The Classic Motorcycle
Matchless and BSA
Edward Clifford has emailed two photographs of his father, also Edward, via Suffolk classic motorcycle dealer Andy Tiernan, for identification. One is a military shot taken circa 19481950, when Edward Clifford senior served with the Royal Warwickshires, and the other, a little later.
Other details apart, the timing chain cover and girder front fork identifies the military machine as a Matchless G3 (G3WO).
The War Office first evaluated the 347cc ohv single cylinder Matchless in 1935.
During 10,000 miles of hard, all-terrain use, the Plumsteadbuilt machine needed a new gearbox and sprockets before the trial was over. Transmission problems apart, the Matchless must have impressed, as the WO ordered modest batches of the model over the following three years. During this time, AMC improved and updated the model and the MEE (Mechanised Experimental Establishment) tested the G3 again in 1937, noting less wear and better reliability over the 1935 machine.
In 1940, AMC supplied one civilian G3 along with other models ex stock, and testing of 250 and 500cc models also took place, alongside a WO desire to reduce the weight of the G3, work which would lead to the G3L.
In the lead up to the Second World War, the WO ordered 340 G3s early summer, delivered in batches of 50. These retained the civilian-style tank with instrument panel. The large orders started with demands for 4000 then 2000 machines, all with panel in tank.
Modifications and updates continued, some minor and others visible, including the dropping of tanks with panels after these two, large batches. From the batch of 340 machine onwards, the military G3s bore engine codes with a season and WO prefix, eg 40 - G3WO - xxxxx or 41 - G3WO - xxxxxx. This isn’t quite as helpful to historians as it sounds, as there was year/ season overlap!
Figures confirm over 18,000 G3WOs were delivered to the military from October 1939 through to summer 1941, after which the lighter ohv 347cc Matchless G3L with telescopic front fork was demanded by the War Office.
However, many G3WOs remained in service with the British and Allied forces in many theatres of war until the end of hostilities, and examples were still in military use until the early to mid-1950s.
One imagines as a late teenager Edward senior
(b.1930) was using one of these models, hence the delightful period photo. Not only did he have a good machine, but he’d have had petrol for military use too, when the rest of the country was under strict rationing. Let’s hope he had some fun with his WO ‘Matchbox.’
The civilian machine pictured is a single cylinder BSA B31 (348cc) or B33 (499cc), with plunger rear suspension. The photo angle limits dating precisely, but as it has a plunger (sprung frame), which was introduced in late 1948 for the 1949 season, it is reasonable to guess it being a 1949 season to early 1950s machine. And keeping with the military theme, although your father’s Beesa single is most definitely a civilian model, it has a military forebear.
Historically, Val (Valentine) Page joined BSA from Triumph to oversee the redesign and modernisation of the factory’s range. A polite, often quiet man, Page learned his trade at JAP of Tottenham at a time they were advancing their engine designs almost weekly, then worked for Ariel at Selly Oak, before Triumph. As well as dropping some of the small volume production models, Page rationalised BSA’s complex model classification system – if it could be called a system at all… And before you reach for your laptops in fits of pique, it’s worth noting I am a BSA admirer and owner!
Val’s classification divided the models into the B range (250s and 350s), M range
(350s to 600s) and the V-twin range. Of interest in the context of our feature are the 350cc (71x88mm) B23 sv, and B24
-26 ohv machines marketed 1937-39. For the reduced 1940 range, the sv 350cc became the C12 (nothing to do with later C12 250cc) and one ohv 350 remained as the B29.
In the scramble for motorcycles for the military, BSA supplied – or were demanded to supply – any 350cc B29s to the WO. It’s believed as many as 167 were sent from BSA’s Small Heath factory to either Colchester or Catterick Camp, where these civilian models were repainted before being pressed into service. As well as setting up to supply BSA M20s in large numbers and huge amount of armaments, armament parts, ammunition and much more for the war effort, BSA was instructed to build a prototype 350cc machine weighing under 350lb but offering brisk performance.
Unsurprisingly, Small Heath looked no further than their 1940 season B29 with its Val Page-designed 348cc singlecylinder engine. Tested and approved with demanded modifications led to the pre
production B30 (WB30) which underwent at least 5000 miles of testing.
Due to aluminium restrictions, the machine had an iron head and other iron parts which could have been cast in aluminium, adding a few pounds in weight. An initial order of 50 machines was demanded, 48 for British forces and two to the Canadians. These were delivered in late 1940 and reports imply the WO, riders and mechanics were delighted with the WB30.
The WO then placed an order for a large number of the 348cc ohv B30s (possibly as many as 10,000 or even upwards of that figure) then, without warning or explanation, changed this to 10,000 sv M20s. Bizarrely, BSA was ordered to send a further B30 to AMC. One naughtily wonders if to help with development of the Matchless G3L…
War over, BSA was soon in production with its civilian models, initially the 249cc C10 sv and C11 ohv lightweights and the 496cc BSA M20, all heavily based on pre Second World War design and the military M20.
The first new model, introduced for the 1946 season, was the 348cc (71 x 88mm) BSA B31.
New it may have been…
But new it wasn’t! Its engine comprised a BSA M20 type bottom end topped off with an iron barrel, pushrods in a neat tunnel and ohv rocker gear – in fact, Val Page engine design and a close look confirms the entire model was very like the military WB30, updated with telescopic front fork in place of girders and civilian clothing. And the WB30 can be traced back directly to
Val Page’s 1937 launch model B series 350s.
The civilian B31 was soon joined (in January 1946) by a competition version, the B32 and the larger 499cc (85 x 88mm) B33, looking near identical to the B31 in spring 1947, closely followed by a competition version, the
B34. Later the B33 engine was planted into the M20/21 chassis to create the M33. The first postwar Gold Star, developed from the B31, was unveiled at the 1948 Earls Court Show as the ZB32, although it is known a few racing models also developed from the B31/33 had earlier appeared as privateer entries with modest results.