ARCHIVE ALERT! This article originally appeared around two decades ago. Some things never change – RealClassic’s editor Frank Westworth is still a committed AMC Anorak – but don’t be surprised if some of the people and specialists he mentions are doing other things these days…
AMC bikes are superb examples of the very best British motorcycle engineering. But RealClassic readers already know that. Frank Westworth does a little missionary positioning…
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Image: Mortons Archive.
Prepare yourself for a shock. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Grip the arms of your Zimmer frame firmly. Are you ready?
Not all classic motorbicyclists consider AMC motorbicycles to be the very best ever built in these islands. No no … steady now. Fight your incredulity. Because this is true. It may be sacrilege to true believers, but there are others among us who prefer BSAs, Velocettes or even … and I whisper this … Triumphs. This scary notion can be hard to believe, even for a nutter (official) like me, who does store several non-AMC machines in The Shed.
Converting another enthusiast to the delights of AMC machinery is often not particularly easy. It must be said that a lot of the more pedestrian 350 singles are not entirely glamorous, and although we all know that the G5 Matador was a far far better bike than any old Triumph Twenty One or whatever the shallow youth of the day preferred, not everyone would agree. Nurse! The screens!
I have a friend (stop sniggering at the back), and although that friend is indeed a Matchless Man, he prefers the Rotax-engined singles which were built in darkest Devon for a short while in the late 1980s. I have one of those lurking somewhere in The Shed, too, but as my days as a Real Man are long past, I find it challenging in the starts department. I should grovellingly mention here that the steamed Editor of the AJS & Matchless OC’s most glorious magazine, Mr Chris Read, is a particularly vigorous gent and can start my Harris G80 with ease, but I, despite being considerably younger and almost certainly better looking, have a lot of trouble with it. LF Harris also built their Matchless with an electric leg, but I have never found one of those for sale, sadly, for they are great fun to ride.
Anyway, as I was saying before age and infirmity delayed me; my other friend is no fan of machinery from Plumstead. In fact he recently revealed that he has a Triumph in his workshop, although sensibly he claims that it belongs to someone else. I can see how making that claim would make anyone feel better. Real Triumphs, after all, have three cylinders…
Now then. The point. Some many months ago I bought an AJS 31 for a hundred quid. Yep, that’s right. I have a one hundred pound Ajay. It is in such remarkable condition that my Better Half thinks that I was robbed. But what does she know? She willingly rides about on a Douglas Dragonfly.
The £100 Ajay is entirely in pieces. So far as I can see, it was dismantled in 1961 and left in a shed. The shed appears to have collapsed around it, and although some parts are in very excellent order, others have rotted almost entirely to nothing. The chrome petrol tank panels, for example, resemble ferrous lace. Interesting, but useless. Much like certain Velocettes.
The engine was in big bits. The heads and barrels had been removed and the bottom end used as an outdoor doorstop, or something. And, because I am A Noted Expert, I had no doubts at all that I would be able to resurrect, recondition and revitalise the old warrior in about a fortnight and at an expenditure of about another fifty quid. Sadly, this is not in fact the case. Everything in that engine was corroded solidly into place. Even extreme verbal violence and the vigorous application of Thor, King of Hammers failed to get the crank to turn. I despaired, as a grown man should in moments like this. I swore, blasphemed, drank stale lager and kicked the cat. Well, that’s an exaggeration. The cat is faster than me and Knows The Signs.
Then my friend, who we’ll call Alun, because that’s his name, offered to free it all up for me. I pretended confidence that a few weeks of being soaked in diesel would free things off until crankular rotation was possible and that after that it would be a simple matter of sending maybe a tenner to the AMC Club’s mighty Spares Scheme to replace the tiny fasteners which would maybe be required. But I didn’t even kid myself, I’m afraid.
Alun repeated his offer. I wilted and passed the engine over to Alun. He mailed me to reveal that the reason the crank wouldn’t turn over was because the crankcases were packed with rotting rags, and that said rags were truly foul due to my having immersed the engine in a big bucket of diesel for several … ah … months. I was contrite. He was strangely sympathetic about the state of the engine as he pulled it down into ever smaller pieces. It is now entirely dismantled, and I can reveal that storing an engine – even a glorious AJS twin engine – with its crankcases open to the elements while stuffed with rotting wet rags is not the best way to do it. Tears are dripping sadly from my nose as I type this. I will need consolation from my nurse as soon as I have whacked this glittering prose off to Herself Who Must Be Obeyed. The engine really is not well.
But the bright side was that Alun is just knocked out by the design and engineering of the engine. No no; it’s true. For the week of his dismantling efforts not a day passed without ecstatic emails from the Welsh borderlands landing here in Cornwall, all of them expressing wonder and joy at the excellence of the AMC twin engine, and the easy delight gained from working on it. We have a convert to the True AMC Way. Which is great news, and I know that you will be as delighted as I am.
All donations, spare conrods, camshafts, so forth gratefully received. For although there is much joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance, there is going to be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in my wallet department. Buddy, can you spare a … camshaft?