1960 Royal Enfield Constellation

If Royal Enfields were ‘made like a gun’, the 1960 Constellation was heavy artillery.Just how powerful an impact the Honda CB750 would’ve made on the Britbike-buying public of the 1960s was impressed on me the moment ‘Papu’ Ramaswamy jumped on the kickstarter of his 1960 Royal Enfield Constellation. 

A 700 CC four-stroke parallel twin can pack enough compression to pop the kneecap of a five-and-a-half foot, self-start-accustomed wimp like me, so I unhesitatingly let Papu (whose little CB175 we featured in our November 2002 issue) start the big green monster. The repeated whumpp! of that hefty lump cranking over was punctuated by the owner’s pithy “This is a bitch to start.” 

And then it fired. The immediate few cubic metres of atmosphere were mauled by a sound not unlike, I imagine, a battery of WWII ack-ack guns. It took just those few awed seconds for me to comprehend why Brits till today whine that Japanese multicylinder bikes “have no soul” – and why also they, along with the rest of the world, rushed in droves to buy those very rice-rockets.

In India, of course, the marque needs no introduction, though its detailed history would intrigue even many a Bullet Club member. To put the Constellation in perspective, think Bullet x 2. It even looks pretty similar,
though with a pair of exhaust headers. But riding it is more than just x 2 – the Constellation puts out a solid 50 bhp. Manhandle the twistgrip and your impudence is converted into an immense rumbling push, building up to a full 172 kph rated top. The Smiths speedo is (very optimistically) marked up to 150 mph! And mind you, this is a streetable bike, not high-strung like, say, a Velocette Venom. 

That strong kick in the rear is enough to make you forget the Connie’s spartan equipment, swapped levers – and yes, those relatively feeble brakes so reminiscent of the thumper half of India grew up with. Handling, too, is Bullet-stable, what with the single-downtube frame and 3.25/3.50-19 rubber.

Enfield’s first twin, the 500 CC Meteor built to take on Triumph’s Speed Twin, had made an appearance a good while back, in 1948. In 1955, it was upgraded to 700 CC as the Super Meteor, and then by 1958, into the twin-carb Constellation. 

But the Constellation was not the biggest Enfield there was – that distinction goes to its successor, the 750 CC Interceptor of 1963. Some Enfield enthusiasts are of the opinion that, in Mk 2 guise, it was one of the best British twins ever made.Conceivably, the world might have even seen volcanic litre-twins if the company itself, like a hundred others from fish’n’chip land, hadn’t gone completely phut, just three years after moving out of the Redditch factory in 1967 to Bradford-on-Avon. 

Right now, 700 CC of chest-thumping British boost is enough for me. Still, I can’t help
wondering what things would have been like if some quirk of fate had brought it to the assembly line at Tiruvottiyur...