The AJS Porcupine, the only British multi-cylinder grand prix bike made in the historic era, will make its return to the Classic TT presented by Bennetts in August, 61 years after the factory Porcupines last raced in the Isle of Man in 1954.
American tuner/collector Robert Iannucci will bring the DOHC 500cc E95 twin for Dave Roper, the winner of the 1984 Historic TT on a Matchless G50, to ride in the Jurby festival on Aug. 30 and in the Classic Racer Classic TT Lap of Honour on Aug. 31. Iannucci, the owner of Team Obsolete equippe in Brooklyn, New York, is delighted to be reuniting the AJS with the Mountain circuit after a 33-year restoration that has involved exhaustive searches for data, parts and key factory personnel who were involved with the Porcupine.
“The Manx Norton and Matchless G50 factory bikes of that era were only development versions of the single-cylinder production racers that they sold to customers,” Iannucci says. “AJS was the only British manufacturer to make unique factory racers that were not for sale. Only four E95s were ever made.”
The Porcupine earned its nickname from the spiky finning of the cylinder heads on the original E90 model. That bike earned AJS a place in motorcycling history by winning the inaugural 500cc World Championship in 1949, ridden by Les Graham, who beat the four-cylinder Gileras that were later to dominate racing’s premier class.
Indeed, Graham almost won the 1949 Senior TT, the opening round of the newly instituted championship: he led the 264-mile race until Hillberry corner on the last lap, when the magneto drive broke and he pushed in the final two miles to finish tenth. Porcupines continued to compete at the TT until 1954, but were increasingly outpaced by the Gileras, and even the factory Manx Norton singles, which received a much more intensive development program.
However, the Porcupine remains an important motorcycle in racing history because of that 1949 championship, the bike’s rarity, and because it is the only twin-cylinder motorcycle ever to win the 500cc world title. The final 1954 version, with the pannier petrol tank, is arguably the most distinctive grand prix of the classic era.
It was this very rarity that compounded Iannucci’s challenge in getting his Porcupine back onto the track. But he was driven by a passion for the machines created by the engineers at the AMC group in South London, which made the AJS and Matchless brands. In 2013 Iannucci brought to the Classic TT Rod Coleman's “Junior” TT winning 1954 AJS 7R3 — a three-valve factory version of the two-valve 7R production racer — and last year he presented the 1959 Matchless G50 on which Roper won the 1984 “Senior” Historic TT.
Now the Team Obsolete patron returns to support the Classic TT with his most challenging restoration yet.
Photo by Jaime Kahn Photography