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15th November 2004

Opinion: AMC Anorak Part 3

There's more than immediately meets the eye lurking in the ranks of the AJS and Matchless marques; it's not all CSR sports twins, you know. Frank Westworth has endured some lecturing over the years...

It's true, in fact. There's an awful lot more to the wonderful world of AMC motorcycles than an endless parade of glittering, bellowing CSR twins. And, to be honest, although I've run several CSRs over years, and do indeed still maintain a most glorious CS 750 somewhere in the dim recesses of The Shed, the AMC bikes on which I've enjoyed the most miles have always been of the less glamorous variety.

There is a reason for this. It's a personal reason, as you'd possibly expect, and I should add a disclaimer at this point because I'm sure that my preference for basic black in no way reflects upon everyone else in the AJS & Matchless Owners Club! That was a small joke, by the way, all to do with reflections, which is one reason that CSRs and I generally do not get on. Reflections? Shine? Oh, never mind…

I do not enjoy cleaning bikes. In fact, I'd go further; I detest the hours of Solvol and glitter which go with keeping a Cussedly Shiny Rain-dodger on the road and looking well in the soggy summers which we endure here in Blighty. My idea of cleaning a bike involves a bucket of steaming soapy water, a sponge, and possibly a hosepipe, although this year the great cosmic washing machine which is the Cornish climate has made rinsing largely irrelevant.

Oh, yes. These'll be collectors' items by the turn of the century, I'm sure of it.Like Sunday a couple of weeks back, out at The Piers caff, enjoying a lively late brunch with the West Country Riders, when I was amused to observe that there wasn't a single, solitary CSR among the gathering. Sea air, torrential drizzle and shiny chrome plate, plainly do not mix!

But there were in fact a lot of bikes there (pause for a moment or two of self-indulgent back-patting, as us Hardy Types congratulate each other on our heroism, fortitude, so forth; I rode a whopping fifteen miles each way, y'know. How's that for high mileage?). That there were a lot of bikes - most of them of sturdy AMC extraction, too, useful as this was an AMC Club bash - was truly heart-warming, and got me thinking of the past as I sploshed homeward down the road we like to call The Atlantic Highway. Lesser souls refer to it as the A39, but what do they know?

I wondered how many unremarkable AJS and Matchless 350 singles had sold, compared to the more sprightly twins? And who chose to buy a new 350 single of unremarkable performance back in 1961, say, rather than a grunting twin? It cannot have been an easy decision, really, and although I was but a stripling, aged eight in fact, back in 1961 and therefore have no idea of the domestic economics of the day, the price differences do not seem very large. Even allowing for the inevitable inflation, the cost of a bag of chips and global warming.

For example, back in 1961 (I chose 1961 because my first AMC twin, a very stock G12, was built in that fine year), a worthy but unremarkable Matchless G3 (or AJS 16, of course) would have damaged your wallet by £240. 6s. 9d (which was probably the equivalent of fifty years work by a skilled artisan, or something: insert your own social observation here).

Meanwhile, over in the other side of the showroom, a Matchless G9 500 twin, in possibly its best-developed, last year of production form, complete with alternator electrics and handy things like that, would have cost £256. 6s. 2d, and appears to be a bit of a bargain. Had I been in the hunt for a new Matchless (see above; aged eight I hadn't even heard of motorcycles, never mind Matchless motorcycles) I think I would have thrust the extra sixteen quid into the greasy palm of the salesman and roared off aboard a twin. But then, judging by the serried ranks of alternator G3s which turn up at wet AMC club events, plainly I would have been in a minority. Or would I? No doubt the club historian would be able to reveal that in fact more Matchless 500 twins were sold in 1961 than 350 singles? Which possibly means that the singles are better survivors?

Who knows, but I stand firm by my view that £16 is a small extra percentage over the £240 that a G3 would have cost. Far more worrying in the wallet-shrinking dept would have been the fact that a 1961 Matchless G12CSR would have set you back a stonking £289. 15s. 9d, which is a lot more money … and a lot more money than the standard G12, which would have set you back just £262. 6s. Pricing is a mystery; almost as mysterious as the rationale behind those long-ago purchase decisions.

And before I move on, can I share with you another tiny snippet from those distant days, when riders wore twill macs and leather brogues rather than Kevlar and Goretex? You will of course be entirely familiar with the Matchless G3S, which differed from the standard G3 in having its steel mudguards chrome plated, and boasting a smaller set of handlebars. Well, those vast improvements would have set our merry punter back well over £7, halfway to the cost of a new twin.

A final thought then, for those of us who enjoy crunching numbers. Reading through the swathes of free ads which fill all the old bike magazines reveals that the price differential between that 1961 350cc G3 and its 650cc G12 stablemate have rocketed off into the stratosphere. While it is still refreshingly possible to pick up a functional, largely original and handsome G3 for around £1500, a similar G9 will always crack the two grand barrier. A price difference of a third, give or take. And when you consider the CSR sports twins… well, at The Piers yesterday, three of us were talking £3500-plus for a couple of CSRs we know of (neither of which is for sale, of course!).

And all of a sudden, the reason that the salt'n'storm-lashed Cornish car park was packed with cooking singles becomes clear. Maybe AMC riders back in 1961 hated polishing,, too…

Okay, I'll give you these two singles for the price of a twin, and I'll throw in a dozen tubes of Solvol.


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