1954 AJS E95
By Richard Backus
One of four built, this super-rare 1954 AJS E95 won the first-ever award for motorcycles at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Photo by Neale Bayly
1954 AJS E95
Engine: 498cc air-cooled DOHC parallel twin with cylinders at 45 degrees, 68mm x 68.5mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio, 54hp @ 7,800rpm (est.)
Top speed: 143mph (Isle of Man, 1964)
Carburetion: Two 1-1/8-inch Amal GP
Transmission: 4-speed, right foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: Lucas magneto ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual-downtube steel cradle/56.5in (1,435mm)
Suspension: AMC Teledraulic telescopic forks front, dual AMC Jampot shocks rear
Brakes: 8in (203mm) TLS drum front, 8in (203mm) SLS drum rear
Tires: 3 x 19in front, 3.50 x 19in rear
Weight (dry): 335lb (152kg)
Seat height: 28in (711mm)
Fuel capacity: 6.5gal (19ltr)
To understand the importance of this 1954 AJS motorcycle, you have to go back more than 60 years, to the closing days of World War II and the pent up energy within the British motorcycle industry to go racing again.
While the industry had kept busy manufacturing whatever machinery the War Department deemed necessary to defeat Hitler’s Germany, building motorcycles was at the core of companies like AJS. With fond memories of the commerce and competition of pre-war days, AJS was ready to get back to what it did best.
AJS E95 beginnings
A few years before WWII, AJS developed a water-cooled, supercharged, double-overhead-cam 500cc racing V4.
A technological tour de force, it was extremely complex, and also quite unreliable. Although it failed to perform as well as hoped, it did set a record 100.01mph average lap time at the 1939 Ulster GP, a first on a road circuit.
The V4’s only other significant performance came seven years later, when Jock West rode it to victory in the 1946 Belgian GP. A few months later FIM, the international race governing body, banned supercharging, and at a stroke the V4 became just another old race bike. The FIM ban also affected plans for a new AJS engine already in the works.
By early 1946, AJS had a new horizontal, parallel-twin 500cc racing engine in development, and like the V4 it was also to be supercharged and water cooled. Following FIM’s ban, the new E90S (“E” for experimental and “S” for supercharged – the “90” designation harkened to an earlier Sunbeam racer, a brand owned by AJS parent company AMC) was reworked to naturally aspirated, air-cooled form. The result was the now famous 1947 AJS E90 “Porcupine,” so named for the distinctive, heavily spiked cooling fins on its air-cooled cylinder head.
The E90 was campaigned and developed over the next five years. Its major moment of glory came in 1949, when Les Graham won the inaugural 1949 500cc World Championship riding an E90. He was the first winner of the series and the AJS would become the only twin to ever win the 500cc championship.
Yet a variety of issues (ranging from fuel starvation to problems with the magneto drive shaft, which had a nasty habit of breaking) kept it from being the winner AJS hoped for. In 1951, the cylinder head received more traditional looking cooling fins in place of the spiked fins that gave the E90 its “Porcupine” moniker, but it was still called the Porcupine by most people. Also, the troublesome magneto shaft drive was replaced with a chain for increased reliability.
A more comprehensive overhaul of the engine came in 1952, when the cylinders were inclined by 45 degrees and the engine was put into a new cradle frame. The E95 had been born.
The E95 goes racing
The new bike performed well in its first major outing, with a pair of E95s finishing first and second at the 1952 Swiss GP. Unfortunately, that promising start would be the E95’s one shining moment, for it continued to be plagued by fuel and reliability problems and failed to garner any wins for AJS for the rest of 1952 and 1953.
Continuing poor performance prompted a further revamp of the E95 in 1954. A lower frame helped reduce the bike’s profile, and to solve fuel starvation issues the fuel system was changed to an odd weir-type arrangement. Basically, the new system consisted of a holding tray set high within the rear of the fuel tank. Fuel flowed from the tank to a mechanical fuel pump (from a Triumph car engine!), which pumped it back to the holding tray, where it flowed to the carbs by gravity. In between all of this was a reservoir and float set behind the transmission. Priming the system required tilting the bike up on its back wheel so fuel would fill the holding tray!
Along with the new fuel system and lowered frame came the bike’s now-signature gas tank, a huge affair barely taller than the seat with pannier sides that dropped down low and covered much of the engine. Unfortunately, this final iteration failed to perform any better than its predecessors, and at the end of 1954 AJS pulled out of Grand Prix racing for good.
With AJS out of racing, further development of the E95 naturally came to a stop, and the race bikes were simply thrown in a shed at the factory. The E95’s moment of glory, if it can be called that, had come and gone.
The E95 did have one final fling, however, when AMC dealer Tom Arter managed to talk the factory out of one of the surviving bikes in 1964. With Mike Duff riding, the pair showed that with appropriate upgrading (most notably the suspension and fuel system) the E95 still had potential, recording 143mph at the Isle of Man and coming in seventh at Silverstone in 1964. Duff recalls the E95’s performance as “halfway between the fastest singles and [Mike] Hailwood’s MV. Mike came to me after the practice sessions and said he had trouble catching me along one of the straights.”
The Barber E95
“I think I chopped one up (an E95), minus the engine,” Brian Slark says matter-of-factly. At the time, around 1962, Slark was working in the Matchless competition department, and the E95 was simply an old race bike whose time had long passed.
If he did in fact cut up an E95, it means Slark, now chief restoration consultant, parts manager and man of many hats at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala., is responsible for destroying one of only four to eight E95s ever built.
Although Slark is comfortable with four as the total number of complete bikes built, Duff suggests there could have been six to eight constructed. Given there are four surviving E95s — two in the Barber collection, one at the National Motorcycle Museum in England and one in the Team Obsolete collection in New York — that higher number seems plausible.
Whatever the real number, it’s remarkable that even one, more less four, E95 has survived. “When you discontinue racing a motorcycle, if it’s not locked in a shed somewhere it gets cannibalized,” Slark notes, by way of suggesting any existing bikes survived largely by being squirreled away somewhere.
The history of this bike, which has engine E95 E3 and frame E95 F3, a matched set and presumably the third of the bikes built in 1954, is not known. It’s thought to have been revived by a private collector in the early 1980s, when it received a number of modifications, chief among them a one-piece crankshaft in place of the original multi-piece unit.
Chuck Huneycutt, Barber’s chief restoration mechanic, says whoever made the billet crank did so to take advantage of available parts; the replacement crank uses common Ford Cortina connecting rods. “The rod bearings (on a standard crank) are a very strange size,” Huneycutt says, “but because this crank uses Cortina rods, we could buy bearings.”
The crank’s center main bearing retains the stock automotive-style plain bearing, however, and to replace it Huneycutt had to make one himself. “I know a guy who does Model T engines, and he showed me how to cast a bearing. I made a mold and stripped off the old cladding, recast bearing material back onto the bearing and machined them to size,” Huneycutt says.
Huneycutt, a former motorcycle racer and motorcycle dealership mechanic, has been working for Barber since 1993. In that time, he’s raced some of the rarest bikes in the Barber collection, including the museum’s Britten, one of 10 built.
He’s also worked on and restored some of the rarest and most important motorcycles ever made, including the pair of 1960 Honda RC161 race bikes in the museum’s collection (only three exist) and the AJS E95.
Work on the E95, which the museum bought in 1996, didn’t begin in earnest until the middle of 2009, when the museum was invited to the first-ever showing of vintage motorcycles at the previously car-only Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance that August. That invitation inspired completion of the E95. “We actually did it in about eight weeks,” Huneycutt says. “We had the pistons, but the decision wasn’t really made to go to Pebble until about two months before.”
Not surprisingly, the museum was very careful with the E95’s restoration. “We had to avoid the temptation to over restore it,” executive director Jeff Ray says, adding, “These were race bikes, they weren’t meant for show.” Slark says wherever possible, pieces were cleaned up instead of refinished.
Their work paid off when Huneycutt rode the E95 to the winner’s podium to take Best of Show, the first motorcycle ever so honored at Pebble Beach. “It was an all out effort from everybody to get it done,” Slark says, an effort the judges at Pebble Beach clearly appreciated.
Incredibly, since the completion of this bike, the second E95 in the museum’s collection, the Arter/Duff machine, has also been put back to working order. You can see both machines on display at the Barber museum, which to our great benefit is steward to yet another storied chapter in motorcycle history. MC
AJS E95 Timeline
1910: First AJS (Albert John Stevens), a 292cc single, produced at Wolverhampton, England.
1931: AJS closes. London-based Matchless buys what’s left of AJS and forms AMC (Associated Motor Cycles).
1946: First E90S engine tested, a 500cc air-cooled double-overhead cam horizontal parallel twin.
1947: E90S makes its debut at the Isle of Man TT. Rider Les Graham finishes ninth.
1949: Les Graham wins the debut 500cc World Championship aboard an E90S.
1952: E90S engine redesigned to become the E95. Cylinders are tilted up 45 degrees.
1954: E95 redesigned with new weir-type fuel system, lower frame and pannier-style gas tank. At least four are built. Following a disappointing year, AJS ceases further development of the engine and pulls out of Grand Prix racing altogether.
1964: Ten years after the last E95 is built, AMC dealer Tom Arter and rider Mike Duff campaign an E95, taking seventh at Silverstone in the Hutchinson 100. Later, it’s clocked at the Isle of Man at 143mph. The bike is retired in 1965.