AJS was the name used for cars and motorcycles made by the Wolverhampton, England company A. J. Stevens & Co. Ltd, from 1909 to 1931, by then holding 117 motorcycle world records, and after the firm was sold the name continued to be used by Matchless, Associated Motorcycles and Norton-Villiers on four-stroke motorcycles till 1969, and since the names resale in 1974, on light weight, two stroke scramblers and today on small capacity roadsters and cruisers.
Joe Stevens, father of Harry, George, Jack, and Joe Stevens, first built an internal combustion engine in 1897, although his engines did not enter production until after 1900. His first engines, of 125 cc, were sold as proprietary engines to other manufacturers. In 1905 the Stevens built a JAP V-twin engined motorcycle, with leading-link front forks and a swinging fork at the rear. This was done at the father's Stevens Screw Company, where the family were all employed.
A new company, A J Stevens & Co (AJS), was founded in 1909 to manufacture motorcycles and the first model appeared in 1911, a two-speed 292 cc side-valve. One was entered by AJS in the 1911 Isle of Man TT races and A J Stevens came 15th in the Junior TT.
Albert John Stevens had his name on the company, but it was really a family company, with, in 1926 for example, Harry Stevens as Engineer, George Stevens as Chief Salesman, Joe Stevens junior as Production Engineer and Albert John ("Jack") Stevens in charge of the design office.
By 1914 the AJS motorcycle had grown to 350 cc, with four-speed gears and chain final drive. AJS won first, second, third, fourth and sixth place in the Junior 1914 Isle of Man TT race that year. Internal expanding brakes and chain primary drive were introduced in 1920. AJS went on to win the Junior again in 1920, 1921 and 1922, and won the 1921 500 cc Senior TT on 350 cc OHV machines. An 800 cc V-twin was also produced.
On 3 November 1916 the Ministry of Munitions prohibited the production of non-military motorcycles, but in early 1917 the Ministry received an order from Russia for military vehicles, and AJS was given a contract to produce part of the order. This kept AJS busy until Ministry of Munitions restrictions were lifted in January 1919.
In 1920 Cyril Williams won the first post war Isle of Man Junior TT on an AJS. AJS took the first four places in the 1921 Isle of Man TT, and Howard R Davies won the Senior on a 350 cc AJS. This was the first time a 350 had won the 500 cc Senior TT race. In 1922 Manxman Tom Sheard won the Junior on an AJS, with G Grinton, also on an AJS, taking second.
In 1928, AJS introduced two new chain driven overhead camshaft racing models, the 349 cc K7 and the 498 cc K10. In 1929 there were again two machines with an overhead cam, this time the 349 cc M7 and the 498 cc M10. Wal Handley came second in the 1929 Junior TT for AJS. The following year Jimmy Guthrie won the 1930 Lightweight TT on a 250 cc AJS.
In 1931 the AJS S3 V-twin was released, a 496 cc transverse V-twin tourer with shaft primary drive and alloy cylinder heads. It had been expensive to develop and was slow to sell. Even though they held 117 world records, the AJS company was now in financial trouble.
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 uprated 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 .
AJS Racing under AMC
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.
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.
AJS 2 Strokes & Norton Villiers
AJS was acquired by the Norton Villiers Group. In 1967 Villiers decided that instead of supplying other manufacturers with their competition engines, they would build and launch their own complete motorcycles using the 250 Starmaker engine as a base. AJS would be the applied name. Villiers had plans to build a range of scramblers and an over the counter 250 road racer. From 1962 Cotton motorcycles were the main customer for 250 Starmaker engines. The 250 Starmaker engines were used in the Cotton Cobra scrambler and the Telstar Racer. Cotton therefore was very involved in the development of the Starmaker engine. A strong link between the two factories existed, in part through Cotton engineer Fluff Brown.
Fluff Brown, being a keen and dedicated scrambler, worked mainly on the scrambles projects and supported the factory riders.
Peter Inchley, an acknowledged two stroke expert, formely from Ariel and BSA was involved with the 250 Road Race project. Peter rode a Bultaco based 6 speed, 250 Villiers Starmaker powered special to 3rd 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 scrambles project continued with considerable success.
From 1966 to 1968 Villiers developed the "Stormer" Motocross motorcycle, with assistance from Peter Inchley, Fluff Brown, (and others). Development and supported scrambles riders included: Andy Roberton, Malcolm Davis, Dick Clayton, Chris Horsefield and Jimmy Aird. In 1968 Malcolm Davis won the British 250 Championship on a pre Stormer, Y4 scrambler.
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. The competition department was located next to the famous race track at Thruxton, Andover.
AJS scramblers were produced from 1968 until 1974 in 250, 370 and 410 guises. The early 250 was designated the Y4. In 1969 The 370 (Y5) was added and the name changed to Stormer. The 410 followed in 1972. Famous British riders included Malcolm Davis, Andy Roberton, Vic Eastwood and Roger Harvey. Fluff Brown (formerly of Cotton (motorcycle)s) was the competition manager.
A little known about motorcycle was the 37AT Trials bike which was partially built by Cotton Motorcycles using some AJS parts and Villiers's 37A engine. A pretty bike, of which probably 10 or so have survived.
By 1974 Norton Villiers were having financial trouble and Fluff Brown purchased the rights to manufacture the Stormer under the AJS banner and in September 1974 moved the business to Goodworth Clatford near Andover. Initially selling spare parts for existing motorcycles, the business expanded to produce complete motorcycles still using the Starmaker based engines under the FB-AJS name.
The Starmaker/Stormer 4 speed engine was becoming outdated and could not compete with the new arrivals from manufacturers such as Husqvarna, CZ and later, scrambles bikes from Maico, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. However, with support, the AJS remained a good option for the clubman or competitors who wished to ride a British two stroke.
From 1974 Fluff Brown produced Stormer based scrambles and trail bikes from modified AJS stock. Keeping the model updated until 1980. During the early 80's Fluff Brown produced off road and trail bike AJ's with Austrian Rotax engines. 250cc, 410cc and 495cc.