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AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350

The Mysterious AJS 10R: A Real-Life Detective Story

James J.

Due to prejudice, and ignorance of the rich history in South America, an of fraudulence” hangs around the vehicles unearthed from an continent, as documentation can be fraught distance, time, and language It’s clear that a hole exists in the literature on American motorcycling, which be rectified, as even this event in October 1930 what a rich vein of is waiting to be told. – The Vintagent d’Orleans), on the world speed run by Roberto Sigrand with a 1100cc racer in Luján, on October 19, 1930

British knew that the AJSs and in dealers’ shops in the 1950s and were one and the same, differing in badges, transfers, and the shape of silencers. In the 1930s, the parent Associated Motor Cycles, had the marketing decision to continue the two marques, as each had its loyal At the height of its prosperity in the late AMC offered a full range of and twin cylinder-powered machines both logos.

This gave rise to the term and while AMC was hardly the sole the London factory carried it to extremes. In the 1960s, buyers for a 750cc heavyweight twin choose an AJS, a Matchless, or a all assembled from the same bins. [1] When AMC collapsed in only Norton survived, on in various government-subsidized amalgamations finally expiring more a decade later.

On the racing of the ledger, AMC followed a different After the takeover of AJS in 1931, the family initials were for AMC’s road racers, the company’s trials machines the names of both marques. The technically advanced AJS racer, the supercharged 500cc V-4 introduced in looked like a sure contender, but fell victim to the II ban on forced-air induction. In contrast, the 350cc 7R single, first in 1948, was a winner right the start, its affordable price and maintenance making it popular private riders as the “Boy’s [2]

Things changed in 1951, the AMC race shop fitted a version of the company’s 500cc twin into the 7R frame and the prototype, wearing Matchless in that year’s Manx Prix. A year later, the racer, now dubbed the G45, was to win, leading from to finish and setting new lap and race For 1953, the world’s “only production racer” was part of the line-up.

After several campaigning, with modest in the championship rounds but greater on tracks in the Commonwealth countries, the G45 was by the G50, a bored-out version of the 7R came on the market in 1958. All perhaps 100 G45s were some of them going to the team, most sold to racers seeking an alternative to the and technically notchy Norton [3]

Thus the standard history has it AMC’s only postwar production racer was a Matchless. Wood’s 1969 article for the magazine Cycle World an illustration of the G45 with an AJS-branded but writes this off as a borrowed from the 7R.

Recently, however, a on that theme has been lending confirmation to a story Cathcart published in 1985 in Bike . In 1954, at least and possibly as many as five twin-cylinder racers were by the AMC factory, all destined for South Designated the AJS 10R—a logical from the 350cc single-cylinder unique machines were, of G45s wearing different [4] Why this departure from practice?

Was it merely another of AMC’s badge-engineering? Or is there a intriguing explanation for the existence of one of the of British racing motorcycles, the AJS

Much maligned in its day, the G45 has clawed its way back to respectability. At the and Butterfields auction in Los Angeles in 2007—the “Von Dutch” 1956 G45 sold for $50,000, the price the model has yet claimed.

At the Stafford (UK) show in 2008, the classic motorcycle premier outing, the best-in-show was given to Dennis Bunning’s restored 1954 G45, by The Classic Motorcycle as “beautifully purposeful, squat, and aggressive” Top-condition AJS 7Rs, especially with history as works are heading for $50,000 on the auction [5] What might an authentic one still exists—go for were it to be for sale?

The first tip about the 10R racer came from Cathcart, in the Classic Bike already mentioned. A few years Roy Bacon provided further in his British Motorcycles of the 1940s and . which included a photograph of an AMC bike being loaded a plane.

The wrappings carry a AJS logo, but the caption beneath the reads, “Despite the packing, is a Matchless G45 under there en to Venezuela.” [6] Badge, tank, or for matter engine swapping is unusual, although it’s the practice of privateers than of race shops. The G45 that was along with a 7R and a G50, in Australia from former prix racer Allan in 1998 wore an AJS-signed rather than a “flying one, going by the police that was circulated after the [7] But the story of the 10R involves more mere mechanical sleight-of-hand.

to Alan Cathcart’s report, the of the 10R was in Caracas, not in London. AJS and Matchless sold by separate dealers in rather than jointly as was the case in the UK and the US. The result was a good bit of spirit that carried to the racetrack, where in the early British bikes contested makes like Moto and Gilera.

Much of the racing place on public streets off by the police), with competitors modified versions of factory-issued bikes. [8] The well-known enthusiasm of Marcos Pérez Jiménez for motorsport encouraged local and rewarded risk-taking. In this scene, any advantage that be gained was not to be disregarded.

The Caracas for AJS was Julio César León, who was to keep his make at the front of the pack. When the G45 came on the in 1953, León wanted the new but only if it he could have it AJS branding. After a year’s in 1954 AMC obliged, “amazingly,” as Cathcart put it. Five G45s fitted with AJS tanks and cases and shipped, in AJS packing, to

Entered in the race programs as the bikes accomplished their keeping León’s riders in the for the national honors. They raced, Cathcart wrote, they were no longer and were then retired. one had survived and was being restored to its condition by a Caracas collector.

the story ended. Neither Walker’s scrupulously researched AJS and marque histories nor such reliable sources as Cyril A-Z Guide to British Motorcycles and Duckworth’s Classic Racing give any hint that—as Cathcart cleverly phrased racing version of the AJS Model 20 ever existed.

Stories this or that G45 have in enthusiast magazines like Bike and Classic Racer . when one of these veteran has been safely returned to its of origin. But there has not been a on those one-off 10Rs were shipped to South in 1954.

In January 2008, Mihalka, who now works for a BMW dealer in the US, a four-part memoir to an online site recalling his years as a motorcycle racer in South in the 1950s. Born in Hungary, emigrated with his family to after the war, where he Spanish by going to the movies and how to by hanging around motorcycle and race tracks. In 1953, won his novice race on an AJS 350cc

He then made a deal the local Velocette dealer enabled him to ride a much-modified MAC pushrod single in the national series. Engaging in spirited with local hero Antonio (“El Negro”) who was on an AJS, Mihalka won two races and second or third in six others, him the Venezuelan title. His success him to compete in the South American race in Lima, Peru.

in the 350cc class against a that included Swiss-born Roth on an Enfield Bullet and his El Negro on a race-modified AJS 16, Mihalka his Velocette home to first, no accomplishment in his first year of competition.

Figure 1: Paul (Velocette) leads José “El Negro” Vivas in a 1953 race. Photograph of Paul Mihalka. (Click to

The only cloud on the Venezuelan was the appearance, toward the end of the 1953 of the AJS 7R, a production racer with an record of victories on British The local AJS importer, Julio León, had succeeded in persuading the organizers to open the competition to new breed of machine.

A national thanks to being the first to compete in an Olympics, in London in as a cyclist, León had plenty of clout. The 7R quickly showed to be superior to the modified street that until then had the to themselves. For the 1954 season, the León was going to field to have the edge.

Since the dealer for whom Mihalka also held the local concession, the intramural rivalry was

Mihalka was now equipped with an cam Velocette KTT, cobbled from a worn-out European brought back to life parts from his previous MAC. The KTT gave Mihalka a and a second in the first two races of the He was then offered the opportunity to a brand new Gilera Saturno by the importer for Alfa Romeo and

Pre-war Gileras, especially the single-cylinder “Otto Bullonis,” still competitive on South tracks, and the Italian company’s 500cc racers had carried Masetti to two world championships in and 1952 and Geoff Duke to in 1953. Although it used a version of a 500cc single-cylinder engine, the Saturno was light, and superbly put together.

It had a broad band, with plenty of acceleration, and could top out at 120 mph, not up to a Manx but within striking of the 7R. In Mihalka’s description, “It like nothing else It was super light.

Its Italian was ‘la Piuma,’ the feather. [It the perfect bike for the Venezuelan tracks.” With his new mount and already in the bag, Paul set to repeat his championship.

But Julio León was not without resources. He had pulled one rabbit out of the hat by getting the changed to admit the 7R. Now he turned to AMC to him with a match for Mihalka’s [9] Before the Saturno reached León had taken shipment of 500cc twin-cylinder racers London. These were which AMC had transformed into so that León could them as part of his team.

As recalls, “They were in AJS colors and trim, and the engines stamped with a serial that said AJS 10R.” If the had arrived as G45s, to be re-branded in garages, Mihalka was prepared to a protest. Instead, he was invited to see the unloaded, neutralizing his objections.

2: Paul Mihalka on his Gilera leads El Negro on an AJS in 1954. courtesy of Paul Mihalka. to enlarge)

Few details are available on the races followed. Despite Julio León’s ingenuity, Mihalka won his championship, with five and a second. He recalls losing to a 10R in one but beating the AJSs in at least two

They were quick, admits, but they tended to a fault not unknown to other of the AMC racing twin (e-mail, 2008). The fastest of the 10R riders was José Betancourt, who went on to one of Venezuela’s most successful Another of León’s riders, the Lambert Danzer, also something of a name for himself on the

At the end of the 1954 season, Mihalka (as he puts it in his memoir) to get a real He retired from motorcycle and, using his skills as a and engineer, went to work for What happened to the 10Rs is a to him.

In the early 1980s, one of the AJS came to light when collector Gerald Römer it in “a shady part of in the hands of old time mechanics and racers” (e-mail, July The bike still had its oversized and oil tanks, alloy front and racing brakes, but was missing the engine.

Instead, it carried a AJS road engine, possibly up to CSR specifications (hot cams, compression pistons, different jet). In place of the Burman close-ratio gearbox that the used, an AMC transmission had been With these changes, the would have been down on speed, a deficit by the heavier weight of the road

Römer never opened the up to find out what was inside the

The bike was not running when bought it, and he could learn of its history, although it had clearly through the wars. By then few remembered the AJS 10Rs. Most thought the bike was a G45 that had “locally modified,” as Römer it. This was the motorcycle that Cathcart profiled in his 1985 Römer kept the bike for years, intending to restore it to G45

In 1991 or 1992, he sold it, with the road engine, and with a 7R and a G50 that had belonged to Danzer, to a California buyer. that, Team Obsolete Rob Iannucci had come from the US to the 10R but, failing to recognize it for it was, had passed on the chance to add it to his of rare AJS racers.

James who administers the online G45 Register in the UK and knows more about the AMC than anyone else, has that beyond Alan 1985 article and one or two photographs, evidence of the AJS 10R remains. Philbrick adds a note that in AMC built a 10R racer for a Singer dealer in Twickenham, Middlesex.

dealer sponsored a 7R rider in races and, when the G45 available, wanted one to complete his only if he could have it as an AJS July 2008). So Julio León may not have been the or the only, AJS vendor to exact his due the London factory.

For anyone to track down the pedigree of an AJS or motorcycle, the interchangeability of the two marques a challenge. With the racers, the are steeper. Bill Martin, who restore a G45 in New Zealand, notes some of the bikes meant for racing were bored out to so that a few “over-sized” G45 engines may be somewhere, waiting for an advantageous to come on the auction block July 2008).

For racers were campaigned over a stretch, with frequent on-the-spot parts swaps, and that individual riders may insisted on, the challenge becomes arduous. What the 10Rs were shipped to Venezuela in the may have looked like or thirty years later can be appreciated by anyone who follows the in a barn” features in Classic and The Classic Motorcycle . Unfortunately, of those barns has been in

For some time Gerald has been trying to track stories of a 10R that might exist, hoping to replace the one he let go in the His contacts include some who competed during the 1950s, Julio César León’s made sure the AJS brand was represented on the Venezuelan tracks. A of Römer’s leads appeared even if they required him to those “shady” parts of

But in a recent communication, the Caracas writes that the trail cold suddenly,” as it often when stories about old motorcycles begin circulating after they last saw action (e-mail, October

Even before Paul published his memoir, bits and of the 10R story were coming to the In a 2005 issue of Classic . British racer and journalist Swallow raised the question of the clone, the AJS 10R. Several followed, one of which, from the US, that two-time world Umberto Masetti rode a G45 “disguised as an AJS” in a race in Venezuela in 1957.

According to the Masetti was riding for a dealer who did not his entrant mounted on a Matchless from America”). Presumably was none other than César León, still for an edge on the Venezuelan marketplace for bikes. Was Masetti’s bike one of the 10Rs that had been from London?

In fact, a of Masetti astride a 10R appeared in the publication Motor Cycling in 1958, with the caption that “the local AJS doesn’t deal in Matchlesses” Gossip”). The magazine wondered how the AJS had impressed Masetti, given by the time he rode it he had three experience on the world-beating MV Agusta his belt.

As elusive as the facts of the 10R are photographs that prove the existence. Yet that is where the might best be traced. In Paul Henshaw’s Encyclopedia of the included a photograph of a “1954 AJS 10R twin” (15).

Unfortunately, than the caption, no information is The photo itself looks to been taken in the AMC works and what appear to be packing raising the question whether the is one of those destined for South In December 2007, Paul posted a photograph of former Lambert Danzer on an online with the caption indicating Danzer was riding a 7R (“Lambert One look at the photo suggests else.

The 7R uses a right exhaust. Danzer’s bike has an exiting from the left of the cylinder head, implying a right side pipe. the bike be one of the ultra-rare three-valve with which AJS won the junior TT in That would explain the exhaust.

There are stories a three-valve 7R was raced in Venezuela in the Alan Cathcart noted in his 1985 report, and Paul remembers a “triple-knocker” 7R when he was his championships.

Figure 3: Although as a 7R, Lambert Danzer is riding an AJS 10R in photo. Photograph courtesy of Milhalka. (Click to enlarge)

But a look at the Danzer photograph otherwise. There’s a rev counter coming off the left side a mechanical improbability on the overhead cam 7R. On the AMC 500cc twin, the drive ran off the end of the exhaust cam, as in the photo.

So in all Danzer, with the AJS logo on his is riding one of the 10Rs. The overall of the bike, and especially what can be of the engine’s architecture, is that of 500cc racing twin, and the way it is out certainly does not betray a minute conversion intended to the scrutineers.

In July 2008 Venezuela’s press commemorated the fiftieth of the … of José Antonio [10] Lauded as “the great idol of Venezuelan Vivas died at age twenty-six he crashed his BSA Gold Star on the Los track in Caracas. “El Vivas was better known for his style and fierce determination to win for his riding skill—there were of spills, recalls Paul who patterned his own technique on the ever-so-smooth world champion Geoff he was a favorite with the racing Penalties, suspensions, and frequent with racing officials to Vivas’s popularity.

Figures 4 and 5: On the “El Negro” Vivas on an AJS 10R in in 1954. Note the AJS timing On the right, El Negro airborne on the AJS 10R at the Championship Race in Lima, Photographs courtesy of Octávio from the family of José Vivas. (Click to enlarge)

For the of El Negro’s …, his family some photographs, not seen for of the hero in action. In two of them, he is an AMC racing twin in AJS colors, has to be one of the 10Rs.

Paul Mihalka that José Antonio did not have use of a 10R when they competing, and given his penchant for bikes, it is entirely plausible Julio César León the daredevil rider away the precious twin-cylinder racers in first couple of seasons June 2008). But Vivas did the South American championship in 1954 in the 350cc class and in 1955 in the 500cc class.

In the year, the race reports him as riding an AJS (Muñoz, e-mail, 2008; Römer, e-mail, 2008). So it could be that, for the León relented and gave his driver the chance to show his on the “big” AJS.

AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350

Like Mihalka’s photograph of Lambert in action, the photos of El Negro are on, one of them right down to the AJS timing case, more that the 10R ran, challenged, and won on American race tracks. To the of AMC’s directors in London—if were even paying their marketing strategists, it was an AJS racing twin, not a Matchless, took an international championship.

This paper could not been have been without generous assistance Paul Mihalka, Gerald Eduardo Muñoz, Octávio Bill Martin, and James Thanks are also due my colleague, A. Prettiman, for reading the text and for with translations from the Any errors, of course, are my own.

1 description from the British Motor Cycling says it “The range for 1965 as though someone had taken a of AMC, Jubilee, and Featherbed AJS, Matchless, and Norton and, with name for all three marques, shaken up in a giant hat to produce some varieties of single- and twin-cylinder ohv (Walker, Matchless 92).

2 For the of the “Boy’s Racer,” see Walker, AJS and Walker, AJS 7R . In 1954, the 7R gave AJS AMC) its only postwar win in the of Man TT races, with a first and in the junior class.

3 The G45 designation briefly in the 1960s when AMC its over-bored 750cc Matchless (a final iteration of the original twin) the G15/45, the 45 meant to cubic inches for the all-important US Approximately 200 high-vibration examples made, before AMC switched to the Norton Atlas engine to the G15 Mark II, the last of which was in 1969.

4 A designation not to be confused the AJS R10, which was the 500cc of the R7 350cc overhead cam racer the firm produced in the late and, under AMC auspices, in the

5 At its Stafford sale in October Bonhams sold an ex-Isle of Man TT 7R racer for £26,450, or about at the then exchange rate. At the H H at Cheltenham in February 2008, 7R with TT history sold for at the time almost $95,000, the estimate and reportedly the most paid for a British single-cylinder

6 The photograph appears on p. 34 in Roy Bacon’s The A-Z of Motorcycles . a reissue that the earlier volume.

7 The G45 in question was a model and, although an was made in June 2008, has yet to be For the bike’s specifications, see the police “Three Rare Classic Motorcycles Stolen,” May 1998.

8 and Triumphs were especially with race-kitted 500cc 100s frequently beating the of the field. “Pure” racing like the 350 and 500cc Norton were rarely to be seen and if they could have had, the technical expertise to service them was unavailable. At the Paulo Grand Prix in 1954, staged to celebrate the anniversary of the city’s founding, a Manx-equipped rider was sent to represent the entire British industry (Walker, Norton 83).

9 In his Classic Bike Alan Cathcart wrote “a brace of G45s” also delivered to Venezuela for the season, further threatening to the 7Rs that León had in his stable.

10 The by Octávio Estrada, dated 20, 2008, appeared on several sites in Spanish and Portuguese, but was not up on any English-language site.

Ayton, A-Z Guide to British Motorcycles the 1930s to the 1970s . Bideford: Bay Books, 1991.

Bacon, The A-Z of British Motorcycles from the 1940s, and 1950s . Enderby: Reprint Company, 1996.

Alan. “Restoring the Unique AJS Classic Bike August 11.

Duckworth, Mick. Classic Motorcycles . Isle of Man: Books, 2002.

Estrada, “El negro Vivas: gran ídolo del motociclismo Posted on July 20, 2008 at and other online sites.

E-mails to the author. July

Henshaw, Paul. The Encyclopedia of the . Edison NJ: Chartwell Books,

“Letter from America.” Racer November/December 2005: 15.

Bill. E-mails to the author. 2008.

Mihalka, Paul. to the author. April-July 2008.

“Lambert Danzer on an AJS 7R” Photograph posted on December 23, at http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=295644 .

Muñoz, Eduardo. to the author. July 2008.

James. E-mail to the author. 2008.

Robinson, James. Blooms.” The Classic Motorcycle 2008: 14-18.

Römer, E-mails to the author. July-October

“Sports Gossip.” Motor February 27, 1958: 264.

The AJS 7R . Tyne and Wear: Redline 2002.

—. Matchless: The Story . Ramsbury: Crowood 2004.

—. The Norton . Tyne and Wear: Redline 2001.

Wood, Geoffrey. Pioneer of British Motorcycling.” AJS and Gold Portfolio, 1945-1966. Brooklands Books, n.d.

AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350
AJS Model 8 350

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