930, though it differs from the regular production model in a number of key areas. The engine is stamped with the VIN: E 3589-1, with the “E” supposedly denoting the mill is of the “experimental” variety. The seller says this bike was used to help the race team hone in on optimal engine, carb, and suspension settings.

Unlike the standard model, this example doesn’t sport a kickstarter, plus the gearing of the timing has the magneto turning over at half the regular rate which is supposedly a race-bike-spec. And while the original mounting points for the foot-pegs are still visible, the bike was reportedly converted to a left-foot-change setup. Other slight changes include bronze cylinder heads and what looks like a special paint scheme.

As the story goes; this test mule was eventually sold off to a privateer, before trading hands once more shortly after WW2, ending up in the hands of a Canadian man. This owner is said to have added lights and a battery, and a pillion perch and pegs for his wife. The seller says the third owner kept wildly detailed records of everything on the bike; servicing and maintenance, and details on settings and whatnot — all of which is included in the sale along with a “substantial box of parts, including the tell-tale Racing domed pistons”.

After that owner passed away, the special Rudge was given to his son, a Los Angeles-based special effects technician as well as a technical manager at the JPL. The son proceeded to remove the bike’s lighting and get the example back up in running before it was supposedly featured in a UK bike magazine in 2006, prior to supposedly winning a few awards at bike shows.

Establishing a value for this kind of bike can be tough. In April of 2008 at Bonhams’ Stafford sale, a 1930 model brought in $13,364 at auction. However, that was a standard model and this is supposedly a special test model used in the development of Rudge’s works TT bikes. The seller notes that a 1932 works example that needs restoration fetched just over $90K at Bonhams in 2015, which makes this asking price more reasonable. But is it worth almost $40K?

You can find this 1930 Rudge Ulster Racer for sale in Santa Monica, California with a Buy It Now of $39,900

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