STRONG BREW

Match­less man Ian Massey likes his AMC ma­chines to be tra­di­tional and flavour­some, so a 500 sin­gle should be just his cup of tea. But wait! There’s some­thing wrong with this Match­less. It’s, erm, an AJS…

Real Classic - - Ajs Model 18 - Pho­tos by Fiona Burgess

I’ve heard it said by Match­less afi­ciona­dos that AJS bikes were built with the bits re­jected by Match­less qual­ity con­trol, while AJS fans reckon that AMC used the best 10% of their parts to as­sem­ble Ajays. Both tales are I’m sure apoc­ryphal non­sense, myths and fairy tales. How­ever this does go to show just what a strong fol­low­ing these two mar­ques had in­di­vid­u­ally. Back in the day you were ei­ther an AJS devo­tee or a Match­less fan. Never mind that the bikes were vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal and had trav­elled down the same pro­duc­tion line, only to have one or other iden­tity con­ferred on them by the man with the num­ber and let­ter stamps and the guy who screwed on the badges. Who knows now what process de­cided which bikes would have which iden­ti­ties? AMC started down the road to badge-en­gi­neer­ing way back in the 1930s, long be­fore BMC and Bri­tish Ley­land did some­thing sim­i­lar. Af­ter the war the dif­fer­ences be­came less and less.

It wasn’t al­ways this way. Prior to the de­pres­sion of the 1930s, AJS and Match­less were en­tirely sep­a­rate com­pa­nies. The Col­lier broth­ers built Match­less mo­tor­cy­cles in Lon­don and pro­duced some fine, in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ma­chines in­clud­ing early TT win­ners. By the late 1920s their range con­sisted of ma­chines from 250cc to 1000cc with side or over­head valves, and one to four cylin­ders. The Match­less V-twin 1000 mo­tor was even sold to Ge­orge Brough for his em­i­nently su­pe­rior ma­chines, as well as be­ing used by Mor­gan to power their three-wheeled sports cars. Of course it was also used by Match­less them­selves in their Model X.

By the mid-1930s, Match­less Mo­tor­cy­cles Ltd had pro­duced a cou­ple of very tech­ni­cally in­ter­est­ing, in­line, nar­row an­gle V-en­gine ma­chines, the V-twin 400cc Sil­ver Ar­row and the 600cc V-four Sil­ver Hawk. Both were so­phis­ti­cated ma­chines but un­for­tu­nately too ex­otic for the cash-strapped 1930s biker.

Mean­while, up in Wolver­hamp­ton, the Stevens broth­ers were pro­duc­ing their own ex­cel­lent prod­ucts. AJS may have been a lit­tle later com­ing to the party but be­tween 1909 and1930 they be­came fa­mous com­peti­tors in the TT races, with 250, 350 and 500cc sin­gles achiev­ing much suc­cess, es­pe­cially the 350 cammy sin­gles. In the 1930s AJS pro­duced a 1000cc blower V-en­gine ma­chine for an at­tempt at the world speed record. How­ever, by then AJS’s golden years of the 1920s were be­hind them and, as they en­tered the hard times of the 30s, they found them­selves hope­lessly overex­tended, hav­ing ex­panded into the pro­duc­tion of side­cars, a light car, com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles and even wire­less sets.

In 1931 AJS went into liq­ui­da­tion and was bought by Match­less. So it was that AJS, one of the newer mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers, was amal­ga­mated with one of the old­est. Match­less had won three TTs be­fore AJS had even be­gun pro­duc­tion! AJS pro­duc­tion was moved to Wool­wich to be pro­duced along­side Match­less, with per­haps the most in­di­vid­ual AJS of the pe­riod be­ing the rare V-four ma­chine. Soon the ranges be­gan to run down the pro­duc­tion line to­gether, and by the end of the decade the sin­gles had much in com­mon.

WW2 bought pro­duc­tion of most mod­els to an end and AMC (As­so­ci­ated Mo­tor Cy­cles since 1937) fo­cused on the Match­less G3 350. Some 80,000 were pro­duced dur­ing the

con­flict for the forces’ despatch rid­ers and the ma­chine quickly found favour with the Don Rs… es­pe­cially af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the Tele­draulic front fork in 1941, mak­ing the com­pany first in the field with this de­sign. It was this ma­chine, proven and re­li­able, which be­came the bike that AMC of­fered for peace­time pro­duc­tion.

With no time to think about fresh de­signs for 1945, a range of four ma­chines was de­cided upon: sin­gle-cylin­der 350 and 500 mod­els called the 16M and 18M un­der the AJS badge and G3 and G80 for Match­less. So the post-war range of badge en­gi­neered sin­gles came into be­ing and would con­tinue in one form or another vir­tu­ally to the ul­ti­mate demise of the com­pany in the mid-1960s.

I be­lieve that mo­tor­cy­clists are ba­si­cally tribal by na­ture and fiercely loyal to their cho­sen mar­que. That’s how AMC pro­duced vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal ma­chines for buyers of both brands, with each cus­tomer be­ing con­vinced their cho­sen brand was bet­ter than the other. Me? I’m a Match­less fan through and through. Over the years I’ve owned most of the post­war mod­els, al­ways be­ing fiercely proud of the winged ‘M’ mo­tif and mostly pleased with the bikes I’ve owned.

My one dab­ble into AJS ter­ri­tory was a 500 twin of a slightly rough dis­po­si­tion. That was bought be­cause a Match­less G80, c1958, which I had hoped to buy from my un­cle had been sold with­out ref­er­ence to me. The 500 twin re­mained the only AJS I have ever owned… un­til re­cently. You see, that G80 500 sin­gle re­mained the ob­ject of my dreams for the last forty years. When I’ve had the money, one hasn’t been avail­able. Or when I’ve seen a nice one, I haven’t had the money to spare.

I do own a pair of 350 Match­less sin­gles, and so pleased am I with them that even­tu­ally I no longer lusted for a 500. I was con­tent in the knowl­edge that a 500 would take more ef­fort to start, prob­a­bly not be as smooth, and be not much quicker. One of those 350s had be­longed to a good friend, Pete, who had sadly passed away some time ago and had left a large col­lec­tion of bikes. I’d been help­ing his wife to find good homes for some of Pete’s ma­chines. Dur­ing that time, a soli­tary bike stood apart from the oth­ers say­ing, ‘Hey, look at me.’

Slowly, over a cou­ple of years, this bike worked away on my sub­con­scious mind un­til I re­alised that, de­spite be­ing an AJS, this bike is the 500 sin­gle that has been miss­ing from my rid­ing life. So my Match­less twins now have a big sis­ter, although we all call her Aun­tie Ajay!

Once the deal was agreed, I ar­ranged to get both the Ajay and a 1964 Nor­ton-forked Match­less G12 CSR from the same col­lec­tion up and run­ning. I drained two gal­lons of some­what stale fuel out of the tank (my old Jag gulped it down: it never no­ticed the taste) and I re­placed it with fresh. The en­gine had wet-sumped a lit­tle dur­ing its pe­riod of stand­ing around, so all the oil was drained out and a fresh SAE 40 mono­grade poured in. With the bat­tery charged and fit­ted (it’s got coil ig­ni­tion), it was ready to start. Two kicks to draw in some fuel, then ease over TDC. Ig­ni­tion on, a good ‘swing­ing kick’ and… duff, duff, duff. The old girl was run­ning. Deep joy!

The clutch was free so pop her into gear and pot­ter up and down the drive­way. Re­sult? I am a happy, lucky, man!

The CSR was some­what more dif­fi­cult to

get go­ing as it hadn’t run this cen­tury, but that too burst into life with 20 or so kicks. Just how many kicks does the av­er­age, 60-plus bloke have in him? I was al­most on my knees when it even­tu­ally fired up, and bruised my an­kle with a cou­ple of an­gry kick­backs along the way. My how I laughed (and hob­bled) when it even­tu­ally fired up. The sound of the CSR was sharp and fe­ro­cious when com­pared with the 500, but I knew the will­ing 500 was the bike I wanted to own.

The deal was done and even­tu­ally, af­ter wait­ing 47 years, I had my 500 sin­gle, a 1958 Model 18. This bike has an in­ter­est­ing early his­tory as it spent the first four years of its life with var­i­ous own­ers on the Isle of Man. It still has its old IoM log­book and was first reg­is­tered on the main­land in 1962.

That pur­chase took place over two years ago, and since then I’ve bonded with Aun­tie Ajay. It’s been a pe­riod where I’ve spent end­less hours turn­ing a bike which ini­tially looked so promis­ing into a bike I can trust and can take any­where. Af­ter the ini­tial eu­pho­ria of pur­chase, the Model 18 was thor­oughly checked over and read­ied for its MoT (which it still needed then). The ride to the test­ing sta­tion re­sulted in a pass, which I was pleased about, but oth­er­wise it was a dis­ap­point­ing ride. The en­gine was slug­gish and rough once hot and, my, did it get hot. It also had an an­noy­ing mis­fire at low revs. It oc­curred around 25-30mph, mak­ing smooth progress at these speeds al­most im­pos­si­ble.

Also, the Model 18 was no quicker or pow­er­ful than my stan­dard 350 and my 350CS could run rings round it. The two mile jour­ney had seen the en­gine run mad hot, with the bar­rel and head smok­ing pro­fusely, burn­ing off all traces of old oil. I was glad to get her home and turn the en­gine off be­fore any real harm was done. For­tu­nately Aun­tie Ajay is a strong old girl and, once she’d been left to cool down, she seemed none the worse for her mis­ad­ven­ture, but clearly she wasn’t fit for pur­pose. Yet…

A cur­sory look round showed an ex­haust which was now deep blue for its first 8-10 inches. The Ajay also had a shock­ing abil­ity to back­fire on over­run, some­times draw­ing fuel into the cylin­der. Turn­ing on the ig­ni­tion would re­sult in det­o­na­tion of amaz­ing

pro­por­tions, with­out even a kick. This led me to be­lieve that the ig­ni­tion tim­ing must be badly re­tarded. Since the bike started so eas­ily, I hadn’t con­sid­ered check­ing some­thing so ba­sic as this. I had no idea if Pete had ac­tu­ally used the bike; I don’t re­mem­ber see­ing him with it. I’m guess­ing he never got to ride it as it wouldn’t go far as it was, and Pete was pretty fas­tid­i­ous.

I took the tim­ing cover off; the points gap was OK. Find TDC, poke mea­sur­ing im­ple­ment down plug­hole to find tim­ing po­si­tion be­fore TDC – and look on in amaze­ment. At the point where the con­tact breakers should be open­ing, they weren’t even near the cam tip. Clearly I’ve got it wrong; I’ll recheck with the man­ual and recheck my pro­ce­dures. Same re­sult. To get the points to the po­si­tion where they should start to open, I needed to ad­vance the cam­plate by a quar­ter inch! Now I’ve been round bikes long enough to know that a 500 sin­gle can give you a nasty bruised an­kle if too far ad­vanced. I didn’t want to spend the next cou­ple of days walk­ing with a limp, so what next?

A strong cuppa in my favourite AJS mug is what fol­lowed, with time for a think. Could the ig­ni­tion tim­ing re­ally be so far out? On re­turn from my strong brew and cog­i­ta­tions, I did a fi­nal check, took some brave pills (al­ways handy if you can find them), tick­led the carb and at­tempted a start. A hefty kick re­sulted in a first time start and the Ajay sound­ing much im­proved; less woolly and much crisper. Fully warmed up, hel­met on and off down the road for a trial. What a re­sult! The bike felt com­pletely dif­fer­ent; sharp, re­spon­sive and con­sid­er­ably more pow­er­ful, not to men­tion an en­gine which now ran at nor­mal tem­per­a­tures. A hot restart was suc­cess­ful so I parked Aun­tie in the garage and re­tired with a sat­is­fied, slightly smug smile. She still had a ten­dency to pop and bang a lit­tle on the over­run, but nonethe­less started and ran much bet­ter. A lit­tle fine-tun­ing fur­ther im­proved things.

I’m a firm be­liever that when a new bike comes into my pos­ses­sion I must build up some trust with it. That hap­pens by tak­ing it out on lit­tle runs at first, not too far from home, so that prob­lems can be sorted out when they oc­cur… as they un­doubt­edly will. My the­ory is that when a bike can achieve a run of 50 miles with­out in­ci­dent then it can go any­where. This seems to work for me. Over the next few months with the Ajay, so it proved, grad­u­ally build­ing up the miles un­til the magic 50 miles had been reached.

The electrics seemed all orig­i­nal and the charg­ing sys­tem wasn’t up to much, so I car­ried a spare, fully charged 6V bat­tery on longer runs – if one went flat and ceased to cre­ate suf­fi­cient sparks then I knew I could get home with the other. 12V bulbs and bat­ter­ies are much eas­ier to get hold of, so last I win­ter con­verted the electrics to a solid state reg­u­la­tor, 12V coil, bulbs and horn.

Another prob­lem was the low speed, in­ter­mit­tent mis­fire which would come and go. It didn’t make rides that much fun although it never got worse. I’d changed the plugs, con­denser and points; cleaned the carb and changed jets, nee­dle po­si­tions and just about any­thing else I could think about. The prob­lem re­mained so I got used to rid­ing round it and thought of it as a flat spot.

Then came the win­ter and the 12V con­ver­sion. My thanks must go to Colin Far­ring­ton, a stal­wart club mem­ber and pur­veyor of elec­tri­cal gub­bins. He pro­vided me with all the bits I needed at a rea­son­able cost, and co­pi­ous in­for­ma­tion on how to fit things… along with the pa­tience to ex­plain things more than once. Thanks Colin! I am by trade a fit­ter and welder who earns his liv­ing re­pair­ing steam lo­co­mo­tives and boil­ers, so I don’t deal with electrics much ex­cept as a hobby. I’m glad that mo­tor­cy­cle electrics on old bikes are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward and ba­sic.

I fol­lowed Colin’s in­struc­tions and the con­ver­sion went well, with good lights and a charg­ing sys­tem which works. I will change the al­ter­na­tor soon be­cause the mo­tor has to spin quite fast to get a good charge rate. I don’t like revving en­gines hard, and the al­ter­na­tor is quite old – it’s not even en­cap­su­lated in resin – and I don’t want to push my luck.

Luck def­i­nitely played a part with Aun­tie Ajay. When I took it out for the first trial on 12V, it be­came ap­par­ent that the mis­fire which had proved so dif­fi­cult to get rid of had com­pletely gone, and it hasn’t re­turned. I can only as­sume that the old 6V coil was break­ing down. I’d not con­sid­ered that ear­lier, and fit­ting a new 12V coil is the only thing which could have af­fected the run­ning. Re­sult!

I’ve had Aun­tie nearly three years now and she has set­tled down to be a use­ful and us­able mem­ber of my garage fleet. Un­til re­cently ev­ery jour­ney has seen me tweak or ad­just some­thing, un­til the bike has set­tled into be­ing a re­li­able friend I would take any­where. I’ve to­tally bonded with her and en­joy rid­ing her. I’ve now reached 65 and am tak­ing on less work, so can en­joy my bikes more.

On this year’s hol­i­day in Somerset, Aun­tie trav­elled over 300 miles around Ex­moor with­out a hic­cup. She be­haved well and has worked her way into my af­fec­tions, be­come the 500 I al­ways wanted… even though she’s not a Match­less. That’s just an ac­ci­dent of birth and that’s fine by me.

The Model 18 has prove­nance too. I’ve al­ready spo­ken of her time in the Isle of Man, and she seems to me pretty orig­i­nal. I think she’s just been re­paired as re­quired rather than re­stored. The paint­work has patina and is worn right through in places but it’s still able to hold a shine af­ter a wash and pol­ish – even if in places I’m pol­ish­ing bare metal! That’s ex­actly how I like my bikes. Aun­tie looks her age, a bit like me, and car­ries her his­tory with her.

So, back to the tribal thing: Ajay or Match­box? Aun­tie will never be a Match­less, but it’s a close thing. I’ll al­ways be a Match­less fancier at heart but I’ll keep my AJS M18 nonethe­less. I still have my two 350 sin­gles and re­cently I’ve ac­quired a Match­less G9 500cc twin, so now it’s time to com­pare sin­gle and twin.

It’s also been in­ter­est­ing to com­pare the AJS with a cheap In­dian En­field 500 Bul­let I bought last year as a run­about. The En­field is pleas­ant and has the ad­van­tage of an elec­tric leg, should I need it, but the AJS has sharper per­for­mance and much more charisma. Re­ally, who cares? This clas­sic bike hobby is a lovely way to en­joy life, happy in the knowl­edge that the bikes we own have char­ac­ter and (fail­ing a catas­tro­phe) won’t cost us a for­tune in de­pre­ci­a­tion. I’ll let you know how the G9 turns out…

I started by com­par­ing the AJS Model 18 to a strong cup of tea and that sums up the bike. It has a com­fort­ing, sooth­ing and a dis­tinct taste to it. On Ex­moor, Aun­tie would dig in at the start of a long climb and bark her way to the top; just like a steam loco, and that’s just my cup of tea. When she reaches the top and the road lev­els out she purrs like a kit­ten. What more can I ask?

A ma­chine which just about de­fines the ideal work­ing clas­sic. Tremen­dously re­li­able, great spares avail­abil­ity and a de­light to ride

By 1959, when this bike was built, AJS had aban­doned their fa­mously leak-prone pressed steel pri­mary chain­cases in favour of this neat al­loy cas­ing. The big bulge at the front houses the al­ter­na­tor

The big box houses the bat­tery and a sen­si­ble toolkit – as in, it’s sen­si­ble to carry a toolkit. Neat rear brake ad­juster, too

Prac­ti­cal touches abound. Like the gen­uinely QD rear wheel and high qual­ity sus­pen­sion, com­plete with AMC’s unique cle­vis fit­tings

Mild in the coun­try, AJS style

Ian Massey’s true love is Match­less, for no rea­son we can un­der­stand. Apart from… this is another of his bikes, a rigid comp sin­gle, and it is very very nice. Even with the AJS knee grips

The Con­cen­tric isn’t the orig­i­nal carb (and there’s noth­ing wrong with that), but all else is de­cently stock. AMC gear­box, points easy to reach, nice shiny pushrod tubes. Who could ask for more?

AMC en­gines are easy to date. This trans­lates as (have you guessed?) 1959 / Model 18

AJS 500 sin­gles re­ally are sweet ma­chines, and with their coil ig­ni­tion and al­ter­na­tor charg­ing sys­tems are easy enough to up­grade

AMC’s Tele­draulic fork was one of the first tele­scop­ics on the UK mar­ket and was al­ways good. When well set up they’re smooth and com­pli­ant, com­fort­able too. Change the oil ev­ery year or so…

AJS sin­gles of this gen­er­a­tion are still recog­nis­ably de­vel­oped from ma­chines which could be used off the road as well as on it

Two AMC sin­gles. They ride to­gether well…

Ian Massey, a happy man, plainly!

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