A Brief History of Matchless Motorcycles
Many British motorcycles at the start of the 20th Century originated around the Midlands, however the Matchless story begins in Plumstead, London.
Like many motorcycle manufacturers of the time, Henry Herbert Collier started out in the late 19th Century as a bicycle manufacturer.
Henry formed the company H. Collier & Sons with his eldest two sons, Charlie and Harry. Matchless became their trading name.
The first Matchless motorcycle was introduced in 1901.
The earliest models used a variety of engines including the de Dion-Bouton single.
In 1905, they produced a JAP V-twin powered motorcycle.
This had leading-link front forks and swing-arm rear suspension, quite innovative for the time.
The very first Isle of Man TT Race in 1907 was won by Charlie Collier on a single cylinder JAP engined Matchless.
He finished the race in 4 hours, 8 minutes and 8 seconds at an average speed of 38.21 mph.
A production replica of the winning TT machine was added to the Matchless catalogue the following year along with a series of V-twin machines.
Harry Collier won the TT Race in 1909 at an average speed of 49.01mph, and Charlie won again in 1910 averaging 50.63mph.
In 1912, Matchless designed and built their own single cylinder engine based on the JAP engine it replaced.
By 1914, however, the single cylinder engine had been dropped from the Matchless catalogue in favour of a range of V-twin engines including the eight horsepower 8B model.
In 1915, the 8B/2 model was introduced.
With the outbreak of World War I, civilian motorcycle production at the Matchless factory stopped as the company changed production to munitions and precision aircraft parts.
Matchless had designed a V-twin engined motorcycle intended for military use, however they did not receive a contract to build them. It was redesigned after the war to be sold to the general public as the Victory. The Victory supplemented the Model H sidecar outfit, also a V-twin.
Matchless continued to offer only V-twins until 1923 when a 348cc single cylinder Blackburne engine was fitted to their new L2 model.
A 591cc single cylinder machine was added to the range a year later.
Also at this time, Matchless had developed a 347cc single cylinder overhead camshaft engine.
In 1925, a 990cc V-twin was introduced for solo use.
Henry Collier died in 1926 and by 1928 Matchless had become a limited company.
In 1930, Matchless launched a 394cc side valve 26 degree V-twin called the Silver Arrow, designed by Charlie Collier.
In 1931, the 593cc narrow angled V-four Silver Hawk was introduced.
This was designed by youngest brother Bert, who was now active in the company.
In 1931 Matchless bought AJS from the Stevens brothers and continued to build motorcycles under the Matchless and AJS names.
Matchless supplied V-twin engines for the versions of the Morgan three-wheeler from 1933 until Morgan production was halted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
In 1935 the Matchless / AJS hairpin valve springs made their first appearance.
In 1938, Charlie and Harry Collier formed Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) which was to become the parent company of a collection of motorcycle manufacturers.
AMC acquired Sunbeam in the late thirties, however Sunbeam was sold to BSA towards the end of World War II.
In 1941, Matchless introduced telescopic front forks called ‘Teledraulic’ forks, a major innovation in front suspension.
Harry Collier died in 1944.
During World War II, AMC were in a good position to supply large numbers of 350cc Matchless G3 models for the armed forces.
In 1947, AMC took over Francis-Barnett.
From 1948 competition models of the singles were produced which gave the company some success.
In 1949, the first Matchless / AJS vertical twin was produced.
Originally in 500cc form, it was later joined by 600cc and 650cc variants in 1956 and 1959 respectively.
For 1952, a racing Model G45 twin was introduced.
The G45 frame and certain engine parts were based on the AJS 7R.
Derek Farrant won the 1952 Manx Grand Prix at 88.65 mph on a G45.
In 1953 there was a Clubman range of Matchless / AJS 350cc and 500cc singles.
The production model Matchless G45 500 twin became available.
Also in 1953, AMC took over Norton production.
AMC withdrew from racing at the end of 1954.
In 1958 the Matchless range included a 250cc single.
In 1959, the Matchless G50 single cylinder racer was made available for privateers.
The G50 competed well against the Manx Norton. Though its power and maximum speed were slightly down on the Manx, the lighter Matchless often beat the Norton through the bends.
In 1960, the Matchless range included a 350cc single.
Also in 1960, Bert Hopwood left AMC to work at Meriden.
By 1963, AMC had closed Norton’s Bracebridge Street factory and moved Norton production to Plumstead where they were built alongside the Matchless and AJS machines.
In 1966, AMC were taken over by Manganese Bronze Holdings who went on to form Norton Villiers.
Matchless production continued for a short while. However, with Norton Villiers concentrating their production on the newly introduced Norton Commando, the Matchless name faded away.