Flashback 2 – The Moulton Mini Automatic

Flashback is a new series of short articles on aspects of Moulton bicycle history. In presenting these pieces, and with a view to improving our knowledge of the marque, I would welcome your feedback and comments. It is some 16 years since I wrote The Moulton Bicycle and much interesting information has come to light since then. Also, the passing of time changes our perspective in subtle ways. Therefore any contributions would be greatly appreciated.

The Mini Automatic M8 was Moulton Bicycle’s direct response to the Raleigh RSW 16. It was the first interpretation of the 14″ wheel Moulton to be fitted with adult components and is arguably the most collectable of the “Minis”. The RSW 16 (Raleigh Small Wheels 16 inch) was introduced in July 1965. The launch cost an unprecedented £100,000, equivalent to about £1m today. The machine was targeted principally against the Moulton Deluxe, offering an ostensibly similar specification (large holdall, hub gears, lighting, propstand, universal frame and smooth ride) but for 4 guineas (£4.20) less.

Closer inspection reveals that the key features of the two machines differed in a number of respects, as the following table shows:

Feature RSW 16 Moulton Deluxe M2
(1965 “New Look” model)
Price 29 guineas (£30.45) 33 guineas (£34.65)
Weight (approx) 44 lb 38.5 lb
Gears S-A AW 3-speed, twist-grip control S-A FW 4-speed, trigger control
Bags & carriers Quick-release rear holdall (doubled as shopping bag) and rear carrier only Rear holdall and rear carrier. Provision for optional frame-fixed front carrier
Lighting S-A GH6 Dynohub set Miller rim dynamo set
Frame adjustability Modelled on average female Modelled on average adult male
Comfort No suspension, 2″ section balloon tyres running at 35psi, plus fully sprung mattress saddle Dual suspension, 1 3/8″ section tyres running at 50-60psi plus semi-sprung mattress saddle

But to the uninformed average punter it seemed that Raleigh were offering a well-finished Moulton-like machine for 7/8 the price. By a curious coincidence mean female height is approximately 7/8 that for males, and Raleigh had identified the British housewife as the archetypal user of utility Moultons. Hence the RSW 16 was ergonomically optimised for female adults. This contrasted with the 16″ wheel Moulton, “designed to a module which matched the average size of the adult male (1). The Moulton response to the RSW 16 was a new frame 7/8 the size of the original, that incorporated production engineering techniques to reduce manufacturing costs. The principal changes were

  • All frame joints used edge brazing only, without pop riveting.
  • Parallel sided round tubing used for all members except the flat sided main beam. (No tapered tubes.)
  • Fork ends pressed from fork tubes rather than brazed in, with rear entry used for the back wheel.
  • For the rear suspension a simple compression only rubber element in a “clapper box” replaced the bonded rubber compression/shear system of the original Moulton.

The wheels used were 14″, this being 7/8 the diameter of the 16″ originals. Again, special adult-quality Dunlop Sprite-derived 13/8″ ribbed tyres were produced (ETRTO code 37-298), although standard juvenile 14 x 13/8″ tyres could also be used. Special Dunlop 28 hole adult-quality E2J format rims with dimpled spoke holes were also made, although these were not used in the Mini Automatic. The wheelbase was reduced by 5½” to 39″.

The 7/8 scale Moulton was launched early in 1966 as the Mini M7. This was equipped with fittings suitable for children. Release of the first 14″ wheel Moulton for adult use, the Mini Automatic, followed a few months later at the end of June 1966.

The Mini Automatic used 1¼” wide Milremo alloy rims, apparently of the same section used on the Speedsix. The rear hub was the Fichtel & Sachs Duomatic two-speed semi-automatic coaster, as used in later Stowaways and the Moulton Automatic. A Miller rim dynamo, foot activated, provided the lighting and was bolted to a brazed-on bracket on the left blade of the rear fork. On the underside of the rear fork was a propstand, also mounted on a brazed-on fitting. The left blade of the front fork had a continental-type sliding fork lock of the same type used on the Automatic.

On the rear carrier was a typical Moulton holdall, adapted for the smaller machine. According to the brochure, this contained a removable liner – a response to the quick-release holdall of the RSW. I have never seen this removable liner and would be interested to know whether any other member has.

The general arrangement drawings of the Mini frame show a frame-fixed front carrier, mounted using a single horizontal bolt through the main beam. Certainly some, if not all, Mini Automatics had this mounting point but the front carrier for the smaller Moultons was never marketed.

Most of the other components were typical of utility Moultons of this period. The “all rounder” handlebars, however, are worthy of comment, being short reach and narrow.

The Mini Automatic, finished in “gold lustre”, sold for 29½ guineas (£30.98), almost the same as the RSW 16. It weighed about 36 lb, fully equipped. Thus it was some 8 lb lighter than the RSW 16, 2½ lb lighter than the 1965 Moulton Deluxe and 5 lb heavier than the basic Mini.

Unfortunately the Mini Automatic did not enjoy the sales success of either the RSW 16 or the earlier utility Moultons. Within a year it had been discontinued, its place, and that of the 16″ wheel Moulton Standard, being taken by the Super 4. Today good examples are quite rare. I have owned one in the past. Although it was too small for me to ride comfortably, I liked it more than most 14″ wheel Moultons.