American Eagle arrived on the USA motocross scene in 1967 with a big ad budget and small racing team (that included a young Brad Lackey). But, in truth, there was no American Eagle motorcycle factory. The American Eagle was a private-label bike built at Sprite Developments in Oldbury, England, by former racer Frank Hipkin. Brits could buy the bike as the Sprite 405 Talon. Americans were offered the bike as the American Eagle 405 Talon. Australians knew it as the Alron 405, and Belgians thought it was the BVM 405. All the bikes were identical, with the exception of the American bikes having “American Eagle” cast into the engine case. Amazingly, all the different national distributors tried to pretend that the Sprites were designed in their home countries. It wasn’t until many years later that each country learned the truth about the “other” Sprites.
Originally, Sprite sold a kit bike that was a rolling chassis, sans engine, to avoid Great Britain’s purchase tax. But, they switched to fully assembled machines for export. Sprites were offered as trials, scrambles and motocross machines. There were three American Eagle models—the 125 Sachs, 250 Kawasaki or 405 with a Husqvarna engine or Italian Husqvarna-clone engine. Some had aluminum tanks and some had orange plastic-style tanks.
What was most distressing about the clone engineering behind the $1195 American Eagle 405 Talon was that the engine itself was a clone. It was an Italian-built copy of a late-1960s, four-speed, 399c Husqvarna engine. Many Husqvarna parts would fit in the Italian engine, but not all. Additionally, the Talon had a Sprite-built fork that was a direct copy of a Ceriani fork. Sprite Developments in England experienced rapid growth from 1964 to 1974. Owner Frank Hipkin started building lightweight Reynolds-tubing frame kits for Villiers, Triumph 500 twins, Triumph Cubs, Husqvarnas, Maicos and Sachs 125s. Motorcycle production ceased in 1974. Sprite Development still exists today, but it builds RVs and motorhomes.
Amazingly enough, if Frank Hipkin had kept the Sprite motorcycle company small, he might have lasted longer. Success killed the Sprite, Talon, Alron and BVM. When Hipkin started exporting Sprites in large numbers, the British government closed the tax loopholes that Sprite was using and, following the collapse of the U.S. American Eagle distributor (Galaxy Wholesale in Garden Grove, California), the financial losses were too great for Sprite Development to absorb.
For more info go to the Early Years of Motocross Museum site at www.earlyyearsofmx.com