Ariel 650cc 650cc FH Huntmaster specifications
▲ 1955 Ariel FH Huntmaster. Essentially, it's a BSA A10. But Ariel's designers took this 650cc parallel twin and added flair and flourishes and gave it a poise and presence that's stood the test of time. But as of 2019, £5,000 will buy you a very good example, and we've seen very nice ones sell for as little as £3,500. No doubt it's partly a falling-out-of-fashion thing. But don't let that stop you getting astride one. They're a classic treat.
The 650cc Ariel FH Huntmaster was launched in 1954, and was out of production by 1959. The bike was derived from the preceding 500cc Ariel range of parallel twins designed by Valentine "Val" Page.
Famously, this motorcycle was in most respects little more than a badge-engineered BSA A10; a bike that entered the market late in the day when compared to Triumph, Norton and BSA, and was to some extent overshadowed by its Ariel Square Four stablemate which had started out in 1931 as a 500cc bike, was enlarged to 600cc in 1932, and became a 1,000cc motorcycle in 1937. The Square Four (or Squariel) stayed in production until 1959.
So what's the BSA connection? Well Ariel Motorcycles, founded in 1902, was an independent firm until 1932 when it fell into financial trouble and became bankrupt. Jack Sangster, son of industrialist Charles Sangster who owned Ariel's parent (Components Ltd), bought the company at a knock-down firesale price and promptly revamped the Ariel range—largely with the engineering and marketing skills of designers Val Page and Edward Turner.
Page had joined the Ariel company in 1926. It was he who revamped the singles which Turner subsequently re-fashioned in anticipation of the Speed Twin which Turner created after moving to Triumph. But before leaving, Edward Turner also gave Ariel the legendary Square Four which grew in capacity—and in doing so steadily increased the firm's commercial prestige. In 1944, Sangster (who had bought Triumph in 1936) sold Ariel to BSA for a tidy profit, and he made a little more money when he sold Triumph to BSA in 1951.
Fundamentally, Ariel/BSA produced an excellent heavyweight motorcycle with the 650cc FH Huntmaster. In many respects (but by no means all respects) it was an enlarged 500cc KH Huntmaster and was a motorcycle that exuded toughness and quality. The all-welded frame was heavy duty. The engine was near bullet proof (given appropriate running-in and maintenance). The front fork from BSA was tried and tested and did its stuff with calm, if not superlative, certainty. The Burman gearbox clicked and clunked decisively—provided you didn't hurry it. The (dry) clutch delivered the power smoothly and without too much resistance. And the finish was up to Ariel's usual high standard.
The rear suspension however was a little soft and uncertain, and that didn't do much for the cornering characteristics. But modern shock absorber/damper units from firms such as Hagon help transform a squidgy tail and provide a more surefooted ride on the bends.
Over the years, the 650cc FH Huntmaster received minor updates and improvements, both visual and mechanical, but nothing really fundamental changed. Part of the reason for this lack of development was simply that by the mid-1950s, soon after the big FH arrived, BSA/Ariel was already thinking about scrapping all of its 4-strokes and moving over entirely to 2-strokes with bikes such as the Ariel Leader and Ariel Arrow—and that's exactly what happened. This downsizing, the BSA management board decided, was the future for Ariel; neat, stylish and forward-looking 2-stroke sportsters and commuters. More to the point, the Ariel 4-strokes were to some extent fighting with other BSA products, and something had to give.
Riding the 650cc FH Huntmaster
Being astride this motorcycle is much the same as straddling the 650cc BSA A10, except that there's something about the Ariel that feels more stately. More noble even. No doubt much (or all) of that conviction, given Ariel's more elevated cachet, is simply in your head—which once again underscores the power and influence of branding and marketing. And yes, the redesigned and arguably more attractive Ariel-style engine side covers play a part here. Regardless, the Huntmaster feels more classy and is generally considered to be higher up the pecking order.
As with the A10, the 650cc FH Huntmaster is capable of cracking the "magic" ton, or very near it. But above 70mph on anything but a very smooth road feels progressively harsh and uncomfortable leaving you rolling back the throttle and settling into a more sedate 55 - 60mph—meaning that despite their high speed aspirations, these parallel twins simply weren't really built for sustained full-on velocity, not if comfort is part of the buying/ownership criteria.
Beyond that, maintenance of these "all iron" engines (i.e. iron head and barrels) is fairly straightforward. The single camshaft at the rear of the cylinder barrel has less flexible tuning options than, say, Triumph with its twin cams. And the single carb head with its relatively small valves and basic induction path doesn't allow much scope to unleash a few extra horses.
But these bikes, naturally enough, can be tuned and coaxed into higher performance. However, most folk won't bother. The FH Huntmasters, after all, were built to do what they do, and what they do best is lope along either solo or two-up at around 60mph, and maybe enjoy a few overtaking blasts up to around 70mph as and when the mood and opportunity arises. And forget scratching; not unless you've uprated pretty much everything and trimmed some fat. The Americans, certainly, modified one or two of these and managed to coax them around the racetracks and notched up a few wins.
Prices haven't risen much over the past few years (2019 figures). You can bag a decent example ready to rock'n'roll for around £5,000. And if you're not riding around on an absolute gem for six grand, you just might have been sold short. Yes, there are examples asking £8,000. But we're not aware of any that have actually changed hands at that price. And note that a few of these FH's are attached to chairs which, if the sidecar is half decent, will usually add another 1,500 quid or so.
Overall, these are classy bikes, well built, easy to live with, easy to ride, and economical. Expect 55mpg at modern riding speeds, and maybe 60 - 65mpg if 45mph loping is more your style. As an investment bike, there's not much evidence that you'll make much money. But as a handsome, dependable and rewarding classic roadster, you'll do alright here.
1958 Ariel Huntmaster specifications
Engine type: Air-cooled, OHV parallel twin
Lubrication: Dry sump
Electrics: Lucas 6-volt, E3L dynamo
Primary drive: Single row chain
Top speed: 95 - 100 mph
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