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30th July 2004

Opinion: An AMC Anorak, Part 1

Frank Westworth cut his classic biking teeth on AJS and Matchless machinery, and would like to share a little of his enthusiasm for the marque with you. This month, we think it shows that he's been reading old magazines for far too long...

AMC - Associated Motor Cycles Ltd, the parent company of AJS and Matchless -- had it entirely right, you know, back in the 1930s. Why, they wondered, should we loan examples of our very excellent motorcycles to unappreciative and cynical press types, when we are already selling every single machine that our factory can produce?

You can hardly blame them, particularly as those same press types had apparently been rude about some minor feature of a plainly faultfree Plumstead rocket. But I do wonder about this, as I've never been able to find this mythical bad report, and I have looked. Believe me; I have scoured countless collapsing copies of formerly Green and faded Blue magazines searching for a critical comment - but could find none.

In fact, I found quite the opposite. Bemused, I was. If I hadn't already been informed by countless clichéd features in more modern magazines that AMC had denied those press villains the use of their matchless AJS motorcycles because of unconstructive and inaccurate criticisms, I would have been forced to the conclusion that those stormcoated stalwarts in fact loved all things AMC. Criticisms? Hard to find, and therefore hard to understand.

I'd go further, and suggest that even where there was plenty of opportunity for a vitriolic pen to slice to the quick by, say remarking upon AMC's cheapskate use of oil tanks plainly intended for rigid frames when they introduced the first springers, the pudding basin pressmen ignored it. Even though the back ends of pre-56 jampot models look as though the trembling hand of IK Brunel had penned them, presumably expecting that the chunks of quarter-inch steel used to mount the candlesticks or jampots would need to take the strain of hauling iron ships up slipways, rather than supporting the slender bottoms of ration-fed middle Englanders as they pottered about their business… Even though the back ends of a whole generation of AMC machinery are about as handsome as a pillar drill, complete with the strangest-looking suspension units ever to grace a motorcycle… despite that, somehow those dastardly press guys allowed the telescopic tubbies to become an iconic representation of the whole marque! How did that happen?

Journalist Rides AMC Bike Shock Horror

I was sat in The Shed, shortly after Chris Read of the AJS&MOC had departed, having awoken the entire countryside with the … ah … less than silent bellow from his 31CSR, and was pondering over the Victorian engineering of a 1953 Model 20, reflecting that the handsome equivalent of a 1961 31DL plainly had not come from the same designer's fevered dreams, when it dawned upon me that bikes designed in the 1940s looked as though they'd been styled by a blacksmith, probably a blacksmith who'd spent too long with his eyes in the brazing hearth and with his hammer in his hand, while the later bikes had been developed by someone with an eye for curves.

I understood at once that as a rugged manly type I should spurn the latter and praise the former, understood also a pressing need for a restorative glass of something cold, foaming and tasting of apples, and went back to reading old road tests.

How could anyone accuse those long-gone worthies of being unkind to any bike they tested? They even managed to praise horrors like the two-stroke commuter terrors, emphasising words like 'economy' when they should have been screaming 'No Brakes!' from the rooftops. They'd somehow praise a particularly execrable new shade of green when they should have been exhorting their readers to avoid the under-powered, under-steering, unlit contraptions on the grounds that tying your legs together and hopping to work was going to be more fun that riding one of these.

But they didn't. How? Why? Oh all right; I'm an alleged modern press person and I understand completely that no editor with his eyes on a pension was going to let the truth get in the way of good advertising revenues, but the purveyors of the most pernicious disasters bought hardly any page space.

So what had someone written that had so annoyed the management at AMC that they'd pulled the press fleet? If you can enlighten me, please do (to, because all I can find in the cat's nest which is my collection of old motorcycling mags is flattery so unctuous that it makes me queasy.

The whole purpose of letting those unreliable press fellows ride your spanking and indeed world-shattering new machine is to let the world know and be appropriately shattered by its wonderfulness. If you don't tell the world, then you can hardly blame folk when they rush off and buy Triumph Cubs instead of your much more wonderful G2 Matchlesses, can you? And you can even understand how it is that otherwise intelligent authors submit to the editorial lash and disguise criticism so effectively that it can be mistaken for flattery most sincere!

But what I can't understand is why the tradition of saying nice things about nasty motorcycles has continued into the modern 'classic' press. I mean, you can say what you like about the gloriously absurd model names AMC used when things were tight (Statesman? What sort of name is that to attract any red-blooded teenaged hooligan? Better than, hmmm … Sapphire, but only just) without any real risk of losing an advertising account. The AJS name may indeed be alive and well in Goodworth Clatford, but those fine fellows are not really likely to suffer nervous collapse if someone tells The Awful Truth about AMC lightweight brakes…

I was going to pull some quotes from some mags more recent than those in the dusty 1940s boxes, but then I might be accused of bias, of mockery, even. And that would never do, would it? Trust me, I'm a journalist…

Happy Birthday Frank

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