Although he's unknown outside of classic
motorcycle circles, Orley Ray Courtney - a talented sheet metal
craftsman - designed and built two outstanding custom-bodied
during his lifetime which deserve our attention today. They would
have likely remained unknown save for the fact they were purchased by
Syracuse motorcycle collector Frank Westfall, who has been publicizing
the two steamlined bikes ever since.
Orley Ray Courtney was born in Portland*,
Jay County (New Cardon?), Indiana, on July 14, 1895, to William Lewis
and Anna Jennetta
(Imel) Courtney. Siblings included Ethel Elinora (b. Oct. 13, 1893);
Orville Armington (b. Dec.
5, 1897); Cecil Addington (b. Dec. 3, 1901 – d. Sept 17, 1907); Floyd
Sept. 20, 1904 - d. Mar. 29, 1963); Kenneth Leroy (b. Sept. 5, 1906)
Edith (b. October 16, 1908-d. July 29, 1910) Courtney.
(*His personally filled-out draft
registration dated June 5,
1917 states he was born in Portland, Jay County, although Velma Byrum
and Imel Families in America’ (pub. 1974) states it was New Cardon,
Others genealogical sources state it was Dunkirk, a slightly smaller
six miles to the southwest of Portland.)
The 1910 US Census lists Orley living with
his family in Jefferson
Township, Washington County, Indiana and provides his occupation as
a ‘glass works’.
His father passed away shortly after the
1910 census and by
1915 the family had relocated to Connersville, Indiana where his mother
widower Leonidas W. Wolverton (b. Dec. 1875). To that blessed union was
step-brother, Harold Imel (b. April 18, 1915) Wolverton.
At the time Orley was employed as a
power-hammer operator by
the Central Manufacturing Co. of Connersville, Indiana, a production
body builder that is covered in depth elsewhere in the encyclopedia.
Orley had been bitten by the motorcycle bug
as a youngster and soon after he started working for Central Mfg. he
first motorcycle, a 3-speed 1916 Excelsior.
At the time of his draft registration on
June 5, 1917
Courtney was working as a sheet metal worker in the Indianapolis,
of the Nordyke & Marmon Company. The US Dept. of Veterans Affairs
served in the US Army Air Corps from Jan 6, 1918 to December 19, 1918.
The 1920 US Census lists him in Kirkland,
Jay County, his occupation ‘hammer worker’ in a ‘factory’. Also listed
brother Orville, his occupation ‘woodworker’ in a ‘factory’. His
step-father’s occupation was listed as ‘planer’ in a ‘mill’.
It is believed that he and his brother
Orville were still working
for Central Mfg. at the time even though Kirkland was located 1 ½ hours
of Connersville. As there were no manufacturers in Kirkland at the time
it is likely
the two Courtney boys lived in a boarding house during the week and
home to Kirkland on the weekends.
After the War Orley married Grace Belle
Wells (b. Sep. 1,
1896 in Albany, Delaware County, Indiana – d. Feb 21, 1972 in Dunkirk,
Indiana) and to the blessed union were born two children; Ray William
(b. Nov. 25, 1924-d. May 31, 2007) and Margie J. (b. 1928)
Sometime prior to 1930 Orley and family
where he took a position as a metal craftsman at the Oldsmobile Motor
Works division of General Motors.
some point in time Orley purchased a 1930 Henderson Streamline Model KJ
1,300 cc inline-4 cylinder motorcycle, so-named for its sleek
aerodynamic profile made possible by the compact inline
drivetrain. Courtney greatly admired the new art moderne style
championed by the recently introduced Chrysler Airflow and soon began
making sketches of a motorcycle encased in its own Airflow-inspired
After settling on a revised suspension
Courtney made final engineering drawings and set about constructing the
bucks needed to create the sheet-metal panels that would envelope his
modified Henderson frame and engine. On July 12, 1934 his patent
attorney submitted the engineering drawings to the US Patent Office and
during the next nine months Courtney patiently construced the
required panels which were all gas welded then shaped to perfection
with his favorite tool, the Pettingel power hammer.
The bike was completed in 1935, about 6
months before he was awarded US Pat. No. 2,035,462 for his streamlined
motorcycle body. The finished bike featured 10-inch wheels and high
profile balloon tires sourced from the aircraft industry to provide it
with a velvet smooth ride. The heavily modified chassis included
hydraulic brakes,a modified
fork in front and a modern rear independent suspension unlike any seen
before that time.
The rounded nose
were clearly modeled after the airflow and the fully enclosed wheels
were hidden behind tear-drop shaped spats, the rear ebd drawiung donw
to a point, not unlikethat found on the boattail speedsters that were
popular at the time.
It is recorded that he rode the bike quite
often and the majority of its parts were all used up when it underwent
restoration in the late 00's.
after the bike was finished Orley
left Oldsmobile to take a a similar position with with Reo for whom he
worked into 1940 when he returned to General Motors as an employee of
the Pontiac Motor Division. In that same year his attorney filed for a
US Patent on another aerodynamic motorcycle for which he was awarded US
Pat. No. D126,359 in April of 1941.
The design was very similar to the
recently-introduced Indian Chief, albeit with his characteristic
teardrop-shrouded wheels both fore and aft. He also received a
copyright (I-29040) on Nov. 3, 1941 on for the vehicle, which he called
the Courtney Aero Squadron bike. It is unknown if he planned on
producing the motorcycle in quantity but the onset of the Second World
War put such projects on hold for the better part of the next decade.
During the War Orley worked for the
Pontiac Motor Division of General Motors and his son Ray, who learned
at his father's side, served in the US
Army as a Corporal in the Pacific theater. After his discharge Ray got
a job at the GMC truck plant and on January 13, 1946, married Bessie
At that time Orley had left General Motors
and was working for
Kaiser-Frazer in their pre-production body shop. In 1950 both father
left their respective jobs forming their own metal fabrication shop,
Blvd., in Pontiac, Michigan.
the shop's main line of work was the fabrication of custom-made metal
projects for local businesses, they constructed a large variety of
projects which occasionally included racecar bodies for local speed
enthusiasts. Both generations of the Courtneys had a deep-seated love
for motorcycles and in their spare time they constructed a
radical motorcycle which incorporated styling features forund on
full-size passenger cars - with the goal of putting it into limited
The new machine was christened the
'Enterprise', after the family
business, and like Orley's previous streamliner, it was long, low
and featured a chassis fully enclosed by a streamlined body shell.
Designed for two passengers, the Enterprise included an elongated seat
and foot boards and built in saddlebags that were molded into the rear
It was completed in time for a debut at the
Detroit Motorama where it attracted a significant
amount of attention,
and in subsequent months it was the subject of three feature articles
in the leading enthusiast magazines of the day, the first being
1952 issue of Cycle:
“Revolution in Design; Original $5,000
Enterprise Now Custom
Made For $2,500 by A.E. Aperauch
“This wasn’t Ray Courtney’s first poke at
one of the gifted few who can not only pierces the veil of the future,
reach behind it and withdraw actual proof, Ray has purposely
concentrated on one
phase of cycling: that done by the pleasure rider. Asked why he had
spent so much
time and money on his latest ‘Enterprise,’ Ray, who has been
1913, replied that he felt the pleas of the most important guy of all.
Joe Rider.’ Had long been drowned in the roar of racing machines and
was about time that someone listened. ‘Anyone can rider for pleasure,
a few have the talent to race.’
“Christened the ‘Enterprise’ after his
custom sheet metal
and race car body work shop in Pontiac, Michigan, Ray’s latest fully
streamliner is an improved version of an earlier model. It is to be
the cost of such beautiful pioneer work runs high. Although this
out at $5,000, Ray’s plan to build such a custom machine for those who
has not been deterred. You furnish the motor and transmission of your
and a copy of the ‘Enterprise’ will be yours for $2,500. Courtney
least a 30 cubic inch twin or larger powerplant, considering that the
the machine. Complete with gas and oil (using a 45 cu. inch Indian
is 130 pounds.
“It’s been two years since O. Ray Courtney
his plans on the drawing board until the time that his son Ray W.
member of the Cherokee Riders, could ride it off. But the project has
worth the effort. According to its builder, the machine handles
has ample speed, gets 50 miles to the gallon and rides more like an
a motorcycle. Working in his spare time, Courtney shaped the metal out
hammers, using skeleton forms. This striking all metallic white
already been on exhibit, appearing as the star attraction in a recent
Day parade. It showed no signs of overheating, which is more than can
of some the envious spectators.
“Definitely out of the scooter class with
its big 45 cubic inch
powerplant, the Enterprise may be what many have been waiting for.
cleanliness vie with beauty in O. Ray Courtney’s streamliner. Wheelbase
standard 58 inches, overall length is 113 inches, while saddle height
inches. Widest point on frame is 36 tapering to 25.
“Framework and springing are novel since
both are straddled
by long coli springs. Handlebars have been positioned far forward in a
stationary suspension and actuate front forks through a connecting
linkage. A ride damper compensates for speed on rough roads.
“Side panels are quickly detachable by
frame and rear springing. 3 ½ gallon gas tank is located in upper rear
allowing saddle to be situated low and forward of normal – Courtney
better balance from this arrangement.
“Broadside show 6.00 x 9 wheels and tires
that are fitted
with full size motorcycle brakes. Choke is controlled by a lever on the
instrument panel, which is built into the headlight nacelle. White
covers deep two-piece sponge saddle. Enclosure at rear is built-in
“Both foot and hand type clutch are
on the Enterprise for safety. Exhaust system is dual with double
Note elaborate foot boards.
“Although wheel size is small, overall
length and weight indicates
that the center of gravity may be somewhat the same as a conventional
The second appeared in the October, 1952
issue of Science & Mechanics:
“Years ago, O.R. Courtney of Pontiac,
Mich., built a
fully-enclosed motorcycle that proved so successful he decided to come
another. His new version, shown here, is totally enclosed and has a
leather 2-passenger seat which lifts up to expose the main mechanical
of the machine below. It is powered with an army surplus 45 cu. in.
V-twin air-cooled engine. Wheels are sprung on coil springs with
dampeners, and the gasoline tank is enclosed beneath the cycle's front
hood. The handlebars are set well forward and connected to the front
steering head by drag-link, thus giving the machine more passenger room
“The 6.00 × 9 tires and an underslung
give the machine
an extremely low center of gravity, and its weight of 475 lbs. makes it
than 100 lbs. lighter than the average American 2-wheeler of the same
“The top of the seat is only 28 in. from
wheelbase is 58 in., the over-all length 112 in. Chrome-plated bumpers
rails protrude far enough from the body of the machine to make
moving it around. The panels on the sides of the rear wheel cover
which take the place of the usual saddlebags; a grille on each side of
tapering front end of the machine acts as a wind scoop for the
engine. —Ivan J. Stretten.”
A third article on the Enterprise appeared
in the March 1953
issue of Popular Science who featured it on its cover:
“His Dream Motorcycle Cost $5,000
“Streamline panels of auto-body steel hide
the frame and
engine while a new principle of springing gives a bump free ride.
“By Andrew R. Boone
“One night in March, 1950, O. Ray Courtney
worked until two
a.m. and drove home discouraged. He was trying to design a better
He wanted one with the seat forward, with better cooling, better
a more beautiful body. Discarded sketches littered the floor of his
“That night in a dream he saw a
across a flowered field. Too excited to report for work the next day,
put his dream on paper – and he is riding that dream cycle now through
streets of Pontiac, Mich.
“Courtney is a 56-year-old metal-worker.
a boy in
Dunkirk, Ind., he rode a one-cylinder 1911 Indian, moved on to an
twin, and did a little hill climbing and road racing. ‘The vibration,’
recalls, ‘was so tough I often couldn’t keep my feet on the controls.’
“In the Air Corps during World War I, he
began to gather
ideas for streamlining. Years later he designed a streamlined car that
the ’33 Olds.
“Nowadays he designs body parts for
Kaiser-Frazer. But he
and his son Bill have a shop of their own where he works in his spare
time. It took him two years of spare
time to build the Enterprise.
“This plush bike gives you a softer,
springier ride that
you’ll get on any other motorcycle. You sit comfortably ahead of the
in a seat roomy enough for two, 10 inches farther forward than the
“The Enterprise steers like a car. The
handle bars have been
moved forward; the engine has 7 1/8 inches of ground clearance (more
average), but the seat and body have been lowered, bringing down the
gravity three inches for good cornering.
“You advance the spark with your left
feed gas with
your right. (Harley and some British bikes are driven similarly.) And
three standard gears. Either the left grip of the left foot operates
clutch. Your right hand powers the front-wheel brake and your right
“Courtney built his first motorcycle in
1936. The front of
this black-and-red job – it is still ready to ride – is strikingly like
first rounded Oldsmobile front fenders.
“The white ‘dream’ job that he is riding
$5,000, but people say when it rolls by, ‘Hey, that looks like a
two wheels.’ He hopes to build more cycles, and they will sell for
less than the original Enterprise cost to make.
“The Enterprise, ‘a Rolls-Royce on two
wheels,’ has never
been opened up. Its owner considers 65 miles an hour fast enough.
“Front wheels turns easily within the
formed of car-body steel. Louvers admit air to cool the 45-cu. in.
engine. Safety tubing forms a framework to protect the running gear in
Tires are 6.00 x 9.
“Instruments are housed in neat island
between handle bars.
Mounted on island are speedometer and ammeter with lock positioned near
Ride-control knob (not shown) is behind island.
“Special gas tank, baffled to prevent
splash, is located
over front wheel. Bolted to top panel, it holds three gallons. A
one-gallon Indian oil tank is located at the rear of the engine.
“Inside fenders mounted over wheels help
prevent mud from
building up on body panels. Steel strips along sided cover twin
mufflers. Rear-wheel assembly is shown in the photo above.
“Quick-release fasteners hold all panels
frame except the
two main top ones which are bolted in place. The panels are 19-guage
steel, shaped with a power hammer. To reach oil tank, seat is snapped
frame. Ride dampener steadies front wheel at high speeds. The 21-inch
smaller than usual, permit sharp turns.
“Frame is 1 1/8 inch chrome-steel
10 1/2 inches forward on an extension tube, are mounted on a second
connect through drag links to the fork.
“Each wheel is straddled by a U-shaped
to which is
connected a pair of coil springs. All springs are controlled by
snubbers. Front wheel is shown here.
“Streamlining continues to tail.
Machine is 26 inches
wide. Bulges flanking sides of rear wheel are metal-covered saddlebags.
exhausts feed out through twin tailpipes.
“Roomy seat snaps into place in the frame.
Seat, 30 inches
long, is made of foam rubber and mounted on tubing. Leather covering
rubber is an off white color.
“Two can ride comfortably on the big
seat. Long footboards
add to the comfort, and prevent splashing. The Enterprise is 112 inches
and weighs 580 pounds.”
Surviving pictures reveal at least three
Enterpises were constructed - all with slightly different front ends,
the prototype being more elaborate. In a March 3, 2011 post on the
Knucklebuster blog ,
Orley's grandson Rick confirmed that he knew the wherabouts of three
survivors, one with an Indian engine, and two others with 650 cc BSA
“I know where 2 of the Enterprise bikes
a 3rd is in the
Hard Rock Cafe warehouse somewhere. It was to be in a movie, but
made to the script. Two of the bikes had BSA engines, the 3rd had a
engine. He even had a spare Indian engine in its crate when he passed
original Henderson was a burgundy red in color.”
Unfortunately Rick, a former Chrysler Corp.
executive, passed away on December 3, 2013
at the age of 62, so finding out the location of the other extant
Enterpises may be a problem.
Apparently the Courtneys also sold used
parts as evidenced by the following classified advertisement in the
issue of American Motorcyclist:
“1955 Harley-Davidson KH engine unit
complete. 350 miles on
it, like new. Will sacrifice engine and parts on hand. Write for price
and list. COURTNEY-ENTERPRISE,
1353 Highwood Blvd., Pontiac, Mich.”
also manufactured small sheet-metal items such as the Raelco lawn and
garden sprayer, which was nationally advertised in the golfing trades.
The text from a product announcement included in the October 1959 issue
of Golfdom magazine follows:
“Raelco Sprayer Handles Several Types of Jobs
“Raelco Sprayer, made by Courtney
Highwood blvd., Pontiac, Mich., can be used for several types of
including weed killing, fertilizing and spraying against insects.
spraying arms permit the Raelco to be stored in a small place. It
low pressure and is coated to resist most acids. Overall arm spread is
the sprayer weighs only 30 lbs. when empty; capacity is 15 lbs.; and
can be pressurized by either a foot pump or portable compressor. The
will cover one acre in 30 minutes.”
Courtney's business was included in the
annual Directory of Michigan Manufacturers as follows:
“COURTNEY-ENTERPRISE 1353 Highwood
Blvd., Pontiac, Mich., 48055 - Race Car Bodies; Sheet Metal Work;
Parts; Panels; Brackets; Welding. O.R. Courtney, Pres. Emp. M. 2-6;
An Imel family genealogy published in 1974
includes the following information:
“Ray Courtney owns and operates the
"COURTNEY ENTERPRISE" company at 1353 Highland Blvd., Pontiac, Mich.,
designs and builds motorcycles. In 1969, Ray's hobby was raising Golden
pheasants. His son, William, also works with him at Courtney
Both father and son were active in the
Pontiac Motorcycle Club, with the junior Courtney serving as its head
of publicity and the senior Courtney as a board member.
Remarkably, Syracuse, New York antique
motorcycle collector Frank Westfall owns an example of
each of Courtney's extremely rare creations. Upon Orley Ray Courtney's
passing in April of 1982, Pontiac native Ron Finch purchased Orley's
personal Enterpise as well as his 1930 streamlined KJ Henderson from
Although Finch had hoped to restore
both bikes, the project was put on the backburner and the vehicles
in the collection of Lakeport, New York's Michael "Chico" Gaglioti.
The acquisition soon attracted the attention of Gaglioti's friend,
Westfall, an avid antique motorcycle collector and the proprietor of
Middle Earth Leatherworks in downtown, Syracuse, New York.
Although the Henderson was now in pieces -
the Enterpise remained intact - Westfall decided then and there he had
them, recalling in a 2010 interview with the AMCA's Ed Youngblood:
“I actually brought Mike a box of cash and
put it on his kitchen table and told him he had to sell them to me.”
Luckily Gaglioti agreed and on July 13,
2001, both vehicles passed into the hands of Westfall. Although they
remained as acquired for a number of years, he evnetually got the
Enterpis up and running and displayed it at a number of AMCA
National meets during the late 00's.
However the Henderson required a total
restoration by a skilled metal worker and it was put on the
backburner until Pat Murphy, a local automotive engineer and automobile
restoration specialist agreed to take on the project. Murphy seriously
underestimated how much time it would take and over the next several
years he and Westfall spent 600 to 700 hours bringing the Henderson
back from a pile of parts.
Westfall debuted the finished Henderson at
the June 2010 AMCA (Antique Motorcycle Club of America) meet in
Rhinebeck, New York where it drew much attention from the interested
spectatators, many of whom believed it was a modern creation.
Although Westfall has received numerous
substantial offers for the Henderson, he has no interest in selling
either of Courtney's creations, for any amount.
In 2013 his restored Henderson KJ was
included in the 'Sensuous Steel: Art Deco Automobiles' exhibit at
the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville,
Tennessee, and when they're not being driven by their owner at regional
AMCA Meets, both
bikes (and Westfall's Ner-A-Car) can be found at the Northeast Classic Car Museum
© 2014 Mark
Theobald for Coachbuilt.com
Orley Ray Courtney Patents:
US2035462 – Streamline motorcycle body -
Filed Jul 12, 1934
- Issued Mar 31, 1936 to Orley Ray Courtney
USD126359 – Design for a motorcycle -
Jul 16, 1940 -
Issued Apr 8, 1941 to Orley Ray Courtney
US2356918 – Airplane wing construction -
Filed Feb 21, 1942
- Issued Aug 29, 1944 to Orley Ray Courtney
USD171249 - Cowl for motorcycle front
article - Filed Mar 16, 1953 - Issued Jan 5, 1954
USD171250 – Cowl for motorcycle rear wheel
article - Filed Mar 16, 1953 - Issued Jan 5, 1954 to Orley Ray
USD171251 – Motorcycle body - Filed Mar
1953 - Issued
Jan 5, 1954 to Orley Ray Courtney
US2905001 – Engine self-starter - Filed
10, 1956 -
Issued Sep 22, 1959 to Ray W. Courtney and Orley Ray Courtney
US2913255 – Motorcycle front wheel
suspension and steering
arrangement - Filed Sep 10, 1956 - Issued Nov 17, 1959 to Orley Ray
and Ray W. Courtney
US4189168 – Wheel suspension for a vehicle
Filed Apr 28,
1978 - Issued Feb 19, 1980 to Orley Ray Courtney