A Brief History of AJS Motorcycles

AJS motorcycles were first manufactured by the Stevens brothers in Wolverhampton in the late 19th Century.
 
The company was started by four Stevens brothers who’s father Joe was a blacksmith in the Wolverhampton area of the West Midlands. Joe had five sons and it was the four eldest who started in the early years manufacturing proprietary engines and later building frames eventually leading to building complete motorcycles, the first being produced in 1898.
 
ajs motorcycles
 
The company, originally called the Stevens Screw Company, was renamed after taking the name of the only son Jack with two initials becoming the A J Stevens & Co Ltd., the models thus being named AJS.
 
The company was noted for its high quality and were firm believers in competing in speed tests and reliability runs to improve the quality of their products, along with entries in the famous Isle of Man TT races in 1911.
 
As production increased, the brothers, in 1914, moved to new premises at Graisley Hill, Wolverhampton and while many manufacturers of the day, including AJS with an 8hp V twin, changed to twin cylinder models, the Stevens brothers also continued to develop the ever popular single cylinder models.
 
Due to the First World War, the factory was forced into military production which provided the company with valuable expertise in metals and production methods which, after the war, were put to good use in motorcycle production and featured heavily in the new ohv 350cc racer winning the first post war TT in 1920 by a large margin.
 
This was followed up the following year with a Senior TT win with a 350cc Big Port AJS. Many notable victories followed over the years including Jimmie Guthrie’s famous first Isle of Man victory in 1930 on an ohc 250cc AJS. During this time AJS were also very active and successful in various record attempts throughout Europe claiming many world records in the process.
 
The factory was also busy developing new models, while the 350cc Big Port remained a firm favourite along with a twin port 250cc and ever growing in capacity V twin models, new models included a transverse V twin in 1930 while on the racing scene in 1927 an ohc 350cc was developed followed by an ohc 500cc in 1928.
 
Another development in 1928 was a transverse in-line four cylinder using an engine similar in design to that used the Austin 7 but only three or four development bikes were ever built and never went into full production. Thankfully one of these surviving versions can be seen in the Sammy Miller Museum at New Milton Hants.
 
The company also looked at manufacturing other products from wireless sets, motor cars and heavy commercial vehicles. However, during all this costs started to get out of control and when in 1931 there was a massive downward trend in the sale of motor vehicles the company was in financial trouble and had no option but to close factory and go into liquidation. The brothers were proud of the fact that in the fullness of time every creditor was repaid in full and to the last penny.
 
The company and all its assets was purchased by the London company H Collier & Sons Ltd, manufacturers of the Matchless motorcycles who kept the AJS name and continued to produce models pretty much as they finished with the Collier Brothers forming a new company called Associated Motorcycles Ltd.
 
AJS models were promoted through the various aspects of competition developing a number of multi cylinder road racing models including the 500cc V four, initially as air cooled racer followed by water cooling and turbo. As in the Wolverhampton days reliability trials continued to play a large part in the development of their models. Another model developed in Wolverhampton.
 
After World War II the production range was gradually merged with the Matchless range becoming badge engineering of both brands with a range of 250, 350 & 500cc ohv singles along with twin cylinder models from 500 – 750cc.
 
On the competition front the V four cylinder roadracer was dropped and followed by a 500cc twin famously known as the Porcupine due to cooling fins around the head and cylinders, initially with a turbo charger which was later dropped because of rule changes in the sport. The off road competition also developed with a very successful production based 350cc trials and 500cc (motor cross) scrambler supplied under both brand names. They also developed in the mid sixty’s a two stroke bike for motor cross called the Stormer using the Villiers 250cc Starmaker engine.
 
The Porcupine originally designed proved to be not very successful and was dropped in favour of a of a production based 500cc twin but was soon dropped in favour of a brace of ohc 350cc and 500cc singles these being the AJS 7R and Matchless G50. These machines enjoyed major successes and provided the back bone from the 1940s through to the late 1960s both in Grand Prix and the domestic road racing scene.
 
Sadly in 1967 AMC ceased production and was sold off but the AJS name continued being bought by Fluff Brown who continues to produce the Stormer in both 250cc and 370cc versions. The Browns (AJS Motorcycles Ltd) also import under the AJS brand a range of custom and off road type bikes for use on public roads.
 
 
Article written by Roger Limb

Al Zibluk

A Brief History of Douglas Motorcycles

In 1882, the Douglas brothers, William and Edward, formed the Douglas Engineering Company in Kingswood, Bristol to carry out foundry work.
 
Douglas Motorcycles T35 Mk 1 
 
The horizontally opposed twin cylinder (flat twin) engine had originally been designed by German engineer, Karl Benz.
The flat twin engine for which the Douglas company became well known, was designed by Joseph Barter, the founder of Light Motors Ltd.
 
Barter had produced a single-cylinder motorcycle between 1902 and 1904, and then the 200cc flat twin called the Fairy, using components manufactured at the Douglas foundry.
 
Light Motors Ltd. failed in 1907 and was taken over by the Douglas brothers. Barter joined Douglas to continue with motorcycle design.
 
In 1907, the first Douglas motorcycle appeared. It featured a 350cc version of the flat twin and single speed belt drive. One of the cylinders faced forwards whilst the opposing cylinder faced the rear of the motorcycle. Initial sales were not too impressive.
 
In 1910, a two speed gearbox had been introduced, and this improved sales figures.
In 1911, two of three Douglas entries finished in the Isle of Man TT Races.
William Douglas rode one of the machines into seventh place in just over four hours.
G.L. Fletcher came twelfth.
 
1912 was more successful for Douglas in the Isle of Man Junior TT Race.
 
Harry Bashall came first at an average speed of 39.65mph.
 
In second place was Edward Kickham who achieved the fastest lap at 41.76mph.
 
J. Stewart came in fourth position and Jack Haslam came eighth.
 
In 1913, Douglas entered thirteen machines in the Isle of Man Junior TT Race.
 
Seven of these machines finished the race, the best position being W. Newsome who came in second place.
 
In 1914, the best that Douglas could manage in the Junior TT Race was seventh place ridden by E.E. Elwell.
 
Douglas continued to enter the TT Races with some reasonable results.
 
During World War I, Douglas manufactured many motorcycles for military use.
 
By 1920, the range included overhead valve machines 500cc and 733cc, as well as side valve machines of 350cc and 595cc.
 
The 350cc side valve machines were reconditioned military WD models.
 
Also in the 1920s, the RA models were introduced for racing. They featured disc brakes developed at the Research Association.
 
In 1923, production RA models were introduced in 346cc and 596cc versions.
 
The 348cc side valve EW models followed shortly after.
 
TT success returned to Douglas in 1923 when Tom Sheard won the Senior TT. Also in 1923, Douglas won the first ever Isle of Man Sidecar Race with the famous Douglas banking sidecar ridden by Freddie Dixon and T.W. Denny.
 
A Douglas ridden by A.H. Alexander came third in the Junior TT that year.
 
Later in 1923 Jim Whalley won the French Grand Prix on a Douglas.
 
Percy Flook won the gruelling Durban-Johannesburg Race in 1923 riding a 2.75 hp machine. He achieved an average speed of 43 mph over 430 miles.
 
In 1927, both 350cc and 600cc versions of the EW were available and in 1928 a 350cc ohv Sports model based on the EW was introduced.
 
In 1929 came the S5 and S6 models, developed by the well known motorcycle racer and tuner, Freddie Dixon.
Another Dixon design, the 350cc A31 followed in 1930.
In 1931, the overhead valve K32 and M32 models were introduced.
In 1932, after twenty five years of motorcycle production, Douglas became a limited company known as Douglas Motors Ltd.
 
They were to continue manufacturing motorcycles for a further twenty five years.
 
In 1934, the Blue Chief and the Endeavour, a 494cc flat twin shaft drive model were introduced.
By 1935, the company was struggling financially and was taken over by by the British Aircraft Company (BAC) who then formed a new company, Aero Engines Ltd.
 
The company continued to manufacture side valve 350cc, 500cc and 600cc models up to the breakout of World War II.
Motorcycle production continued into World War II and for the war effort, the company manufactured a variety of products including generators, aircraft components and industrial engines.
 
In 1945, the T35 was introduced featuring a 350cc flat twin engine with chain drive.
In 1946, the company became known as Douglas (Kingswood) Ltd.
In 1948, not long after the war, Douglas was facing financial difficulty again and production was restricted to the 350cc flat twin models.
 
In the early 1950s, Douglas became the UK importer and constructor of the Piaggio Vespa scooters.
In 1955, the 350cc Douglas Dragonfly was introduced. This was the last motorcycle to be produced by Douglas.
The Dragonfly featured a 348cc flat twin engine, four speed gearbox and chain drive.
 
In 1957, when Westinghouse Brake and Signal took over Douglas, production of Douglas motorcycles came to an end.
 
The production of the Vespa scooters at the Douglas factory also ended, however the company did continue to assemble scooters from parts imported from Italy.
 
Under Westinghouse, Douglas continued to sell Piaggio scooters and when Piaggio acquired the Gilera motorcycle brand in 1969, Douglas also became the UK importer for Gilera.
 
This continued through until 1982 when the import licence came to an end.
 
Steven Hodgkiss

Al Zibluk