Armstrong Motorcycles


Cotton V twin
cm36 advert
Niall MacKenzie 500
Donnie McLeod and Niall Mackenzie

Armstrong Motorcycles began in the late 70's when Armstrong Industries bought up CCM (Clews Competition Motorcycles) then later, Cotton Motorcycles and Barton Engineering. These smaller companies were amalgamated to form the best motorcycle engineering brains and knowledge at the time this side of Japan. Terry Wilson's Cotton had developed a super fast 250cc machine, initially produced with a one-off L-twin 250cc Rotax engine which was especially built for Cotton. This engine was developed by Rotax, and went on to become the infamous Type 256 inline twin. The first CCM Armstrong 250cc racers were essentially rebadged Cotton's, with a more "TZ-esque" frame designed by Mike Eatough, incoporating a vertical rear shock design.

Cotton LCRS Rotax

Cotton LCRS Rotax

Above) the Cotton LCRS, the 1st of the "new" Cotton's featuring a Rotax single cylinder. Below) The V-Twin Cotton that led to the Rotax 256.

Cotton Rotax V Twin

The company, which went through several names and guises through the period: CCM-Armstrong, Armstrong Motorcycles, and Armstrong Competition Motorcycles, specialised in off-road and road race machines. The road racing side being notably sponsored by Randle Racing and later BRDC Silverstone Circuit.

Randle Armstrong 1982 Team

Armstrong Randle 1982 Team

Above shows the 1982 Randle Armstrong team, with riders Steve Tonkin on a 350cc, and Jeff Sayle and Clive Horton on 250cc CMW36's.

Great success was had in the British Championships, TT Races and World Championship Grand Prix and throughout the World from Club and International level. In 1981 Steve Tonkin won the IOM TT Junior race with a 108mph lap, with Jeff Sayle coming home in 4th. Tonkin won the 250cc British Championship in 1981 & in 1982 and Niall Mackenzie also did the double, taking the 1985 & 1986 championships. Donnie McLeod achieved Armstrong's Best GP finish, finishing runner up at Spa Francorchamps in 1986 plus he was also runner up behind Mackenzie in the 1985 250 British Championship making a 1-2 finish and showing the dominance of the Armstrong racers at the time. Other top riders of the day who rode for Armstrong included: Clive Horton, Alan Carter, Tony Rogers, Neil Tuxworth, Paul Tinker, Chas Mortimer and Tony Head, all of whom put in some excellent results

Tony Head Factory Armstrong 250cc 1983

Factory rider Tony Head at Spa Francorchamps 1983. Tony also rode a Carbon Fibre bike in 1984.

Click to see Armstrongs IOM TT & MGP history
Click to see Armstrongs North West 200 history
Click to see British Championship Results

Armstrong were serious contenders who broke the dominance of TZ Yamaha in the 250 & 350 classes, with groundbreaking designs and concepts, such as the 1st Carbon Fibre frame/swinging arm motorcycles (by Mike Eathough/Brian Barham/Barry Hart), rim mounted disk brakes, fuel injection and the patented suspension system. Mackenzie & McLeod (under the guidance of Chas Mortimer) achieved some noteable results in mid-80's Grand Prix's, often beating the Japanese works teams.

Rotax 256 250cc engines were used initially but in 1981 an improved designed was developed in house by Armstrong Technical Director, Barry Hart (ex-Barton Engineering) including horizontally split crankcases, improved porting, cooling and individual cylinder heads. Initially developed as a 350cc the CM36 engine was used in both 250 & 350cc guises for the works machines. Several variants were produced, with the last model being updated in 1983, which featured 180 out of phase cranks, instead of the usual counter rotating cranks with both pistons rising and falling at the same time.

Armstrong CM36

Other improvements and developments on the Armstrong engine included:- power valves, improved porting & cooling, flat slide carburettors and different gear ratio's. Hart also designed the 3 cylinder 500cc Armstrong that was ridden by Mackenzie and he can also be credited for the 750cc Barton Phoenix sidecar engine, which Nigel Rollason won the 1986 sidecar TT on.

The below pictures show the initial photo artwork and subsequent Patent Drawings for the Carbon Fibre (CF or CFR) Armstrong, with an Armstrong not Rotax engine fitted. The Worlds 1st Carbon Fibre framed motorcycle of 1983. Note the amount of travel and the way in which the swinging arm moves downwards... a real nuisance when the bottom fairing was being fitted ! Also note the Marzocchi forks as used on the Steel framed bikes, plus the odd Dymag front and Campagnolo rear wheels !

Armstrong CF36 the 1st Carbon Fibre Motorcycle 1983

Armstrong CF36 the 1st Carbon Fibre Motorcycle 1983

The picture below, kindly supplied by one of the bikes designers, Brian Barham, shows the 1st ever test of the Carbon Fibre Armstrong machine at a very sunny looking Knockhill in the Summer of 1983.

Armstrong CF250 the 1st Carbon Fibre Motorcycle 1983 - First Test

When Barry Hart left the company, development of the "in-house" engine ceased, with team bikes reverting to using Rotax engines, with the occassional use of Armstrong barrels and heads. Mike Shaftleitner took over the reigns of development after Hart left and former rider Chas Mortimer became Race Manager for McLeod & Mackenzie.

Donnie McLeod Silverstone Armstrong 1985

Silverstone Armstrong 1985-86 Team

1986 was the final full season for the Armstrong Factory Grand Prix team, with some strong performances from Mackenzie who was out with injury for the beginning of the season, but achieved a Pole position, and McLeod gained a 2nd place at Spa.

The British Championships saw Mackenzie & McLeod taking a 1 - 2 in the Shell Oils Transnational championship and Mcleod winning the Motoprix 250cc class. Also in 1986 Ralph Sutcliffe won the Lightweight Manx GP.

Silverstone Armstrong Team 1986

But by the late '80's Armstrong's Parent company decided to sell off it's motorcycle divisions and the off-road Military design production team went to Harley Davidson, where the machines had previoulsy been exported and badged as Can-Am's. The competition off-road rights and CCM name were sold back to Alan Clews (original founder of CCM), who continue to make excellent off road machines.


Armstrong's road racing projects (inc. the Carbon Fibre frame designs & Barry Harts engine designs) and spares supply were sold off to Colin Hopper of CWH Developments (aka Hopper Racing), who continued to produce the 350cc engine for solos and his CWH Armstrong sidecar outfits, gaining him a double Manufacturers award at the 1987 IOM TT. By the early 90's the machines were becoming outdated and Hopper sold on his business to a racing Kart producer.

Hopper Racing Armstrong

In 2009 the Hopper-Armstrong concern including 2 original 1983 spec Armstrong works engines was purchased by Rave Motorsport Ltd, who saw the potential of the Armstrong for Post Classic and road racing and started the Armstrong ball rolling again. Work on a new prototype "works replica" began in the winter of 2009, with an original factory CMW37 being studied, alongside original Armstrong drawings, to ensure an accurate replication of the machine would be produced.

Rave Motorsport are greatful to have had help from several friends and colleagues, namely Em Roberts, a highly experienced ex-Maxton Engineer and GP Mechanic for the likes of Charlie Williams. Then we have Lewis Ward who has a wealth of knowledge on Armstrong machines and was kind enough to loan his own ex-works CMW machine for us to study, and who imparted many hints, tips and problems to solve to help improve the old machines. And finally, but not least, Martin Jones who has been kind enough to sponsor us with the 250 machine.

We must also like to add our thanks for the support from Barry Hart, Niall Mackenzie, Donnie McLeod and Chas Mortimer

VMCC 1000 Bikes at Mallory Park in 2010 saw our official Launch Campaign, with a Renunion of Armstrong Riders, Mechanics, Designers and Bikes, with 2 Carbon Fibre bikes and 1 steel frame bike all on the track at the same time, which must be the first time in a great many years. Donnie McLeod & Niall Mackenzie both riding Armstrongs for the first time since the end 1987 !

Armstrong Donnie McLeod 2010

Niall Mackenzie showed me a great book "The Art & Science of Motorcycle Racing" by Peter Clifford (OSPREY/MOTORCOURSE publication), which has quite a bit about Armstrongs featured in it. The below pictures are scanned from it and I believe are to be credited to Don Morley.

Armstrong Pits with 350cc CF

The Armstrong Engined 350cc Carbon Fibre machine.

Armstrong 500cc Triple and Barry Hart

Barry Hart and the 3 cylinder 500cc Armstrong.

Armstrong CF 250cc 1985 in South Africa

Nialls 250cc Armstrong at South Africa in 1985.

Armstrong Racing Motorcycle Models

CM35 - 1980 - Production Machine - 250cc Rotax engine (early above, late type below)

Armstrong CM35 250cc (Rotax)

Armstrong CM35 250cc (Rotax)

CMW series - 1980-1983 Works Racer, improved steel frame featuring alloy swinging arm and lighter gauge 531 tubing. Early 250cc bikes fitted with 256 Rotax engine (sometimes fitted with Armstrong barrels) or Armstrongs own CM36 in 250cc or 350cc engine. The last frames were code named CMW37.

Niall Mackenzie 1983 Armstrong CMW 350cc

CM36 - 1981 - Production Racer - Mostly 350cc Armstrong Engines but a few 250cc pre-production machines

CM36 350cc

CF Series - 1983 - 1987 - Works Racer, featuring the Worlds first fully Carbon Fibre chassis. 3 different variants of CF bikes produced over the years. Initially Armstrongs CM36 engine in both 250cc & 350cc form, with the 500cc triple fitted in same frame. Later (86/87) Rotax 250cc engines fitted. Sometimes Rotax Barrels fitted on Armstrong crankcases and vica versa.

Mackenzie CF 500cc

Non-original Armstrong Pictures courtesy of : Graham Etheridge, Pat Jeal, Barry Hart, Tony Head, Racing & Investment Motorcycles, The Patent Office, Tony Skinner. Donnie McLeod as Assen pics courtesy of

Hero Drent.

If we have used one of your pictures and have not credited you, please email us and we will ensure your picture is credited.