45.b. 1952 AJS Model 22
1-12-13 Wyndham Street Races
AJS was the name used for cars and motorcycles made by the Wolverhampton, England, company A. J. Stevens & Co. Ltd, from 1909 to 1931, by then holding 117 motorcycle world records. After the firm was sold, the name continued to be used by Matchless, Associated Motorcycles and Norton-Villiers on four-stroke motorcycles till 1969, and since the name’s resale in 1974, on lightweight, two-stroke scramblers and today on small-capacity roadsters and cruisers.
Joe Stevens, father of Harry, George, Albert John (‘Jack’), and Joe Stevens Junior, was an engineer who owned the Stevens Screw Company Ltd, in Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton. Stevens had a reputation for quality engineering before the company built its first motorcycle in 1897, using a Mitchell single-cylinder four-stroke imported from the USA. Before long, Stevens began making engines, starting off with a better-built version of the Mitchell but the family soon developed their own designs, including parallel-twins and V-twins, which were sold as proprietary engines to other manufacturers, including Werner, Wolf and Clyno.
In 1909, after a Wearwell motorcycle fitted with a Stevens side-valve single-cylinder engine won a trophy for a 24-hour non-stop run in 1909, Jack Stevens decided to contest the Tourist Trophy in the Isle of Man. A new company, A J Stevens & Co (AJS), was founded, with premises in Retreat Street, Wolverhampton, to manufacture motorcycles and the first model appeared at the Motor Cycle Show in 1910. Its engine, a two-speed 298 cc side-valve, was made to come within the 300 cc limit for Junior machines in the 1911 Isle of Man TT races and was slightly larger than the 292 cc used for the proprietary engines. Jack Stevens came 16th on AJS’s official entry, one place behind private owner J.D. Corke on an identical machine.
Albert John Stevens lent his initials to the company, but it was a family concern. In 1922 for example, Harry Stevens acted as managing director, George Stevens as commercial manager, Joe Stevens Junior managing the experimental section and Jack Stevens as production manager.
AJS did not contest the 1912 TT as it was busy satisfying the demand for its products, but was 10th in the 1913 Junior. With the Junior limit raised to 350 cc for 1914, the AJS motorcycle had grown to 349 cc, with four-speed gears and chain final drive. AJS won first, second, third, fourth and sixth place in the Junior 1914 Isle of Man TT race that year. The old Screw Company’s facilities could not cope with the demand and with the company reconstituted as A.J. Stevens (1914) Ltd, AJS moved to a new factory built around Graiseley House, in the Blakenhall district, a short distance south of the Retreat Street premises, which were relegated to the being the company’s office and repair department. The 349 cc machine (known as the 2 3⁄4 hp) was most in demand but the company also produced an 800 cc (6 hp) V-twin.
On 3 November 1916, the Ministry of Munitions prohibited the production of non-military motorcycles, and AJS went over to manufacturing munitions, but in early 1917 the Ministry received an order from Russia for military vehicles, and AJS was given a contract to produce part of the order with its AJS Model D machine. This kept AJS busy until Ministry of Munitions restrictions were lifted in January 1919.
When production of the 350 resumed in 1920, it was much improved. The side-valve engine was replaced by a new overhead-valve design that produced 10 bhp. It also had internal expanding brakes and chain primary drive. Cyril Williams won the first post war 1920 Isle of Man TT Junior race on his 350, even though he had to push the motorcycle home for almost four miles (mostly downhill) after a breakdown. AJS took the first four places in the 1921 Isle of Man TT, and Howard R Davies bettered his second place in the Junior by winning the Senior on the same 350 cc AJS. This was the first time a 350 had won the 500 cc Senior TT race. In 1922 Manxman Tom Sheard won the Junior on an AJS, with G Grinton, also on an AJS, taking second.
The 1922 machine was a classic design that would become famous as the ‘Big Port’ on account of its large-diameter exhaust port and pipe (initially 1⅝ inches, but changed in successive years). The OHV 350 would be the mainstay of the company’s racing efforts until 1927 and in production form (first offered to the public in 1923), was also AJS’s most popular sports motorcycle throughout the 1920s. At this time, the company produced a comprehensive range of other models ranging from 250 to 1,000 cc. These were generally given a model number, plus letter to denote the year of manufacture (for example, E meant 1924, F 1925, G 1926).
In 1929 for example, the AJS range consisted of: M1 Deluxe 996 cc side-valve V-twin £76/10/0; M2 Standard 996 cc side-valve V-twin £66/0/0; M3 Deluxe Touring 349 cc side-valve single £48/10/0; M4 Deluxe Sporting 349 cc side-valve single £48/10/0; M5 Standard Sporting 349 cc side-valve single £45/0/0; M6 349 cc overhead-valve single £54/10/0 (twin port), £52/0/0 (single port); MR6 Special Sports 349 cc overhead-valve single £62/0/0; M7 349 cc overhead-camshaft single £62/0/0; M8 498 cc overhead-valve single £62/0/0 (twin port), £59/10/0 (single port); MR8 Special Sports 498 cc overhead-valve single £72/0/0; M9 Deluxe Touring 498 cc side-valve £54/0/0; M10 498 cc overhead-camshaft single £72/0/0; M12 Lightweight 248 cc side-valve single £39/17/6. Several of these were intended to pull one of the 12 AJS sidecars also on offer, including sports, touring and commercial models.
By 1927, it had become clear that push-rod overhead-valve designs were becoming dated in racing, so AJS introduced two new chain-driven overhead-camshaft racing models, the 349 cc K7 and the 498 cc K10. Jimmy Simpson rode a 350 to third place in the Junior TT and won races in Europe but in 1928 AJS used the overhead-valve engine in the TT. In 1929 there were again two machines with an overhead cam, this time the 349 cc M7 and the 498 cc M10. Wal Handley came second in the 1929 Junior TT for AJS. The following year Jimmie Guthrie won the 1930 Lightweight TT on a 250 cc AJS.
In 1931, the AJS S3 V-twin was released, a 496 cc transverse V-twin tourer with shaft primary drive and alloy cylinder heads. It had been expensive to develop and was slow to sell. Even though it held 117 world records, the AJS company was now in financial trouble.
Stevens Motorcycles –
The Stevens brothers tried again and started a new company as Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Ltd to make 3-wheel delivery vans. (They could not call them AJS, as that name belonged to the Colliers.) These used a 588 cc single-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed gearbox and chain drive. The van could carry 5 cwt. It was improved in 1935 with shaft drive and uprated to 8 cwt. The last ones were made in 1936. In 1934 they also produced a new range of motorcycles under the Stevens name. These were made until 1938 after which the company continued until 1956 as a general engineering business.
AJS Racing under AMC:
Under AMC the AJS badge may have been put on the ‘bread and butter’; Matchless motorcycles, but the Colliers were mindful of the AJS racing heritage, and used the name on some innovative racing machinery.
These racing bikes kept the AJS name alive.
In 1935, at the Olympia Show, an air-cooled SOHC AJS 50° V4 was shown, a fully equipped road going version, which did not make it into production. In 1936 Harold Daniell rode a supercharged race version in the Isle of Man Senior TT, but despite its high top speed, it lacked acceleration.
In 1939, a water-cooled and supercharged version of the 495 cc AJS V4 was built to compete against the supercharged BMWs then dominating racing. In 1939 the dry sump V4 was the first bike to lap the Ulster Grand Prix course at over 100 mph (160 km/h). It weighed 405 lb (184 kg). and its top speed was 135 mph (217 km/h). Then World War II intervened.
At the end of the 1940s and start of the 1950s, the AJS Porcupine, a 500 cc forward-facing parallel twin, and the AJS 7R (32 bhp, 350 cc OHC single) were being raced alongside their AMC stablemates the Matchless G50 (effectively a 500 cc 7R) and by 1951, the Matchless G45 (a 500 cc vertical twin). The AJS Porcupine had been designed for supercharging, before the rules changed banning supercharged racing motorcycles, but even so, Les Graham won the 1949 World Championship on an unsupercharged AJS E90 500 cc Porcupine.
In 1951 AJS development engineer Ike Hatch developed a 75.5 mm bore × 78 mm stroke, three-valve-head version of the 7R making 36 bhp (27 kW). It was called the AJS 7R3, and was Ike’s response to the Italian multi-cylinder racers. They did well enough in their first year, not as well the second. For 1954 Jack Williams, the works team manager, developed the bike further, lowering the engine in the frame, and making some tuning changes that gave 40 bhp (30 kW) @ 7800 rpm. It immediately won the first two rounds of the World Championship and took first at the Isle of Man TT. These were factory specials, but one has survived, and a second has been reconstructed from spares.
AMC withdrew from the world of works and one-off road racing at the end of the 1954, with the death of Ike Hatch, and in the face of fierce competition from the other European bikes. After this AJS made a production version of the standard two-valve AJS 7R, for privateers. In 1954 Norton was also moved to the Plumstead works.
With the G15 line, AMC had built on the merits of the G12 but there were numerous changes to frame, forks, swinging arm, primary chaincase, transmission, cycle parts and lubrication system. The P11 was the last line of bikes with bonds to AMC. It used a modified G85CS frame but there were stronger forks, completely new cycle parts (making some was rather costly), altered lubrication and modified primary chaincases, to mention a few.
The G15 series was offered as 3 brands: Matchless G15 comprising G15Mk2, G15CS and G15CSR; AJS Model 33 comprising M33Mk2, M33CS and M33CSR; and last not least Norton N15CS (no Norton-branded roadster made as it would compete against the Atlas). The G15 series was produced from 1963 to 1969. They were initially for export only, but by 1965 these models were available in UK and Europe too.
Associated Motorcycles and the AJS name eventually ended up with Norton-Villiers in 1966. In late 1968 the Plumstead works at Burrage Grove, where engines from the Wolverhampton plant and frames from the Manchester plant were assembled into complete machines, were presented with a Greater London Council compulsory purchase order. The Plumstead works closed in July 1969. It is believed that production of the G15 series was halted late in 1968 (model year 1969) with unsold samples on offer through 1969. The AJS Model 33 was the last AJS badged four-stroke produced.
AJS Motorcycles Ltd Today:
AJS Motorcycles Ltd. is headed by Nick Brown (eldest son of Fluff Brown) and is a family run business. Since 2002 AJS have distributed a range of 124 cc to 300 cc Chinese-produced road bikes in trail, roadster and custom cruiser styles. Their main market is Learner Legal 125’s. The business also sells Stormer/Villiers Starmaker spares and Classic competition accessories.