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28th October 2005

Opinion: AMC Anorak 12

Frank Westworth loves his AJS and Matchless motorcycles and makes a point of securing spare parts for them whenever possible. Here, in an unusual example of Hoarder's Downfall, he explains how his prize collection of AMC originals gets beaten to bits...

I have written in these electronic pages before about my slightly retentive obsession with collecting obscure bits of long-defunct motorcycles, particularly AJS and Matchless motorcycles. OK, maybe Norton motorcycles too. And possibly others. It's sometimes hard to remember which bit's which. Which might explain a lot…

The last time I mentioned that I've carried tons of rare rusty spares about the country with me, I was slightly amazed that so many folk got in touch to ask whether I'd sell it. Blimey. The truth is that I am entirely hopeless at selling anything. Whenever we change cars, Mrs FW does the selling; and I don't think I ever really sell bikes.

Sometimes I trade them, but otherwise they generally sit about the place collecting dust and rust until some visitor to The Shed takes pity on one of them and offers to take it off my hands, presumably to give the old relic (that's the bike, not me)(I hope) a better life in a better place. They couldn't possibly want to take advantage of my good nature by selling me a sob story and then selling the bike later at a considerable profit. No no! Do not chuckle. This has in fact happened several times, and dents my old good nature every time it happens. I could tell you a story or two…

…but I won't, because this is a family magazine, and the RealClassic world is populated entirely by honest souls who would never dream of taking advantage of simple innocents like me.

Random Matchless Stuff on

Among my favourite hunks of gently corroding scrap is a handsome collection of cigar-shaped silencers. You will already be entirely familiar with these; I have written about them before, and they were fitted to the last of the AMC roadster range, from about 1963 until The Very End in 1966.

I have a passion for the very late AJS, Matchless and Norton roadster twins (although my heart and wallet are still a-flutter following a too-brief spin aboard AJS & Matchless Owners Club President Malcolm Arnold's G80CS; as seen in RC18), and as no-one makes a decent pattern replacement cigar silencer, I picked up every one I spotted at autojumbles of long ago. Do you remember those autojumbles? Packed with really rare kit, they were, all of it almost free, all of it guaranteed to fit perfectly, and all of it just what we needed. Those were the days, etcetera.

Anyway; I have an impressive collection of unobtainable silencers. Only one of them is new. That's the rather rusty one which has oily rags stuffed into each end. I know this because I found it the other day while looking for something else. Close examination revealed that the silencer's interior is not rusty at all, possibly because I stuffed its orifices with oily rags in 1986 or so, at which time, mysteriously, the exterior wasn't rusty either. Plainly several of the Sheds through which the silencers have travelled have not been entirely dry in the atmosphere department.

Random AJS Stuff on

It's not rust, it's a light gold patina.That handsome, if lightly pitted and unusually brown, silencer is a left-hand one from a late twin. At one time, back in the glory days when no-one knew what they were and if they'd known they wouldn't have wanted them in any case, I did a deal with the late Chopper at Hamrax, then based in lovely Ladbroke Grove. The deal was a good one. I had a 1966 AJS 31, fitted with particularly unlovely Gold Star pattern silencers. These sounded fine but looked silly.

My life, I decided, would be improved immensely by fitting the correct cigar-shaped silencers, which not only look silly but sound silly too. The handsome rort blasted out by the fake BSA pattern silencers would be replaced by a flatulent wimper, but that minor ignominy would be as nought to the inner smugness I would experience from knowing that I had the only correct set of silencers for a 1966 AJS 31 in the known universe.

The snag - and the reason for the deal with Chopper - was that there were only left-hand silencers available. All the right-hand silencers were long gone, even by 1986. This was a tiny puzzle. I suggested to the gruff-voiced but golden-hearted Chopper that this must a result of vivid cornering around roundabouts, which ground holes in all the right-hand silencers, thus creating a vast demand for replacements. But only right-hand replacements.

I recall suggesting that if he scoured the continent, where riders ride around roundabouts the wrong way (try saying that after a gallon of Olde Peculiar!), then he would no doubt discover that Euro-riders were desperate to replace their worn-through left-hand silencers, and would have a pile of unused spare right-hand silencers. Much in the same way that he had the opposite. His reply, as I recall, was biting. And cruel.

However, he offered to sell me two pairs of silencers for my AJS. I suggested that although I was sure they were objects of considerable beauty and would guarantee success with gurls, so forth, the notion of having four left-hand silencers and no right-hand ones was a trifle tough, even for one as stupid (his word) as I. I was correct; he did think I was stupid. His plan was to cut off the mounting brackets and re-weld them the other way up, thus transforming two of the surplus left-handers into right-handers. Plainly, this was A Cunning Plan, and I applauded it and sent him all my money.

The silencers duly appeared, and with an ease and facility which has long since left me I fitted them. The left-hand silencer looked lovely. Well, lovely in a silly ugly and with exposed welded seams sort of sense. The right-hand silencer looked very strange. It drooped, displaying a flaccidity with which most chaps in their early thirties are entirely - and happily - unfamiliar.

Close and careful examination revealed that the entry to the silencers was not in fact completely parallel, but was intended to tilt the silencer up a touch. This is not evident from any brochure illustration, or indeed from period photos.

But I am A True AMC Man, and I ran the AJS with those silencers anyway, ignoring raised eyebrows and stifled sniggers. Until the right-hand fell off while we were heroically riding for Special Gold in the National Rally a year later. To make matters worse, it fell off outside the Ollerton control, which, as I'm sure you know, was manned (personned? Staffed?) by members of the NottsAnDerby section of the AJS & Matchless OC. All of whom were alleged friends. I fixed it back on with tears and the remains of a discarded wire milk crate under the hysterical gaze of Club members. Sigh.

However, while rooting around yesterday for something else, I uncovered my last, secondhand but only slightly, genuine AMC right-hand cigar silencer. This one came from an AJS Model 16S, oddly. But it was perfect for the Norton Model 50 Mk2 which is currently on the bench. Hurrah! As I leaned on the bend of the exhaust pipe, squeezing it gently into the gaping orifice of the silencer (and don't believe anything to the contrary which you may read elsewhere) there was a mysterious crumpling noise. The exit end of my last right-hand cigar-shaped silencer had folded up; collapsed upon itself. I cannot get it off the exhaust pipe, either. My life is in ruins. It is plain that I should have agreed to sell my hoard of rare and priceless bits for rare late AMC models to the guys who asked after I wrote about them last time. That way I would have been much richer and much less depressed.

You live and indeed you learn. Although it's getting a bit late for that now…

Silencer not shown. It's on the other side.


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