A Brief History of AJS Motorcycles
Article by Roger Limb.
(Public Relations for the AJS & Matchless Owners Club Ltd. a company registered in England and Wales under company number 4715137.)
AJS motorcycles were first manufactured by the Stevens brothers in Wolverhampton in the late 19th Century.
The company was started by four Stevens brothers whose father Joe was a blacksmith in the Wolverhampton area of the West Midlands. Joe had five sons and it was the four eldest who started in the early years manufacturing proprietary engines and later building frames eventually leading to building complete motorcycles, the first being produced in 1898.
The company, originally called the Stevens Screw Company, was renamed after taking the name of the only son Jack with two initials becoming the A J Stevens & Co Ltd., the models thus being named AJS.
The company was noted for its high quality and were firm believers in competing in speed tests and reliability runs to improve the quality of their products, along with entries in the famous Isle of Man TT races in 1911.
As production increased, the brothers, in 1914, moved to new premises at Graisley Hill, Wolverhampton and while many manufacturers of the day, including AJS with an 8hp V twin, changed to twin cylinder models, the Stevens brothers also continued to develop the ever popular single cylinder models.
Due to the First World War, the factory was forced into military production which provided the company with valuable expertise in metals and production methods which, after the war, were put to good use in motorcycle production and featured heavily in the new ohv 350cc racer winning the first post war TT in 1920 by a large margin.
This was followed up the following year with a Senior TT win with a 350cc Big Port AJS. Many notable victories followed over the years including Jimmie Guthrie’s famous first Isle of Man victory in 1930 on an ohc 250cc AJS. During this time AJS were also very active and successful in various record attempts throughout Europe claiming many world records in the process.
The factory was also busy developing new models, while the 350cc Big Port remained a firm favourite along with a twin port 250cc and ever growing in capacity V twin models, new models included a transverse V twin in 1930 while on the racing scene in 1927 an ohc 350cc was developed followed by an ohc 500cc in 1928.
Another development in 1928 was a transverse in-line four cylinder using an engine similar in design to that used the Austin 7 but only three or four development bikes were ever built and never went into full production. Thankfully one of these surviving versions can be seen in the Sammy Miller Museum at New Milton Hants.
The company also looked at manufacturing other products from wireless sets, motor cars and heavy commercial vehicles. However, during all this costs started to get out of control and when in 1931 there was a massive downward trend in the sale of motor vehicles the company was in financial trouble and had no option but to close factory and go into liquidation. The brothers were proud of the fact that in the fullness of time every creditor was repaid in full and to the last penny.
The company and all its assets was purchased by the London company H Collier & Sons Ltd, manufacturers of the Matchless motorcycles who kept the AJS name and continued to produce models pretty much as they finished with the Collier Brothers forming a new company called Associated Motorcycles Ltd.
AJS models were promoted through the various aspects of competition developing a number of multi cylinder road racing models including the 500cc V four, initially as air cooled racer followed by water cooling and turbo. As in the Wolverhampton days reliability trials continued to play a large part in the development of their models. Another model developed in Wolverhampton
After World War II the production range was gradually merged with the Matchless range becoming badge engineering of both brands with a range of 250, 350 & 500cc ohv singles along with twin cylinder models from 500 to 750cc.
On the competition front the V four cylinder roadracer was dropped and followed by a 500cc twin famously known as the Porcupine due to cooling fins around the head and cylinders, initially with a turbo charger which was later dropped because of rule changes in the sport. The off road competition also developed with a very successful production based 350cc trials and 500cc (motor cross) scrambler supplied under both brand names. They also developed in the mid sixty’s a two stroke bike for motor cross called the Stormer using the Villiers 250cc Starmaker engine.
The Porcupine originally designed proved to be not very successful and was dropped in favour of a production based 500cc twin but was soon dropped in favour of a brace of ohc 350cc and 500cc singles, these being the AJS 7R and Matchless G50. These machines enjoyed major successes and provided the back bone from the 1940s through to the late 1960s both in Grand Prix and the domestic road racing scene.
Sadly in 1967 AMC ceased production and was sold off but the AJS name continued being bought by Fluff Brown who continues to produce the Stormer in both 250cc and 370cc versions. The Browns (AJS Motorcycles Ltd) also import under the AJS brand a range of custom and off road type bikes for use on public roads.