Historic Motorcycle Brands
A J Stevens & Co Ltd was founded by Joe Stevens in Wolverhampton, England as an automobile and motorcycle manufacturer, from 1909 to 1931. AJS held numerous motorcycle world records.
After 1931, the AJS brand continued to be used by Associated Motorcycles and Norton-Villiers on four-stroke motorcycles until 1969, and since the name’s resale in 1974, on lightweight, two-stroke scramblers and, today, on small-capacity roadsters and cruisers.
1920 AJS D1 – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
Joe Stevens, father of Harry, George, Jack and Joe Stevens, was an engineer who owned the Stevens Screw Company Ltd that had a reputation for quality engineering.
A prototype motorcycle appeared in 1897, using a Mitchell single-cylinder, four-stroke engine, imported from the USA. Before long, Stevens began making engines, starting off with a better-built version of the Mitchell but the family soon developed their own designs, including parallel-twins and V-twins, which were sold as proprietary engines to other manufacturers, including Werner, Wolf and Clyno.
In 1909, after a Wearwell motorcycle fitted with a Stevens side-valve, single-cylinder engine won a trophy for a 24-hour non-stop run in 1909, Jack Stevens decided to contest the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man.
1928 AJS K6 350cc- ‘Big Port’ OHV – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The first AJS appeared at the Motor Cycle Show in 1910. Its engine, a two-speed 298cc side-valve, came under the 300 cc limit for Junior machines in the Isle of Man TT races and was slightly larger than the 292 cc used for the proprietary engines. Jack Stevens came 16th on AJS’s official entry, one place behind private owner J D Corke on an identical machine.
Albert John Stevens’ initials branded the company, but it was a family concern by 1922: Harry Stevens was managing director, George Stevens, commercial manager, ‘young Joe’ Stevens, managing the experimental section and Jack Stevens, production manager.
1930 AJS R8 500cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
AJS did not contest the 1912 TT as it was busy satisfying the demand for its products, but was 10th in the 1913 Junior. With the Junior limit raised to 350cc for 1914, the AJS motorcycle had grown to 349cc, with a four-speed gearbox and chain final drive.
AJS achieved its first TT victory in the Junior 1914 Isle of Man TT race that year, with Eric Williams taking first place and identical bikes took second, third, fourth and sixth places.
‘Win on Sunday; sell on Monday’ worked well for AJS and the old Screw Company’s facilities could not cope with increased demand. The newly constituted A J Stevens and Company (1914) Ltd moved to a new factory.
The 2+3/4hp, 349cc machine was the big seller, but the company also produced a 6hp, 800cc V-twin.
On 3 November 1916, the Ministry of Munitions prohibited the production of non-military motorcycles and AJS manufactured munitions and a militarised Model D bike.
1930 AJS 500cc OHC Racer Lars-Goran Lindgren
When production of the 350 resumed in 1920, the side-valve engine was replaced by a new overhead-valve design that produced 10bhp. It also had internal expanding brakes and chain primary drive.
Cyril Williams won the 1920 Isle of Man TT Junior race on his 350, after pushing it four miles downhill to the finish, after a breakdown. AJS took the first four places in the 1921 Isle of Man TT and Howard R Davies bettered his second place in the Junior by winning the Senior on the same 350cc AJS. In 1922, Manxman Tom Sheard won the Junior on an AJS, with G Grinton, also on an AJS, taking second.
1936 AJS 350cc TV – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The 1922 machine was known as the ‘Big Port’ , because of its large-diameter exhaust port and pipe (initially 15⁄8 inches, but changed in successive years). The OHV 350 was the mainstay of the company’s racing efforts until 1927 and, in production form, throughout the 1920s.
AJS had a comprehensive range of other models, ranging from 250 to 500cc singles, in a mixture of side-valve and overhead-valve configurations, plus a side-valve 996cc V-twin.
Several of these were intended to mount the 12 AJS sidecars on offer, including sports, touring and commercial models.
In 1927, AJS introduced two new chain-driven overhead-camshaft racing models: the 349cc K7 and the 498cc K10. Jimmy Simpson rode a 350 to third place in the Junior TT and won races in Europe, but in 1928 AJS used the overhead-valve engine in the TT.
In 1929 came two overhead cam race bikes: the 349cc M7 and the 498cc M10. Wal Handley came second in the 1929 Junior TT on a 350 AJS. The following year Jimmie Guthrie won the 1930 Lightweight TT on a 250 cc AJS.
NSW Police Officers on AJS – Constable Bill Bottwell on bike Constable Lowther in sidecar – National Archive.
The R7, 350 overhead-camshaft model won eight Grand Prix and established a number of world records at Montlhery, near Paris, including one hour at an average of 104.5mph and two hours at an average of 99.5mph.
In 1931, the 496cc, AJS S3 V-twin was released, with aluminium cylinder heads, a transverse engine layout and shaft drive. It had been expensive to develop and was slow to sell as the Great Depression started to bite.
1932 AJS S3 V-twin – Thruxton
Not helping cash flow was the fact that AJS had been also making car bodies for Clyno, but in 1929 Clyno went under, so AJS returned to car making in 1929 with the model Nine, powered by a 1018cc, side-valve Coventry-Climax engine. The AJS Nine was quite expensive at Stg£210 for the two-seater and Stg£320 for the fabric-bodied saloon, so only about 3300 were made.
The company also started making buses and coaches, powered by Meadows and Coventry Climax engines. Around 200 buses were built.
Despite its racing success, 117 world records and motorcycle market popularity, the diversified AJS company was in financial trouble, in 1931 and went bankrupt.
After BSA failed to obtain control of AJS, its motorcycle assets were bought by the Collier brothers’ London company, Matchless and the car manufacturing assets went to Crossley Motors.
The AJS badge was put on ‘bread and butter’ Matchless motorcycles, but the Colliers were mindful of the AJS racing heritage and used the name on some innovative racing machinery.
1938 AJS-Matchless – Thruxton
In 1935, at the Olympia Show, an air-cooled, SOHC, AJS 50-degree V4 was shown as a road bike that was never produced, but in 1936 Harold Daniell rode a supercharged race version in the Isle of Man Senior TT. Despite its high top speed, it lacked acceleration.
The 1935 film No Limit was set at the Isle of Man TT. The film starred George Formby as an aspiring racer who travels to the Isle of Man with his modified and streamlined motorcycle, which he christened the Shuttleworth Snap. The bike was in fact a 1928 AJS H5.
AJS H5 ‘Shuttleworth Snap’ Replica – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The Stevens brothers tried vehicle manufacturing again, starting Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Ltd to make a three-wheel delivery van, powered by 588cc single-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a three-speed gearbox and chain drive. The last ones were made in 1936.
In 1934 they also produced a new range of motorcycles under the Stevens name. These were made until 1938, after which the company continued until 1956 as a general engineering business.
In 1938, AJS became part of a group called Associated Motorcycles, formed by the Colliers as a management company for its various interests. After this Matchless and AJS generally shared models using different badging, although the AJS name was used for several unique racers.
1939 AJS water-cooled V4 Racer – Oldnoccer
In 1939, a water-cooled and supercharged version of the 495cc AJS V4 was built to compete against the supercharged BMWs then dominating racing. In 1939 the dry sump V4 was the first bike to lap the Ulster Grand Prix course at over 100mph. Then World War II intervened.
After the War, the AJS Porcupine, 500cc, forward-facing parallel twin and the AJS 7R, 32bhp, 350cc OHC single were being raced alongside AMC stablemates, the Matchless G50 that was a 500cc 7R and, by 1951, the Matchless G45 500cc vertical twin. Les Graham won the 1949 World Championship on an AJS E90 500cc Porcupine.
In 1951, AJS released a three-valve-head, 36bhp version of the 7R known as the 7R3, in response to the Italian multi-cylinder racers. For 1954, AJS lowered the engine in the frame and persuaded it to produce 40bhp at 7800 rpm. It immediately won the first two rounds of the World Championship and took first place at the Isle of Man TT.
1954 AJS E95-22 Porcupine – Craig Howell
AMC withdrew from works road racing at the end of the 1954, but made a production version of the standard two-valve AJS 7R, for privateers.
AJS and Matchless road bikes shared mechanical components through the 1950s and 1960s, until Associated Motorcycles and the AJS name eventually ended up with Norton-Villiers in 1966.
The AJS and Matchless traditional single cylinder four-stroke models were finished. Matchless and AJS badged models, with Norton motors, were assembled until 1969. The AJS Model 33 was the last AJS-badged four-stroke produced.
1967 Peter Inchley on a Starmaker-AJS
The AJS two-stroke era began with the Norton-Villiers 250 Starmaker engine that had been developed for ‘scrambler’ racing and road racing. Peter Inchely, formerly from Ariel and BSA, was involved with the 250 Road Race project and rode a Bultaco-based, six-speed, 250 Villiers Starmaker-powered special to third place in the 1966 Lightweight TT.
Several pre production AJS 250 Racers were built and raced but the project came to halt in 1967 after an unsuccessful second TT attempt. The scrambler project continued with considerable success.
From 1966 until 1968, Villiers developed the ‘Stormer’ motocross motorcycle and some were badged AJS.
The two-stroke AJSs had been built in Wolverhampton, at the Villiers factory but in 1970 the UK government provided a special subsidy that enabled AJS to open a new factory on Walworth Industrial Estate in Andover, where they assembled Stormer off-road motorcycles.
AJS scramblers were produced from 1968 until 1974 in 250, 370 and 410 engine sizes. In 1969 The 370 (Y5) was added and the name changed to Stormer. The 410 followed in 1972.
By 1974, Norton-Villiers was having financial trouble and the rights to manufacture the Stormer under the AJS banner were purchased. However, the Starmaker/Stormer engine was outdated and could not compete with the new arrivals from Husqvarna, CZ, Maico, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha.
From 1974 Stormer-based scramblers and trail bikes were sold from modified AJS stock.
In September 1974, after the collapse of Norton Villiers, Fluff Brown and Clive Ellis took over AJS tooling and parts for the AJS Stormer bikes. They started trading as FB-AJS and became AJS Motorcycles Ltd in August 1987. Clive Ellis left the company in 1975.
AJS Stormer – H&H Classics
Fluff Brown supplied Stormer spare parts and manufactured scrambles bikes throughout the 1970s and 1980s, finally using Austrian Rotax engines and a new chassis developed by Brian Curtis.
AJS makes a range of lightweight motorcycles and scooters that are distributed through a UK dealer network and exported to Germany, Portugal, Czech Republic, Japan and South Korea.