The Rockford Motors History

This content was buried in an archived version of Jim Trader's old Bridgestone Motorcycles website. No authorship credit was given for it, and it does not appear to be online anywhere else, so it may be his own original work. He is no longer living, so it is impossible to find out for sure. I improved the formatting but left most of the typos and grammatical errors in place when copying it here. – Mike Brown, May 2018

Having been around Bridgestone motorcycles since 1965, there has always been a mystery and an inaccurate account of the history of Rockford Motors, in writing this article I hope to clear up these inaccurate accounts and to take away the mystery behind Rockford Motors.

In late 1954 a management group Free Westinghouse formed a corporation named Rockford Sewing Machine Company, to import the Happy brand sewing machines from Japan, to be sold by Montgomery Wards with the brand name of Signature. Later that year the group asked Lewis C. "Lew" Emery to join the company. Lew joined the company and bought 50% of the company stock, and was named President.

The company handled all aspects of the sewing machine distribution network, including videotape production of proper servicing of the Signature line of machines.

While on a sewing machine related trip to Japan Lew noticed how popular motor scooters where in Japan. On his return trip from Japan, Lew approached Montgomery Wards to see if they were interested in selling motor scooters through there tire, battery and auto centers & their retail catalog to compete with the Sears Roebuck's scooter line. Wards agreed.

From this in 1956 Rockford Scooter, Inc. was formed at 1300 Railroad Ave. in Rockford, Illinois, and started importing from Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan the motor scooter line-up called the Silver Pigeon.

With the American scooter market feeling that anything out of Japan was of poor quality, Wards requested that all scooters be labeled as Riverside's. All scooters that were imported to Rockford was taken out of the crate and the Silver Pigeon logos & decals were removed and replaced with the Riverside logo. At this same time Rockford Scooter, Inc. started a small American dealer network and Rockford labeled their units with a Rockford logo.

This agreement lasted till 1962 when the decline of scooter sales and Montgomery Wards pulling out of their agreement and Rockford Scooter, Inc. wanting to supply their small dealer network with a small Step-Thru type machine to compete with the arrival of the Honda Step-Thru model. Rockford Scooter, Inc. approached Bridgestone Tire Co. of Japan; one of the worlds largest bicycle manufactures, to import their new line of scooters & motorcycles.

An agreement was formed that Rockford Scooter, Inc. would have the exclusive rights to sell & market the Bridgestone line up in America. Once again Rockford formed another agreement with Montgomery Wards to also sell the Bridgestone line up in their stores. With the Japanese image still as poor quality Wards asked that the units to be relabeled, thus the name Surf Rider was applied.

Thus Rockford Scooter built a very state-of-the-art motorcycle dealer network for its time:

  1. Implementing a over night national WATS (Wide Area Telephone Service) parts ordering system.
  2. Implementing a nation wide parts distribution system consisting of sub distributors.
  3. Offered the first full time training center & mobile training centers for motorcycle mechanics.
  4. The first industry computerized inventory control system.
  5. The first coast to coast closed circuit TV dealer sales meeting.

With Bridgestone deciding in late 1963 to stop producing the Homer series, Rockford started importing another brand of scooter to replace the Homer series. The unit was only known as the Rockford P80 scooter. The Popet Company made the unit in Japan. Only lasting a few years Rockford dropped the line when Bridgestone introduced the 90 series.

In late 1965 Rockford seen a need for a pure performance machine that could compete in American Dirt Track racing and persuaded the Bridgestone factory to build a 90 & 175 racer.The units were released in 1966 and was an immediate success and even winning the famed Daytona International race in 1966.

Bridgestone ceased production of motorcycles in 1969, with Rockford Motors Inc. in need of cycles for their dealer network Rockford had Bridgestone ship the remainder of the Bridgestone 100 GP& 100 TMX, The 200 RS & SS and the Bridgestone 350 GTO & GTR with a vast supply of unpainted fuel & oil tanks & left side covers. From 1970 to 1973 Rockford had all the painted parts finished in Rockford, Illinois. All the Rockford Painted tanks would not have the signature Bridgestone chrome & painted tanks.

In 1971 Rockford started production of Rockford Cycles, that was built in Japan by The Tanaka Kogyo Co. Ltd. The power plants of the Rockford Cycles were copies of the Bridgestone 60 & 100cc motors. The quality & dependability was no Bridgestone and the writing was on the wall. The Rockford Cycle production ended in 1975.

In 1973 Rockford Motors started importing the Zundapp & MCB motorcycles from Germany and Sweden this only lasted till 1975.

Even though most people write and suggest that it was a Rockford Motors management or a Bridgestone Tire Company decision to focus on the tire industry that Bridgestone quit producing motorcycles, with the truth being the Rockford Motors management was as strong as any motorcycle importer in the United States and Bridgestone's political pressure to stop producing motorcycles that was depleting Japan's natural resources that the end of this great motorcycle marquee ended.

Bridgestone Motorcycles pages by Mike J. Brown