At a recent motorcycle show, I came across a 1937 Levis 600 cc and although I had heard of the brand before, I did not know much of the history of the company. It started with Howard “Bob” Newey who was a designer for Norton motorcycles of England. He built a two-stroke motorcycle prototype in the Norton workshops, but James Norton passed on the motorcycle.
The rejection did not stop Newey from moving forward with his design. In 1911, he joined Arthur, Billy and Daisy Butterfield, who were building bicycles at the time, to start the Levis motorcycle company. The word Levis come from the Latin word meaning light, and the manufacturer found solid success in the lightweight class of motorcycles.
The Levis became popular for a number of reasons. First, they were light enough so they were manageable, but still had a large enough engine and sufficient enough power to carry a passenger without pedaling. Next, they were designed well so they were reliable, required a comparatively low amount of maintenance, and were easy enough for a novice to operate.
The company’s first model was a two-stroke 211 cc that produced 3 hp that weighed in at 120 lbs. By 1920, the company had dialed in the motorcycles’ performance to win in the Isle of Man TT Lightweight class first to third places in 1920, second place in 1921, and again first place in 1922. After these wins the company adopted the slogan, “The Master Two-Stroke.”
In 1928, the company added four-stroke models, which found success in off-road competition. The displacements offered were a 350 cc, 500 cc and 600 cc (the bike in the pictures is a 1937 600cc). Although the company stopped production in 1940, the rights to the brand were purchased in 2014, but there has not been anything definitive announced on the revival of the motorcycle company.