The title is perhaps a little misleading, but here we have a custom-built 125cc Suzuki trials machine which has been made in Japan, re-engineered in Canada, by a Scotsman.
The machine is the proud possession of exiled Scottish superenthusiast, Stuart J. McLuckie who lives in Thunder Bay in the province of Ontario, Canada and it is probably better described as the Mark 2 version of a machine he built and developed in the early 1970s when riding trials in his native Scotland as a member of the Edinburgh based Melville Motor Club.
Born in 1951, Stuart studied on day release at the old Napier Technical College in Edinburgh and took up employment at St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society in the city. In fact the same company that gave Sean Connery of James Bond fame a job as a milk delivery boy!
Stuart worked as a mechanic on the company vehicles based at their Fountainbridge headquarters. At the time he lived in the Comiston district of Edinburgh and took up trials riding in 1968 riding a Greeves at the annual Edinburgh St. George Evening news Trial, progressing to a Cotton. He shared transport to events with Douglas Bald and on occassion, Ernie Page. He rode the first of his Scottish Six Days Trials in 1970 on a 247cc Montesa.
Stuart met his wife to be, Wendy Kingon-Rouse at the RAC/ACU Motorcycle training scheme at Edinburgh’s Gorgie Market, the scene of many SSDT first day starts. Wendy was a keen motorcyclist and was learning to ride on an Excelsior scooter, then progressed to a brand new 125 Suzuki, supplied by Graeme P. Chatham’s Abbeyhill dealership. Stuart also took up riding motocross in 1970 on a 250cc CZ.
The outgoing, effervescent McLuckie was also one of a gaggle of trials, speedway and motocross riders who took part in Scotland’s Ice Racing venture in 1972. Using modified 175cc Greeves/Puch Pathfinder trials machines, sourced from dealers in Scotland, they raced indoors at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Ice Stadium and at Aviemore. Wendy and Stuart eventually married and emigrated to Canada in 1974.
Around 1971, Stuart had struck up a friendship with Edinburgh dealer, Graeme P. Chatham, who was the main promoter of the Scottish Ice Racing venture along with Trevor Hay. It was from this friendship that spawned the special Chatham Suzuki trials machine, developed from the 1972 TS125 Trail model.
Stuart McLuckie: “We took a brand new TS125 from Graeme’s showroom in Abbeyhill, it was registered YWS11K and loaded it onto my Mini pickup and I set about stripping it all down at home. The bits I didn’t need were returned to Chathams and sold off as spares or used in their workshops to repair damaged machines.”
The TS125 was powered by a 123cc five speed motor which pushed out a creditable 9.7 BHP at 6,400 RPM.
Handily, the TS125 came with 21 inch front and 18 inch wheels which was ideal for trials use, but the little Suzuki had steel rims as standard, so an Akront flanged rim was fitted which took a 4.00 section trials tyre on the rear and an unflanged mudshifter style Akront with a 2.75 section up front. The original metal side panel ‘125’ badge was retained fitted to hand made alloy side panels and the original TS125 fuel tank was gifted a couple of sculpted indents at the nose to allow for tighter full lock turns.
McLuckie: “I admired what Peter Gaunt had achieved with his first Suzuki based on the 120cc Trail Cat, then another later version using the TS125 and I wanted one just like it, the TS125 was easily sourced and I got to work making a trials bike out of it.
The idea also came from a Suzuki (JOV198E) that Trevor Hay had from 1968 until 1971 which came from Suzuki GB and had been an ISDT bike converted at Chathams for one-day trials use.” Trevor handled Chatham’s advertising, so that was the original Chatham connection I suppose.”
McLuckie rode the Chatham Suzuki, called the ‘TC125’ in all the Scottish national events including the Loch Lomond Two Day trial. He made improvements constantly and the bike created much attention at the time and useful publicity for the Chatham dealership.
Time goes by and Stuart makes his living as a skilled machinist in Canada, but retained his love of all things motorcycling and embarked on various projects, building trials specials to amuse himself over the years. But there was a hankering to recreate the little Suzuki he enjoyed riding in his twenties in Scotland. Over the years, he kept a vast photographic collection of his engineering exploits and is always happy to show them to those that have an interest in trials machines.
The original Chatham Suzuki has long since disappeared having been sold into private hands in the mid 1970s.
How the ‘Mark 2’ Chatham Suzuki was created:
Having retired from the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company working as a machinist for thirty-seven years, the winters can be long at Thunder Bay and Stuart McLuckie gets restless if he hasn’t got a project to keep him busy.
So, to keep him out of mischief, in 2019, a worn out 1973 Suzuki TM125 motocross machine was sourced as the supply of TS125 model was, by now, virtually non-existent in Canada. This was to be married with a 1976 TC125 motor which was pretty much worn out. The TC motor had a four speed high/low gearbox.
McLuckie: “The frame has been modified front and rear, steeper fork angle, and the rear subframe this all new. The wheels and hubs are original, rebuilt with stainless spokes and a lot of polishing. The forks are original but need some work on them, a wee bit on the stiff side. I hope that Peter Gaunt is up there smiling as he was the original inspiration?”
Stuart sourced the opaque white plastic mudguards from the UK through InMotion in Egham, Surrey as they looked better than other plastic guards on the market. The original Chatham Suzuki sported the popular VF (Vaccum Formers) black plastic guards of the period, now unobtainable.
Finished in a lovely metallic blue, as a nod to the Mark 1 Suzuki of the 1970s, Stuart has adorned it with tasteful decals which reflect the Scottish/Canadian connection and his trademark ‘Up Yer Kilt’ decal is on the front number plate.
A small decal on the tank spine, proclaiming ‘Made in Japan, Re-engineered in Canada’ is typical of the fun-loving Scotsman who is known for his quick witted, highly amusing comments.
Without a doubt, the Chatham Suzuki Mark 2 is a stunning little trials machine and if it performs as good as it looks them Stuart J. McLuckie’s time has not been wasted. No doubt this will not be the last of his winter projects, because you can’t keep a good Scot down!
AJS, the brand purchased by Associated Motor Cycles in 1931, were known for their long-stroke single cylinder trials machines, which partly dominated the competition scene in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
This culminated in Gordon Jackson’s historic Scottish Six Days win on one solitary mark in 1961, achieved with a factory-prepared 16C with a special short-stroke motor.
Associated Motor Cycles (AMC), the group which also owned the Matchless, James and Francis Barnett brands, hit financial difficulties around this time and the writing was firmly on the wall; all these brands had a competition history.
The root of the problem lay with the directors at AMC having taken offence at a critical report published on a road test on one of their machines.
Their response was to refuse permission for the motorcycle press to test their machines and their advertising campaigns in the weekly papers ceased, so not surprisingly they lost valuable sales, year on year, through lack of exposure to the buying public.
It was a case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Words: John Moffat (Trials Guru) – Tony Davis – Norman Edgar – Colin Dommett – John Pye.
Two-strokes had been gaining popularity and in late 1964 Sammy Miller announced that he was moving to Bultaco from Ariel, which in itself was to become a game changer for the trials scene and heralded the Spanish invasion by Bultaco, followed by Montesa in 1967 and eventually Ossa. Two-strokes were here to stay.
The AJS brand, along with the others in AMC, had been taken over in 1964 by Manganese Bronze Holdings which had already bought Villiers Engineering.
After the AMC Plumstead factory closed in 1966 with the creation of Norton Villiers, this involved restructuring of the group and AJS moved to Wolverhampton.
The plan was to continue in the competition market, producing only off-road AJS machines at a new purpose-built factory at Andover, but due to planning permission delays the new factory only became operational in mid-1969.
They signed Chris Horsfield, Malcolm Davis, Andy Roberton, Sweden’s Bengt Arne-Bonn and Scotsman Jim Aird to field a strong motocross contingent.
They also had an eye on the trials machine market which was buoyant, and they had access to the Villiers two-stroke motors, being under the same group of companies.
Malcolm Davis was not only an excellent motocross rider but also an exceptionally talented trials rider.
The Villiers ‘Starmaker’ engine was to be the basis for the new motocross machine. It was developed from Peter Inchley’s 1966 ‘Villiers Starmaker Special’ TT racing machine which came home third in that year’s Lightweight race. Inchley’s prototype for AJS was based on a Bultaco racing chassis.
The Starmaker had previously been developed by Cotton in their Cobra motocross model and subsequently installed in the factory prototype AJS motocross model first raced by Andy Roberton.
Further developed, it carried Malcolm Davis to victory in the 1968 British MX Championship and from this the Y4 ‘Stormer’ was born. The 250cc Y4, launched in 1969, was followed by big-bore Starmakers, the Y5 Stormer at 360cc in 1970 and eventually the ‘410’ Stormer of 410cc in 1972.
Inchley was a former BSA employee who moved to work at Ariel on two-stroke development followed by a move to work with Dr Joe Ehrlich at EMC, joining AMC in 1963.
Reynolds Tubes constructed the new road race frame, constructed by ace welder Ken Sprayson. An AJS was entered for the 1967 TT but while in fifth position his bike was filled with neat petrol instead of two-stroke mixture and Inchley was forced to retire with a seized engine.
A year later AJS commissioned Cottons of Gloucester to make a frame for trials use loosely based on the existing Cotton trials frame but incorporating the large diameter top tube of the Y4 motocross design. For trials they had access to the proven ‘37A’ trials motor.
Cotton had used the trials version of the Starmaker as early as 1964 – more on this later.
John Pye was After-Sales Manager at Malcolm Davis Motorcycles in Gloucester: “I remember Malcolm Davis, ‘Fluff’ Brown of AJS and me travelling to a local farm to test a new AJS trials machine that the factory was experimenting with. It was basically a Cotton but the main difference was the top tube, which made its way into production by late 1968”.
Tony Davis, Malcolm’s brother was an accomplished trials and motocross rider who had ridden the factory BSA B40 and for Greeves, and he was enlisted to ride an AJS supplied by the factory. Issued with a standard 37A-T registered TFH22G it came equipped with Metal Profile telescopic front forks, British Hub Company ‘MotoLoy’ six-inch alloy full-width hubs and, of course, the 37A 246cc Villiers engine with an iron cylinder barrel. It is surprising that AJS did not incorporate an aluminium barrel and cylinder head combination as Greeves had done many years previously, and the now well established Bultaco Sherpa and upcoming Montesa Cota both used all-aluminium engines.
Tony Davis: “I rode exactly what the AJS factory supplied us with in 1968. AJS boss Peter Inchley was a stickler for using only factory products, no other components were allowed”.
John Pye: “I remember when Malcolm was in the shop when Peter Inchley arrived and Malcolm hid from him for quite a while. It transpired that Malcolm had bolted a set of Spanish Betor front forks on his motocross AJS. Inchley took one look at the AJS and asked what all this was about. Malcolm explained that he found the Betors helped the front end, but Inchley would have none of it; he insisted that the AJS forks were re-fitted immediately!”
Heralded as the ‘AJS 37A-T – Britain’s latest trials model’ Malcolm Davis was to be credited with the development work for the new machine, as highlighted in the company sales literature, and it was launched in time for the 1969 trials season.
The Edinburgh Connection:
Up in Scotland the appointed agents for AJS were Edgar Brothers in Leith Walk, Edinburgh. They were already sponsoring Jimmy McRae for the 1969 Scottish Championship season on the new Y4 Stormer.
McRae later went on to become five times British Open Car Rally Champion and, of course, the father of 1995 World Rally Champion, Colin McRae MBE.
Dealer principal Mr Norman Edgar was keen to sell as many AJS models as he could, and both his sons were accomplished trials riders. His son Norman FW Edgar was at that time twice Scottish Trials Champion and had entered the 1969 ISDT to be supplied with a works-prepared AJS Y4 ISDT machine for the event at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He had been campaigning a 37A-T in Scottish and national trials.
It was registered NFS21G in the October 1968 and competed with it into the spring of 1969.
He and his younger brother Derek J Edgar were also experienced SSDT competitors, and both had entered for the event to be held in early May.
Scottish Six Days 1969:
AJS were keen to push their new trials model 37A-T in the Scottish Six Days, and to field a team of three riders comprising the Edgars plus one other competitor.
Mr Edgar noticed that Yorkshireman Ray Sayer had entered on his four-stroke 500cc Triumph so an approach was made to enlist him on a 37A-T to make up the three-man team.
Sayer saw the sense of riding a lighter two-stroke and agreed. AJS were to pay for the three team member entries but as for the machines themselves, that was a different part of the story.
Edgar contacted the AJS factory and enquired what would be available for the SSDT to be informed that, due to workload, they could not guarantee to build three suitable machines in time. Could the Edgar Brothers build bikes from parts supplied? Mr Edgar agreed to the offer, and boxes of components were despatched to Edinburgh from Wolverhampton and three AJS 37A-T machines were assembled by Derek Edgar in the dealership’s workshop.
Norman FW Edgar: “It is over 50 years since I rode the AJS in the Scottish, so apologies if I can’t remember full details or the sequence of events, but somehow we decided to change the specification. We obtained new front forks and front and rear wheel hubs from the scrambles Y4, which not only looked much more purposeful but were also lighter than the standard full-width items fitted to the production models. We also fitted longer than standard aluminium side panels to protect the air cleaner. As was always the case, if we could get something to work better, we did it. When I rode the ISDT later that year, I changed the motocross piston for a trials component before the event and the machine’s power delivery was much more suited to the ISDT. Derek built the three SSDT machines, and these were registered in Edinburgh and tested just immediately prior to the Scottish”.
SSDT ‘Team AJS’
The Edgar-built 37A-Ts were registered OWS 11, 12 and 13G. Derek rode 11G, Norman was given 13G and Ray Sayer rode 12G.
Another AJS, OWS14G, seemed to be registered at the same time, but this was probably a standard 37A-T machine for a customer.
One of the three SSDT machines ended up with the Kingston & District club in Surrey as a loan motorcycle for those wishing to sample the sport, the machine having been traded in to Comerfords at Thames Ditton and failing to sell through the shop around 1974.
Looking at close-ups of Derek Edgar’s SSDT AJS, which he used again in 1970, it would appear that he had fitted a German-made ‘Bing’ carburettor for his attempt at the Scottish for the second time on the 37A-T.
Derek Edgar was an innovator and had also ridden Puch machines in trials and the ISDT for a period prior to building the AJS. He later went to work for Puch in Austria as a development rider and technician.
Norman continued: “I do remember Ray Sayer mentioned something about the steering lock being restricted and, indeed, he took a hacksaw to the front end at Gorgie Market during the SSDT weigh-in on the Sunday. Both Derek and I did not really notice anything untoward, so we just rode the machines as they were built”.
At a wheelbase of 51.5 inches, by utilising the Y4 forks and alloy yokes with the leading axle it would stretch the AJS 37A-T to around 52.5 inches – more in keeping with the Bultaco Sherpa – and assisting stability on straightforward rocky sections, which was a feature of the Scottish Six Days. Fortunately the Y4-style fork sliders were not ‘handed’ and had sufficient lugs to accommodate front mudguard fixtures.
And so AJS fielded a team in the SSDT, the first time since 1965. Too late to be printed in the official programme, and Ray Sayer shown as riding the 500cc Triumph, it was not to be a ‘dream team’ situation, with Sayer dropping out of the trial on the Wednesday with gear selector problems. His machine was repaired post trial and retained by the Edgars and used again in 1970, this time piloted by American Bob Ewing who flew over from California. Derek Edgar took up employment with Ewing after he left Puch and before he went to work for Montesa USA.
Modifications and Improvements
Having informed Tony Davis that the Edgar brothers and Sayer had ridden heavily modified 37A-Ts in the Scottish, he commented: “I find this surprising in that Peter Inchley was such a stickler for us riding what we were given, and yet the Edgars changed the machine materially. Perhaps because they used AJS components and the fact the factory could not supply prepared machines meant it was acceptable”.
Photographic evidence confirms that Malcolm Davis used the Y4 alloy conical front hub on his AJS, SFH96G, in the Cotswold Cup Trial in 1969 but retained the standard Metal Profile forks with the axle at the bottom of the slider.
It would also appear that he went against Peter Inchley’s instructions by fitting a Greeves aluminium barrel and cylinder head to his 37A-T!
Even though the Edgars changed the geometry of the 37A-T they were not in a position to change the most obvious component, the cylinder barrel; this was still the iron unit.
Greeves achieved it, why not the AJS factory? After all, the owners of AJS, Norton Villiers, intimated in 1969 to Greeves that supply of Villiers power units would cease, which inevitably forced the Thundersley firm to source engines from Puch in Austria.
Why the 37A?
AJS had all the development work done on the all-alloy Starmaker unit, could they not have further developed the trials version of that power plant?
Bultaco for example developed their Sherpa trials and the Pursang motocross motor from older applications, the motocross having different porting and gear clusters, but benefitted from common components and were all-alloy construction.
As already mentioned, the Starmaker trials version had been used in the factory Cottons with one issued to their supported rider, Colin Dommett, in 1964.
Colin Dommett: “I didn’t like the Starmaker engine, for example the gear ratios were too wide, and it was eventually sent back to Villiers as I think they owned the engines. It was replaced by a 37A engine. They tried all sorts of exhausts, but everything they did just made things worse, not better. I think they even tried a 37A crank in a Starmaker and that was a slight improvement”.
Cottons also fielded a team in that year’s SSDT fitted with Starmaker motors, comprising Arthur and Alan Lampkin and Blackie Holden. All three riders finished with special first-class awards.
The belief was that the 37A, although using appreciably heavier components, was the better engine for trials use even though it looked old fashioned compared to the compact-looking Bultaco and Montesa power plants.
As well as being second best Edinburgh & District club member, receiving the Henderson Challenge Trophy at the SSDT, Norman Edgar Jnr won the 1969 Scottish Trials Championship outright on his 37A-T, making him a three times champion in the process.
It’s all well and good having factory machines entered for major events like the SSDT and British Experts, you still need sales to private owners to make it financially worthwhile.
There were six private entrants on AJS 37A-T who rode the 1969 SSDT: M.K. Fulcher, North London; R.E Chapman, North East London; Jack Young, Edinburgh; Roger Davy entered by Comerfords (WPD4G); and Chris Watts of the C.S.M.A. (TAE411G) who also had fitted a Y4 front hub on his 37A-T.
There was one other AJS entered that year, but it was a 350cc four-stroke 16C ridden by JL Smith from Edinburgh, a nephew of Scottish born AJS director Bill Smith.
American Bob Ewing had entered in 1969 but was classed as a non-starter so the best guess is that he would have ridden OWS14G, either that or Jack Young could have obtained it just prior to the event.
The following year there were four AJS mounted riders in the 1970 SSDT: Eddie Henderson from Bangor and member of the Knock MCC Ireland; Bob Ewing, who flew over from California to ride the OWS12G supplied by the Edgar Brothers; Jack Young, from Edinburgh; and Derek Edgar, back on OWS11G. But most of the entry by now consisted of Bultaco and Montesa with a couple of Ossas.
Tony Davis Talks AJS:
“It was Malcolm who talked me into riding the AJS trials machine; ‘fly the flag’ he said. So I agreed to ride it for a year. We spent many hours practising in the quarry and woods up the hill near the Air Balloon. We both found it ‘gutless’ from plonking in a section, and the carburetion was unreliable. After many hours’ tuning we got the carburetion more exact. Malcolm did a lot of work on the engine and got it to respond better and rev out more, which suited his style of riding. Peter Inchley wanted my machine to stay as standard as possible. It handled reasonably well; it was better in mud than on rocks but was never going to be a world beater, especially against the Spanish armada. I won some centre trials and the Western Centre Championship was mine once again. The AJS was far too late to win any National trials, and the ‘powers that be’ knew that. Now the Y4 Stormer motocross model was exceptionally good, as Malcolm proved”.
Studying old national trials results, it is evident that Tony Davis’s overall performance improved when he switched to Bultaco in 1970. It was by then a tried and tested product, which had benefited from not only Sammy Miller’s input but that of riders across the globe who enjoyed support from the Barcelona manufacturer. Bultaco and Montesa were taking trials very seriously, and with Mick Andrews developing the Ossa they too were ready to capitalise on the success of their prototype.
Sales of the production AJS 37A-T were disappointing; trials riders are consistent followers of fashion and the AJS just did not inspire them.
The tank was quite bulbous and was the bright orange – the factory called it ‘Bushfire Red’ – fibreglass unit taken from the Y4 model. The frame was superbly finished in metallic silver but had an unusual plate which joined the large-diameter top tube to the footrest tubes, and it had a full cradle, single down-tube frame.
Chain adjustment was not made at the back wheel but at the swinging arm pivot, with an eccentric cam arrangement that was an attempt to keep the chain line as straight as possible.
It was used on the AJS motocross model and also used by Rickman on their motocross Metisse frames, but it was unusual for a trials machine. Carburetion was taken care of with a Villiers S.25, which is the type of carburettor that would become popular with the Pre-65 brigade in the 1990s.
Again this was a departure from the trend, which was to use the modern AMAL MK1 concentric which was fitted by both Bultaco and Montesa at this time, the instrument made in Spain under licence from the UK company.
Remember, the AJS was competing for sales against these two Spanish brands which had already gained a foothold in the UK, North American and European trials markets.
The engine, as stated, was the iron-barrelled Villiers 37A model which had a bore of 66mm and stroke of 72mm, giving a displacement of 246.33cc and a claimed 12.4 BHP at 5,000 RPM. Compression ratio was quoted as 7.9:1.
In comparison, the 1964 trials version of the Starmaker pumped out 15 BHP at 5,000 RPM. Utilising a 58-tooth rear wheel sprocket, the 37A-T gave a 29:1 bottom gear, with a four-speed gearbox giving ratios as 3.6; 2.4; 1.56 and 1.00.
The wheels were built using Dunlop chrome steel rims whereas the Spanish competition were using Akront alloy components at this time. Mudguards were plain polished aluminium alloy, with front mudguard bracketry fabricated from sheet alloy and an alloy chainguard, standard fit for trials machines of the era.
A heel/toe gear lever, chrome plated ‘Peco’ style exhaust and Girling rear dampers finished the package off. List price in 1969 was £228 and ten shillings, in kit form thus avoiding Purchase Tax.
John Moffat of Trials Guru makes comment:
“Information on the 37A-T is very scarce on the internet, purely because of the short production run and the low numbers produced and sold. However, the model is featured in Gregor Grant’s ‘AJS – The History of a Great Motorcycle’ published in 1969, revised in 1974 by Patrick Stevens Ltd, Cambridge (ISBN 0 85059 186 4). It gives a potted history of the marque from its creation and covers the Y4 Stormer and 37A-T models. It does lack, however, any detail of the trials model’s development, undertaken by the late Malcolm Davis, his brother Tony and of course the Edgar brothers in Scotland. Perhaps this article has covered the gaps left by a fellow Scot; his book is well written and researched as he was a professional journalist, but perhaps he did not have the connections to fully research the trials model or perhaps in 1969 thought it wasn’t important enough to save information on the new model for posterity! You simply cannot cram too much information into a book though! On a personal note, when I was 10 years old I started saving up my hard-earned pocket money with the intention to buy an AJS 37A-T. This was probably an idea cultured by my environment, because my Father had ridden an AJS four-stroke twice in the SSDT and then owned an ex-factory Matchless. I saved up the princely sum of £1:10s:6d by the September of 1969. However, my Father bought me a Dalesman Puch in the October, so the money went towards buying fuel! I was quite taken by the AJS which looked different from the selection of trials machines on sale, but it was not to be. I did come across OWS11G in November 2019 when I enquired if it was for sale, the owner lived in Carlisle. The owner, realising its history, wanted several thousand pounds as it stood. I found this over-priced; having been laid up for many years it was in poor condition. To its credit, it did look quite complete and still had the Y4 front end, but the cost to restore it would have been excessive. There was no question that it was Derek Edgar’s 1969/70 SSDT machine. I turned the deal down at the time as I felt it was a pointless exercise for me, but deep down I wanted to own the motorcycle, given its SSDT and Edinburgh history. I knew Derek Edgar very well and had a lot of respect for him. I have also subsequently heard that restored versions are being advertised more than that figure, due primarily to their rarity! With the BSA trials competition effort now defunct and Greeves already losing its way, I often wondered what AJS could have achieved had they invested more into the trials project and even recruited Sammy Miller, letting him have the trials version of the Starmaker engine, a clean sheet of paper and a free hand? Even as late as 1970 when Sam was just about over his riding peak, we can only speculate how the brand could have fared. The question must be asked, did the AJS management really take the trials market seriously, as they did not seem to act on the improvements made by the Edgar and the Davis brothers? The Spanish manufacturers were always taking serious note of what their supported riders told them and would make improvements for the next edition of their production models.“
Production of the 37A-T AJS ceased and the model was discontinued in 1970.
Today, the AJS name and famous monogram lives on with the company ‘AJS Motorcycles Ltd’, run by Nick Brown and his family. Nick is the son of ‘Fluff’ (real name David) Brown; they manufacture homologated 125cc road-going scooters and motorcycles primarily aimed at the learner rider market. They operate from Upper Clatford, Andover, and still carry spare parts for the old Stormer motocross models, but not the ill-fated 37A-T.
Maybe the AJS 37A-T was, as Tony Davis said, ‘far too late’?
This article first appeared in Classic Trial magazine, Issue 34. For more information on Classic Trial Magazine, click HERE
Fifty years ago, the Manx National Two Day trial was held on Saturday 29th August and Sunday 30th August 1970.
The solo trial had two hundred and one starters and was over two circular routes that started at 8.15am from the famous TT Grandstand.
The Saturday route traversed the south of the Island and had thirty-four sections and the Sunday route went over the North of the island and also had the same number of sections.
On paper, the favourite looked to be Gordon Farley who had travelled all the way from Kent and who would be riding his works supported 250cc Montesa Cota. He would be up against Expert riders from West and South Yorkshire, many of whom were riding ‘mini’ 125cc bikes. Riding numbers probably favoured the top runners, who were starting from the middle of the field as the riding order was reversed for the Sunday.
Dave Thorpe on the 250cc OSSA ‘Pennine’ was riding number 68, Terry Wright on his Dalesman was riding number 92, Gordon Farley with number 126, Gerald Rathmell on the works 125cc Sprite with number 142, Jim Sandiford on a 250 Bultaco 66, Paul England on a 125cc Dalesman, number 160, a young Nick Jefferies was number 75 on the ex factory Triumph Tiger Cub, next to the popular Stan Cordingley on a 250cc Bultaco, who finished in 8th place on 24 marks, riding number 76.
Notable absentees from the event included Alan ‘Sid’ Lampkin who was riding a 400cc Husqvarna at the Bucks Grand National down at Brill, whilst Malcom Rathmell and Martin Lampkin were riding their Moto-Cross bikes in a Craven club scramble. Several other top riders included Ian Haydon, Derek Adsett and Rob Edwards.
John Hemingway and Scott Ellis were riding in the Clayton Trophy Trial in Wales.
On the Saturday, Dave Thorpe had a good steady ride losing three marks, Terry Wright on his Dalesman lost five on the slippery hill at Billown and Gordon Farley finished up losing nine including , in what for him, must have been a disastrous day with a maximum at Poylvaaish and several dabs at the Arragon River.
On the Sunday, Dave Thorpe went pretty much to pieces losing thirteen marks whilst Gordon Farley had the best ride of the day losing four marks. Terry Wright suffered a five on the vicious sections at ‘Tholt-Y-Wil’, but he did retain his composure and nerve for the rest of the event including the ultra steep rock climb at Sartfell Park.
The final results of the trial were:
1st Terry Wright 125cc Dalesman. 10 marks
2nd Gordon Farley 250cc Montesa. 13
3rd Dave Thorpe 250cc Ossa. 16
4th Paul England 125cc Dalesman. 17
5th Gerald Rathmell 125cc Sach Sprite. 20
6th Jim Sandiford 250cc Bultaco. 22
The team prize went to Wetherby ‘A’ which comprised Terry Wright, Gerald Rathmell and John ‘Killer’ Kendrew (who finished in 9th place on 24 marks)
A fantastic result for the popular Yorkshireman Terry Wright giving the Dalesman concern possibly their first and only ‘National’ win .
Fair bet that it was a good party that night!
(Front cover of 1970 programme by kind permission IOM Centre ACU)
Fifty years ago, Barry Kefford built and rode a lightweight sidecar outfit which spawned many sidecars to be produced for the chairmen of trials. The BKS chair was the piece of kit to have in the 1970s.
Here are two photos supplied by Barry’s passenger of the era, Geoff Bridgwater who is a Trials Guru website reader.
Taken at the Beggar’s Roost trial in 1970 in which they won the sidecar class on gtheir BSA Victor powered outfit with the innovative narrow, light weight sidecar and the 1969 trial at Hawkstone Park.
A unique opportunity has arisen to purchase a true ex-factory AJS from the late 1950s!
The machine once the issue of former British Expert and ACU Star rider, Gordon L. Jackson, registered in 1957 by Associated Motor Cycles as TLP686, a 347cc AJS 16C.
The machine was ridden by Jackson in the 1957 British Experts trial and Scottish Six Days. The vendor has written confirmation from Gordon personally of the machines authenticity.
Lancashire’s Ben Butterworth is handling the sale for a close family friend who has owned the AJS for many years.
Ben said: “I’ve been asked to help with the sale of the Ex-works trials AJS 350 which was Gordon Jackson’s machine, the owner is open to sensible offers and would consider a part exchange.
Loads of history, letters from Gordon himself stating it was his bike, it is road registered, has the correct engine and frame numbers. This was the bike which won The British Experts Trial 1957, he also rode the SSDT on this machine.
The bike runs and rides very well, I’ve been lucky enough to have a ride on it myself after my Grandad has worked on it for the last two weeks, making sure it runs and polished it up for sale.”
The AJS has been put up for sale as the current owner stated to Trials Guru that “I’m not getting any younger and will never use it so I’d like it to go to somebody who would appreciate it for what it is with the history.”
The ex-factory machine is expected to fetch a high price and it has generated significant interest by both private collectors and museums.
Trials Guru’s John Moffat a enthusiast of the marque added: “This is indeed a unique opportunity to own a piece of SSDT, AJS and British Trials history that doesn’t happen very often.”
Photos courtesy: Gas Gas Motorcycles & John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd
For many years the UK importer for the Gas Gas brand of trials motorcycles, John R. Shirt has formed John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd to become an authorised Gas Gas UK dealer.
Previously Shirt supplied trials dealers the length and breadth of the British isles with Gas Gas trials machines, but following the take-over of the Spanish brand by the Austrian based KTM organisation, matters have now changed dramatically.
KTM tested the trials market back in 1975, when they built a small number of prototype KTM trials machines and engaged Austrian Walther Luft and German Felix Krahnstover as development riders. Shortly after, the company decided to end the project and concentrate on development and production of both motocross and enduro machines.
John Shirt told Trials Guru: “I am excited by my new venture, Gas Gas had real financial problems since 2015, but now that the KTM organisation is fully in charge, matters have been resolved and now I am trading as an authorised Gas Gas dealer, selling bikes direct to the trials buying public at large. As an authorised dealer, we at John Shirt Motorcycles Ltd interface direct with the manufacturer, there is no official UK concessionaire any longer. I was very keen to continue with the brand which I have been loyal to for 30 years. I am looking forward to engaging with direct customers, many of whom I know are similarly loyal to the Gas Gas brand. I have already a team of great people at JSM raring to go.”
For more information, have a look at John Shirt’s official website: HERE
We are always on the lookout for something different on Trials Guru and French Bultaco enthusiast Gilles Escuyer never fails to produce something special.
This time it is a monoshock 125 ‘Bultaco’ as he has a brand affinity that goes back to his father Pierre’s age.
It is in effect a rare Gas Gas model with a 125cc Cagiva motor from a Merlin DG7 model that was produced in very low numbers around 1985. The fuel tank/seat unit is custom made. Front suspension are the well tested Marzocchi M1 items including yokes.
Carburation is taken care of by an Italian Dellorto unit. Swinging arm is in aluminium alloy.
Gilles told Trials Guru: “It is a bike that the Bultaco factory could have and should have made if it had not suffered financial ruin in the 1980s. I think most will find it an interesting air-cooled monoshock trials machine, with the Bultaco spirit.
We have called it the 197E because the 250 Sherpa was 198 and this is a smaller capacity. The Sherpa range ceased production with 198/199B and it would have been acceptable to continue with 198/199C then D and so on.”
At fourteen years of age a second-hand 125cc Dalesman Puch 125T gave Chris Griffin his first taste of trials riding, a popular choice at the time in Yorkshire as the machines were produced in Otley by Pete Edmondson.
Passing his driving test in February 1974 helped immensely as his father worked through weekends and Chris could only get to events if his friend rode, so that he could cadge a lift to trials.
Joining the Wetherby Motor Club introduced him to John Reynolds who was to become a lifelong friend. Griffin was at college as an apprentice motor engineer, discovered that on a Wednesday, Malcolm Rathmell and Martin Lampkin with some other riders assembled at Rob Shepherd’s farm at Pately Bridge for practice. He enquired if he could tag along to watch with his bike. When they had moved on to another section, Chris would try and emulate the established stars.
Chris: “Watching Malc and Mart really brought my riding on, it was like a crash course in trials, watching them carefully and doing what they did really helped my own riding skills. I was amazed how quickly I improved.”
Moving swiftly from a Novice through the ranks of Intermediate and then onto expert status, Griffin started to catch the eye of other established riders. In 1978, Chris finished fourth in the Lakes Two day and was a regular top twenty performer at national trials. Four days before the 1978 Scottish, John Reynolds appeared at OSSA UK to collect his new SWM for the SSDT and telephoned Griffin to ask if he would like to take over Geoff Guy’s entry in the OSSA team as Guy had broken his wrist. ‘JR’ had named dropped Chris to importer Cliff Holden who at that time had two importerships, the Spanish OSSA and Italian SWM. Holden agreed that Griffin would ride Reynold’s old cantilever Ossa, so the machine was despatched up along with Reynold’s new SWM for Griffin to ride as a full team member of OSSA UK.
After a quick check over, Chris collected the OSSA on the Friday before setting off for Fort William and came home a very creditable twenty-second place in the event. Not bad for a first attempt at the toughest trial in the world! He also picked up the best 250cc cup and Best Newcomer award for his efforts.
Chris continued with the OSSA until the September that year, when he was approached by Beamish Suzuki to join their team.
Chris: “My results just got better and better, in 1979, I finished fourth in the Lakes Two-Day, fourth in the Colmore, the first round British championship, nineteenth in the Irish world round, twenty-second at the English world round, thirty-forth at the Belgian round where I had a problem with engine when I cracked the crankcase which was drawing in air. I managed a fifteenth in the Netherlands, a twenty-second in France and twenty-eighth in the SSDT.”
On the 325cc Beamish Suzuki, Griffin made some changes.
Griffin: “Everyone struggled with the 325 Beamish Suzuki until I had them fit the 250 model swinging arm to my bike before the Christmas in 1978. It transformed the bike into a winner. ‘JR’ and Chris Sutton could not believe the difference it made. If only Malcolm Rathmell had tried one on his bike before he left, things might have been different for him with the Suzuki. The 250 swingarm was longer with a different shock angle and that made such an improvement to the handling characteristics.”
Griffin’s involvement with the development of the Gollner-Griffin TLR250 Mono-shock:
Honda produced its TLR series which comprised of both 200 and 250cc versions. The 200cc machine would be produced in quite large quantities as a trial/trail machine over a period of years. The 250cc TLR was produced in smaller quantities making them more desirable than their smaller sibling.
In 1985, Honda Racing Corporation, the competition division of the mighty Honda Motor Company would take charge of producing the mono-shock RTL or ‘Racing’ TL version which were developed by Eddy Lejeune and latterly Steve Saunders. Saunders would ride the TLR 250 until his new RTL250 had been built in Belgium at the HRC Europe headquarters. The machines of Saunders and Lejeune were actually 270cc motors coded as ‘RTL270SW’ with an offset exhaust port which allowed for a single downtube frame as opposed to the centralised exhaust of the production RTL250 which had a twin spar downtube frame. Their campaign was sponsored by Rothmans, the tobacco company and their machines were in Rothmans livery for the 1987 season.
In Knaresborough Yorkshire, Chris Griffin needed a machine for the 1986 SSDT and a Honda TLR250 would fit the bill, or so he thought. Little did he know that it would create the ‘Gollner-Griffin’ machine.
Chris Griffin takes up the story: “I had sent away an entry for the 1986 Scottish Six Days Trial, which was accepted, but did not have a suitable machine or much spare cash. I scoured the Motor Cycle News classified adverts and spotted a TLR250 Honda, which was road registered for sale. I went to see it and bought it in late February and rode my first trial on it in March. I decided it had too much power at the bottom end, the rear suspension kicked off everything, so that was it, time to modify it! Mono-shock suspension was definitely the way to go.
I bought a new Beta TR33 rear damper and mounted it horizontally like the RTL Honda, but with no linkage. I had to remove the middle silencer and air box to fit it, so I was forced to mount the front pipe straight to the rear silencer and fabricate a new smaller air box. By a miracle it all worked perfectly by having to alter the exhaust and air box, it lost its aggressive bottom end and was super smooth. I forced on and rode it in 1986 SSDT, finishing in nineteenth place.
I rode in the company of Steve Moore that week, he was sponsored by Bob Gollner on a Honda RTL250S.
A few weeks later Bob Gollner phoned me up and said Steve Moore had told him about my TLR and he asked if he could put it in to production? I agreed and took my bike down to his shop Bob Gollner Ltd at Denmead, Hants leaving it with him for a couple of months. He let me have one of his special 200 twin-shocks to use until I got my 250 back.
I rode the modified Honda TLR for about a year. winning quite a few trials. My last ride on the Gollner-Griffin Honda was the 1987 SSDT. I finished twenty-ninth, by then the big factories had developed their versions on mono-shocked machines, with all the factory riders on them.”
Bob Gollner was no stranger to modified trials machines, he had prepared the Gollner BSA Bantam, been instrumental in the creation of the Cheetah with frames made by Mick Whitlock and his variant of Kawasaki’s KT250 into his ‘Yellow Peril’ version.
Cost was a contributing factor and the RTL250S was a comparatively expensive machine to purchase at £4,500, being almost double the retail price of a mono-shock TY250R Yamaha of the same year.
The Honda TLR250 was a good economic starting point as the Honda RTL250S was a very expensive machine to buy and only imported in small numbers enabling Honda franchise dealers control the allocation to higher calibre riders who had a good chance at posting some top podium results.
Gollner enlisted the help of Robin Packham of Falcon Shocks to produce an adjustable single alloy bodied damper. He also tidied up Griffin’s design and adopted the horizontally mounted damper position that Griffin had experimented with and developed in competition.
Dick Walker of Walker Exhaust Systems (WES) built the alloy exhaust systems which ran down the offside of the machines, whereas Honda’s production steel system had run down the nearside. The important centre expansion box was incorporated by Walker who had built up a reputation in the trials performance exhaust game. He later sold his business to Jose Franquera in Madrid, Spain who manufactures WES to this day.
The mono-shock machines were topped off with a smart one-piece tank/seat unit and a special decal proclaiming ‘Gollner-Griffin’ was attached to the front fork legs.
Bob Gollner produced two mono-shock versions, using both TLR200 and 250 Honda platforms for the modified machines. The 200cc version retailed for £1,987 and the 250 at £2,200 both inclusive of VAT. He also marketed the modified 200 twin-shock Honda-Gollner TLR at £1,585 inclusive of VAT, aimed at the clubman market sector.
Griffin, a multi-national trials winner, debuted the little Gollner-Griffin 200 at the Richmond club’s Noel Peacock Trial in late July 1986 taking the win on 17 marks, a clear 4 marks ahead of Simon Sharp on a Yamaha mono. Later at an early season 1987 Wetherby Trial on Rob Shepherd’s farm at Pately Bridge, Griffin trounced Glen Scholey on his Colin Appleyard RTL and Yamaha’s Gerald Richardson on his over-bored 330 Yamaha.