Four Wheels Move the Body. Two Wheels Move the Soul. (anon) by Elizabeth Talbot

Two British classics headline the Automobelia Auction at TW Gaze in Diss on Thursday 5 October. They are exemplary representatives of this Isle’s reputation for motorcycle manufacture, illustrating the best in fine build quality and reliability, not to mention style.

The first is a 1952 Matchless, the second, a 1961 AJS lightweight. They have been submitted for sale by a local private collector and have already attracted a lot of interest from fellow-enthusiasts. Some early viewers having been reminiscing, speaking fondly of their own experiences of owning similar models in their formative years; others have been much younger fans, who have only ever seen examples at shows and in museums, but who instantly recognise these iconic beasts and readily acknowledge the significance they hold in bike history.

Both the AJS and the Matchless companies evolved from the early days of motorcycle manufacture. AJS was founded by the Stevens family and flourished admirably until the days of the Depression in the 1920’s; although expertise and proof of product were quite evident, the money ran out and in 1931 AJS went into liquidation. It was taken over by Matchless, a firm founded by the Collier brothers who had found success with their bikes in both track and road events during the Edwardian period (1901 – 1910). By comparison with AJS, they prospered throughout the 1920’s, their product range geared very much for sale to the general public. AJS manufacture was moved from Wolverhampton to join the Matchless factory in Plumstead, London and both lines were manufactured and marketed successfully side-by-side. In 1937 Matchless took over the Sunbeam Company as well and the three firms were registered as Associated Motor Cycles (AMC). By 1943, the Sunbeam name had been sold to the BSA Group, leaving the AMC name in Plumstead where it continued to refer to the two marques as a pair.

Many models of each bike were produced over the following decades, with subtle and technical amendments ensuring both success in competition races and popularity amongst faithful clientele. More obvious progression came with the introduction of spring-frame models in the 1950’s (as an alternative to rigid frames), progressive Duplex frames in the 1960’s, and the ongoing revision of engine specs throughout.

Lauded success was achieved by both marques in competition including scrambling, time trials and endurance rides, helped along by the refinements and modernisations introduced. The road versions were not so very different from the competition bikes and some of the stories told by past owners of their exciting, some  would say hair-raising, adventures as youthful riders of these bikes, suggest they provided some interesting thrills and spills in their day; a rite of passage to car-ownership. No wonder many of the reminiscences recently shared were wistful. However, ultimately, the AJS and Matchless were matched and then overtaken by more modern, progressive designers and manufacturers better in tune with the mid-20th Century market’s motoring requirements.

By the end of the 1960’s, original production ceased and this era of home-grown giants came to an end. Now such bikes are held in high esteem, sought-after and cherished. Opportunity to own is available now: the AJS carries a pre-auction estimate of £1,800 – 2, 200 and it is hoped the Matchless will fetch £3,000 – 4,000.

Viewing from 12 noon 5 October; sale begins at 5pm.

All enquiries to Auctioneer and Automobilia Valuer, Andre Ling, 01379 650306; further details and catalogues