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Bike Review - Posted 12th August 2013
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AJS Model 31 CSR

An AJS 650 twin appeared in the July issue of RealClassic magazine. And up popped its previous owner, Steve Hiles, with tales of its history to tell...

Now it's blue... The AJS as it is now...

I am the sensible previous owner who converted this Ajay to coil ignition. I bought the Model 31 in late 1974 or early 75 after seeing it advertised in the Hull Daily Mail (KH is a Hull number). It was a non-runner but original and not messed about with, although in a very rusty condition. The bike was on a farm and I don't think the previous owner had ever ridden it. It was advertised as an AJS Hurricane which appealed to me as I'd never heard of the model. I paid the asking price of £90 which seems a lot for the time, but even then British bikes were starting to become collectable. I had to borrow the money from my wife which must be the only time this has happened in 39 years of marriage (it's always the other way round!). There was a 'Jordans of Hull' brass name tag riveted to the rear number plate so they were probably the original dealer.

Then it was red. But first it was blue... ...And as it was then.

My friend Nick persuaded me to sell him my 1969 Bonnie and together we carried out a ground-up rebuild of both bikes in 1975. I wasn't too bothered about keeping the AJS original: I just wanted a smart, big Brit twin. The original chrome mudguards were shot and were not 'sporty' anyway so they were replaced with a universal type in stainless steel. The tank badges were pitted and I thought they were ugly so I replaced them with AJS transfers, lacquered over.

Most new parts were supplied by Joe Francis Motors and included new oversize pistons and rings, new mains and big end shells, new pipes (chrome not stainless) and silencer. The correct cigar-shaped silencer was not available so I had to settle for the earlier style which I see the bike still wears today. A new concentric carb and pancake air filter were fitted. We had our wheels rebuilt by an old boy in Hull who was well past retirement age. Mine had 18-inch chrome Jones rims and he made a decent job of it. Nick was not so lucky however, his front wheel came back badly offset and he was forced to rebuild it himself. I bought a new seat but it was a very poor pattern part. It did not fit well and the steel base was so thin that it bent every time anyone sat on the pillion! The barrels were rebored by a local engineering firm.

Age has been kinder to the bike than the photos...

Nick and I were both engineering apprentices working for Hawker Siddeley Aviation which was great for getting 'guvy' jobs done. It was an accepted perk of working in the aircraft industry that you could avail yourself of the facilities, provided it was done discreetly. Officially… it was a sackable offence. How I managed to conceal the frame about my person whilst having it cad-plated, I can't imagine. I had all the fasteners cad-plated too and all the alloy castings vapour blasted. I wished I had not had the crankcases blasted, though, as it took me an age to get all the very fine blasting media out of the oilways.

All the paintwork we did ourselves in cellulose and it wasn't half bad considering it was sprayed in Nick's six-foot shed. Incidentally, the AJS was originally blue but I painted it red for no particular reason. Chrome-plating of the tank, chainguard and various other bits and pieces was done by Wenlocks in Hull, now long since gone.

Who knows what the future will hold?...

The rebuild was relatively easy as the bike was only 10 years old at the time and had not been messed with. One problem I did have however was broken off studs in the fork sliders for the mudguard bridge attachment. I made the problem worse by breaking off an 'easy-out' extractor in one of the studs. The solution was to chain drill around the studs, then clean out the resulting big holes and weld in specially made alloy plugs (courtesy Hawker Siddeley).

Frank commented about the magneto in his article and was absolutely right. It worked fine when cold but hot starting was a no-go. I had to plan my rides to give it enough time to cool down before starting out for home again. I am a mechanical electrician, that is to say if I can see what's wrong then I can fix it. The mag looked perfect, hence I couldn't fix it, therefore it had to go. Points and coil I can understand but a magneto is the work of the Devil.

Blue, or red. Tum te tum...
Matchlesses on

On the road the bike proved reliable and oil tight. It handled well on new Avon Roadrunners although the front brake was never that good. I thought the Ajay was definitely smoother than either the 1970 BSA Lightning or 1969 Bonnie I had owned previously but it certainly did not have the grunt of the Beeza. Funny how the 69 Bonnie is one of the most sought after classics today. Back then I thought it nothing special at all.

Nothing sepcial at all?...

Being a sensible person, I ride my bikes sensibly most of the time but just occasionally the 'what'll it do?' question arises, as it did one day whilst riding the AJS on a straight stretch of the A63. At an indicated 95 there was an almighty bang that frightened the hell out of me. I whipped in the clutch and coasted to a halt in a conveniently situated lay-by, convinced I had blown it up just like I had my Beeza. Relief all round when I realised that all that had happened was one of the exhaust pipes had blown out of the head! A deft kick reinserted it and we continued on at a more sedate pace.

I'm quite tall and I never really liked the upright riding position so I made up a set of alloy plates (HSA again!) for mounting rear-sets. I still have those plates in my scrap metal stock, waiting for the day when they'll come in handy for something…

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