Matchless Motorcycles and AJS Motorcycles were, for most of their history, essentially rebadged versions of the same machines. Collectively owned by Associated Motor Cycles (AMC), the two brands were operated like Ford & Mercury, or Dodge & Plymouth, in an early version of “badge engineering”. Together, they enjoyed a rich history that spanned from 1899 to the 1966 collapse of AMC & beyond.
STARTED WITH BICYCLES
Established by Henry Herbert Collier as ‘Collier & Sons’, with sons Charlie & Henry, Matchless Motorcycles started out making bicycles, as did so many makers of Classic British Motorcycles. They built their first prototype motorcycle in 1899 & had it in production by 1901. In 1905 the produced a JAP V-twin powered bike with one of the earliest versions of rear swing arm suspension in motorcycle history.
THE EARLY YEARS
Then they started racing. In 1907, son Charlie won the Inaugural TT Singles Race at an average speed of 38.21 mhp (blistering speed, at the time). His brother Harry won in 1909 & Charlie won again in 1910. At the time, they were building mostly singles, with a few V-twins for sidecar duty. Up until this point, Matchlesses were built using other manufacturers’ engines, but starting in 1912, Matchless began building their own engines. WWI came & went without Matchless getting any military contracts to build motorcycles for the War Department. But, in 1919 production resumed with Matchless building a new V-twin & in 1923 a new single. The father died in 1926, leaving a vibrant family-run business behind. In 1930, Charlie designed a narrow-angle (26-degrees) 400cc V-twin, the Matchless Silver Arrow. They expanded this into a 600cc V-4 in 1931.
MATCHLESS BUYS AJS
Also in 1931, Matchless Motorcycles bought AJS Motorcycles from the Stevens brothers, then in the late 1930s bought Sunbeam Motorcycles also, which it would later sell to BSA in 1943. The “only true AJS models”, ie: those that weren’t rebadged Matchless Motorcycles, were the racing AJS 7R, AJS Porcupine & the pre-war AJS Four. From this point on, all Matchless & AJS Motorcycles would be mechanically identical, with different ‘appearance packages’.
A SUPPLIER OF ENGINES
In 1933, Matchless Motorcycles began supplying V-twin engines to the Morgan Car Company for their cute little 3-wheeled cars & became the exclusive supplier by 1935. From 1935 to 1940, Matchless V-twins were supplied to Brough Superior for all their motorcycles (albeit reengineered to Brough’s specifications). In 1935, Matchless engineers invented the ‘hairpin valve springs’ that would become a trademark of the 2 brands.
AMC IS BORN
In 1938, Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) is formed, to hold a stable of brands that included not only Matchless Motorcycles & AJS Motorcycles, but soon, Sunbeam Motorcycles, James Motorcycles, Francis-Barnett Motorcycles & ultimately Norton Motorcycles.
In 1941, Matchless & AJS introduced their new telescopic front fork, called “Teledraulic”, to rave reviews. WWII saw Matchless Motorcycles build 80,000 Matchless G3 & G3L machines. The post-war singles were based on the wartime Matchless G3L. 1949 saw the company’s first vertical twin, the 500cc Matchless G45. In 1956 it was enlarged to 600cc and in 1959 to 650cc.
In racing, the supercharged AJS Porcupine, Matchless G50 & AJS 7R were winning races & helping to cement Matchless & AJS Motorcycles as fast, dependable machines. In 1952, Derek Farrant won the Manx GP on a 1952 Matchless G45 twin averaging 88.65mph. AMC withdrew from racing at the end of the 1954 season, concentrating on sales. But, unlike most manufacturers, Matchless & AJS were selling pretty much the same race bikes to the public that the factory had fielded. And their sales of race bikes continued long after the factory stopped racing. The 1959 Matchless G50 500cc single, for instance, had 50 hp, would do 135 mph and was faster than a Norton Manx. When Bert Hopwood left AMC for Triumph in 1961, some of the racing magic faded.
By 1960, the handwriting was on the wall: sales were down and the future looked bleak for AMC. Between their 5 once-proud brands, Matchless, AJS, James, Francis-Barnett & Norton, only Norton was actually making money. The decision was made to drop everything but the Matchless/AJS singles & focus everything on Norton Motorcycles. The singles never sold well, even Norton sales weren’t as strong as hoped, and by 1966, AMC was in bankruptcy. Manganese Bronze Holdings (who also owned Villiers Motorcycles) bought them out, forming a new company, Norton-Villiers, with ambitious plans to become big players in the British motorcycles industry. They planned to do this with a new motorcycle: The Norton Commando. The rest is history.
But for Matchless and AJS Motorcycles, a few 1967s were sold and some lingering models and licensing deals produced a few more bikes scattered here and there. Alas, all we have is our memories…and of course some wonderful motorcycles that have been lovingly cared for and/or restored…and all these gorgeous photos! Enjoy.
Matchless Motorcycles MODEL-BY-MODEL
MATCHLESS G3 / AJS Model 16
250cc: G2,G2CS / Model 14,14CS
350cc: G3,G3L,G3LC,G3LS,G3LCS,G3LCT, G3C,G3CS / 16M,16MC,16MS,16MCS,16MCT,16
Like all Matchless & AJS Motorcycles, these 350cc singles were mechanically identical & varied only cosmetically.
1948-1958; 498cc parallel twin
Matchless always famous for their singles, first ventured into twin territory with this sweet, well-engineered 500 twin. It’s sister-bike was the AJS Model 20.
At the top of the Matchless product lineup was the 650cc G11 vertical twin. A very nice bike & smoother than most other Brit twins because of its center main bearing.
Matchless’s 500 twin road racer was fast, robust & reliable. It also had something that no other British vertical twin had: a center main bearing.
MATCHLESS G80 / AJS Model 18
500cc OHV single
AJS: Models 18,18C,18S,18C
Like all Matchless & AJS Motorcycles, the Matchless G80 & the AJS Model 18 were mechanically identical, just varied cosmetically.
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