AJS was founded by Albert John Stevens (hence the name) in Wolverhampton around 1900. AJS won the Junior TT in 1914, but their greatest racing accomplishments came later, memorably when Les Graham won the first ever 500cc world championship on the Porcupine twin in 1949. By 1931 AJS held 117 motorcycle world records.
Joseph Stevens (senior) was born in Wednesfield in 1856 and became a self employed engineering blacksmith in 1874. His company was called J. Stevens & Co. with premises in Cross Street, Wednesfield. He undertook all kinds of metalwork from making horseshoes, parts for a horses harness and bridle, to repairing or making garden tools. He also worked on such diverse things as bicycles and locks, and soon gained a reputation as a highly skilled craftsman. Joe and his wife had nine children. All of them in time would be involved in the family business.
Joseph's eldest son Harry joined him in the business and they moved to premises in Tempest Street near Wolverhampton town centre, where they were soon joined by Joseph's third son Joe junior. Harry soon acquired his fathers engineering skills and began to design all kinds of machines and tools for use in the lock industry. Joseph acquired a small American, 'Mitchell' single cylinder, 4 stroke petrol driven engine for use at the works. It was poorly built and unreliable but interested Harry greatly. He decided that he could do better and set about designing and building his own engine. Rough castings were obtained from a company at Derby.
These were machined by the two brothers who built the engine in their spare time. It was completed late in 1897 and was an instant success. It outperformed the 'Mitchell' engine in every way, being reliable and efficient, and delivered about 1.75 horsepower. Harry and his father were quick to realize that a large market existed for reliable petrol engines for use in industry. They decided to manufacture engines and set up the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company in 1899.
This was to have far reaching consequences for Wolverhampton industry. Thanks to Harry who was the mechanical genius of the family, Clyno would eventually move here to produce motorcycles and cars, Sunbeam would start to produce engines of its own, based on one of Harry's designs, and of course A.J.S. came along 15 years later. One wonders if Wolverhampton would have been such a large vehicle manufacturer without Harry starting it all. He is certainly one of the unsung heroes of the town.
Automobiles, Omnibuses, and Coaches
Although best known for their motorcycles the company made a few experimental cars with Meadows engines in 1923 but decided not to go into full production. AJS had manufactured car bodies for Clyno, but in 1929 Clyno went under. AJS returned to car making in 1929 with the Nine powered by a 1018 cc side valve Coventry-Climax engine producing 24 bhp and driving through a three speed gearbox. The cars were quite expensive at £210 for the two seater and £320 for the fabric bodied saloon. About 3,300 were made.
The company also started making buses and coaches. The first model was the Pilot with a Meadows engine. This was followed by the Commodore with a Coventry Climax L6 engine and finally by the Admiral. Just over 200 buses were built.
In 1931 A. J. Stevens & Co went bankrupt. The motorcycle assets were bought by the Collier brothers, London company Matchless and the car manufacturer Crossley Motors. Crossley incorporated some improvements such as a four speed gearbox and using parts acquired from AJS built about 300 cars between December 1931 and May 1932. Assembly took place in the Stockport factory used by Willys Overland Crossley. Motorcycle production moved to Plumstead.
A 1½-litre model was planned, but failed to materialize except to appear on the Willys-Overland-Crossley stand at the 1932 London Motor Show.
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 shared models using different badging.
The Stevens brothers tried again and started a new company as Stevens Brothers (Wolverhampton) Ltd to make 3 wheel delivery vans. (They could not call them AJS, as that name belonged to the Colliers.) These used a 588 cc single cylinder engine driving the rear wheels through a 3 speed gearbox and chain drive. The van could carry 5 cwt. It was improved in 1935 with shaft drive and upgraded to 8 cwt. The last ones were made in 1936. In 1934 they also produced a new range of motor cycles under the Stevens name. These were made until 1938 after which the company continued until 1956 as a general engineering business.
Merger with Matchless
In 1931 AJS was taken over by Matchless of London. The merged firms formed Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) in 1938, but the AJS and Matchless marquees were retained to retain their owner loyalty. This resulted in the bikes having cases of split personalities in which the Matchless version was the same bike differing only in paint color, badges, and exhaust systems. When civilian production resumed during 1946 there was little to distinguish between the Matchless G3L and G80 models and the AJS 16 and 18 variants other than the position of the magneto and badge on the tank.
With an emphasis being placed on production, the company concentrated their efforts on the singles which were largely the same as the wartime G3L except for color and the displacement of the larger models. However, their experience with hydraulic suspension gained during the war years resulted in the manufacture for the 1949 domestic market models ( there is some evidence of machines being built with a sprung frame from 1947 onwards for export) of a pivoted fork frame which was used on both the singles and the recently introduced twin. The new frame, equipped with slender damper units of AMC's own design, was superior to their rivals plunger based systems both in terms of road holding and comfort. The next major revision to the singles range occurred during 1951 when the original suspension units were replaced with the distinctive "jampot" units.
Detail revisions occurred over the next four years, a new Burman gearbox had been introduced during 1952 and auto advance had been added during 1954 together with a full width front hub, which was revised for 1955 and joined by a matching rear one. For 1956 a new frame was introduced with a restyled, long thin oil tank and matching toolbox which also housed the battery resulting in what is arguably the best looking of the "heavyweight" singles family and the only year that the full width alloy hubs, Jampots and long toil tank/toolbox coincided.
The most popular AJS racer was the single cylinder 350cc 7R, which was commonly known has "Boy Racer". It was first introduced in 1948, the 7R was hugely successful was later enlarged to 500cc with the Matchless G50.
Under AMC the AJS badge may have been put on the "bread and butter" Matchless motorcycles, but the Colliers were mindful of the AJS racing heritage, and used the name on some innovative racing machinery. These racing bikes kept the AJS name alive.
In 1935, at the Olympia Show, an air cooled SOHC AJS 50° V4 was shown, a fully equipped road going version, which did not make it into production. In 1936 Harold Daniell rode a supercharged race version in the Isle of Man Senior TT, but despite its high top speed, it lacked acceleration.
In 1939 a water-cooled and supercharged version of the 495 cc 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 100 mph (160 km/h). It weighed 405 lb (184 kg). and its top speed was 135 mph (217 km/h). Then World War II intervened.
At the end of the 40s and start of the 50s, the AJS Porcupine, a 500 cc forward facing parallel twin, and the AJS 7R (32 bhp, 350 cc OHC single) were being raced alongside their AMC stablemates the Matchless G50 (effectively a 500 cc 7R) and by 1951, the Matchless G45 (a 500 cc vertical twin). The AJS Porcupine had been designed for supercharging, before the rules changed banning supercharged racing motorcycles, but even so, Les Graham won the 1949 World Championship on an unsupercharged AJS E90 500 cc Porcupine.
In 1951 AJS development engineer Ike Hatch developed a 75.5 mm bore x 78 mm stroke, three valve head version of the 7R making 36 bhp (27 kW). It was called the AJS 7R3, and was Ike's response to the Italian multi-cylinder racers. They did well enough in their first year, not as well the second. For 1954 Jack Williams, the works team manager, developed the bike further, lowering the engine in the frame, and making some tuning changes that gave 40 bhp (30 kW) @ 7800 rpm. It immediately won the first two rounds of the World Championship and took first at the Isle of Man TT. These were factory specials, but one has survived, and a second has been reconstructed from spares.
AMC withdrew from the world of works and one-off road racing at the end of the 1954, with the death of Ike Hatch, and in the face of fierce competition from the other European bikes. After this AJS made a production version of the standard two valve AJS 7R, for privateers. In 1954 Norton was also moved to the Plumstead works.
With the G15 line, AMC had built on the merits of the G12 but there were numerous changes to frame, forks, swinging arm, primary chaincase, transmission, cycle parts and lubrication system. The P11 was the last line of bikes with bonds to AMC. It used a modified G85CS frame but there were stronger forks, completely new cycle parts (making some was rather costly), altered lubrication and modified primary chaincases, to mention a few.
The G15 series was offered as 3 brands: Matchless G15 comprising G15Mk2, G15CS and G15CSR; AJS Model 33 comprising M33Mk2, M33CS and M33CSR; and last not least Norton N15CS (no Norton-branded roadster made as it would compete against the Atlas). The G15 series was produced from 1963 to 1969. They were initially for export only, but by 1965 these models were available in UK and Europe too.
Most of AJS's roadsters were less inspiring singles and parallel twins such as the Model 30, with its 600cc engine that had almost square dimensions giving it a smoother ride than comparable models. With peak power producing 33bhp the twin was capable of cruising at 70mph. Combined with predictable handling, this made for a relaxed comfortable bike suitable for traveling long distances. The Model 30 was also well-made, reliable, and economical, unfortunately such attributes were not enough to keep AJS in business. Poor sales led to AMC becoming part of Norton Villiers in 1967. Some AJS bikes were then continued incorporating Norton parts, but they were not successful and the factory ceased production shortly afterwards.
Associated Motorcycles and the AJS name eventually ended up with Norton-Villiers in 1966. In late 1968 the Plumstead works at Burrage Grove, where engines from the Wolverhampton plant and frames from the Manchester plant were assembled into complete machines, were presented with a Greater London Council compulsory purchase order. The Plumstead works closed in July 1969. It is believed that production of the G15 series was halted late in 1968 (model year '69) with unsold samples on offer through 1969. The AJS Model 33 was the last AJS badged four-stroke produced.
A Government subsidy allowed assembly to move to a factory at North Way, Andover, with an aircraft hangar on nearby Thruxton Airfield housing the Test Department. Manufacturing was concentrated at Wolverhampton.
The name was used on the off-road two-stroke AJS Stormer. The Stormer period spanned from 1969 to 1974 and was a period of rejuvenation and the introduction of a new competition model in various engine sizes (250, 370 and 410cc) which achieved moderate successes in the hands of such riders such as Malcolm Davis, Freddie Mayes and Andy Roberton. ,
But when they hit financial problems the rights to manufacture AJS motor cycles was purchased by Fluff Brown who moved operations to Goodworth Clatford near Andover, Hampshire during September 1974.
AJS was re-started by Fluff Brown in 1974 when Fluff, who was previously the competition manager at AJS, bought out the ailing company from Norton Villiers. Fluff continued the parts supply for the AJS Stormer and produced affordable FB-AJS Moto X machines for the clubman racer and 250cc trail bikes. Fluff's eldest son Nick Brown, joined the company in 1987 and was soon looking East at the array of small, affordable motorcycles built in China. One of the first children's Chinese built off road bikes available in the UK was the Jianshe Coyote-80. It was first imported and distributed through a dealer network by AJS in 1998. This well built little machine was an outstanding success and proved very robust and reliable. It showed that Chinese motorcycles, although cheap, could be built to a high standard. AJS motorcycles are still built in China.
All current AJS motorcycles are European Whole Vehicle Type Approved to meet European safety standards and emission levels. AJS are members of the Motorcycle Industry Association and adhere to the MCIA Code of Conduct, and have invested heavily in a comprehensive spare parts supply infrastructure.
Today's AJS have a range of 124 cc four-stroke bikes in road and off road versions, and cruisers with engines of 50 cc, 125 cc, and a 250 cc parallel twin. They also sell AJS Stormer & Villiers Starmaker spares.
- Bobber 125
- Cadwell 125
- Crazy Naked 50
- CSR 650 Hurricane
- CSR NKT1 125
- Daytona 125
- Exactly 125
- Exactly 50
- Firefox 50
- Flight 125
- G6 Bigport
- Model 14
- Model 16
- Model 18
- Model 185
- Model 20
- Model 30
- Model 31
- Model 8
- Model 185
- Model 120
- Modena 125
- Modena 50
- Stormer 250
- FB 250 Trails
- CSR 650 Hurricane