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2nd April 2004

Ajay Day at the Miller Museum

200-plus bikes of the marque and a supercharged V4. Russ Gannicott enjoyed a day out at the Sammy Miller Museum and spotted a copy of RealClassic in the oddest place...

Well, summer is officially here. The clocks have gone forward and Sammy Miller has hosted the first of his season's 'marque days', in this case the AJS and Matchless Owners' bash. True to local tradition the air temperature at the museum was at least a couple of degrees lower than the surrounding countryside but that didn't deter the AJS and Matchless stalwarts who turned up in their droves. As a local, it would take me longer to get my riding kit on than it would to cover the distance to the venue, so for this one I went by car and was surprised to find that very few parking spaces remained in the front field for we less hardy/lazy types.

As soon as I'd parked up I was alerted to the sound of something interesting being fired up in the courtyard. With a pretty good suspicion of what it might be, I hot footed it through the crowds with hardly a glance at the huge assembly of other bikes… they could wait.

Chassis development has frequently lagged behind engine development...

Sure enough, I was right. The sound of a four cylinder bike running open pipes at an AJ day could mean only one thing: the supercharged V4 was getting an airing! Sammy entertained the crowds with a dozen or so laps of the courtyard at a fair old pace on the beast, displaying his perennial riding skills by barely avoiding the toes of the somewhat deafened spectators.

More than just an exhibit.Seeing the V4 in the museum is one thing, hearing it run and watching it travel past you so close that you can feel the exhaust pressure is something else. This is the great thing about the Sammy Miller Museum, the exhibits are not just… er, museum exhibits; they are real living, breathing motorbikes that you can get the occasional chance of seeing in their true glory.

For anyone not familiar with the V4, it was a pre-war grand prix racer of 495cc capacity. The DOHC V4 was watercooled and boosted by a Zolla supercharger via a single Amal carb. Power (80ps) was driven to the back wheel via a four-speed Burman box and, while it weighed in at around a hefty 190kg, the bike had a staggering terminal velocity of 135mph! Walter Rusk piloted the V4 for a 100mph lap of the 1939 Ulster GP which demonstrated the potency and potential of the machine, but sadly the Second World War put a stop to further development and when normal service was resumed the FIM banned supercharging…
What a shame!

Amongst the other exhibits wheeled out for the day was the truly beautiful Matchless Silver Hawk. I've always had a certain fear of bikes with tank-level gear changes, but given the chance this bike could change my opinion on the subject. I guess it would be true to say that if I could have had my choice from all the bikes assembled for a ride around the forest I would have taken the plunge and opted for the Silver Hawk. Lovely.

And this year's engine configuration is...

Anyway, this isn't just about museum bikes. As I said, the turnout was colossal; don't quote me on this but I reckon there must have been well over 200 Ajays and Matchies at the height of proceedings. These ranged from all the late AMC twins, to a couple of nice sidecar tugs, two or three trials models and about every version of the singles with the exception of a G50 or 7R! There was even a trike!

RealClassic Carpet Tiles will be available shortly.At one point I thought that this event should have been held at Wilton. I've never seen so many twelve-inch squares of carpet gathered together in one place. Does the museum keep a stock of these or do the riders carry their own? I didn't have the nerve to ask! I did find one amusing game to play whilst I was there though; spot the people clutching copies of RC! The magazine was a life-saver for all those who were waiting for their lunches to arrive and most of the tables in the café sported a copy. I even spotted a friend of mine stuffing his copy down the front of his leather jeans prior to a sixty mile ride. I'll have to ask next time I speak to him if this was for draught exclusion or to read when he got home -- either way, praise indeed!

The range of conditions of the bikes was also interesting; immaculate restored, good original and horrendously untouched! There was a great example of the latter. The bike is constantly used, maintained for function, taxed and MoT'd. That's it - nothing more. I felt a great affection for this little bike and really hope that no one in the future decides to restore it and 'make it into a better bike'. Because they won't. As it stands it's doing its job just fine, just being a motorbike. And it wasn't dropping oil!

They don't make 'em like that any more...

Now, I'll be the first to admit, I'm not the biggest AJS or Matchless fan. In fact I've only owned one of them, a 250CSR. I have a pathological fear and distrust of anything that has more than four or five components to a wheel spindle and, if my memory serves me right, my 250 had about 30 that could be re-assembled in any of 500 permutations! However I love to see a bike that has an identity and at the Miller Museum there was plenty of evidence to support the somewhat idiosyncratic common lineages of these marques, with their bold tank badges and profusion of jampots which sets them apart from anything else.

It was a great event and one of the advantages of being a local is that I get the chance to just pop in to gatherings such as these without the need to be a hardcore enthusiast. Anyway, there were a few 'foreigners' in the car park which grabbed my attention and satisfied my need for something non-AJ, like the nice Velo… and I said Ajays and Matchies were idiosyncratic? I think I need a lie down!

More chrome tanks and knee pads than a well padded chrome knee tank thing.

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