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Rare British GP racing bike up for auction

AJS E90 ‘Porcupine’ could fetch $US425k

An extremely rare 1940s AJS 497cc E90 ‘Porcupine’ Grand Prix racing motorcycle is being offered for the first time at auction and expected to fetch as much as $US425,000.

The bike, previously owned by post-war AJS works rider Ted Frend, will be a highlight of the Bonhams Summer Stafford Sale on 2 July, 2021.

The first 500cc World Championship in 1949 was won by an E90 piloted by Frend’s fellow works rider Les Graham. It was his and AJS’s first and only world title.

It was dubbed the Porcupine by the era’s motorcycle press due to its distinctive spiked ‘head’ finning.

Only a handful of E90s were built by the British firm, purely for its works team.

Frend, who earned a gold star at Brooklands for lapping its outer circuit at more than 100mph (160km/h) on his Vincent-HRD Rapide, was signed up by AJS in 1947 after his fourth place finish in that year’s Isle of Man TT.

He was the first rider to win on the Porcupine at the 1947 Hutchinson 100 race.

Dunholme Lodge Airfield, 1947, 100-Mile Hutchinson Race
Dunholme Lodge Airfield, 1947, 100-Mile Hutchinson Race

Development on the E90 continued over the next couple of years, while the motorcycle picked up 18 world speed records and a number of podium finishes before reaching its 1949 zenith. Graham won two of the six championship races, the Swiss and Ulster Grand Prix, securing the rider’s trophy, while teammate Bill Doran rode to victory in Belgium to ensure AJS’ manufacturer’s title.

Despite its successes, the E90 was plagued by various problems concerning carburetion and its magneto – a magneto shaft failure caused Graham to retire from the 1949 Isle of Man Senior TT, which he was leading, two minutes from the finish. In 1952, its successor, the E95, was introduced, with a revised engine and new frame. Although the spikes disappeared the Porcupine name stuck. The E95 had a dream debut, with a one-two finish in the season-opening Swiss Grand Prix.

Between 1949 and 1954, the Porcupine, in E90 and E95 guise, finished 24 races, securing five wins, seven 2nd places and one World Championship. Ted commented that “for its day, the Porcupine had lots of potential, but its development did not keep pace with the opposition.” In total, only four complete E90 and four E95 motorcycles were produced, along with an unknown number of spare engines.

Ted Frend, who left the AJS team in 1950, also finished his racing career in 1954 to concentrate on his sheet metal business. He maintained that the Porcupine’s glory year was 1949, not just for its World Championship win, but also for holding its own against the more powerful rival Gileras and early MV motorcycles. He said: “At Spa, I managed third place, splitting the Gileras. Masetti, Pagani [Gilera riders] and I were the first to average over 100mph for a full Grand Prix.”

The motorcycle offered was found as a collection of parts in the estate of Ted Frend when he died in 2006. It was his friend and neighbour Ken Senior who acquired the Porcupine and other motorcycle-related possessions from the executors, including Ted’s TT trophies, also offered in the Summer Stafford Sale. Senior oversaw the Porcupine’s rebuild, with missing parts custom made.

Bonhams Collectors’ Motorcycles International Department Director Ben Walker says  only two other examples have been offered for sale publicly, both of which Bonhams sold for world record prices at the time.

“With the few known examples being in the world-famous Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, the Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum or in the possession of private collectors, this is an extremely exciting, once in a generation opportunity to buy a much coveted and sought-after machine,” he says.

The Porcupine leads the Ken Senior Collection of 90 plus motorcycles which are among 650 lots at the auction, including collector motorcycles, bicycles, spares and memorabilia 2 to 4 July, 2021.

Other highlights include a 1940 Brough Superior 1,096cc 11-50HP (£60,000 – 75,000) and the Ron Cody Collection of 48 motorcycles, mostly MV Agustas, a significant Norton collection.