Have you ever found your ideal classic bike? Frank Westworth has… and more than once!
Being Editor of the mighty organ which is RealClassic has many advantages, as I keep reminding RH when she’s spent the morning on the electric telephone listening to a member who posted his advert in on Tuesday, he’s almost sure he put a stamp on the envelope, it’s Wednesday now and his magazine has arrived and his advert isn’t in it and he expects better service than this because he’s been a subscriber to Old Bike Mart for three weeks and he’s sure his cheque should have cleared by now and…
As I was saying; being Editor of a mighty organ has many advantages. Short pause here while I try to think of more than one. Hmmm. Talk among yourselves for a moment. Dum-de-dum…
OK. When you’re Editor of a magazine, you usually get the adverts first. This is a sword with many edges. Not only is there a certain grim finger-twitching inevitability in the typing department (not all ads come in on email, sadly) but there is also a potential threat to domestic stability and the finance department. That’s a tiny downside to the fact that you do get the ads first, so you get first dibs at the bikes and bits. Which is great.
Back when I was Headhitter of A Noted Club Magazine Dedicated To Top Bikes, a member proposed to that club’s all-wise, all-seeing committee that the Editor should be forbidden from answering any reader ads until all of the members had received the magazine. I wondered aloud whether this included members in the Antipodes; who traditionally received their magazines some time after members who lived a half-mile from the Post Office where the magazine was posted … but you get the point.
1966 AJS Model 31 and topbox in full flight
I used to live in Cheshire, back before I understood the error of my ways and relocated steadily southwards. And when I lived in Cheshire an ad for my dream bike appeared. It was a 1966 AJS Model 31. Once I had become immersed in the culture of the AMC Anorak, I understood that the very last AJS twins were the best. The 750s were faster, but the 650 was the bike for me. So I went and bought the bike, which lived under a mile away. Sorry, gentle reader, if you too were lusting after exactly that motorcycle, but that’s the way it was.
It was great. I fitted the world’s ugliest rack and top box, so that I could ferry Chinese takeaway meals and a carrier bag full of paperwork for work about with me, and set off into a vast mileage. It was great. Oh. I already said that. But it was.
This unusual line of thought was prompted by my wondering what was missing from the Better Half’s otherwise splendid Royal Enfield Bullet. I understood what was missing when a copy of the magazine I was carrying under my jacket fell out into an oily forecourt puddle while I was filling up the Bullet en route to lunch with the Steamed Editor of, mysteriously, the same club magazine on which I learned my feeble wittering skills. The Bullet was missing a top box.
So I ordered a rack. How great is it when you can order a rack designed for a specific model of motorcycle and see it arrive in under seventeen hours from placing the order? How amazing is it that the rack fits, with no bracketry, bending or bodging required? After decades wasted attempting to fit luggage intended for a Triumph to sundry AJS and Matchless models, this was a revelation.
And the top box I fitted to the rack was the one from that 1966 AJS 31. It had been laying about in a dank corner of The Shed since I last rode the AJS on September 30th, 1990, when I rode it into the front of a coach while I was returning from that year’s Alternative Jampot Rally. It certainly was an alternative rally! And not least because it allowed entry only to AJS and Matchless motorcycles, not Suzuki Burgmen and the like.
Random AJS Stuff on eBay.co.uk
Good friends in both the AMC club and the old bike trade rebuilt that old Ajay in the months following my close encounter of the unpleasant kind with the coach, and by the time I was ready to ride again, the Model 31 was ready to carry me. It looked beautiful, gleaming in a fresh coat of glossy black paint, the sunlight glinting from the brand new chrome of the exhausts and the polished everything else. It fired up readily and I rode off on a voyage of rediscovery, setting out into the Cheshire afternoon with a certain nervousness and a certain caution.
It just was not the same bike. It bore the same numbers and it looked the same – if a lot more shiny. It rode very well and even the brakes worked. It didn’t leak oil and it didn’t smoke. Its new suspension was stiff and its character was completely different. It was like riding a replica of my old bike. It had no soul, no character. It was great. I parked it up for a few years, convincing myself that I could never part with it … but part with it I did. I believe that PMB 68D is still in the Ajay club, and I hope that Proud Owner loves it to bits and recognises that not every bike comes back from the dead as this one did.
Fitting and using that old top box fired up the memory much more than I expected. The AJS and I had completed a whole series of BMF / ACU National rallies, often in company with other AMC club members who also had perverse tastes involving long wet rides through the pouring rain. And the top box is covered with stickers from those rallies. And stickers from Jampot Rallies past; the little ‘fee-paid’ blobs which rally organisers were so fond of. And of course there is a very battered AMC club badge in pride of place,
There are many philosophical remarks about how the wheel of fortune turns. Here’s one now. I appear to have acquired another AJS from the RealClassic ads (which I get first, of course). A 1966 Model 31. Another one. Just like the other one. Will it be great? Will it transport me to delight? I’ll let you know…