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11th March 2005

Opinion: AMC Anorak Part 6

Lore has it that you are never too old to learn. Frank Westworth hopes that this in fact the case...

I have a theory. Frank's Theory, a fine and excellent theory, suggests that by the age of, let us say, 51, a classic bike fan should have learned everything there is to know about classic bikes. Let's refine things a little further: Frank's Revised Theory offers that any fan of AMC motorcycles will know everything there is to know about AMC motorcycles by the age of 51. And I think that this theory is probably true, and anyone who disputes it should send me a five word thesis, written in pencil around the margins of a ten pound note, to the RC PO box.

However, recent developments in Advanced Motorcycle Considerations have revealed a further truth, which we can refer to as Frank's Advanced Revised Theory. This ultimate understanding reveals that by the age of 51 ˝, all useful knowledge has somehow and miraculously become scrambled. It is possible that all the info that the mind has absorbed over the preceding 51 ˝ years is still there, it's just that getting at it is not as easy as it once was.

And mysteriously, I can reveal that I burst into life in July, 1953, at almost the exact same moment as my favourite AJS Model 20, although that gentle machine kindly waited until after the Plumstead factory's summer shutdown before it received its birth (or registration, if you prefer) certificate.

A Model 50 Mk2, yesterday...

Recently, although I cannot be more precise about this, I knew everything there was to know about AMC motorcycles. At least I think I did. I'm sure that someone once told me that what I didn't know about AMC motorcycles was not worth knowing. Or maybe she said that what I did know about AMC motorcycles wasn't worth knowing. Like I say, it's hard to remember, sometimes. I think…

But I certainly know everything there is to know about AMC hybrids! Or at least, I thought I did.

You know the AMC Hybrids? Great big stonking 750 twins, combining the very best parts from the mid-60s AMC parts bins to produce the very best motorcycles ever built by anyone. Anyone in Plumstead? Possibly?

An ES2 Mk2 yesterday...

Those best parts included the best bits from millions of years of development at AJS (frames, gearboxes, impossibly handsome fuel and oil tanks, incredibly glorious and functional wiring looms and engine plates, stunningly efficient and leakproof primary chaincases); from Norton came a mighty engine, known as the Atlas, possibly because like the eponymous intercontinental missile it was bound to explode when it hit the ground; a set of forks and wheel hubs which have never been bettered in the aesthetic department. From Matchless came … well … the tank badges are quite nice, I suppose.

In any case, these mythical motorcycles were just great. Trust me, I'm a journalist. And AMC's great idea (journalists always recognise great ideas, particularly when they involve large and preferably free fish'n'chip lunches) was that Mr Happy-Punter could order his Hybrid with any of the posh AMC badges he liked, and in any colour, so long as it was red, blue or black. That meant that Mr 1964 Bike Buyer could order a handsome red Norton N15, a brilliant beautiful blue AJS 33, and if these were already sold out, then he could always settle for a red Matchless G15. You will notice that although AMC were also proprietors of the James and Francis-Barnett marques, there were no mighty Greet equivalents; no James Generalissimo (for they were fond of military bike names at James) nor Francis-Barnett Dodo (for they liked bird names at F-B).

You will also notice that these monster motorcycles are all twins, which is what everyone wanted in the mid-1960s.

I can understand that, and in any case if some strange Sixties revisionists actually preferred their motorcycles to struggle along powered by a single-pot engine, why, they could still attain satisfaction from their AMC dealer by stumping out the readies for an AJS 16 or 18, or if times were hard, a Matchless G3 or G80.

Are you sure that isn't the motor from an Enfield Electra?Real Men bought Nortons, of course, and Nortons sensibly got rid of their weary wheezing singles in 1962, having reached the simple understanding that their fabulous Featherbed frame, which handled with ease and indeed aplomb the power of the mighty Atlas engine, was a bit wasted when fitted with a leaky 350cc single slogger.

And that was it. My memory was packed with all manner of other nuances of these late, great hybrids; I can tell a P11 from a Model 33 in the dark; I can even bore for hours on the differences between the P11A and the Ranger 750! I tell you, my knowledge was complete.

Or so I thought.

Have you ever heard of the Norton Model 50 Mk2? The ES2 Mk2? Hmmm…

A 'friend' (ha!) mailed me to ask whether I'd seen the Model 50 Mk2 for sale on ebay, the on-line auction house? I hadn't. I know All About Nortons (of course) and indeed have a Model 50 languishing in a suitably damp corner of The Shed, but a Model 50 Mk2?

Memory strained, as memory does when you're 51 ˝. There was a distant trace, a neural twitch, a fragrant fragment, maybe a synaptic something…

I logged onto ebay and took a look.

Norton Model 50 Stuff on

Norton Model 50, said the ad. But it was like no Norton I was familiar with. It was an AJS, masquerading in a silly silver tank and unconvincing fake silencer. I mailed the vendor, and he revealed that the engine number and frame number were the same, except that the engine number began not with 16 / but with 50 /. What could this mean? The number was correct for a 1965 AJS 350, but … but … no AJS was burdened with that odd 50 /.

There was only one thing to do, and I immediately did it. I told Rowena, my much better half, that I must have the machine at once, so I could hide it away from people of sensitivity and taste. So she bid and (of course) won it, by a shilling.

How could I have forgotten that Nortons were once Ajays? Since the dawn of time I have known that Norton twin engines got slotted into AJS bicycles, and that the results are strangely impressive, but a 350cc single hybrid? A cooking Ajay single disguised as a Norton? A Norton powered by an AJS single? How strange. I could never have forgotten that, could I?

What else could my 51 ˝ year-old memory have lost? You'll be telling me that AJS motorcycles were sold with 2-stroke engines next...

An AJS 2-Stroke, yesterday.


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