When every tool you need is already on your bike.
When you’re an independent engineer, unbound by common wisdom, you’re free to create just about anything you want. Your skills are the only real limitation here. If they match up with whatever your imagination is able to conjure up, your designs should impress you, if no one else. Also, if there’s no century of tradition to live up to at the time you’re building, you can pretty much run wild.
That brings us to the Wooler Flat Four, the final creation of British engineer John Wooler. Along with his son Roland, Wooler developed this incredibly unique prototype in 1948. This 500cc transverse flat-four, shaft-driven machine was allegedly capable of reaching speeds of nearly 90 mph. That’s kind of cuckoo-bananas to think about when combined with 1948 brake systems.
Front and rear suspension were both plunger-type, and the sleek, unique fuel tank flowed up past the headstock, with the headlight mounting neatly inside as part of one unit. To keep things tidy, all the electrical bits were tucked away in that single long, elegant tube, as well.
In fact, clean lines and tidy, economical ideas were writ into every detail of this design. The front and rear wheels were interchangeable. The frame also doubled as the exhaust. To keep maintenance simple, all the hardware on this bike required one of two wrenches to work on—and both comprised the entirety of the included toolkit.
Sadly, only a handful of these bikes were ever made, and they didn’t quite make it into mass production. A Wooler Flat Four was displayed at the Earls Court motorcycle show in 1948, 1951, and 1954, and this great time capsule of a Pathé video gives a small glimpse into what the Woolers surely thought would be a bright future for the model.
Alas, John Wooler himself died in 1956, and the marque faded away soon thereafter. There appears to be an effort underway to resurrect the name, but there only seems to be a branded clothing line associated with it so far.
Prior to developing the Flat Four, John Wooler had been engineering motorcycle designs on and off since 1911. Various circumstances, including two World Wars, halted his engineering efforts throughout the 40-odd years he was active. Once he worked something out to his satisfaction, it seemed to stick around into other designs. The Flat Four’s plunger suspension, for example, was first seen on Wooler’s 1911 two-stroke single.
In addition to its overall uniqueness, it’s a good reminder that when you’re coming up with new things, you often don’t know how well they’ll work in practice. Sometimes, you just have to bring those ideas out into the world in order to learn the answers. Would Wooler have been able to get production versions of the Flat Four out if he hadn’t died relatively soon after finishing the project? That will forever remain a mystery.