Sight Unseen: 1966 Matchless G80CS

Buying a bike on Craigslist without seeing it first is not for the faint of heart. That didn’t stop John Anton from purchasing this Matchless G80CS.

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by Nick Cedar

1966 Matchless G80CS

Engine: 497cc air-cooled OHV 4-stroke single, 86mm x 85.5mm bore and stroke, 8.7:1 compression ratio, 30hp (est.)
Top speed: 90mph (period test)
Carburetion: Single 3/16in Amal Concentric
Transmission: 4-speed, right foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: 6v, Lucas NC1 “wader” magneto
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube cradle frame/55in (1,397mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual shocks rear
Brakes: 7in SLS drum brakes front and rear
Tires: 3.5 x 19in front, 4 x 19in rear
Weight (dry): 380lb (173kg)
Seat height: 33.5in (851mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.4gal (9.1ltr)/60mpg (est.)

Craigslist, in case you are unaware, is an online flea market. Anything and everything may be found on Craigslist, from a Santa outfit for a newborn baby to a John Deere tractor. The seller writes their own description of the object, and buyer and seller make their own arrangements as to payment and delivery. The Craigslist website states, “Do not rent or purchase sight-unseen — that amazing ‘deal’ may not exist.” Many sellers are honest, others are not. The Wild West is alive and well on Craigslist.

John Anton bought this Matchless sight unseen from a Canadian seller. It was supposed to be a runner, and appeared on delivery assembled, but with some unoriginal parts. Unfortunately, the description of the bike as a “runner” was a tad optimistic. “I could get four or five pops out of it, and I somehow doubt the magneto failed only during shipping.”

John is not only brave, but persistent. Faced with a less-than-common 50-year-old motorcycle in much less than perfect condition, he rolled up his sleeves and set out to make it run.

History of the marque

Matchless was one of the oldest motorcycle companies in England, or, for that matter, the world. The Collier family, owners of Matchless, started as bicycle manufacturers. They built their first motorcycle in 1899 and started production in 1901. Matchless not only built complete motorcycles but also built engines for Brough Superior and Morgan three-wheeler automobiles.

In the early 1930s, Matchless bought another well-known factory, AJS, and renamed itself Associated Motor Cycles, often abbreviated to AMC. The company built well-regarded bikes with telescopic forks for the British armed forces during World War II and was one of the first to get back to civilian production after the German army surrendered. After the war, AMC bought several other brands that were teetering on insolvency. One of whom was Norton. For several years, Norton was operated as a completely separate concern, but eventually, AMC used some of the same parts on both Matchless and Norton motorcycles.

The 500cc G80 Matchless single was first introduced in 1946. Swingarm rear suspension debuted in 1949. In that same year, Matchlesses started turning up in the U.S. in Indian dealers’ showrooms as part of a deal made by Indian president Ralph Rogers with a British firm, Brockhouse. Americans found the heavyweight Matchless singles to be very competitive offroad, and quite a few went desert racing in western states.

The target Matchless customer in the United Kingdom used their motorcycle to get to work, possibly heading out for a little offroad fun on weekends. Sport riders bought a Triumph or BSA. The road-going Matchlesses were not particularly fast, but had a lot of bottom end torque and were, for the time, very reliable. The company also built a well-regarded production racer, the G50, which two-time AMA Grand National Champion Dick Mann rode to first place finishes in 1960s U.S. national road-racing.

AMC and its Matchless subsidiary chugged along happily during the 1950s, but as time went on, the company’s business model became obsolete. Small, affordable automobiles became available in Great Britain around 1959, and, at the same time, Honda started exporting oil-tight motorcycles with bright lights and electric starting to Western countries. Most get-to-work riders opted for either a car or a small Japanese motorcycle. Matchless sales to American offroad racers dropped once lightweight 2-strokes became available during the 1960s. AMC’s sales plummeted. The company declared bankruptcy in 1966, and was reorganized by Dennis Poore of Manganese Bronze Holdings into Norton-Matchless, and then re-reorganized as Norton Villiers. Some Matchless motorcycles were built through 1967, then all Matchless production stopped.

The G80CS

The 500cc G80CS Matchless single — John Anton’s bike — was an evolution of the G80, intended to appeal to the dual-sport rider. In 1956, AMC shortened the stroke on some versions of the G80, including the G80CS scrambler, to 86mm x 85.5mm bore and stroke. The short-stroke engines were all aluminum alloy and were built with an integral pushrod tunnel. Since a major reason people bought G80CS Matchlesses was for desert racing in the western United States, AMC aimed to build a machine that would be competitive with the single-carb Triumph twins that made up much of the field.

AMC started building its own well-designed 4-speed gearboxes in 1957, and introduced a full cradle frame with double downtubes in 1960. In 1964, AMC, then in financial trouble, started using parts from Norton motorcycles on the Matchlesses, including the Roadholder front forks, full width aluminum alloy hubs, and the oil pump. The Roadholder forks were not used on the G80CS.

Cycle World magazine did a road test of a G80CS in 1963. The magazine liked the Matchless’ reliability, its large bottom end bearings, its abuse-proof clutch, the offroad-friendly air cleaner and the smooth shifting. Points were subtracted for the heavy flywheels, the “not outstanding” brakes, and the fold up footpegs, which would fold at the worst possible times. Matchless had replaced the G80CS’s aluminum alloy fenders with chrome-plated steel fenders in 1963, and they were not protective in sand or mud. Although the bike was “as heavy as a sackful of anvils,” it was “a most impressive all-round performer on clay roads, up sandy washes, over boulder-strewn creek beds and just about every place but on a paved road — and it seems likely that with the right tires it would be pretty good there, too.”

The paved road test took place about 50 years later, and was published in an English magazine, RealClassic. An intrepid journalist, Martin Peacock, purchased a 1961 machine and took off on a tour of the English countryside. He reported, “From day one it started and ran like a very loud watch.” Although it was not particularly fast, and the seating was reported as “firm,” Peacock had a great time on the English back roads.

Then and now

Pumped by all the good reports of this bike, John Anton waded into his newly purchased machine. Fixing a not very common 50-year-old bike is more likely to be successful if you locate others with a similar case of old bike fever, and the local Britbike community pointed him to Jack Hurt, a nearby magneto guru. Anton installed the rebuilt magneto, but the Matchless refused to start. He took the mag back to Jack, who tested it and announced, “No continuity. I’ve never seen this before.” Jack turned up a new carrier for the contact breaker assembly on the lathe. Still no start.

Next item for consideration was the Amal Concentric, correct for late model G80CSs. It turned out to have a plugged pilot jet. Anton cleaned up the carburetor and reinstalled it. Still no go … but what about the spark plug? He located a replacement for the original, and now unobtainable, Champion plug. Finally, the Matchless started, and “thumped away like a good ‘un.”

Anton confesses that he “lacks the patience to fix one problem at a time.” While he was trying to figure out why his thumper would not thump, he started rebuilding the forks. “I only wanted to swap one dented slider extension for another that came in the bag” — the bag of extra parts that came with the bike. “First, the forks wouldn’t budge from the triple clamps.” The correct tool and advice on what to do with it was available on the internet, and once it arrived, the forks came off. By then, he had decided to replace the fork seals as well. Deciding to replace the fork seals led to deciding to remove and repaint the triple clamps, “which exposed a chamber of electrical and mechanical horrors inside the headlight shell.” The steering stem locknut was terminally frozen, and Anton had to rent an impact driver to remove it.

On and on

While the front end was coming together, Anton started ordering replacement parts. The AJS & Matchless Owners North American Section sells a lot of the cycle parts, and the majority of the drivetrain parts for a G80CS are available from Britbike oriented internet sellers. Anton decided to build his own wiring harness (he says he likes the process), but rebuilding the harness with Lucas bullet connectors and color coded wire took months. A new and correct seat and chain guard appeared in the mail, but neither item quite fit, and took some time to massage into place. Anton was planning to ride the Matchless in the big annual British Bike run, but with the event around the corner, and the bike still in pieces, Anton went on another bike.

Additional unexpected problems arose with the side and centerstands. The sidestand was bent (probably from prior owners jumping on the kickstart with the bike on the sidestand) and had to be straightened out. The bike should have had a centerstand, but didn’t. The replacement that arrived via UPS fit only after several trips to a welder and repeated disassembly and reassembly. “Everything takes too much time on this bike!” Anton groused.

Finally, as a result of both bravery and persistence, the bike ran consistently and stopped leaking like the Exxon Valdez. Anton has replaced most of the incorrect parts with NOS parts or accurate copies. Incorrect parts currently on his machine are the Megura brake and clutch levers, the BSA taillight, the earlier year air cleaner (“I like the way it looks,” Anton says), the alloy rims, and the slightly different muffler.

With most of the mechanical issues finally dealt with, Anton tackled the legal issues. Getting a bike imported from Canada — even a vintage bike —  registered in the States is not a walk in the park. The key is to head for the DMV as soon as possible after the bike crosses the border — which Anton did not do, to his cost. The DMV considers a bike to be operational when it enters the state where you want to register it unless you immediately run down to the local office and fill out a “non-operational” affidavit, and will hit you up for yearly registration fees, which if you don’t pay immediately, increase with penalties and interest. Having been run through the wringer by the DMV previously, Anton went with a private registration service. Unfortunately, the paperwork that came with the motorcycle disclosed the purchase price and date of sale, and, even with the registration service, Anton had to fork over $700-plus to get a license plate. “With clenched teeth, I bolted on the new plate.”

“Now it was time for the first legal trip on the road. Gas, oil, chain lube and tire pressure checked. Ease it over TDC and stomp. Then stomp again. No go. Plug out, big spark, plug in, more kicking. Finally, the staccato bark of a high compression single. Of course, it died as I fastened my helmet. More kicking, a helmet full of sweat, then — a glorious ride.”

Since finishing the restoration (and paying through the nose to make the bike legal to ride on public roads) Anton has taken the G80CS on rides with the local clubs and a few solo excursions. Since the CS has magneto ignition, “it sits there until I want it,” with no need to hook up a battery charger.

After some trial and error, Anton has figured out a starting procedure that will reliably start the Matchless without the equivalent of an intensive workout at the gym. “Since it has a Norton clutch, you start with pulling in the clutch and working the kickstart lever to free up the clutch. The Concentric carburetor has a tickle button. It’s important not to give it too much gas — just a little bit of tickle. You pull the compression lever and kick. I’m getting a lot better at kicking it over!”

“It’s nice on the road and goes along at a good clip.” Anton reports that although the Matchless takes some time to warm up, it will chug away at idle once warm. The 4-speed gearbox is solid. For a scrambler, the gearing is surprisingly high, but the gears are widely spaced, and the engine will pull along a wide powerband. Also surprising for a big single is that it doesn’t shake or vibrate at normal rpm. Not surprisingly for a 1960s British machine, the brakes are not the best. “The brake lever is too close in to really get a good pull.”

John Anton’s bravery and persistence has paid off in a unique and fun two-wheeler. “I’m happy with it. I never see another on the road — it’s rarer than even a BSA Gold Star. I only know one other Matchless rider. It keeps up with traffic and I like the way it looks. It looks like a proper motorcycle. They got all that stuff right. Aesthetically, it’s a winner.” MC

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