The Excelsior-Henderson brand referred to two motorcycle manufacturers absorbed by Chicago’s mighty Schwinn factory. Both produced high-quality machinery, yet struggled to make it in the terribly competitive American motorcycle market. Excelsior was the second largest moto-manufacturer in the US after Indian when purchased by Ignaz Schwinn in 1911, while the Henderson Motorcycle Company was known for its elegant 4-cylinder design, the “Deusenberg of Motorcycles,” and was subsequently absorbed by Schwinn in 1917. The original Henderson design was updated by Schwinn engineer Arthur O. Lemon with a totally new, 1,300 cc side-valve engine and a more robust chassis to suit the American market. This was the Excelsior-Henderson Model K, introduced in 1920, with a twin-downtube frame, stronger front fork, forced oiling and an enclosed rear chain. The DeLuxe Model K was guaranteed for 80 MPH, yet capable of 100 MPH with optional alloy high-compression pistons installed. This was far faster than all but the most expensive automobiles, and Hendersons were a natural for police pursuit vehicles, a duty they performed admirably.
As the 1920s drew to a close, it was time for a major revamp on the 4-cylinder front and Schwinn hired ex-Harley-Davidson engineer Arthur Constantine to do the job. He totally redesigned the Henderson 4-cylinder once again, reverting to an F-head design, but with a much stronger 5-bearing crankshaft, larger cylinder fins, a better frame and fork, and a new “Streamline” Art Deco-inspired styling. Constantine’s motor put out a very healthy 40 HP without sacrificing low-end torque; the new Model KJ was truly capable of a 10-100 MPH speed in top gear and was a superbike of the era. Very few machines of the 1920s could claim such power or speed on two wheels or four. While the Streamline KJ was exceptional, it was introduced exactly as the Great Depression devastated the American motorcycle industry. While parent company Schwinn was unlikely to go bust, Ignaz Schwinn was taking no chances, and announced to his motorcycle staff, both Excelsior and Henderson, that “today we quit”; the last motorcycles to emerge from its Chicago factories left in 1931.
This 1931 Excelsior-Henderson KJ Streamline 4-cylinder is from the final year of production and is as good as the Henderson dream ever got. A concours restoration, it is a true vintage-era superbike, capable of 100 MPH without self-destruction, and is a prize of American manufacturing. Last-year KJs are very rare, extremely desirable and today, still remain the “Duesenberg of Motorcycles.”
Arrangements to purchase this vehicle can be made directly by contacting Mecum representative Rob Williams by phone or text at (262) 236-7705 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.