Traditional British singles tend to be solid, dependable workaday machines. Paul Whitney’s AJS 500 is a little bit more lively…
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‘Discretion, dignity, and an ability to cope with hard work without showing signs of stress – these are some of the essential attributes of a statesman. Thus when AJS decided to give their machines names in addition to terse designations it was fitting that they should call the 498cc Model 18 the Statesman.’
That was how the Motor Cycle described the AJS 500 single of the early 1960s, a real old fashioned, pre-unit construction British single based around a design which harked back to the 1930s. The Model 18 had been developed at a leisurely pace throughout its lifespan, acquiring a duplex frame in 1960, a full-width hub with cast-alloy brakes in 1963 and so on – but the final version was fitted with AMC’s short-stroke scrambles engine, with its cast-in pushrod tunnel, steel flywheels, and Norton oil pump, and Roadholder forks.
The result is an unusually peppy machine – not a natural Statesman, it has to be said! — and the one you see here has a particular claim to fame.
‘This bike is alleged to be the one shown in one of Bob Currie’s books’, explains Paul, although it’s now fitted with a different silencer, carb and front wheel to those shown in the older picture. However, it is fitted with an anti-wet sumping valve and it’s missing the oil tank level transfers – just like the bike in the book.
Random AJS Stuff on eBay.co.uk
Bob Currie thought that ‘this should have been the finest Model 18 of all time’ but it didn’t really get a chance to prove itself. The AJS and Matchless singles were phased out as AMC merged with Norton and all production switched to building twins, so the short-stroke Model 18 is the last of its line.
Some classic riders prefer the more laid-back manner of the older long-stroke singles. They argue that the short-stroke 500s weren’t that much quicker at the top end than their predecessors (the 1965 bike was only 4mph faster than the 1949 machine!), and the higher-revving newcomers were less well suited to life as a sidecar tug for the family man — but the final bikes do have their fans. ‘The post-64 short-strokers are quick, agile, revvy and rare’ reckons Frank Westworth (and he owns one, although his has Norton badges on it!).
Owner Paul is very happy with his unusual Model 18, too. ‘It cost me £1700 in 1992,’ he says ‘but it’s not for sale. It’s too good a ride!’