Classic Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons can be somewhat uncommon in North America, but there are enough around that vintage examples are not usually considered rare.
That isn’t necessarily the case with AJS and Matchless bikes, which were imported to North America from Britain in smaller numbers than those other brands.
That said, the history of AJS and Matchless is no less interesting than that of Triumph, BSA and Norton. Just how interesting is conveyed in vivid detail in the final installment of Mortons Media Group’s The Scrapbook Series IV AJS Matchless.
Common to each installment in the series, which was published one book at a time from 2008 to 2011, the AJS Matchless story is told in a softcover bookazine format printed on high quality glossy heavy bond that allows excellent detail in the antique photos, magazine clippings, technical papers, historic advertisements and other items reproduced to look like they were taped into a scrapbook.
With about 300 images and background narrative packed into 130 pages, the AJS Matchless series book is a relatively quick but a very informative read — especially if you’re like me and have had very little contact with the brands or their owners.
The Scrapbook Series IV AJS Matchless provides an insight into the story of these two firms that became one in the early part of the 20th Century.
Matchless began as a manufacturer of bicycles called H. Collier and Sons in Plumstead, southeast London. The firm built its first motorized bicycles in 1899, and its first production model bearing the Matchless name in 1901. In 1904 Charlie Collier, riding a Matchless, became the first Englishman to cover 50 miles in an hour. The Matchless name became a common sight in the winner’s circle in the early days of British motorcycle racing.
As was the case for nearly every company with manufacturing capacity, World War I ended non-military motorcycle production, but when it resumed after the war, things took off.
At about the same time as Matchless was growing into the fledgling motorcycle market, likewise the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company was building internal combustion engines in 1899.
In 1901, the first Wearwell-Stevens motorcycle was produced. By 1909, AJ Stevens Co. was formed, named after Albert John Stevens, the only one of the five brothers involved who had a middle name! In 1910, motorcycle production commenced earnest, capitalized by the fee earned by Harry Stevens for designing a 350cc single cylinder engine for Sunbeam.
Each company grew through the 1920s, and by 1930, Matchless had brought out its 400cc Silver Arrow V-twin and a sensational Silver Hawk with a 592cc overhead cam, air-cooled V-four engine, which later was developed into a supercharged, liquid-cooled racing machine.
In 1939, one of those became the first bike to top a 100mph lap at the Ulster Grand Prix.
AJS meanwhile was also making bikes with more features and more power, rolling out its first overhead cam models in 1927.
With both companies active in racing, it was only a matter of time before there was a meeting of the minds. By the end of 1931, Matchless acquired rights to the AJS name and motorcycle business and the company continued to produce both brand names from there on.
By 1969, however, hard times in the British motorcycle sector hit the firm as well and production of Matchless branded bikes ended that year. AJS nearly went extinct as well in 1974, but entrepreneur Fluff Brown took the name on and continued building AJS branded trail and motocross bikes.
Today, AJS offers eight models. In 1987, Les Harris of Triumph fame acquired the Matchless name and continued building some road bikes, but eventually that ended, as well. For additional information, visit AJS motorcycles.
The Scrapbook Series also includes:
- Title: The Scrapbook Series—Norton
- Author: Edited by James Robinson
- Published: 2011
- Publisher: Mortons Media Group, Ltd, Media Centre, Morton Way, Horncastle, Lincs, LN9 6JR
- ISBN: 978-1-906167-67-7
Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.