Matchless is one of the oldest
marques of British motorcycles with the first
models manufactured at the start of the 20th
Matchless branded motorcycles
produced in Plumstead, London from 1899 to 1966
when the name was dropped by its owners.
A wide range of models were produced
under the Matchless name ranging from small
two-strokes to 750 cc four-stroke twins. Among
the most famous early models were the Silver
Hawk and the Silver Arrow.
Matchless had a long history of
racing participation and success. A Matchless,
ridden by Charlie Collier, won the first single
cylinder race in the first Isle of Man TT in
1907 with an average speed of 38.21 mph in a
time of 4.08.08. Their machines won again in
1909 and 1910. Matchless have participated in
many Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix races
up to 1997 with varying success.
The Colliers bought AJS in 1931,
and in 1938 both Matchless and AJS became part
of Associated Motorcycles (AMC), both companies
producing models under their own marques. During
the amalgamations that occurred in the British
motorcycle industry in the 1960s, the Matchless
four-stroke twin was replaced with the Norton
twin ending a long history of independent production.
By 1967, the Matchless singles had ceased production.
It was over.
History - Matchless (1899-1938)
The first Matchless motorcycle
was made in 1899, and manufacture began in 1901.
Matchless was the trading name of Collier &
Sons, the father H. H. Collier and his sons
Charlie and Harry. The Matchless tank badge
was a winged "M". Like many motorcycle
manufacturers of the time they had started as
They produced a JAP V-twin powered
bike in 1905 which boasted one of the earliest
swing-arm rear suspensions, coupled with leading-link
front forks. Charlie won the inaugural TT singles
race in 1907 with an average speed of 38.21
mph and a time of 4 hours 8 minutes 8 seconds.
Harry did not finish in 1907, but won in 1909,
and Charlie won again in 1910, bringing Matchless
motorcycles to the attention of the public.
Matchless made mostly singles, but they also
made V-twins from 496 cc to 998 cc. They made
their own engines from 1912 on.
Matchless was not given a contract
to make motorcycles for the army during the
First World War. Peacetime production resumed
in 1919, concentrating at first on V-twins for
sidecar use, leaving singles until 1923.
In 1926 H H Collier died, and
by 1928 Matchless was a limited company. In
1930 they launched a narrow-angle 400 cc V-twin
called the Silver Arrow, designed by Charlie,
and in 1931 they launched an (advanced for the
time) 593 cc V-four, the Silver Hawk. The Hawk
was designed by youngest brother Bert, who was
now active in the company, and he was responsible
for design right up to the War.
In 1931 Matchless bought AJS from
the Stevens brothers. Matchless bought Sunbeam
in the late thirties, but Sunbeam was sold to
BSA in 1943.
After that the only "true"
AJS models, as far as AJS enthusiasts were concerned,
were the racing 7Rs, Porcupines and the pre-war
AJS Four. The shared models were considered
by some AJS fans to be only badge engineered
In 1935 the Matchless/AJS hairpin
valve springs made their first appearance.
Matchless supplied engines for the V-twin versions
of the Morgan three-wheeler from 1933 until
Morgan production was halted by the outbreak
of World War II in 1939. From 1935 on they were
Morgan's exclusive supplier of V-twin engines.
A dozen surviving unused engines were still
in storage at the Morgan works in 1946 and were
used to build a final batch of V-Twin trikes
for a Morgan dealer in Australia.
AMC (1938 - 1966)
Associated Motor Cycles (AMC)
was formed in 1938, as a parent company for
Matchless and AJS motorcycles. AMC later absorbed
Francis-Barnett, James, and Norton.
In 1941 Matchless motorcycles introduced telescopic
front forks called "Teledraulic" forks,
considered by some to be the first major innovation
in front suspension in 25 years.
During the Second World War, Matchless manufactured
80,000 G3 and G3L models for the armed forces.
By 1956 they had eight models in their line
up, but the number had dwindled in 1965. The
G3L was the first to feature the "Teledraulic"
Post-war landmarks start with the production
of Matchless/AJS 350 cc and Matchless G80 500
cc singles, developed from the legendary war-time
Matchless G3 produced for the Army. From 1948
competition models of the singles were produced
which gave the company some memorable wins.
In 1949 the first Matchless/AJS
vertical twin, a 500 cc, was produced; later
to be joined by 600 cc and 650 cc vertical twins
in 1956 and 1959 respectively. On the racing
front AMC were fielding the (supercharged) AJS
Porcupine and the AJS 7R alongside the Matchless
G50, a 500 cc variant of the 7R, and the 1951
Matchless G45 500 cc vertical twin. Even when
supercharging was banned, Les Graham won the
1949 500 cc world championship on a normally
For 1952, the first Model G45
twin with its 7R style heads came into being,
the engine still recognisably G9 based but housed
in a 7R AJS based frame etc. This time Derek
Farrant won the Manx Grand Prix at 88.65 mph.
AMC put the G45 into production and it was shown
at Earls Court in November.
In 1953 there was a Clubman range
of Matchless/AJS 350 cc and 500 cc singles,
and the production model Matchless G45 500 twin
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
In 1958 the Matchless/AJS road
bikes were joined by a 250 cc and in 1960 by
a 350 cc for a lightweight series of singles.
The Matchless G50 single-cylinder
racer was made generally available for privateers
in 1959, and competed against the Norton Manx.
Though its 90.0 x 78.0 mm 50 bhp engine and
top speed near 135 mph (217 km/h) were slightly
down on the Manx, the lighter Matchless could
take the day on tight and twisty circuits.
In 1960 Bert Hopwood resigned
from AMC and went to Meriden. That same year
AMC posted a profit of a bit over 200,000 pounds,
not so good compared with BSA's 3.5 million.
Then in 1961 they posted a loss of £350,000.
With the closure of the Norton plant at Birmingham
in 1962 and the merger of Norton and Matchless
production, the future was beginning to look
rather bleak. In the sixties, with sales declining
AMC made the commercial decision to focus on
the Norton twins and the Matchless/AJS singles
but they were not to be successful and the factory
ceased production shortly afterwards.
With the G15 line, AMC 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.
The Matchless G85CS used a 12:1
compression 500 cc with an improved bottom end,
and a Norton gear-driven oil pump replacing
the old reciprocating design that dated back
to the 1920s. The revised bottom end was introduced
for 1964 and is shared by 350/500 roadsters
and the 500CS (G80CS and M18CS), the engine
of which was later adapted to the G85CS. The
new lubrication system helped lubricating the
big end and piston as well as the top end on
the high-performance singles. The G85CS was
further tuned for 1966, and received a new piston
providing a CR of 12.5:1. An Amal GP carburettor
was standard fitting, making the bike hard to
start. Maximum power rose to 41 bhp @ 6500 rpm.
Matchless/AJS built predictable
handling, comfortable, well-made, reliable and
economical motorcycles, for their day. Unfortunately
such attributes were not enough to keep them
in business. Continuing poor sales led to AMC
becoming part of a new company, called Norton-Villiers