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A Veritable Thing of Beauty

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Posted on January 16, 2020

Images courtesy Frank Westfall Collection, Syracuse, NY

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE this magnificent specimen first hit the road, in the US, 90 years ago! The 1930 Henderson KJ Streamline was good for 160km/h-plus powered by its 1200-cc, 40-brake horsepower, in-line four-cylinder engine.

It is simply a beautiful beast, created by American Orley Ray Courtney, and a stunning example of Art Deco design.  But, according to writer Alan Cathcart the Henderson truly was a beast – impractical and very difficult to ride.

Apart from a few out-there racing machines of the day, streamlining was used sparingly and enclosed bodywork was virtually unknown on production two-wheelers.

“Courtney’s radical streamlined KJ body shell was unlike anything ever done on two wheels, with its curved, vertical-bar grille, reminiscent of the Chrysler Airflow, and the rear resembled an Auburn boat-tail speedster.

Art Deco was an innovative and ultra-distinctive style of design that spanned the boom times of the Roaring Twenties and the bust of the Depression-ridden 1930s. 

Steel Panels hand-formed with a power hammer

“Avant-garde, it celebrated the newly mechanized modern world, yet embraced both handmade and mechanical manufacture of everyday products to exclusive works of art.

“It was everywhere, from cinemas to skyscrapers, from luxury ocean liners to exotic automobiles – and, yes, to some motorcycles, too.” Alan Cathcart

Courtney’s Henderson KJ Streamline may well have been a serious handful on the road but it is a gorgeous design and there is no question it is a thing of defining beauty.

My thanks to Prof. Michael Henderson for the heads-up!


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