Matchless G2CSR

This article was first published in Real Classic Magazine, June 2011

In the Beginning…
Way back in the late 1970’s & early 1980’s I was meandering through a world of motorised transport in several directions. I was interested in driving, but a school friend had mentioned getting a bike because his brother had one – he talked about Hondas & Harley Davidsons, Ducatis & BSAs and I was bewildered – but it sounded exciting and the flame was lit. Every day, on the way home from I would walk past Bob Hill’s shop in Hertford and stare at the Ducati 900SS’ & SD’s in his window.
Eventually, when I was 16 my Dad & I bought a Casal Phantom 5 moped. It was a great little bike – my mates had FS1Es & AP50s & a DT175MX and we used to race down to Epping Forest every Sunday. As the years passed, I moved on to a CB125T, a CB250RS and then a CB400F, but there was a growing sense of dissatisfaction.
At some point in this process, maybe it was working in a petrol station whose forecourt manager had a Vincent Black Shadow & a T140 Bonneville Executive I became aware of the world of classic bikes, which promised new & undiscovered names & technologies, all ripe for the attention of my inquisitive tinkering fingers.
At a second-hand bike dealer in Chingford, possibly inspired by a friend’s SP370, I swapped the 400F for an SR500. It was a horrible thing which would never start, but it was a step in the right direction...
Right now I can’t remember how, but possibly from the pages of Classic Bike, or maybe MCN, a likely looking (read cheap) candidate appeared in the form of a 250 cc Matchless. This was not too far away, in Essex – West Hanningfield actually. The family car at the time was a white VW Variant estate, which we used to sleep in on occasion, and this was pressed into service as a bike transporter.
FNO157B, an Essex registration, turned out to be a lucky find. It was complete (or so I thought) & sound. It had wheels & tyres and looked vaguely like an old bike. It ran. It came with a reprint, from Essex County library, of an instruction book for AJS Motorcycles. In the flyleaves, there were a couple of receipts from somewhere called ‘Hamrax Motors’. Someone calling himself ‘Chopper’ had sold a re-bored barrel & +.020 piston, along with a gearbox sprocket & some pushrods in 1978, and there was an MOT from a garage in Stalham, Norfolk.
Little did I realise the significance of these names. I knew nothing about old bikes, or the people & factories that made them. 
Rat Bike
But I did know that I’d bought a Matchless, it said so in the advert and it was on the registration document. It had a great big petrol tank which had once been chromed but was now covered in scratches. The engine was huge and aluminium and it said ‘G2CSR’ before the engine number. It had a big Amal carburettor with a trumpet and no air cleaner.
Other than that it was a rat.
That big curvy petrol tank above those huge aluminium engine casings was painted in a variety of colours but mostly blue, with a mangled chrome strip in the middle. It had teeth marks in it. It had a rubber knee grip. It had a manky foam pad for a seat & it had little 17” wheels that had once been chromed with hard Avon tyres that looked like they should have been on my dentist’s Austin 7.
Later on I learned that it had the AMC lightweight forks & brakes – I learned this from having seen the same forks fitted to a James Captain, owned by a mate at college. The oddest thing about these, as you can see in one of the pictures is the headlamp that goes with them – it looks like it doesn’t fit or was meant for a smaller bike. It did have dinky little red lights on the top though, and an ammeter!
But whatever it looked like, it filled a need. It was manky enough to accept any attention that I was able to give it, gratefully. I did what I could do. I stripped the tank with Nitromors and found chrome underneath – unfortunately, someone had taken emery cloth to it – it was ‘keyed for paint’ or scratched to blazes... I spray painted the tank black – there was no way I could afford chrome, even if I had known where to get it done.
I was at college at this time – Middlesex Poly, Bounds Green site, studying mechanical engineering. This was not entirely successful – too much Matchless time, too little studying – but it was all to be part of life’s rich pattern. It was too easy to go to Ladbroke Grove when you were supposed to be going to Bounds Green, but this was one of the elements that I loved & still love about old bikes – the people you meet. I found Hamrax motors from an ad in Classic Bike, met the aforementioned ‘Chopper’ who helped me and 1000’s of others out with proper advice and experience.
I fitted some high bars which probably came off a GS750 I had. I’d seen lots of Triumphs with balloon hand grips, so I fitted a pair of those. I discovered Armours in Bournemouth, and I bought some universal alloy mudguards which I believed would be the ‘right’ ones for my bike, as if there were a Great Mudguard God watching over me and ensuring the correct parts would magically appear. For the finishing touch, I put some ‘Matchless’ labels on side panels.
One of the less salubrious bike shops in Hertford was Keith Potter Motorcycles in St. Andrews Street. I’d started buying parts from them, and taking my bikes there for MOTs, and they had British bikes in the shop. They were the only choice for the Matchy’s MOT. This was one of those old-fashioned MOT’s where the guy looks at your bike and prods & squeezes, then writes out the ticket for you. No rolling roads or computers here! This time, as you can see in the pictures, I had to make some mudguard stays.
But that was it; I was on the road on a Brit bike. Not the biggest, fastest, most expensive bike I’d had by a long chalk but it had more of me in it than any of the Japanese bikes I’d had.
It was great. It ran really well, started easily, stopped, and I spent a happy summer thudding around Hertfordshire lanes & back roads. It’s interesting to reflect that in all the time I had it, I never noticed that the brakes or handling were any worse than any of the other bikes I had had. It ground the foot pegs easily. It whirred & clanked and made very un-Japanese noises and I worried about it, but it always went.
It lived up to the myth too – it vibrated. One of the less essential parts I bought, like those side panel stickers, were a pair of shiny chrome toolbox screws which were £3.50 each, from Hamrax. Arriving back from a trip out, I found the toolbox propped open on top of the kick start – shiny screw nowhere to be found.
I went through two sets before I realised they were supposed to have lock nuts on the inside. Comical, but I knew nothing.
Later on, while I was at University in London, I used to frequent a tiny bookshop in Charing Cross (can’t remember the name now). This place was about the size of your average garden shed but was stuffed from floor to ceiling with motoring books. One of my prizes from there was an old copy of Fred Neill’s ‘Service & Overhaul’ guide for AJS & Matchless singles, and about the same time someone (Dad probably) bought me a copy of Roy Bacon’s ‘AJS & Matchless Motorcycles’.
The years of ignorance were waning.
A Bit of History
Back in 1958, AMC were in their heyday. They were building thousands of bikes from their factory in Plumstead, south London – AJS, Matchless, Francis-Barnett & James machines in all shapes & sizes. The AJS & Matchless machines were essentially badge engineered versions of one another, good solid singles & twins of 350 cc & upwards, that were generally not very ‘flash’ but were sound & reliable and the James & Francis Barnett machines were small, lightweight commuter bikes usually with a Villiers 2 stroke engine. However, Harold Macmillan’s government were known to be considering a restriction of 250 cc for learner machines, and there was a hole in AMC’s product line.
The result was what was to become known as the lightweight range of AMC singles. The engine design owed much to the traditional heavyweights AMC had been building under the Matchless name since before the war. It was slightly over-square at 69.85 mm x 64.85 mm, giving a capacity of 248.5 cc. It had a built up bottom end, following AMC’s standard practice and it had a wire-wound piston in a cast iron barrel with a compression ratio of 7.8:1. The barrel had a cast in pushrod tunnel, and the cylinder head was cast aluminium with a side cover retained by brass thumb nuts which would be recognised by any AMC heavyweight enthusiast. The valves springs were initially the hairpin type that was used by the heavyweights and there was no valve lifter.
The timing gear was held in an enclosure bolted to the crankcase, with a single camshaft outboard of which was a contact breaker set. At the other end of the crankshaft was a Wipac alternator in an aluminium primary chain case, with an AMC wet multi-plate clutch.
The engine was enclosed on either side by two bulbous covers which gave the appearance of unit construction. AMC were keen to give their new baby a modern look, but not at the expense of radical technological departures from what had gone before. However, while a traditional plunger oil pump rested in the timing case, operating the usual dry sump lubrication system, the engine also enclosed a chamber containing the oil, similar to that used by Royal Enfield and avoiding the need for a separate oil tank and the clutter of separate oil lines.
The gearbox again was a little unusual. Internally, it used a typical English mainshaft & layshaft arrangement with a barrel quadrant selector but this was housed within a cylindrical enclosure that was clamped against the crankcase and could be rotated to adjust the primary chain.
The exhaust was a typical AJS/Matchless pattern with a sweeping curved pipe and a silencer with offset inlet & slash-cut outlet. Very racy.
The frame had a single down tube at the front, with a sheet metal channel under the engine & gearbox, and a bolted rear subframe. The swinging arm had a spindle fixed in one half, with the other arm retained by a cotter. The forks were considerably lighter than the Teledraulics commonly in use across the heavyweight range, and were shared with other James & Francis Barnett models, and the Norton Jubilee. They were hydraulically damped and were complemented by adjustable Girling struts at the back.
The cycle parts were completed with deeply valanced mudguards, side covers with shiny chrome screws and a painted petrol tank in black, with blue pin striping for AJS variants – the ‘Model 14’ - and red pin striping for Matchless variants. The bulbous engine covers included matching coloured flashes. It sold for £196 9s 8d.
They were good for around 70 mph, had safe road holding and decent brakes and were released to the home market in 1958. The engine produced 18 bhp, which was about the same as the standard 350 cc heavyweight G3L. A scrambler was added the following year, with higher compression at 10:1 and better forks, and a 350 followed in 1960 designated the Matchless G5 or AJS Model 8. In 1961, a sports model – the G2S or Model 14S – offered more bling, with a chromed tank, mudguards and chain guard. It had low ‘Ace’ bars but was otherwise standard.
These were followed in 1962 by two more sporting models – the G2CSR and the Model 14CSR.
These had a bigger carburettor matched by a larger inlet valve, with stronger valve springs and a compression ratio of 8.0:1. The bottom end was stiffened up to suit and the engine produced 20 bhp. The gearing was raised and the front brake changed to an alloy British Hub Company drum with an air scoop at the front. The forks were AMC Teledraulics from the scrambler model. The CSRs had all the chrome plating of the sports models, and the engine barrel was painted silver with polished fins on the cylinder head. The coloured flashes disappeared from those bulbous engine covers.
In 1964, the year my Matchless was built, the G2CSR cost £243 17s 11d and could manage 83 mph. A factory modified 14CSR was raced in the Thruxton 500 mile race that year and, with the legendary Peter Williams and Tony Wood riding, won the 250 class at an average of 61.6 mph.
The CSRs continued with a few changes as the industry went into decline. The valve springs changed to coils, the compression ratio went up again, to 9.5:1, the gear ratios closed up and the cigar shaped silencer appeared. The lightweights had disappeared, along with most of the other models, by 1966.
Here I have to thank Roy Bacon for his extensive contribution to my education. On with the story…
Looking through Roy’s book, I learnt that my 1964 G2CSR ‘Monitor 90’ wasn’t supposed to look like the Rat Bike I had built. Realising I had to work a bit harder, I returned to the small ads and eventually bought another bike from somewhere. This one was a 1966 AJS ‘Sapphire Ninety’, a Model 14CSR for which I paid £85. It had the cigar shaped silencer, the right rear mudguard, the larger headlamp & good set of AMC heavyweight forks. It also had a wheel with the correct ‘British Hub Company’ brake, complete with fake air scoop. I had had these bits knocking about in the garage for a short while and from somewhere acquired the front mudguard and a chain guard.
A rebuild was on the cards. It was to come sooner rather than later due to unfortunate day dreaming incident one sunny afternoon, when thudding about said Hertfordshire countryside. On the way home, enjoying the day & looking about from behind my MkVIII goggles, I suddenly became aware that the Ford Escort I had been following had stopped to turn right – of course, by the time I realised this I was about 3 feet from his rear and the next thing I knew I was sprawling over his bonnet, having slithered there from my resting place on his roof...
Exit one set of lightweight AMC forks.
Now, I’m normally a pretty obsessive sort of person, afflicted by some kind of Motorcycle OCD, and this time was no exception. Airfix kits never lasted long in our house and the Sapphire 90 went the same way. I soon had both lightweights in bits again. Luckily, the Francis Barnett forks used in the standard lightweights and fitted to my Matchless, now christened ‘Madeleine’, had taken all the impact load from the accident without damaging the frame – no-wonder really, I can’t imagine who considered these things ‘lightweight’!
The old forks came off, the headlight came off, tank, seat and mudguards all off and I was left with an engine sitting in a frame with a rear wheel.
I fitted original steel mudguards. The rear one was shiny black, the front was rusty chrome. The front one was sprayed silver and for some reason I left the rear one black. I fitted some new ‘ace’ bars that I got from Armours along with a ‘Ducon’ dip switch and some Doherty grips.
I must have spent a fair bit of cash at this time. There was definitely a new battery, bought from Bob Hill’s in town from which I learned a valuable lesson – don’t ride your bike through town with a battery in the pocket of your Belstaff, if you want your Belstaff to still have pockets when you get home.
There seemed to be enough acid left in the battery for it to charge but I never used that pocket again...
There were other costly items too – a new exhaust from Armours appeared at this time in the racy swept back style of the Sapphire 90, new footrest bars from Chopper to replace the ones which were perpetually bent, a new rear light, rebuilt carburettor and a new clutch pressure plate which I bought from Russell’s in Battersea.
The tank got more of the spray can treatment, though because I’d seen the pictures in Roy Bacon’s book, it looked a bit more like it should - black tank with silver panels. Still couldn’t afford the chrome. The black side panels got the correct stickers.
It was a much better bike now, more reliable, stopped better, but most of all it had a kind of authenticity that in my mind came from looking like it should. The bug had truly bitten – I sold my last Japanese bike, a 1978 Suzuki GS750, and bought ‘April’, a 1957 AJS Model 30.

I was back at college again, in South London this time and perilously close to both Russell’s and Joe Francis Motors. The Matchy was at home, the Ajay with me, and that got most of the attention. It even attended our final year degree show, on my stand with the grit blasting machine I had built as my final year project.
One summer, part way through a sandwich year job at GEC I reworked the Matchless again. I painted the tank & side panels red and the rear mudguard silver, to finish it off. I was still too skint for chrome. I even took it across the Woolwich ferry to Plumstead.
After college, with the motoring bug fully engaged, I moved to Norfolk to work for a well known sports car company. The AJS was in daily use by now, and the Matchy stayed at my Mum & Dad’s house. When Vicky & I met & eventually bought our own place, the Matchy came to stay – it stood in the living room for years until I sold it to a friend at work, with our first baby on the way.
It’s still out there somewhere!