Going Slow, With Style: 1953 AJS 18S
(Page 3 of 5)
In 1949, rear suspension became available for an extra 20 pounds sterling. The next year, an all aluminum alloy engine appeared for offroad competition versions of the single, while the roadsters enjoyed an aluminum head with iron valve seat inserts. Distinctive, fat rear shocks known as “Jampots” appeared in 1951, resulting in the slender rear shocks used on earlier bikes being referred to as “Candlesticks.”
Although England had two weekly motorcycle magazines, there are no contemporary road tests of the Model 18, even though it was very popular in its home market. Why? According to British motorcycle journalist Bob Currie, “Because some dastardly road-tester once wrote a mildly critical remark about an AJS (or maybe it was a Matchless) the top brass of the big AMC factory at Plumstead, south-east London, steadfastly refused to supply the motor cycling press with road test models throughout the 1950s.”
Don Johnson’s 1953 AJS 18S
AMC may have had disdain for the motorcycle press, but it kept excellent records. The bike featured here is a 1953 Model 18S, S standing for optional rear suspension. AMC started building the 1953 models in the autumn of 1952, and this bike was completed at AMC’s Plumstead works in December that year. According to AMC factory records, the test rider was a C. Challis, who passed this Model 18S, engine no. 22721, as roadworthy on Dec. 16, 1952. It was then crated up and shipped to P & R Williams, motorcycle dealers in Sydney, Australia, where it sold to an Aussie rider.
The original purchaser must have liked his thumper, for he kept it in excellent condition, and after he went to his earthly reward, his estate sold it to someone in the U.S. named Geoffrey. One day, Geoffrey forgot to turn on the tap that the first owner had installed in the oil line, and the engine seized up.
The bad luck of this Model 18S was matched by the declining fortunes of the factory that made it. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, the wages paid to English workers improved to the point where a working family could afford the inexpensive automobiles that were increasingly occupying the roads of England. At the same time, Japanese motorcycles that didn’t leak and started with the push of a button instead of the swing of a leg became available. Sales of traditional English get-to-work bikes like the AJS declined dramatically, and in less than a decade AMC’s fortunes turned upside down; AMC filed for bankruptcy in August 1966.
Unlike the AMC company, however, this Ajay survived. Even in years past, there were enough thumper fans in the U.S. and elsewhere to give even a non-runner some value. Second owner Geoffrey sold the poor beast to Jeff, a friend of the present owner, Don Johnson. Jeff had planned to restore the Ajay but, as so often happens, life got in the way of the planned restoration, and Jeff decided that it would be better if Don bought the bike. So it was that this Ajay ended up in Don’s garage.
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