Post-War History of the Cotton Motorcycle

The Rotax Era

In 1975 a young entrepreneur from Liverpool, Terry Wilson, invested in the Cotton company and became managing director.   The focus became to develop a range of bikes around engines supplied from the Austrian company, Rotax.


Much of the early work concentrated on developing a military bike to meet the MOD requirement to replace the aging BSA B40 model and to create a firm base for the Gloucester factory.  However, NVT won the contract, dealing a severe blow to Cotton hopes.


Having lost the MOD contract, the next move was to go into road racing.  "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" had been a significant driver of growth in both the early 20s, and in the 60s with the launch of the Starmaker engined Telstar.  Could Cotton be successful a third time?


In 1976, the 250cc single cylinder, water cooled, disc valve, six-speed Rotax engine was used to power the Cotton 250cc LCRS (Liquid Cooled Racing Special).  Derek Huxley lapped the TT course at a respectable 98.6 mph but in reality, could not compete with the Yamaha twin cylinder TZ motorcycles.

A Cotton LCRS, as regularly seen at Cotton Displays and Rallies.



With little work to fill the Gloucester factory, Wilson moved the factory to Bolton in 1978 to combine efforts with Mike Etough, who was producing scrambles machines under the EMX banner.  Check out this cool video from the era.


In 1979, Wilson visited Rotax to investigate opportunities for a more competitive engine and the possibility of a twin cylinder 250cc motor was raised.  Rotax chief engineer, Hans Holzleitner agreed to produce a V-twin 250cc motor built around some experimental crank cases he already had, but utilising the cranks and cylinders from an existing water cooled 125cc engine to minimise design time. Cotton developed a chassis and after sorting through some development issues, the prototype bike showed early promise, narrowly missing a win to Kork Ballington in an exciting race at Mallory Park.


In 1980, Cotton was back with the EM34, powered by the Rotax Type 256, a water cooled, tandem twin disc valved motor.  The EM34 scored a number of successes on the race track, however, troubles at the company resulted in Cotton going out of business shortly thereafter. 


Launch of the EM34: On Display with a pre-war racing Cotton


The EM34 was the last bike produced by Cotton.  However, their influence continued to be felt into the 1980s.  The Bolton factory was taken over by Armstrong Industries, who had also taken over Barton engineering and CCM.  These companies were amalgamated to form a serious off-road and road race business.  The initial Armstrong race bike, the EM35, was mostly a rebadged Cotton EM34.  Armstrong progressively developed their machines, winning the IOM Junior TT race in 1981 and winning the British 250cc Championship in 1981 and 1982 with Steve Tomkin and repeating in 1985 and 1986 with Nial MacKenzie.  Armstrong Motorcycles is back in business again with Richard Tracey at the helm.  Check out their website and the Cotton/Armstrong history at:


In 1984, Terry Wilson made one last attempt to revive Cotton with a Rotax 125cc machine of monocoque construction named the Cotton Centaur.  Designed by Jan Fellstrom, who was part of the Suzuki Katana design project, the design does bear some resemblance to the Katana.  Only one prototype was made and it is owned by a Club member.



The Prototype "Cotton Centaur" - Note the Katana-Style Influences.


There is little published information regarding the final days of Cotton Motorcycle manufacturing and this era is under-represented era in the Club's archives.  To help me build this webpage further, I would appreciate any information on Cotton motorcycles during the Rotax era. If you can help, please contact Barry at