Belgian firm Fabrique National d’Herstal was originally an arms manufacturer, who – much like their British counterparts BSA – turned to bicycles and later motorcycle production. They entered the transportation business in 1885, building bicycle frames before graduating to complete road, ready bikes in 1889. Motorcycle production began in 1901 with a belt-driven, 133cc single-cylinder machine. Larger and more powerful models quickly followed, and FN was continually on the cutting edge of motorcycle technology. For example, in 1907, they developed the first multi-ratio belt-drive system using an adjustable pulley on the output side. FN was a fixture on the international racing scene as well, with solid results in the Isle of Man TT in the early 1900s, as well as trials and motocross racing through the early 1960s.
At the 1905 Paris Cycle Show, FN stunned onlookers with the introduction of the world’s first four-cylinder motorcycle. Central to this striking new machine was a 363 cc side-valve inline-four designed by Paul Kelecom and featuring five main bearings and an inlet-over-exhaust valve layout. The compact engine sat in a purpose-built frame, marking a significant step away from the bicycle-based designs. The FN Four also featured the company’s signature shaft drive, a trait they would use across the range through 1923. The shaft drive is the ideal complement to the remarkably smooth-running ‘four, and soon other manufacturers took notice. FN exported a handful of bikes to the United States, which likely inspired home-grown machines like the Indian Four and Henderson Four.
This rare and desirable 1905 FN dates from the first full year of four-cylinder production and is offered here with a superb, highly-detailed restoration. This example benefits from the care of several prominent collectors, including those of the late John O’Quinn and Otis Chandler. After being discovered in Belgium in 2000, it underwent a well-researched complete restoration. Beautifully detailed, the FN is presented with a black frame and mudguards, a gorgeous mirror-polished brass tank, and lovely nickel accessories. Highlights include a beautiful Lucas headlamp, black-rimmed wheels with polished spokes, and a leather springer saddle embossed with the FN logo. The 363 cc inline-four is appropriately finished in black, with period-correct ancillaries and other fittings. With five horsepower on tap, it might not win any races, but the inline-four and shaft drive undoubtedly make for impressively smooth running.
This magnificent FN is a gorgeous piece of rolling sculpture and will hold a place of pride in virtually any prestigious vehicle, vintage motorcycle, or automobilia collection.
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