Bikes | Features | Events | Books | Tech | Magazine | About | Messages | Classified | Links

more bike profiles...

Bike Profile

AMC / Norton Hybrids, Part 1
Home -> Bikes -> Road Tests and Profiles ->

When Norton and AMC joined forces they produced some bad bikes and some were absolutely wicked, but most of these went to the States. Frank Westworth investigates how the Atlas engine ended up in a Matchless chassis...

The recent arrival of two 750cc Matchless twins at the National Motorcycle Museum, a 1964 G15 Mk2 and a 1965 G15 CSR, provoked a flurry of reminiscence here at RCHQ. What caused such remarkable machines to be created? Some research was required…

Whose idea were those handlebars? 1964 G15 Mk2 & '65 G15 CSR, recent arrivals at the National Motorcycle Museum [Photo: Mick Duckworth]

It is one of life's jolly features that in order to go out with a bang, you must, in fact, go out… The history of the Associated Motorcycles group of companies in the 1960s was a history of decline. From a healthy profit of £219,000 in the 1960 trading year, their balance sheet showed an almost unbelievable loss of £350,000 at the end of 1961; a situation which plainly called for immediate remedial action.

Contrary to the popular conception that the management of the larger motorcycle concerns of the day was lethargic and complacent, the researcher finds a fair amount of evidence which suggests that blame for the collapse of our favourite industry is not quite so easy to apportion. The decisions which were taken may not have been the correct ones, viewed with customary gifted hindsight, but that decisions were taken is plain to see. The conclusion reached by the AMC board which concerns us here is that the way to survive was to rationalise. And so they did.

To the continuing melancholy of Norton fanatics, AMC decided to close the ancient home of the marque and transfer production of the entire Norton range from Birmingham's Bracebridge Street to the larger Woolwich home of AJS and Matchless.

As sales had declined, so had the utilisation of the Woolwich site and with it the profitability of the parent company. Idle machines cost factory owners dearly and the relocation of Norton production was inevitable. Anguished bleating from 'Bracebridge is Best' zealots cannot disguise the fact that the management of the parent company wished to survive; the fate of the subsidiaries was secondary. Anyone who has been through a company takeover will realise the truth of this.

Related stuff on

The next stage of the inexorable process of rationalisation was the often-criticised incorporation of bits of Norton motorcycles into the AJS / Matchless range. Those who complain often conveniently forget that the excellent AMC gearbox found its way into the Norton models from 1957…

We will not concern ourselves here with the all of the various permutations of parts that emerged from Woolwich from 1963 onwards, but will swing instead to the appearance in that year of the Norton Atlas Scrambler. This bike, with its Norton Atlas powerplant and AMC cycle parts, formed the basis of the forthcoming series of 'hybrid' machines.

Instead of the justifiably famous featherbed frame, the Norton Atlas Scrambler mounted its Atlas 745cc twin carb power unit in the duplex frame that was in current use in the AJS and Matchless range of twins and heavyweight singles. The engine drove the gearbox, which was already common to all three marques, via an AMC-type cast aluminium primary chaincase, which had two enormous advantages over the pressed-steel Norton effort. Firstly, it looked nice, and secondly, and slightly more importantly, it actually held in oil…

Made in London by men proud of their work. A quality machine... Period adverts for the G15, P11 and high-barred Atlas

Other Norton parts incorporated into this fine device included the wheels and front forks, the Roadholder forks being extended a little (compared to the units on the Dominator range) to provide at least a hint of ground clearance - the bike was called a 'scrambler', after all.

Those friendly folks at Hy-Cam, whose passion for the hybrids is surely known worldwide, uncovered the strange fact that the Roadholders, as used on the Atlas Scrambler, contained a set of internals lifted directly from the Teledraulic forks of the Matchless G80CS scramblers, which were, of course, still listed at the time. You do odd things when you're desperate…

Sadly for all of us fans of British bikes at their brutal best, the Atlas Scrambler was produced for export markets only. Why? I cannot imagine, unless AMC sales people really did think that the home market was interested only in staid tourers and café racers. If they did, who could blame them? Re-reading the Press of the day supports this idea, and anyway, the trend in scramblers was towards lighter, top end performers, like the BSAs built for John Banks, and the plethora of two-strokes, rather than lumbering giants like the original Atlas Scrambler. Whatever, the originators of the hybrid line was not sold over here, and this writer has never seen one, more's the pity.

Next episode: the 750 hybrid hits the home market…

More RC Reading: There's more information (road test plus owner feedback) on the Matchless G15 and Norton P11 in the Dec08 issue of RealClassic magazine (RC56)

I do like a high-level pipe... Matchless G15 and Norton P11 today...

Thanks to Tim Roberts for supplying many of the original brochure images seen here

See the G15s in the metal at the National Motorcycle Museum, at the intersection of the A45 Birmingham-Coventry road and the M42 motorway. It is open every day from 9.30am to 5pm (except 24-26 December). Admission charges: Adults £6.95, Senior Citizens £4.95, Children (under 15) £4.95, Family Tickets (2 adults and 2 children) £20.


More old bikes on Right Now...


Like what you see here? Then help to make even better

Bikes | Features | Events | Books | Tech | Magazine | About | Messages | Classified | Links

More Bike Profiles...

RedLeg Interactive Media

© 2002 The Cosmic Motorcycle Co. Ltd / Redleg Interactive Media

You may download pages from this site for your private use. No other reproduction, re-publication, re-transmission or other re-distribution of any part of this site in any medium is permitted except with the written consent of the copyright owner or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.