Alphabetical Index|A|B|C|D|E|F|G|H|I|J|K|L|M|N|O|P|Q|R|S|T|U|V|W|X|Y|Z


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

Orley Ray Courtney
Orley Ray Courtney (b. July 14, 1895 - d. April 12, 1982)
Associated Firms
Central Mfg Co.

Although he's unknown outside of classic motorcycle circles, Orley Ray Courtney - a talented sheet metal craftsman - designed and built two outstanding custom-bodied motorcycles 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 Alva (b. Sept. 20, 1904 - d. Mar. 29, 1963); Kenneth Leroy (b. Sept. 5, 1906) and Flossie 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 Keller’s ‘Immel and Imel Families in America’ (pub. 1974) states it was New Cardon, Indiana. Others genealogical sources state it was Dunkirk, a slightly smaller town located 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 ‘laborer’ at 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 married widower Leonidas W. Wolverton (b. Dec. 1875). To that blessed union was born Orley’s 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 automobile 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 bought his 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, Indiana plant of the Nordyke & Marmon Company. The US Dept. of Veterans Affairs states he served in the US Army Air Corps from Jan 6, 1918 to December 19, 1918.

The 1920 US Census lists him in Kirkland, Richland Township, Jay County, his occupation ‘hammer worker’ in a ‘factory’. Also listed was his 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 northeast 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 traveled 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) Courtney.

Sometime prior to 1930 Orley and family moved to Lansing, Michigan where he took a position as a metal craftsman at the Oldsmobile Motor Works division of General Motors.

At 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 aerodynamic shell.

After settling on a revised suspension system, 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 Henderson KJ fork in front and a modern rear independent suspension unlike any seen before that time.

The rounded nose and grille 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.

Shortly 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 metalworking 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 Irene Henry.

At that time Orley had left General Motors and was working for Kaiser-Frazer in their pre-production body shop. In 1950 both father and son left their respective jobs forming their own metal fabrication shop, Courtney-Enterprise, at 1353 Highwood Blvd., in Pontiac, Michigan.

Although 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 second radical motorcycle which incorporated styling features forund on full-size passenger cars - with the goal of putting it into limited production.

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 fender covers.

It was completed in time for a debut at the 1952 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 the September 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 convention. Being one of the gifted few who can not only pierces the veil of the future, but 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 saddle-bound since 1913, replied that he felt the pleas of the most important guy of all. ‘Average Joe Rider.’ Had long been drowned in the roar of racing machines and that it was about time that someone listened. ‘Anyone can rider for pleasure, but only 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 enclosed streamliner is an improved version of an earlier model. It is to be expected that the cost of such beautiful pioneer work runs high. Although this original ran out at $5,000, Ray’s plan to build such a custom machine for those who want it has not been deterred. You furnish the motor and transmission of your preference and a copy of the ‘Enterprise’ will be yours for $2,500. Courtney recommends at least a 30 cubic inch twin or larger powerplant, considering that the weight of the machine. Complete with gas and oil (using a 45 cu. inch Indian Scout mill) is 130 pounds.

“It’s been two years since O. Ray Courtney first formulated his plans on the drawing board until the time that his son Ray W. Courtney, a member of the Cherokee Riders, could ride it off. But the project has been well worth the effort. According to its builder, the machine handles beautifully, has ample speed, gets 50 miles to the gallon and rides more like an automobile than a motorcycle. Working in his spare time, Courtney shaped the metal out on power hammers, using skeleton forms. This striking all metallic white dreamboat had already been on exhibit, appearing as the star attraction in a recent Memorial Day parade. It showed no signs of overheating, which is more than can be said 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. Speed and cleanliness vie with beauty in O. Ray Courtney’s streamliner. Wheelbase is standard 58 inches, overall length is 113 inches, while saddle height is 28 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 Zust fasteners revealing frame and rear springing. 3 ½ gallon gas tank is located in upper rear panel allowing saddle to be situated low and forward of normal – Courtney claims 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 leather covers deep two-piece sponge saddle. Enclosure at rear is built-in saddle bags.

“Both foot and hand type clutch are featured on the Enterprise for safety. Exhaust system is dual with double mufflers. 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 bike.”

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 up with another. His new version, shown here, is totally enclosed and has a padded leather 2-passenger seat which lifts up to expose the main mechanical innards of the machine below. It is powered with an army surplus 45 cu. in. Indian V-twin air-cooled engine. Wheels are sprung on coil springs with adjustable dampeners, and the gasoline tank is enclosed beneath the cycle's front wheel hood. The handlebars are set well forward and connected to the front fork steering head by drag-link, thus giving the machine more passenger room and riding comfort.

“The 6.00 × 9 tires and an underslung frame give the machine an extremely low center of gravity, and its weight of 475 lbs. makes it more than 100 lbs. lighter than the average American 2-wheeler of the same capacity.

“The top of the seat is only 28 in. from the ground, the wheelbase is 58 in., the over-all length 112 in. Chrome-plated bumpers and side rails protrude far enough from the body of the machine to make handholds for moving it around. The panels on the sides of the rear wheel cover compartments which take the place of the usual saddlebags; a grille on each side of the tapering front end of the machine acts as a wind scoop for the air-cooled 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 motorcycle. He wanted one with the seat forward, with better cooling, better springing and a more beautiful body. Discarded sketches littered the floor of his shop.

“That night in a dream he saw a streamlined beauty skim across a flowered field. Too excited to report for work the next day, he hastily put his dream on paper – and he is riding that dream cycle now through the streets of Pontiac, Mich.

“Courtney is a 56-year-old metal-worker. As a boy in Dunkirk, Ind., he rode a one-cylinder 1911 Indian, moved on to an excelsior twin, and did a little hill climbing and road racing. ‘The vibration,’ he still 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 became 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 rear wheel in a seat roomy enough for two, 10 inches farther forward than the saddles on most motorcycles.

“The Enterprise steers like a car. The handle bars have been moved forward; the engine has 7 1/8 inches of ground clearance (more than average), but the seat and body have been lowered, bringing down the center of gravity three inches for good cornering.

“You advance the spark with your left hand, feed gas with your right. (Harley and some British bikes are driven similarly.) And you shift three standard gears. Either the left grip of the left foot operates the clutch. Your right hand powers the front-wheel brake and your right foot the rear brake.

“Courtney built his first motorcycle in 1936. The front of this black-and-red job – it is still ready to ride – is strikingly like the first rounded Oldsmobile front fenders.

“The white ‘dream’ job that he is riding now cost him $5,000, but people say when it rolls by, ‘Hey, that looks like a Rolls-Royce on two wheels.’ He hopes to build more cycles, and they will sell for much, much 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 streamlined panels formed of car-body steel. Louvers admit air to cool the 45-cu. in. Indian Scout engine. Safety tubing forms a framework to protect the running gear in a crash. 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 front. 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 standard, 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 tailpipes and mufflers. Rear-wheel assembly is shown in the photo above.

“Quick-release fasteners hold all panels to frame except the two main top ones which are bolted in place. The panels are 19-guage car-body steel, shaped with a power hammer. To reach oil tank, seat is snapped out of frame. Ride dampener steadies front wheel at high speeds. The 21-inch wheels, smaller than usual, permit sharp turns.

“Frame is 1 1/8 inch chrome-steel tubing. Handlebars, 10 1/2 inches forward on an extension tube, are mounted on a second head. They connect through drag links to the fork.

“Each wheel is straddled by a U-shaped yoke to which is connected a pair of coil springs. All springs are controlled by Indian-type 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. Twin 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 over 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 long 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 mills:

“I know where 2 of the Enterprise bikes are, a 3rd is in the Hard Rock Cafe warehouse somewhere. It was to be in a movie, but changes were made to the script. Two of the bikes had BSA engines, the 3rd had a Indian engine. He even had a spare Indian engine in its crate when he passed away, the 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 cycle parts as evidenced by the following classified advertisement in the March 1956 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.”

They 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 Enterprise, 1353 Highwood blvd., Pontiac, Mich., can be used for several types of spraying jobs including weed killing, fertilizing and spraying against insects. Hinged spraying arms permit the Raelco to be stored in a small place. It operates on low pressure and is coated to resist most acids. Overall arm spread is 7 ft.; the sprayer weighs only 30 lbs. when empty; capacity is 15 lbs.; and the tank can be pressurized by either a foot pump or portable compressor. The sprayer 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; Automobile Parts; Panels; Brackets; Welding. O.R. Courtney, Pres. Emp. M. 2-6; Est. 1950.”

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., which designs and builds motorcycles. In 1969, Ray's hobby was raising Golden pheasants. His son, William, also works with him at Courtney Enterprise.”

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 the estate.

Although Finch had hoped to restore both bikes, the project was put on the backburner and the vehicles ended up in the collection of Lakeport, New York's Michael "Chico" Gaglioti. The acquisition soon attracted the attention of Gaglioti's friend, Frank 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 to have 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 in Norwich, New York.

© 2014 Mark Theobald for

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 - ‎Filed 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 wheel or similar article - ‎Filed Mar 16, 1953 - ‎Issued Jan 5, 1954

USD171250 – Cowl for motorcycle rear wheel or similar article - ‎Filed Mar 16, 1953 - ‎Issued Jan 5, 1954 to Orley Ray Courtney

USD171251 – Motorcycle body - ‎Filed Mar 16, 1953 - ‎Issued Jan 5, 1954 to Orley Ray Courtney

US2905001 – Engine self-starter - ‎Filed Sep 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 Courtney and Ray W. Courtney

US4189168 – Wheel suspension for a vehicle - ‎Filed Apr 28, 1978 - ‎Issued Feb 19, 1980 to Orley Ray Courtney






Ray William Courtney

Orley Ray Courtney

Frank Westfall


Velma Byrum Keller - Immel and Imel Families in America, pub. 1974

Submit Pictures or Information

Original sources of information are given when available. Additional pictures, information and corrections are most welcome.

Click Here to submit pictures or information


quicklinks|buses|cars|customs|designers|fire apparatus|limos|pro-cars|taxis|trailers|trucks|woodies

© 2004-2014, Inc.|books|disclaimer|index|privacy