AJS Stormer – The Commando, the Cobra and the Mongrel.


The Commando, the Cobra and the Mongrel.


The AJS Stormer is 50 years old this year, 2018, so here’s its story.

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 AJS 18CS 1955 / Australian Collection

This is a none profit site, for enjoyment only, please scroll down.

But where to begin, every book needs a spine, and the history of the AJS Stormer, its evolution, development and racing pedigree, is no exception.

One person provided the backbone to these excellent motocross machines, his name is there at the beginning and it’s there all the way to the very end, he was in his own modest words, “Just in, the right place, at the right time”.

Like the sign on his workshop door, he had a doggied determination, he had an idea, and he followed it through, like a terrier, he would grab hold with his teeth and wouldn’t let go, and with perseverance, and a wry smile, he reached his goal and his goal, was the development of the ultimate Motocross machine.

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AJS Motorcycles Ltd / Goodworth Clatford, Andover

The story of the Stormer though, doesn’t really start with AJS, it doesn’t even, strangely, start on a motocross track, in some ways it doesn’t even start in Britain, and it’s influenced by, research on the pulse jet engine, and defections from deep behind ‘The Iron Curtain’.

But we have to start somewhere, and the Villiers Engineering Company is the best place, because the Stormer’s engine, started life as the Villiers Starmaker, named after the launch of the communications satellite, ‘Telstar 1’, on the 10th July 1962, so this engine, had a lot to live up to.

The Starmaker was designed as the replacement for the earlier Villiers, but now out dated, scrambles units, like the Mark 36A. Through its development and testing, the people involved and their histories, it became much, much more, and instead of just powering the various British scramblers of the time, the Starmaker came to be a winner, not only when it became the Stormer, but also as a superb road racing unit.

Though as I said at the beginning, there’s a hidden backbone to this story, and if you scratch away the paint, you’ll find, something else is revealed.

The first conversation, which originally took place in 1963, between Bernard Hooper and Bob Currie, starts the journey, telling us about the then, newly introduced, in late 1962, Villiers Starmaker engine.

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The Cotton Motorcycle Company / Pat Onions, with John Draper‚ Mike Smith and Fluff Brown / Cotton Owners Club

The two of them, then met up again with John Favill, in 1983, for ‘The Motorcycle’, some twenty years later, when the achievements of the engine were known, for a new discussion, from there, be patient, as other articles take over.

When I started my research into the machines history and the people involved, I could only find scattered material, so I have collated, emended and revised this, so that a narrative threads together the fascinating story of the creation of this remarkable, high speed ride, and the continuation of the AJS Marque into the present day.

AJS Stormer 1976

I have owned my bike, for over forty years and was curious how the designers, engineers and development riders, created, around the Starmaker engine, the whole machine, the Championship winning, AJS Stormer, with all its innovations, that have survived the test of time, and are still present, in the motocross, race winners of today.

FaceBook – AJS Stormer 50 years

Contents – Chapters


1. An interview with Bernard Hooper / 1983


“As a scrambles engine, the Starmaker”, reflects its designer, Bernard Hooper, some twenty years after its completion, “was way ahead of its time”.

“This was to be the first of a new generation of Villiers two-strokes, breaking away from the old 34A type slogger’s, and approaching the motocross engines of today. But the difficulty was that we were building it for weekend riders, and they, just weren’t ready for it, this unit required new riding skills, new expertise ,and a lack of nerve“.

So, it came as no surprise, when the characteristics of this engine became apparent, and remember it was intended, primarily, for supply as a proprietary scrambles motor, to the various British marques, like Cotton, Dot, Greeves, and so on, should successfully cross the usual boundaries of motorsport and turn out to find its initial success, on the great road racing short circuits of the day, where the riders had no idea what nerves were.

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The Minter Cotton tie-up for the 250cc class lasted over four years and resulted in many wins. Here Derek gets down, at Castle Combe in April 1966 / The Motorcycle 1983

On the tarmac, it started setting records, which still stand to this day; one would be in the grueling Isle of Man TT.

The first of these road racing machines was the Starmaker 247cc powered Cotton Telstar, and then its sister followed, the Cotton Conquest, both ridden of course by Derek Minter. His achievements were then continued, by his co-rider Peter Inchley, who would later create his own work of art, ‘The Villiers Special’, but then, the Starmaker also started to take off, in its intended sport, Motocross.

Bernard carries on, “I can remember one key winter scrambles, at Rollswood Farm, when to everybody’s surprise Chris Horsfield, on a Starmaker-powered James, beat the great BSA hero, Jeff Smith. He achieved this, in the slippery conditions, by feeling his way out of the bends and controlling the bike on the throttle, the average British motocross competitor, just wasn’t used to this technique, but today, it’s accepted practice”.

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Chris Horsfield scores the first major scrambles win, for a Starmaker powered motocross machine on his factory James – in the TV meeting at Rollswood Farm in 1963, he beat Jeff Smith, Arthur Lampkin and Alan Clough, amongst others. At James, Chris and Eddie Kees, a brilliant mechanic and engineer, had previously packed their Villiers crankcases and used the Parkinson conversion, so they had already begun, developing new riding techniques.

Surprisingly, one of the starting points for the Starmaker was a go-faster kit, which Bernard, together with Hermann Meier, had devised, for Len Vale-Onslow. The Vale-Onslow conversion barrel, mounted on a standard Villiers bottom-end, really did boost the engines output.  

“Also” says Bernard, “when Villiers put a Vale-Onslow converted engine on to their own test benches, it shock them across the room”.

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Greeves Hawkstone 1960 / Vale Onslow barrel

So from this work, Villiers gave Bernard the brief of producing a modern engine, more powerful than anything in their current range, and with a 25 bhp target. What emerged was a very different type of Villiers unit, with a tiny crankcase, fitting tightly around the flywheels. This engine would be a revolution; it delivered a very peaky, high revving, power curve, instead of the old-style, flat curve, of earlier Villiers engines.

“Riders were used to taking a handful of throttle and then they waited, for the engine to catch up. With this engine they were in for a big shock, to their horror, it would instantly take off, and often left them behind, sitting on their backsides in the mud”.

“Some people knew, that this very characteristic, was what they had been waiting for, it simply cried out, Road Racer”.

Derek Minter and Peter Inchley, stepped forward, very happy to prove, just that.

“Our biggest drawback though, was that Villiers, wouldn’t allow us to race the machines ourselves because traditionally, the company just built engines, and so for commercial fairness, we had to wait for the motorcycle companies, to provide us with their personal feedback, from the machines that they put together”. 

“Well, Monty Denly and Pat Onions, of the Cotton factory, excellent frame makers, came and asked us, to prepare a special four-speed road racing unit which they would put in a bespoke frame, designed for Derek Minter, this was going to be our first real test, so we eagerly awaited, his response”.

“He liked it, and Cotton came straight back to us, excitedly and demanded, a six-speed gearbox. Minter wanted to take full advantage of its superb power curve, this though, wouldn’t leave room for a kickstart, but for this type of unit, it didn’t matter, so we got straight on with it”.

“As soon as it was finished, he took it to Mallory Park, and broke the lap record, he left the Bultaco’s – the main threat of the day – as though they were standing still. At this point we were extracting 27 bhp.

Derek Minter. and John Cooper jpg

Derek Minter (Cotton 52) chasing John Cooper (Greeves 35) both Starmaker’s Mallory.

“Then Peter Inchley came along, he got around Villiers commercial fairness concerns by using a Bultaco frame, inhouse, and he ‘tuned’ his Starmaker engine, to produce 36 bhp, we called this, ‘The Villiers Special’.

But that’s racing, too far ahead . . .

Acknowledgement | The Motorcycle September 1983

Bernard Hooper & John Favill - Norton Villiers - Wolverhampton 1975 copy

Bernard Hooper & John Favill / 1975 / NV Wolverhampton


2. An interview with Hooper & John Favill / 1962


Be it in a Cotton, DOT, Greeves or James, something new and highly exciting has emerged from the Villiers stable; and at the London Show at Earls Court the crowds pressed forward to study the Wolverhampton bombshell. A single with twin carbs!

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Villiers 247cc Starmaker / 1962 / The Motorcycle 1983

Yes, and there were many other novelties in the design. Full disc flywheels; a nigh-indestructible, all metal clutch; needle-roller bearings here, there and everywhere; a massive light alloy cylinder barrel and head. And to cap it all, a reputed output, of 25bhp at 6,500rpm. The man, principally responsible for the Starmaker was Bernard Hooper, assisted on the transmission side by John Favill.

And at the Villiers factory Bernard and John gave their reasons for the adoption of this or that feature. But how did the project begin?

Bernard Hooper explained, “About three years ago we began to feel that our scrambles engine, the 34A, was reaching the end of its development. We could take it up to 22½ bhp but we needed more”.

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Ken Sprayson

“Obviously, a redesign was necessary – it would mean, a virtually new engine, even if we could have incorporated some 34A parts. First, we wanted the smallest possible crankcase volume, which implied completely circular flywheels and close clearances. But the real starting point was the connecting rod. Once the strength and dimensions of that were calculated, then we could work back to the clearances needed for the crank webs”.

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Norton Villiers factory Wolverhampton

“The ideal rod would be oval in section, for improved gas flow, but that isn’t the best section strength. The Starmaker rod, a steel component, has an H-section, but with the leading and trailing edges feathered for better streamlining. It is only ¼ in thick at its maximum, so the flywheels can be very close together”.

“In the Starmaker, the crankshaft webs and shaft extensions are one-piece forgings in nickel-chrome-molybdenum steel, while the shouldered crankpin is pressed into place then made to grip the webs more tightly by means of expander plugs forced into the crankpin bore.”

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Starmaker / Cotton Conquest / 1965 / Dropbears

“Integral shaft ends and webs seem to me an expensive way of doing things, though, I can see that the principle does result in a really rigid shaft assembly. But on the subject of rigidity, do you feel that a pressed in crankpin, as in the 34A, is sufficient?” I asked.

“Expensive forgings?” echoed Bernard, “Not necessarily, once the tools are made and you can produce in quantity, this is a production engine, after all. Every one will be exactly alike. Scrambling certainly does throw a strain on the crankshaft and we wanted as strong an assembly as we could devise”.

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Starmaker / Cotton Conquest / 1965 / Dropbears

“The Starmaker crankpin has a thinner wall than that of the 34A, and we can use larger-diameter expander plugs with a good core strength. This shaft won’t twist, believe me!”.

John Favill chipped in, to point out the main-bearing arrangements, “The shaft,” he explained, “is carried on two lipped roller bearings, placed as near to the middle of the shaft as we could get them”.

“The bearings lie directly under the crankcase walls and – an important point, we felt – there are radial external ribs on the crankcase for added support. On the drive side, as close to the sprocket as possible, there is an additional needle-roller bearing”.

“You also have a needle-roller bearing in the big-end eye. That’s unusual. But what are the advantages over – say – a crowded roller bearing?” I wanted to know.

Again, John gave the answer, “It’s a caged –needle roller bearing, and that’s a much better proposition than ordinary rollers”.

“Where there is a cage, you know where the rollers are going, loose, crowded rollers have to make their own way, as it were, and you get skidding and scuffing”.

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Starmaker / Cotton Conquest / 1965 / Dropbears

“But the big point is that the use of needle-rollers enables us to have a much smaller big-end than would otherwise be the case. Less inertia!”.

Outboard of the unit, on the right, is the ignition plant – which has been variously described as “flywheel magneto” and “energy transfer”. I asked Bernard Hooper for the correct description.

“Well,” he said, “it’s an alternator – and it is energy transfer in that all leads from the unit are low tension while the separate high tension coil is mounted as close to the spark plug as possible. That way, we can have a compact unit, without restricting the size of the coil”. 

“Note the light alloy flywheel, by the way, the first one of its type that we have employed”.

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Greeves 24ME Starmaker / 1963

“Previous generator flywheels have been in gunmetal, but we calculated that light alloy would be more resistant to bursting at high rpm, in fact, we have tested the new flywheel to 17,000 plus rpm”.

“Besides, a heavy flywheel increases the shock loading on the shaft and could lead to twisting. The light job assists in obtaining quick acceleration, and the effect is particularly noticeable when rapid gear changes are being made”.

“Can we now discuss the cylinder?” I asked, “It is, I note, in light alloy, but with a cast-in iron liner. Any particular bonding methods employed?”

“Not ordinary iron,” Bernard corrected me, “That’s spun-cast austenitic iron, I’ll have you know! We chose it because it has an expansion rate only slightly less than that of light alloy”.

“To obtain a good bond between the iron and the alloy we rough machine the upper external surface of the liner”.

“All liner ports are machined, by the way – not cast – and we use the machined ports to locate the shell-moulded sand cores of the cylinder”.

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DOT Demon Starmaker / 1963

“Widely spaced fins, to resist the clogging effect of mud, and with slots so that the inlet and exhaust areas are isolated so distortion is inhibited”.

“The fins project well out into the airstream, and those around the transfer ports project still further to obtain maximum benefit”.

“Talking of ports,’ I broke in, “Do you calculate the resonances for all three – inlet, exhaust and transfer”.

“No”, said Bernard, “Just the inlet and exhaust. But the area and flow shape of the transfer ports are carefully worked out”.

“The transfer ports direct the charge upward and toward the rear of the cylinder, so that the two incoming streams meet and fill the cylinder from the rear”.

“Theoretically, rectangular port openings would be better – though, in practice, oval openings ease the passage of the piston rings. So we have to compromise, though it does make calculation rather more complicated”.

“Port size and timing is tied up with the primary compression ratio which, in the Starmaker, stands at the very high figure of 1.69 to 1”.

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Scorpion Type 4 Starmaker Special / 1964

Combustion-chamber shape is unorthodox, comprising a mushroom recess in the cylinder head, with central spark plug position, and very wide squish bands”. 

Villiers, explained Bernard Hooper, had conducted numerous experiments before deciding on the final shape. Advantages? Increased turbulence, giving better resistance to detonation and therefore, smoother running at the high (12 to 1) compression ration employed.

“The twin-carburettor layout”, I commented, “Is one of the most notable features of the design. Why was it adopted?”

“Look at it this way”, says Bernard. “For given engine speed there is only one correct size of carburetor. To get maximum performance at high speeds you need a larger-bore carburetor than for good torque at low speeds, by using two carburetors we should get the best of both worlds”.

“There is no gain in peak power over say, a single Amal GP carburetor – but it does mean that we can use conventional carburetors of the type with which riders are already familiar. Easier starting is another point in favour of the dual arrangement”.

“Why the rubber-tube connections between the carbs and the engine?”

“Mainly so that the unit can be mounted readily in various makes of frame”.

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James Cotswold Starmaker / 1965

“All right,” I conceded. “Well, let’s move onto the gearbox. But first, why no shock absorber on the engine shaft, or clutch centre?”

“Manufacturers asked us for a small diameter engine sprocket, which leaves no room for incorporating a shock absorber. And the clutch, as you will see, is of unconventional pattern in which it would have been difficult to make suitable shock-absorbing provision”.

“However, it is an easy enough matter to mount a shock absorber in the rear hub, and some makers are already doing this”.

New throughout, the gearbox employs a multitude of needle-roller bearings, John Favill explains, “Free running, and a better engineering job for heavy-duty work, while another interesting feature is the adoption of involute splines, resulting in a stronger shaft with more even, stress distribution”.

“Sliding dogs are undercut, and angled faces ensure really positive engagement”.

“This type of dog,” said Bernard, “Requires less actual gear movement than before, easing the load on the operating mechanism and giving us a sweeter gearbox all round. Note too, that the sleeve gear does not take clutch thrust; instead, there is a needle-roller thrust race at the remote end of the main shaft. Again, the result is sweeter operation”.

Royal Enfield

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Royal Enfield Starmaker / 1965 

“All metal clutches were used on some vintage car models”, I recalled, “but they went out of favour years ago”.

“Yes”, agreed Bernard, “Mainly because it was difficult to provide a sufficiently high spring pressure without making the clutch extremely heavy to operate”. 

“But there are big advantages, notably in durability and resistance to abuse. We use sintered-bronze surfaces, with spiral grooves so that oil is flung clear of the working surfaces. Another good point – very little movement is necessary, just a few thou’, and the plates are free”.

“The secret lies in the diaphragm spring, which offers very high pressure without increasing the operating load. The spring plate pivots on a ridge on the pressure plate, and there is a leverage ratio of about 5 to 1”.

“That means that a pressure of, for instance 150 lb at the centre of the spring is equivalent to 750 lb at the pressure line”.

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Sprite Monza Starmaker / 1966


Acknowledgements /  The Motorcycle February 1963

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John Favill now provides a technical appraisal of his new Villiers engine.


3. The Villiers Starmaker / 1963


The intent was to make available to motorcycle manufacturers an engine and transmission producing the performance level needed to compete at International level in the motorcycle sport called at the time, Scrambling. The engine had a capacity of 247cc with a targeted power output of 100 bhp per litre.

John E Favill

John E Favill

The engine and transmission unit that carried the name Starmaker was a departure from the traditional method of identification previously used by the company, 34A, etc.

For many years the company had resisted using names for company products, they had though in the early days, for example, produced the bicycle known as the “Sunbeam Cub”. 

When Villiers began to manufacture internal combustion engines in 1912 a code system of a combination of numbers and letters had begun to be used to describe the type of engine and engine capacity, and this had become the traditional method of product identification.

Starmaker Prototype1962

Original Prototype Starmaker drawings / 02.03.1962

In 1963 this new engine and transmission was designed for use in Scrambling, although other applications were also being considered, it was so different; we decided it needed a name.

Very soon after the Starmaker was made available, the controlling body of the sport decided that the name Scrambling did not translate easily into other languages. To overcome this difficulty and to adopt a name that reflected the increasing interest in the sport throughout the world, it was changed to Moto-Cross.

The unit replaced similar engine power units made by the company, namely the 34A and 37A, which in turn had evolved from the venerable 9E.

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Cotton Telstar Starmaker / 1964

The units the Starmaker replaced had reached the limit of their power development and performance, and it was considered that only a redesigned replacement would be able to compete in the now international sport of moto-cross.

The responsibility for the design of the Starmaker was given to two designers employed by the company; Bernard Hooper, a two stroke engine design specialist and John Favill who was their expert in gear and transmission design. 


Motorcycle companies that purchased the Starmaker for moto-cross included DMW, Greeves, Cotton, James, and DOT. Some of them soon found that the engine and transmission assembly could also be developed for application in road racing. The engine and transmission unit enabled race competitive road racing motorcycles to be made available at a relatively low cost.  

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Bill Ivy / Cotton Telstar / 1964

The four-speed gearbox was provided with close ratios but in addition, a specially designed six-speed gearbox was also made available.

This road racing version of the unit was provided with a tachometer drive, plus an attachment to the timing side of the crankshaft that carried the ignition points in a separate bearing support that provided for better spark control for the ignition system at the higher engine speeds used for road racing. The developed power output was increased to 32 bhp at 7500 rpm  (128 bhp per litre).

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Bill Ivy / Cotton Telstar / 1964

Motorcycles powered by the road racing version of the engine and transmission did very well on the racing circuits of the UK and Europe but the most outstanding year occurred in 1966.

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DMW Hornet Starmaker 250cc / 1964 

A Villiers built road racing motorcycle, the Villiers Special, was ridden by Peter Inchley to 3rd place in the Isle Of Man TT for 250cc machines.

This was the first time for 16 years that a British machine had finished in the first three and the first time a single cylinder machine had lapped the TT course at an average speed of over 90 mph. (91.43 mph) and this record still stands today, this engine was a world beater.

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Technical Specification of the Starmaker engine and transmission


All versions of the Starmaker engine had a cast-in austenitic spun cast iron cylinder liner, the ports of which were machined and used to locate the shell moulded sand-cores of the cylinder, ensuring accuracy of casting at all times and consistency of engine performance.

On each model the piston had narrow rings and a large diameter piston pin. The crankshaft assembly had a thin section forged-steel connecting rod running on a caged needle-roller big-end bearing.

The road racing and moto cross engines had full circle cranks to help provide the high crankcase pressure required for these engines.

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DMW Typhoon Starmaker 500cc Twin / 1965

The crankshaft was supported on two steel roller bearings, plus a needle-roller bearing on the drive side. At the time the caged needle roller bearing used in the big end represented the limit of the technical know-how on this type of caged bearing application.

The engine performance levels, particularly in the road racing application, provided valuable research information in the development of technical design know-how for big-end cage design that has now become common practice.

The clutch was the first application of the use of a diaphragm spring in a clutch to be used on a motorcycle. Diaphragm spring clutches have now become universally used on both motorcycles and cars.

The clutch had two sintered bronze friction plates with one steel intermediate plate, pressure being applied by a diaphragm spring. Although the clutch had a very high spring pressure the natural mechanical advantage allowed by the diaphragm spring plus the scroll type release mechanism ensured light finger pressure at the handlebar lever.

The extremely robust gearbox had shafts and gears of nickel chrome steel (B.S. En36B Specification). All splines were of involute form and the shafts and rotating gears were carried on needle roller bearings.

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DMW Typhoon Starmaker 500cc Twin / 1965

The magneto was of the energy-transfer type with energising coils carried in the stator plate, and transferring current to a separate encapsulated coil, which could be mounted on the motorcycle frame. Road racing units were provided with a tachometer mounting and an independent bearing support and self contained drive system that carried the points for the ignition system.

Trials engines had a six-volt direct current lighting system.  

Drawings of recommended exhaust systems for each engine application were available, together with information on their effect on power and torque curves.

Drag Racer Starmaker

Acknowledgement  http://historywebsite.co.uk/Museum/Engineering/Villiers/Villiers12.htm


4. Cotton, James and D.M.W. Starmaker’s


If anything is destined to bring scrambling to the boil this summer, the Villiers Starmaker 247cc power unit must rate pretty high in the reckoning. Since the engine first saw action, weather conditions have been “anti” to say the least.

No matter, final development has gone ahead fast and Chris Horsfield’s brilliant ride on the Starmaker James at Rollswood Farm at the end of February (this is now March 1963), when he licked BSA ace Jeff Smith, shows just how successful they have been.

So much interest has been aroused, by this completely new unit that when offers came to ride not one, or two, but three models using it, I jumped at the chance.

Who wouldn’t?

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And what better place to go for a triple test, than Rollswood Farm.

From James came sales manager Bob Bicknell, competition manager Norman Moore and scrambler Chris Horsfield; his machine incidentally, was fitted with the first production Starmaker engine.  

Villiers publicity manager Ron Price and training school chief Lionel Hudson came with scrambler Alf Nicklin of their experimental department. They brought a Cotton with a prototype unit, which serves as a mobile testbed. 

Alf also collected a DMW powered by another prototype Starmaker that had made its debut recently in the hands of Brian Nadin. In fact the three engines differed only in minor details. The thaw had begun to make its presence felt, the circuit was sticky, oozy, slimy, the best mud. To avoid cutting up the ground too much we confined our activities to a loop measuring about 300 yards to the lap.

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Chris Horsfield  /  James Starmaker / 1963

This entailed a sharpish rutted climb up through trees followed by a tricky left-hander on some remaining ice and a decent back into the field. A second-gear, left-footed-forward-and-slide corner on rutted mud completed the lap.  

Surprisingly, perhaps, all three models started very easily, whether hot or cold. Bearing in mind the 12 to 1 compression ratio, a good sharp jab was required, but no subtle tricks were needed. The Starmaker has more power and a lighter flywheel than the Mark 34A and as a result some modification of riding technique is required.  

Chris Horsfield likened it to riding a five hundred. Instead of keeping the power on through, say, a second-gear corner, a different line was chosen. The corner was taken more tightly and full power used as soon as the bike was pointing in the right direction. The lighter flywheel meant that the power built up far more quickly. You had to be careful on slippery downgrades to ensure that you didn’t ‘lose” the engine because of the lack of flywheel effect to keep it spinning. 

Best results came from letting the engine go right up the scale in each gear. Do not be misled into thinking that this means that power is developed only at high revolutions. There is plenty of punch lower in the range. Actually power peak can be varied to suit the requirements of the rider or the demands of each track. This is achieved quite simply by exhaust pipes of differing lengths. The shorter one puts peak power up the scale for fast courses, the longer drops the scale for twisty circuits with many corners. The difference is about 1,000rpm.

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James Starmaker and Cotton Starmaker / 1963

Having absorbed this intresting and useful background information my next move was to sample the three mounts. Each was fitted with an exhaust system ending in two small diameter pipes from a resonance chamber. This certainly had the effect of reducing the noise level, compared with the short open megaphone commonly used with the Mark 34A variants. 

First I rode the James.


Power was there immediately on banging open the throttle; it was eased on the hill to control a slide. Delivery was smooth and the engine sang, right through the rev range, without effort.

I tried rapid starts in both first and second gear. With a big throttle opening and the spinning rear wheel sending a stream of turf skywards, the James would simply hurl itself off the line. 

The Norton front forks gave a comforting, positive feel and an aviated front wheel never became unmanagable. Sliding through a slippery corner when really trying, the James exhibited no tendency to take command, it could be placed just so.

A slightly longer exhaust was fitted to the Cotton and although the difference in power characteristics was slight, the conditions should be taken into account. On a dry course with less wheelspin the effect would probably be more evident.

As on the James, clutch operation was very light. Gear selection was easy and positive and, I thought, a marked improvement over the Mark 34A. The engine displayed the same effortless power output and the Cotton coped with slippery ruts in exemplary fashion.

Straddling the DMW, I could not help thinking that, whatever the model, there is little compromise on what makes a good riding position. All three machines had straight handlebars and footrests just where I thought they should be. Dimensionally there may well have been a difference, but the relationship remained constant.

As on the Cotton and the James, the Starmaker unit produced lively power and the DMW would accelerate rapidly without any need to “wait for it’ after changing up.

On uphill ruts the model displayed certain skittishness and while sliding round greasy corners there was a tendency for the back wheel to break away unless particular care was excercised with the throttle. For me, at any rate, a wheelbase, an inch or so longer, might be advantageous.

These three Starmaker models all possessed overall gearing approximately the same as that used with converted Mark 34A engines. One point worthy of mention is that the effect of two throttle slides on the twistgrip operation was barely noticeable. 

There then, is the Starmaker in action. A light, potent and robust engine that is as good as certain, to live up to its name.

Future stars, will only need bring their own riding talent ……


5. The Expansion Chamber


Peter Inchley, whilst working as the Competition Development Manager for Villiers, worked on his machines at the Cotton premises, with their Competition Team Manager and development rider, Fluff Brown.

One of the major skills and expertise that Peter brought to the workshop was the black art, of the expansion chamber, Fluff brought amongst other things, Cotton’s expertise, as the master’s of frame design.

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Better Breathing / Peter Inchley

There’s hidden power in the exhaust pipe, and Peter Inchley, competitions development manager for AJS, shows us how this power can be harnessed, to increase output, this was one of the key elements in his success with the Villiers Special.

The flow of intake and exhaust gases is one of the main factors, which control the running characteristics of an engine. This pulsating flow produces certain phenomena, which can be used to help both cylinder filling and scavenging. There are known facts, both empirical and theoretical, about the behavior of gas pulses moving through different shapes of pipe and orifice, and theories have been developed from these facts to explain the effects known as “ram” and “resonance”.

Four-stroke and two-stroke engines are both affected by these phenomena, but because of the limitations of its design, the two-stroke is more susceptible to intake and exhaust modifications.

This article will deal with the effects on two-strokes, mainly competition models, as the effects are used to a much higher degree on high-output engines. First, a gas pulse moving through different shapes of pipe produces different effects – in a plain pipe there is no reflection of the pressure waves (a reflected wave travels in the opposite direction to the pulse and may have a high pressure – a positive wave – or low pressure – a negative or suction wave).

When the pulse reaches a diffuser or megaphone (an increase in section) there will be a negative reflection produced. Similarly a nozzle, or decrease in pipe area gives a positive reflection – a ram wave.

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This is quite straightforward and the effects can be calculated, but unfortunately there are, secondary reflections set-up and these can completely change the calculated pressure at any given point.

The only means of predicting how the complex of reflected wave will behave is to use a digital computer – not the sort of thing you find lying around the workshop. However, the basic theory of wave reflections is generally good enough to form a starting point, and from there it is a matter for experiment.

The way in which these pressure waves can increase the engine efficiency is first in the scavenging, where a negative reflection arriving at the exhaust port around bdc will help suck out the remaining gas.

This wave should not be brought back too early as it may induce the crankcase blow down to pass straight from the transfer port to the exhaust, instead of swirling up into the cylinder. In the way the scavenging can be improved to such an extent that some of the incoming charge will be lost into the exhaust towards the end of the exhaust period.

This brings us to the second way in which the pressure waves help the engine – the “lost” gas can be retrieved by arranging for a positive reflection to reach the port just before it closes.

The fresh mixture is pushed back into the cylinder and the port is effectively closed earlier than it’s geometric timing, resulting in a higher cylinder pressure on the compression stroke and a higher mep.

Finally, the expansion box itself has to be scavenged – the backpressure needed to set-up the reflection waves may also “clog up” the box and it is essential that the system is clear of gas before the next pulse arrives or the engine will simply choke itself.

The nozzle and tailpipe have therefore to be designed very carefully. The general effect of the exhaust is to increase the engine’s scavenging and delivery ratio, resulting in a higher output.

The exhaust system can be varied to give maximum torque at virtually any engine speed, although this will be lower than the absolute maximum available from the engine.

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In a similar way the intake can be made to fill the crankcase more efficiently, but the effects are not so marked as with the exhaust. This is because the gas is at a lower energy and the short intake stubs, especially those used with rotary disc valves, do not show inertia and pulsation effects to the extent of the exhaust system.

The only certain means of improving intakes is to reduce flow resistance and losses to a minimum. As the engine speed increases the exhaust port has to cope with a greater flow and so it either needs to be open longer or to have a larger area.

This consideration is known as the time-area of the port.

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Villiers Starmaker 250cc / 1963

There is a maximum width of port (70 degrees) which can be used without causing ring failure and so any further increase in the time-area involves making the port higher – this also increases the timing period and reduces the effective stroke of the piston.

However, it is possible to regain any power lost here and to keep the volumetric efficiency to an acceptable value by using the exhaust system phenomena already described. It must be realized that the exhaust pipe cannot be used to the full unless it is designed in relation to the complete gas flow system, intake, scavenging and timing periods.

The theory of the resonance effects is explained by the fact that each exhaust system has its own natural frequency and the period of this frequency should be made about equal to the period of the scavenging process at the speed where the effect is required.

In other words, the exhaust is resonant with the engine at that particular speed. The velocity of the gas also explains the “ram” effects, in that its inertia can be used to set-up reflected pressure waves when it meets a change of section in the pipe.

Generally, two-stroke expansion boxes are constructed with a plain pipe leading into a diffuser followed by a plain section and a nozzle (converging tube) and finishing with a relatively narrow tailpipe.

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Rex Avery and Peter Inchley / EMC 125cc / Brands Hatch / 1963



As the exhaust pulse reaches the diffuser it slows down and its kinetic energy is changed into pressure energy. This also results in a negative reflected wave being sent back along the pipe.

The gas in the expansion box then reaches the nozzle and the resulting throttling action sends a wave of high pressure along the pipe.

The first wave helps during the scavenging period and the second pushes back any lost mixture into the cylinder and effectively seals the port, before it is closed, by the piston.

The taper of the diffuser part of the expansion box is fairly critical as the flow of the expansion gas is unstable and if the taper is too steep, it may give an undesirable amount of turbulence.

The throttling action caused by the narrowing section at the end of the box also tends to obstruct the flow and although the degree of taper is not so critical as the diffuser, it must not be so sharp that the gas cannot get out through the tailpipe.

These are the effects produced by the exhaust system; now, co-ordinate them, to give the desired effect on the engine.

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Peter Inchley IOM TT 1966

As the engine speed changes, so does the time-area of the port and the frequency of the engine, but the dimensions of the exhaust system remains the same.

This means that the wave action will only be “right” for a very limited speed range and the beneficial effects will be confined to a narrow rpm band.

This poses the problem of whether to aim for the maximum power possible or to settle for less power but speed over a wider range.

This can be done by reducing the effects of the exhaust and by arranging the peak intake speed to be slightly different to the speed where the exhaust effect is greatest.

On some machines it is acceptable to have a useful power band of only 1000 or 2000 rpm – it is the racing driver’s job to keep the engine within that range by using the gears, even if he needs six or more.

On the other hand a moto-cross machine needs enough power to pick up without “fluffing” from almost tick-over – absolute power is less important than keeping the engine running without “going off the megga”.

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Ernst Degnar / Suzuki 50cc / Brands Hatch / June 1962

The effects of exhaust pipes can be pretty hairy, anyone who’s been to a Grand Prix will tell you, and the explanations of these effects have been given over the last few pages.

The big question is how do you make the exhaust produce these effects at the right time.

It is accepted that the exhaust system virtually dictates the shape of the torque curve of a high-output two-stroke. The intake affects it, but to a lesser degree.

The way in which the size of the front pipe, and expansion chamber, are related to the exhaust and crankcase blow down periods is the controlling factor over the engine’s output.

Also wherever there is a boost in power there will be a corresponding loss somewhere else and it may be necessary to forsake the absolute maximum in order to have a wider spread of power.

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Derek Minter / King of Brands

Maximum Torque


On the road racing machines it is usually possible to aim for maximum torque at the highest speed at which the engine will safely run.

For torque at high speed, the exhaust would probably need a short front pipe, a small expansion chamber and large time-areas on all ports.

On the other hand a scrambler needs tractive power down to very low engine speeds and to get torque low down, the first pipe would need to be relatively long, the expansion chamber large and the inlet port time-area would need reducing.

Apart from actually giving an increase in power the exhaust system governs the rpm range where peak torque occurs.

The power spread also tends to be wider as the peak torque is taken further along the rev scale from the point where absolute maximum power would be.

This change in torque can be seen in the graph. The engine is a 250cc single cylinder scrambler giving vastly different torque curves after altering the front pipe length by 2in. The graph marked (1) is the performance with the shorter pipe.

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Expansion Chamber


The other diagram shows the arrangement of an expansion chamber and gives a good idea of just how many dimensions there are to vary, and how many combinations of different shapes and sizes one could devise. The mind boggles.

However there are one or two empirical formulae, which relate some of these dimensions, reducing the number of combinations to a less mind-boggling figure and providing a basic starting point from which to carry on experiments. 

In the diagram the lengths I0, I1,I2, etc., refer to the centre line distance from the piston skirt, a1, a2, d1 and d2 are the area cross-section and diameter respectively, of the portions indicated. 

The length of parts of the exhaust can-be roughly related to the engine speed by the following formulas;

I1 – 900/n (E – ½ T)

I3 – 900/n (E + ½ T)

I4 – 1800/n E

Where n is the required engine speed for maximum torque and E and T are the exhaust and transfer periods respectively (in degrees).

The volume and length of the expansion chamber also play an important role and as a general rule the angle of the cones of the diffuser should be no more than 7 degrees.

If this angle is kept within the range of 4 to 6 degrees, then the length I3 – I2 of the parallel portion of the chamber should tend to zero.

Along with the length and angle of the cone, the area cross-section of the chamber in relation to that of the front pipe is fairly critical. In the diagram the ratio a2/a1 should be between 4 and 8.

These dimensions have now been interrelated in such a way that the shape of the exhaust is already determined – this is the basic size which then has to be experimented with to get the best performance from the engine. 

The only part of the exhaust system, which hasn’t been covered, is the tailpipe. In fact there is not a great deal known about the function of this component, particularly about its length.

In 1910 a Scott was the first two-stroke motorcycle ever to complete a full TT course under race conditions and in 1911 a Scott ridden by Frank Phillip gained the TT lap record with an average speed of just over 50 mph.

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Walter Kaaden



The general effect of a small diameter pipe is to produce a larger “ram” wave with loss in scavenging, and a large diameter pipe has the opposite effect. 

As a basic guide, the diameter of the tailpipe should be about half that of the front pipe for racing machines, and slightly larger for scramblers.

For these machines the ratio d1/d2 should be about 1:6.

These figures are generally accepted mainly from experience and experiment with competition machines and are quoted by such authorities as Dr. G.P. Blair, of Queens University, Belfast, who has a strong connection with the new racing two-stroke being developed there for B.S.A.

“This is the basic theory of exhausts, as practiced – the complete story is simply not known; even using a series of pressure transducers in the exhaust and a computer to analyse their readings doesn’t eliminate the need for final experimentation, on the track, to get the best results.”

by Peter Inchley,

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Kaaden and the MZ GP Team


6. Walter Kaaden


Walter Kaaden was a German engineer who transformed the performance of the two-stroke engine by understanding the role of resonance waves in the exhaust system; this is the story of the expansion chamber, an innovation in two-stroke technology and the fasinating route this information took to reach Peter Inchley.

Working for MZ, Kaaden laid the foundations for the modern two-stroke engine; his understanding of gas flow and resonance enabled him to make the first engine to achieve 200 bhp/litre.

He put this to practice on his old DKW, which he rode to work, and transforming it into a racer by adding his home built expansion chambers. He obtained this knowledge from his work during the Second World War, on the development of the rocket pulse jet engine.

But Walter is not the whole story, but he pulled the elements together, he was born in Pobershau, Saxony, Germany. His father worked as a chauffeur, to the sales manager at the DKW factory. At eight years old he attended the opening of the Nürburgring racing circuit, a formative event to which he attributed his enthusiasm for race engineering.

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“Go MZ”, the birth of the modern two-stroke race engine.

Kaaden studied at the Technical Academy in Chemnitz, and in 1940 he joined the Henschel aircraft factory in Berlin, he worked under Herbert A. Wagner, the designer of the HS 293 radio-guided rocket-propelled missile.

Despite many reports to the contrary, Kaaden did not work on the V-1 flying bomb nor under Wernher von Braun on the V-2 German rocket program.

From 1943 he worked on the development of the HS 293 at the Peenemünde Army Research Center as a ‘flight engineer’. But the bombing of Peenemünde in World War II in August 1943 destroyed the facilities.

The Germans then moved its missile production and testing to the secure, deep tunnel network built beneath the Harz Mountains at the Mittelwerk factory.

This is where Kaaden was captured and interned by the Americans at the end of the war; afterwards he stayed behind the “Iron Curtain”.

He eventually returned to Zschopau to start a timber business specialising in roof trusses that were in great demand to renovate bomb-damaged buildings and it was here, in his spare time, that he built his first racing motorcycle, it was based on the 1939, DKW RT 125 and he raced this himself in local events, testing it on the long straight in front of the IFA factory offices.

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Ewald Kluge / DKW 350cc 1951 / Expansion Chambers / Erich Wolf

In 1953 he was called in by the IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau) management and asked about his machine, they were so impressed he was asked to take over the management of their racing department, Kurt Kampf’s IFA 125cc racers had been outclassed by Bernhard Petruschke, riding the private ZPH (Zimmermann-Petruschke-Henkel) machine and they wanted to do something about it.

Like IFA, engineer Daniel Zimmermann had based his ZPH engine on the pre-war DKW RT 125, which he heavily modified by adding a disc valve, this allowed asymmetric port timing, with a longer duration inlet phase.

Zimmermann also used a new crankshaft providing ‘square bore and stroke’ dimensions (54mm x 54mm) and used stuffing rings to boost the primary compression ratio. However, the East German government didn’t like the competition between the two East Germans and persuaded Zimmermann to reveal his engine’s secrets to Walter Kaaden at IFA. The result in 1953 was the IFA racer, which featured a rotary disc valve.

Working with extremely limited resources, Kaaden then began to develop the expansion chamber, invented by Erich Wolf (the DKW designer), which had first appeared in 1951, on the 350cc, three cylinder, DKW racers. Kaaden applied his knowledge from the experiments on the pulse jet engine.

In 1952 Kurt Kampf had copied this DKW (Dampf-Kraft-Wagen) innovation and fitted them to the IFA racers. Kaaden used an oscilloscope to examine the resonance in the exhaust system and devised profiles to maximise the engine’s efficiency.

The net result of this development programme was that by 1954, Kaaden’s two-stroke 125cc racing engine was producing 13 bhp, more than 100 bhp/litre.

This engine was further developed to produce 25 bhp at 10,800 rev/min, he had recognised the potential of harnessing the pressure waves in an exhaust to not only aid the clearance of burnt gasses, but also to pressurise the combustion chamber while the exhaust port was still open, returning what would have been wasted charge back into the cylinder.

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7. Motorradwerk Zschopau


The Zschopau works was one of the oldest motorcycle factories in the world; it had produced motorcycles since 1922.

In 1906, Jorgen Skefte Rasmussen bought an empty cloth factory in Zschopau and started bicycle production. In 1917 Rasmussen invented the steam-powered car (Dampf Kraft Wagen) also known by its trademark DKW, they then produced a small two-stroke engine in 1919 to power assist their bicycles, then in 1922 they started producing their own two-stroke motorcycles. 

By 1929, 65,000 motorcycles had left the Zschopau factory, and DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. During the world economic crises of 1929, four local car manufacturers under the leadership of Rasmussen’s DKW, founded Auto Union, nowadays known as Audi AG.

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The MZ factory

The DKW RT 125cc motorcycle was introduced in 1939, but this wasn’t the only model, the DKW 500cc was used by the German Army in World War II, it was much less common than the 125cc, 250cc and 350cc models. Particularly the 125cc and 350cc models which were produced in large numbers.

The DKW was the only 500cc two-stroke motorcycle used by the German Wehrmacht; the engine unit was a parallel twin with 64-mm x 76-mm dimensions for its slightly inclined cylinders.

A single carburetor at the rear supplied both cylinders and each had its own low-slung exhaust system.

The four-speed gearbox was built into the crankcase and provided the rider with the option of gear change by foot or the more traditional and common hand unit positioned on the right side of the fuel tank.

The frame was constructed from channel section steel pressings with plunger rear suspension. The front forks were the same blade girder design as the smaller DKW motorcycles. A passenger seat was sometimes added and DKW 500’s were also built with sidecars.

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DKW 500cc two-stroke

In 1948, the company was named IFA (Industrieverband Fahrzeugbau), as it fell under state control, it was renamed MZ in 1956.

This is how Walter Kaaden came to work for MZ as their racing engineer and department manager. MZ engines with his expertise had become nearly unbeatable, and in 1961 they were on the verge of winning the World Championships, in the 125cc class, against Soichiro Honda’s four-stroke engines, quite an amazing achievement.


8. Ernst Degner


At this moment MZ factory rider Ernst Degner only had to finish in the points to win the World Championship, in the 1961 Swedish GP at Kristianstadt.

But his plan was to defect, Jimmy Matsumiya’s interest in Jazz music had become the link to becoming Ernst’s friend, and he nurtured the possibility of Ernst leaving MZ, and moving to the west to join Suzuki.

During the race, Ernst, broke down, and during the confusion, made his move and fled, the plan also included his family, who were already on their way. He brought with him, MZ’s secrets, piston metallurgy, boost port timing, the rotary disc valve, and the expansion chamber. These technologies radically altered the map of Western motorcycle competition and production, for well over two decades.  

Jimmy Matsumiya was what his contemporaries might have called a ‘hip cat’. Cambridge-educated, urbane Anglophile, he liked to hanging out in jazz clubs but he was also Suzuki’s fixer in Europe, paid to navigate his employers through the strange ways of the Western world.

Now Matsumiya was all set to pull off the biggest industrial espionage heist in motorsport history, but he cooly placed the needle on the record and waited.

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Ernst Degner’s and his 1962 Suzuki 50cc

There was a quiet knock-knock at the door. Matsumiya got up, opened the door and Ernst Degner quickly brushed past into the room. As they shook hands the German looked slightly agitated. “Hello Mr Matsumiya. We’ve got ten minutes,” said Degner.

“So, what’s your news, Mr Degner?” he asked. “What have you and your friends decided?”

Their voices were slightly strained – they were trying to be quiet but at the same time trying to make them-selves heard above the jazz music. “In general we are quite happy with the terms, Mr Matsumiya. We think we are nearly ready to sign, but there are some important details I would like to discuss with you.” Degner talked as he watched the comings and goings in the hotel driveway, keeping well back from the window.

“That’s excellent news, Mr Degner,” replied Matsumiya. “I have some news: our company president Mr Suzuki says he is prepared to agree to your proposals.” 

“That’s very good, let’s proceed,” said Degner.

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Degner working at Suzuki 

The co-conspirators were meeting in Matsumiya’s room in the Fernleigh hotel on Douglas, where the Suzuki and MZ teams resided during Isle of Man TT fortnight. It was June 1961 and they were here to finalise exactly what they wanted from each other. Degner had had enough of life in the communist GDR and wanted to defect from East to West, so he wanted money, and lots of it. Matsumiya wanted a quick way out of Suzuki’s nightmare machine problems, so he needed the best two-stroke know-how in the world and he was prepared to pay for it.

What the pair were proposing was brazen robbery of priceless engine technology – the automotive theft of the century. After its tentative outing at the 1960 TT, the Suzuki Motor Company had invested millions of yen in building a completely new 125 to contest its first full world championship season. And the company was turning out to be the joke of the paddock, which wasn’t the idea at all. Suzuki was in Europe to build the brand name, not to drag it through the mud. 

At the first three events of the 1961 season none of their 125 riders had even finished a race, let alone got within a mile of scoring world championship points. Meanwhile, Degner and MZ were leading the world championship for the first time, after wins at Barcelona and high-speed Hockenheim (where MZ had monopolised the first four places) and a close second place to Honda’s Tom Phillis at Clermont-Ferrand. The 1961 MZ 125 was a rocket ship. Another winter of noisy, sweaty toil on the dyno had rewarded Kaaden with another two horsepower, taking the MZ to 25 horsepower, its workable power band a whole 400rpm wide: 10,000 to 10,400rpm.  

The MZ was now the fastest motorcycle in the world championship. It was also much more than that – it was the first normally aspirated engine in history to make 200 horsepower per litre, a landmark moment in the development of the internal-combustion engine. And the machine had finally been blessed with up-to-date front suspension and a stronger, more workmanlike frame, for a dramatic improvement in handling.

MZ and Degner were on their way to becoming world champions.

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Suzuka / ‘Degner’s Curve’ / 1963

Suzuki knew they didn’t have the time to learn Kaaden’s secrets, the honest way.

That might take years. Eventually, company president Shunzo Suzuki had to admit that Degner seemed the only way out of the mess they’d got themselves into. And Matsumiya was the man to put the plan into action. Degner and Matsumiya had first got to know each other during the 1960 IOM TT when Suzuki and MZ had found themselves staying together at the Fernleigh Hotel.

Kaaden couldn’t believe that a novice two-stroke manufacturer like Suzuki had booked into his usual TT hotel purely by chance, he instructing his mechanics to ensure none of the Japanese even got a peak inside the MZ garage. But during that stay Degner and Matsumiya became acquaintances when they discovered a mutual love of jazz music.  

Mastumiya had a gramophone in his room; it was the perfect cover for their 1961 Island assignations, the deal was struck and Degner would defect from behind ‘The Iron Curtain’.

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DKW RT 125cc (Reichs Type) Years of production 1939 – 1945

After his defection during the Swedish GP at Kristianstadt, the World Championship wasn’t quite over. Degner made it to the UK, where he then arranged to borrow a British-built EMC two-stroke for the season’s 125cc finale in Argentina, he could still beat Tom Phillis on Honda’s four-stroke twin, to the 1961 title.

The EMC though never made it to Buenos Aires, but Degner went on to win the 1962 50cc World Championships on a Suzuki that bore a distinct resemblance to his old MZ, the shift from four-stroke dominance to two-stroke had taken place, the motorcycle industry would never be the same again. Coincidently soon after Degner’s defection, Peter Inchley went to race for EMC, who had obvilously taken advantage of their chance for some interesting discussions with Ernst Degner. It would also seem quite a coincidence that Villiers set about a complete redesign of their race engines at the same time and the result of this was ‘The Starmaker’ a radical departure from their previous engines.

The Suzuki RM62 50cc that Ernst Degner rode to the 50cc title in October 1962 made eight horsepower and was good for 90mph, with a little help from a tailwind. It was hardly an awesome motorcycle, but its success was as much a historic
 moment for the sport as it was for Suzuki, because this was also the first world title won by a two-stroke.

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Ernst Degner / Suzuki RM62 50 cc


9. Peter Inchley


Road racing is full of unsung heroes, the dedicated backroom boys, whose efforts were responsible for many of the legendary successes, and achievements of the racing stars.

But Peter Inchley; with his work on two-stroke engine-performance; allied to his admirable riding skill; bought him, right to the fore.

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Peter Inchley and the Starmaker powered Villiers Special

Before his 16th birthday, he was the very proud owner of his first motorcycle, much to the distress of his parents; he had saved his own money to buy it, from his job as a delivery boy, for the local grocer.  

It was an Excelsior Trial’s and on his 16th birthday he rode it to school, and parked it alongside his teachers car. 

Later, “Who’s that piece of junk in the car park”, the teacher inquired, looking out the window. “Mine!” replied Peter, insulted, he then donned his cap and goggles, said goodbye to his friends, and duly rode out of the front gates, never to return.

He was sufficiently confident that he had done enough to secure his place as an apprentice at the BSA motorcycle factory in Small Heath, Birmingham, along side his life long friend, Bob Trigg, it was September 1955. He soon entered trials, with assistance from his friend, Sammy Miller, winning on his first outing. Then he bought a James, which he soon followed with a brand new Tiger Cub, he immediately dismembered it, removing all the unnecessary weight, which his father thought was an act of sheer vandalism. 

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Peter Inchley / Ariel Arrow / Thruxton 1961

He moved from BSA to work for Ariel, he liked the potential of the Arrow, which had just been launched, and in 1961, on his self-tuned version won the Ragley Hall Hill Climb. The Arrow was very quick but was beset by mechanical failures; the plain roller bearings in the big end would give numerous problems. Nevertheless, he recorded many victories, with podium finishes. He recorded the first ever sub 14s standing quarter mile for a 250cc machine, demonstrating his ability to develop and ride. He then rode the Arrow, teamed with Robin Good to victory, in the Barcelona 24 hour race, the Thruxton 500 and the Silverstone 100.

Towards the end of the 1962 season, he fitted the conrod from a Lambretta engine, with its caged needle roller bearing, big end, into his Ariel Arrow. Extra power was obtained and the engines Achilles’ heel cured. Robin Good, with this engine in a Ducati frame, beat Ducati mounted Mike Hailwood, at Mallory Park.

Then unexpectedly at the end of the 1962 season, Peter left Ariel, to ride for the EMC works team, on their two-stroke 125cc road racer.

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EMC 125cc Spanish GP / 1963

There was no doubt this was a very fast machine, but also unreliable, it would break down, race after race, and after leading the Spanish GP, ahead of the works Suzuki’s, a cracked expansion chamber ended his race. He threw in his helmet and walked out, unemployed, after the 1963 season.

The year at EMC had further developed his engine knowledge and the development of the expansion chamber at EMC had shown great potential. He now wished to exploit these enhanced skills, by running his own show, taking full control of his own engineering team.

The Villiers Engineering Company soon approached him with an offer to develop their new 247cc two-stroke Starmaker engine, this was to be his perfect opportunity, and he got straight to work. Villiers were supplying the engine to Cotton and DMW among others, so to preserve neutrality Inchley slotted one into a 125 Bultaco frame. This would prove to be a very fruitful match of engine, frame and rider; it would perfectly demontrate his new skills.

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Peter Inchley / Villiers Special / Brands Hatch 1966

During the 1964 and 1965 season he shared the Cotton Conquest with Derek Minter, and they dominated the Thruxton 500 races. In 1965 he won the British Championship Race, as it was then known, and the British Championship Series in 1966.

Then in the Isle of Man TT, he finished in an incredible third place, on his Bultaco framed Special, an achievement of which he was justifiably very proud, this was the Starmaker’s, coming of age. His average speed of nearly 92 mph is even more impressive when he only had 36 bhp available, and a record for a 250cc single engine, which still survives to this day, a real tribute to his engineering skills but also to his abilities as a true road-racer.

Cotton Cougar


10. Villiers Starmaker Scramblers / 1964


By calling an engine the Starmaker, the Villiers Engineering Company left no doubt that they expected it to be a winner.

That new 250cc engine’s launch in November 1962 came as quite a surprise, for in the postwar years the Villiers Engineering Company of Marston Street, Wolverhampton, had set their face, against, competition activities of any sort. 

By virtue of simplicity, reliability, cheapness and prudent management, they had secured a near-monopoly on supply of two-stroke engines to the road going British motorcycle industry, so their history in terms of scrambling is quite interesting.

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As in 1948, when the little Manchester firm of DOT built a lightweight scrambler for works rider Bill Barugh, it was to Villiers 59 x 72mm 197cc 6E engine that they turned.

Despite Villiers dogmatic assertion that it was not possible to improve their engine, DOT soon nearly doubled its power output from 7bhp to 12bhp, quite an achievement. Then Bill Barugh and the DOT set lightweight scrambling alight, and DOT soon had many imitators.

The most successful of these was Greeves.

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By 1960, the Greeves version of the Villiers engine incorporated a light alloy-cylinder and head, a 60mm Hepolite piston, giving a full 250cc, and an Alpha crankshaft with full-circle flywheels and a caged needle-roller big end. With such an engine Dave Bickers won the 1960 Coup d’Europe, in effect the 250cc Motorcross World Championship, against the very best European machines.

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This along with winning the 250cc ACU Scrambles Star, and coinciding with the presentation of these events on television, scrambling was becoming a very popular sport, strangely though these events showed Villiers in a very good light, even though none of the engines that dominated the 250cc class, used Villiers cylinder barrels, or received their help.

So for 1961 Villiers produced the 66 x 72mm 246cc 34A engine, avowedly for scrambling, but with its bobweight flywheels and iron cylinder it was too little, too late, and in standard form was not successful. Then they had the MZ’s to contend with.

Metaphorically gritting their teeth, they did what they should have done years before, and gave young designer Bernard Hooper a free hand to draw up a new engine, owing nothing to the past. Assisted by John Favill, Hooper produced an impressive, modern 68 x 68mm 247cc unit of sophisticated specification, the Starmaker.

One of several details of the original design that did not survive long was the ‘torroidal’ combustion chamber. Its shape was claimed to promote turbulence, a phenomenon that had proved advantageous in diesel engine heads.

In the Starmaker, however, it did little but cause problems, mainly because the spark plug was remote from the combustion charge and uncomfortably close to the piston crown. By the time the Starmaker reached production, it had a squish-band and a normal combustion chamber.

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Another distinct novelty was the use of two Amal Monobloc carburettors of 1 1/8th in bore on long flexible inlet pipes that converged into an aluminium manifold. An ingenious and complicated mechanism opened one carburettor fully before the other began to open; this consisted of a throttle cable junction box with two cams relaying pull from the twistgrip to each instrument at a different rate.

The stated intention was to provide a high end gas speed, and flexibility at low throttle openings, combined with a choke area for high rpm, greater than that of the largest racing carburetor available.  

Drawbacks of this system were its expense, and complaints from riders that throttle operation was too heavy. Apart from reversion to a single carburetor, the big-end arrangement, conrod and contact breaker drive also all received early attention, the cast-in cylinder liner was dropped in favour of a pressed in version, and the long thin silencer fitted to early engines, which was claimed to boost power, was also soon changed.

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Cotton Conquest Roadster / 1964

 At the 1962 show, Cotton exhibited, their scrambler, the Cotton Cobra, but also a road racer as well, the Telstar, named after the communications satellite, this used the twin carburettors and baffled exhaust system from the scrambler.

Villiers had hoped the Starmaker would be adopted for road use, and the Telstar was a step towards this, and hopefully would lead to profitable volume production, not only with Cotton but also companies like Royal Enfield, James and Francis Barnett.

Cotton were indeed to launch the Starmaker engined Conquest sports roadster in 1964, and it was very successful in long distance production racing, winning the 250cc class at the Barcelona 24-hour race in 1965, but sales were tiny in real terms.

Early in 1964 an Inchley developed Cotton Telstar appeared in the capable hands of Derek Minter, fitted with a single 1 1/2 in Amal GP carburetor and a fully tapered exhaust. At Brands Hatch Minter showed the Starmaker’s new form in a race-long battle with Alan Shepherd’s Grand Prix MZ, which ended only on the last lap when the Cotton shed its carburetor.

At most British circuits Minter and his Telstar, later joined by Bill Ivy on his Frank Higley owned machine, made the Cotton’s presence very definitely felt, with Minter taking the 1964 ACU Star. These works bikes had gained a six-speed gearbox, and did extremely well. Villiers produced three of these pre-production gearboxes for Inchley, Ivy and Minter; designed specifically for road racing, they had no provision for a kickstart. A production run of 100 followed, these were produced for the proposed, AJS ‘Double T’ road-racer.

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Cotton Starmaker Cobra / 1964

Francis Barnett and James, in the meantime, had started to use another engine, provided by their parent company, AMC. Made at Plumstead, these Piatti designed singles were a disaster, suffering from poor quality control in manufacture. 

James did prepare a Starmaker powered scrambler, and at Rollswood Farm in February of 1963, Chris Horsfield won handsomely, beating the BSA mounted Jeff Smith, but James didn’t proceed with a production model.

In 1964 Royal Enfield announced a Starmaker powered scrambler, but little more was heard of it.

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Chris Horsfield / James Starmaker / Hawkstone Park / 1964

In early 1964 James finally abandoned the dreadful AMC engine and announced the Starmaker engined Cotswold scrambler, though they still offered a version with a Parkinson cylinder on a 36A engine.

But by now James and Francis Barnett’s parent company AMC, along with Villiers, were in dreadfully low water, and were not to survive much longer.


11. Cotton Starmaker Cobra / Twin Carb


Ex-Cotton rider Pat Minns built a replica of his works Cobra scrambler, and realised that he would have to de-restore it if he wanted it to race again.

One of the biggest problems facing anyone restoring a competition bike is what to do with it when it’s finished.

Even in rainy Britain, there are enough dry days in a summer for the most pristine concours winner to be ridden on the road without the risk of its spotless finish being sullied with anything more damaging than the odd dead fly, but anyone using an off-road bike has to either cope with slippery and abrasive mud, or risk the bike on a rock-hard and dusty surface.

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Cotton Starmaker Cobra / 1964

When ex-Cotton works rider Pat Minns decided to build a replica of the machine that he rode for the Gloucester factory in 1964, he was torn between the temptation of racing the bike in Pre-65 Motocross Club events, and his determination to restore the bike as accurately as possible.

Garage owner Pat’s works replica project got underway when he spotted a Cotton Cobra at the British Bike Bonanza in Cheltenham in 1985. The Cobra was purchased from Reading enthusiast Fred Biles, and Pat set about restoring it as accurately as possible.

Like most minor British manufacturers of the time, Cotton used a large number of bought-in components on their competition machines, ranging from Villiers engines to British Hub Company wheels.

The Villiers Starmaker engine, fitted in the Cobra frame, later formed the basis of the AJS Stormer, and Pat was able to obtain parts and advice from former Cotton Team Competition Manager, Fluff Brown.

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Cotton Starmaker Cobra / 1964

As the bike was almost complete Pat was left with only odds and ends to find to finish the cycle parts. Some of these items came from classic off-road specialists like Adrian Moss Racing of Stroud, who provided the correct control levers, while other bits turned up at dealers who had lost interest in British scramblers long ago, but never got around to clearing out their spares stock.

The rarity of authentic wear-or-damage prone parts like wheel rims and tyres made Pat realize that the bike could be built either as an accurate replica or a raceable scrambler, but not both. An advertisement was placed in Motor Cycle News, in which Pat offered to buy Cotton scramblers. Just one other pre-65 machine was found as a result, and he is now restoring that as an exact replica, while his first bike was rebuilt as a racer.

This accounts for the number of non-original parts fitted to the bike. The Dunlop wheel rims have been replaced with imported alloy components, an Amal Concentric carburetor substitutes for the Monobloc instrument that was originally fitted, and the mudguards are alloy patterns instead of the heavy chromed steel items that Cotton fitted back in the sixties.

Cotton Telstar Frame 1964

Cotton Telstar / 1964

According to Pat, weight was always the Cotton’s biggest handicap. Even in 1964, the factory claimed that the 250cc Cobra weighed 235 lbs, while in comparison Jeff Smith’s open-class BSA tipped the scales at just 228 lbs. Although many of the Cotton’s cycle parts were engineered for durability rather than lightness, the real problem had been the weight of the previous Villiers engines. Like most other manufacturers, Cotton were forced to either fit whatever the Wolverhampton factory supplied them with, or go to the expense of modifying the engine to get the weight down, and power up.

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Cotton Starmaker Cobra / 1964

When they first started making scramblers in 1959, Cotton used standard Villiers engines like the 246cc 33A single-cylinder unit with a cast-iron barrel. For 1961, the engines were fitted with an alloy cylinder barrel and wire-wound piston developed by Cross Manufacturing of Bath. This was lighter and more powerful than the standard motor, but expensive to produce, and when Villiers developed their own all-alloy engine, the Starmaker, Cotton dropped the Cross conversion.

At first, the Starmaker project was shrouded in secrecy, with its square 68 x 68mm bore and stroke dimensions, and twin carburetors, the new engine was a radical departure from the low revving, heavy, long-stroke motors previously produced by Villiers. Cotton were given the new engines for their works riders to use on the condition that they didn’t take them apart and look inside, the bikes were looked after by Villiers own team, Peter Inchley and Cotton’s Fluff Brown.

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Cotton Starmaker Cobra / 1964

By the time Pat Minns became a works rider in 1964, and the Starmaker was widely available. The secrecy had been abandoned along with the twin carburetors, and Pat’s father wielded the spanners, also the Starmaker’s output was a healthy 25 bhp at 6,500 rpm.

To cope with the bikes weight, the engine was mounted very low and close to the rear wheel, and according to Pat, the only way to ride the Cotton fast was to keep your body weight well back and the throttle open. This helped to disguise the short –comings, of the leading-link front forks. Unlike the superficially similar Greeves suspension, which used rubber bushes in torsion to provide the springing and separate hydraulic dampers.

Cotton Cobra Ad

Cotton used an Armstrong fork that carried concealed combined spring and damper units.

“It gave about an inch of travel,” Pat remembers, “I suppose the kindest thing you could say about it was that it was one up on the girder forks. The units themselves only lasted about two meetings”.

But as Pat explains, making up for your machines shortcomings was all part of the fun in the mid-sixties. “Each bike had its own failings, and riders used different techniques to make up for them.

The Cotton wasn’t perfect, but it suited the shorter rider, and I liked it”.

Cotton Advert

The 1962 Cotton Cougar scrambler used a 36A engine.


12. Cotton Starmaker Range


When it comes to versatility, the current crop of high-performance 250cc two-stroke singles really hits the jackpot. For sportsman in nearly all fields this is a great time. It means that a basic engine design can be served up to suit the road racer, the scrambler, the trials addict and the rider who merely wants a peppy roadster. 

You can in short, have poke, punch, plonk or purr to order.

Cotton’s are the first to list machines of all four types with a common engine – the Villiers Starmaker.

Since performance requirements vary widely in the four fields, how is the switch made?  

Basically by ringing the changes on those aspects of design that exert a crucial influence on power characteristics – the resonant exhaust system, cylinder porting, primary and secondary compression ratios, and carburation. When the Starmaker made its debut two years ago it was purely a scrambles engine – with an out-of-phase twin-carburetor induction layout that later gave way to a conventional single port with an Amal Monobloc carburetor.

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DMW Hornet Starmaker 250cc 1964 / Bill Smith, in the saddle, Peter Inchley left.

Success of the subsequent racing version with an Amal GP carb and independently supported contact-breaker cam, is shown by Derek Minter’s 250cc ACU Road Racing Star win this year on his Cotton Telstar and Bill Smith’s Isle of Man Southern 100 victory on his DMW Hornet.

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Cotton Starmaker Trials / Colin Dommett / 1964

Modifications of the engine, for Cotton’s Conquest, have yet to be finalised for the 1964 Earls Court Show, but it was shown with a Monobloc carburetor and air filter, but the trials version is well in its stride. This has a Villiers S25 carb, wide spaced gear ratios and greatly reduced compression ratios. The drop in primary compression is achieved by using part, not full, flywheel discs. An ordinary part spherical combustion roof, instead of the unusual toroidal shape, cuts the secondary ratio from 12.5 to, 8 to 1.

To appreciate the pace of competition in the racing field you have only to think of Villiers building a complete machine for themselves, the Starmaker Special. This is virtually a Bultaco, powered by a six-speed Villiers Starmaker racing engine. The scheme is for Peter Inchley, who is employed by Villiers on Starmaker development, to race it and shorten the communication time between track and test house as much as possible, it only awaits sufficient orders to go into production.

Next the Cotton Conquest


13. Cotton Conquest / 1965


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  • By a cool six mph, the Cotton “Conquest” which Derek Minter and Peter Inchley took to a class victory in the 1965 500-mile race at Castle Combe, becomes the fastest 250cc we have ever tested.
  • It averaged 91.9 mph round the 3-mile banked circuit of MIRA’S proving ground

Previous best was the 86.0 mph of the Honda “Dream SS’. However, this “Conquest” is a road-going racer, with questionable silencing and primitive lights.

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High Compression


  • It is basically a standard “Conquest” as turned out by the Gloucester factory, but with the compression ratio increased from 10 : 1 to 12 : 1.
  • The test “Conquest” had bobby-dodger items such as feeble, direct lighting, in place of the standard Lucas diode lighting, and a bulb horn. Shod with racing tyres, it lacked centre or prop stands.
  • It cannot be put into the same élan’s as the fully equipped and well-silenced 250 Honda. In fact, the Minter / lnchley “Conquest” is in a class of its own. Orders for exact replicas have already been placed at a provisional price of £370, including Purchase Tax.
  • Torque characteristics
  • Tuned to give rising torque all the way, the Villiers “Starmaker” two-stroke single always reached maximum revs on any up-gradient which it was able to climb in top gear.
  • This gave it a shattering motorway performance, leaving behind on the hills much faster cars capable of cruising at 140 mph and more, on level roads.
  • The Cotton climbed such hills at 85 to 90mph. It was cruised at full bore by the simple expedient of putting the throttle against the stop and leaving it there, from London to the Midlands and returns, except past motorway roadworks. This is a race engine, designed to run at maximum effort, and it thrives on it.


On downgrades the speedometer rose to flicker around the 114 to 116 mph mark, if the rider got his head down. This, after speedometer correction, would suggest a true 105 mph.

Owing to the engine’s unusual characteristic of rising torque up to peak rpm of 8,000, the machine was faster on a windswept lap at MIRA than it was through the one-way timing traps, the first time we have ever experienced this.

This feature makes the engine rush up the power band once about 5,400 had been reached.

The acceleration was then staggering.

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Below this speed, and especially under 3,500 rpm, bad four-stroking set in, the rate of rev rise, even in a low gear, was poor, calling for much use of the gearbox to affect a cure. 

Flywheel weight was negligible. This, the lack of low-down urge, the exhaust note, made traffic riding grim. The Cotton needed a softer plug in London, and changing a plug meant some five minutes fiddling under the tank.  

By no stretch of the imagination can the Minter / Inchley device be regarded as daily transport. It is in its element on the open road – and only on the open road.

The motor was then untirable, free from vibration, and no thirstier than about 45 mpg. The fuel tank holds five gallons, which is mixed with R oil at 16 : 1.

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Starting was infallible, Idling was a lumpy 2,200 rpm with the engine nagging to be given the gun, It is a motor that has to be let off the leash – and then it’s tops.

Matching the power plant, in its high-speed excellence, the Villiers four-speed gearbox had an ultra-fast action.

When the bike was in full flight instantaneous 2-3 and 3-4 changes could be made clutchless at 7,500 rpm by simply easing the grip and lifting the reversed pedal,

Clutch action was reliable but heavy. Although the clutch was slip-proof for one full-bore take-off it needed time to cool before the treatment could be repeated.

Precise and confidence breeding, the navigation became its very best, when the tester slid well back on the racing seat.

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Handling was then noticeably improved, without fear of front-end lightness or of either wheel stepping out.

Cornering clearance to the left was fair. To the right, it was magnificent.

On the straight, over roughish roads taken at high speeds, the bike held the line but some mild twitching from the Armstrong front forks set in going over an un-level railway crossing on the A5 at 80 mph.

This twitch, which always appears on racing Cottons over a certain type of bump, never worsens and is predictable, as well as controllable. Suspension was firm, almost hard at town speeds. On the open road, it was splendidly damped as befits race-bred springing.  

Braking was progressive and powerful. The front unit was man enough to provoke loud tyre squeal at 70 or more mph. nothing else could be expected from racing stoppers anyway.

The tacho drive is taken direct from the Starmaker crankshaft. The cable into the top of the chaincase controls the diaphragm clutch. The 7″- inch brake on the British Hub wheel has two leading shoes and a parallelogram reaction linkage. Crank in the folding kickstart to clear the reversed gear pedal, which has up-for-up action.

It has the distinctive finning of the later type Starmaker, whose central exhaust port imposes severe frame constraints. 

Conforming to road and race regulations, but expressly tailored for one particular event, the Minter / lnchley Cotton Conquest is a magnificent highway burner to take out into the country for the sheer zest of motorcycling.




14. Villiers Starmaker Trials


It’s Starmaker’s in triplicate from now on. Starting a couple of years ago, with just one version of the famous 247cc competition unit, a scrambler, Villiers then first developed a road-racing variant.

For 1965, they added a Trials.

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Starmaker Trials left / Starmaker Scrambler right / 1965

Starmaker, so completing a family, which covers the three main branches of motorcycle sport.

Though similar in external appearance to the scrambles Starmaker, the new trials engine has very different innards, as might be expected in a unit designed for low speed tractability.

For instance, using a web type crankshaft instead of the full-circle internal flywheels reduces crankcase compression. Again the combustion chamber is sperical, where as the scrambler has a deeply recessed toroidal chamber.

The gearbox is wide-ratio, with internal reductions of 3.5, 2.08, 1.375 and 1 to 1.

Cotton Starmaker Trials 1966

Cotton Starmaker Trials / 1966

Using a single Villiers S25 carburettor and a compression ratio of 8 to 1, the trials engine developes 15bhp at 5,500rpm, but its maximum torque is much lower down the rev range, at only 3,000rpm to give plenty of bottom end punch.

Proto-types were first used in the 1964 Scottish Six Days Trial, in the factory Cottons of the Lampkin brothers and Blackie Holden. All three won special first class awards.

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Peter Inchley / Villiers Starmaker Special / 1966

Developing the Villiers Starmaker Special, was necessarily a low budget effort, for by now Villiers were also experiencing a recession in their industrial engine market, which had long been their bread and butter, they had sold well over a million of these units.

In mid-1965, a proposed merger with the EHP Smith Engineering group came to nothing, and the company soldiered on in ever increasing difficulties.

Peter’s third place in the 1966 IOM TT 250cc Lightweight was a golden moment, less than a month later; the virtually moribund Villiers Company was taken over by Dennis Poore’s Manganese Bronze Holdings, soon to become Norton Villiers.

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Peter Inchley / Starmaker AJS /  July 1967

So now in 1966 Peter Inchley went with Villiers to Norton Villiers and would go on to develop the Starmaker 250cc engine from the Villiers Special, into the Starmaker AJS.

This was its public debut, the first new AJS produced by the Norton Villiers group and the first ever AJS racer to have a two-stroke engine. The production AJS ‘Double’ T road-racer was supposed to follow.

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The frame was built from Reynolds 531 tubing and was assembled at the Reynolds factory by Ken Sprayson, and this is when the story of the AJS Stormer really starts to take shape.

Through 1964 and 1965, the Starmakers engine development and testing was undertaken by Peter Inchley for Villiers, with Fluff Brown at the Cotton workshops, in Cotton frames, which were stengthened to cope with the vibration and torque created by this new engine.

The Starmaker was now fully tested but it was designed for Moto-cross, and now Norton Villiers were calling the tune and this scrambles engine would finally get its own frame.

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Peter Inchley was the expert road-racer, but Fluff Brown was the expert ‘Scrambler’.


15. Fluff Brown


Like many aspiring off-road stars, Fluff Brown’s scrambles debut in the season of 1952 was a fairly modest affair. Along with many of his contempories a specialist competition machine was out of the question, so his ride to work, a 197cc Ambassador was pressed into the dual role of day-to-day ‘hack’ and weekend scrambles iron.

Getting the bike to the event was in itself quite an adventure, as there was no added luxury of a tow car, trailer or pick-up. Instead, with a knobbly tyre strapped across his shoulder, the little two-stroke was ridden to the meeting where, after being stripped of superfluous items like lights and silencer, and a change of rubber, it was ready for a day of thrills and the inevitable spills. And with racing over for the day, it was kicked back into shape and re-equipped for the homeward return, a hard introduction to the world of scrambling for the young Brown.

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Badger Goss / Cotton Cougar Cross / 1960

 Badger became a works rider for Cotton in 1959, they had, in an attempt to keep up with Greeves, their main competitor, taken on a project with Cross Manufacturing, to perfect a special linerless aluminium cylinder fitted with a semi slipper-type light alloy piston. It gave the Cougar both increased performance and better endurance.

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Hawkstone Park / 1960

 Fluff didn’t set the world on fire in that first season but it started him on the road to a long and illustrious scrambles career, little then could he have imagined that by the following decade he would be a works Cotton rider and courtesy of Saturday afternoon TV scrambles, a household name.

 Not only did Fluff prove to be a top class rider, he was also a first class development engineer.

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John Draper / Cotton / 1961

I started by asking Fluff how his riding and racing careers started, and how did he earn the nickname, Fluff?

 “I was born in Chillington, which is a little village in Somerset, during my early days a school chum by the name of Eddie Bussell started calling me Fluff, and it’s stuck ever since – everybody including my bank manager now knows me by it. Most people wouldn’t have a clue what my real name was. My dad owned a 250cc Triumph, which he taught me to ride, before I was legally old enough, but Chillington was a quiet village and you could go up and down virtually all day without seeing another vehicle. I became interested in scrambling through a local chap called Walley ‘Manka’ Matthews, Wally was quite a good rider in the Wessex Centre and in the evenings after school he would allow me to ride his scrambler around the fields.”

 “After sampling Wally’s bike I desperately wanted to go racing, but of course in those days there were no schoolboy events so I had to wait until I was sixteen”.

 “I loved tearing across the fields and as soon as I was old enough bought an Ambassador to ride to work. On my apprentice wages I couldn’t afford to buy another bike so there was no other option than to scramble the road bike. I can’t remember much about the first event other than I fell off quite a few times which left me rather bruised and the bike out of shape.”

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Fluff Brown / Cotton Cougar / 1962

 For the next two years under Wally’s guidance Fluff continued to race and improve, until like most young men of his generation he was called up for two years national service. Scrambling was put on hold, although as he explained it didn’t curtail or hinder his motorcycling exploits.

 “I was conscripted into the Royal Engineers training regiment for dispatch riders and served my time with several other keen motorcyclists including Ken Heanes, who later became such a great ISDT star.”

“Our bikes were standard issue BSA side valve M20 / M21’s which not surprisingly we got to know inside out. They also provided us with a lot of fun, as after the ‘big wigs’ had departed on a Saturday afternoon, we rode them around the parade ground, standing on the seat, with our arms crossed.”

This balancing skill obviously stood Fluff in good stead because with army service done it was back to civvy street and a return to scrambles aboard a 197cc Sun, which was soon replaced by a similar capacity DOT. In the 1950’s two-stroke tuning was still very much a dark art, and in an effort to keep up with the opposition Fluff wrote to DOT for some tips on how to make his bike go faster; the reply; however, was not what he expected.

 “The factory DOT’s really flew, and in open unlimited capacity races they regularly managed to beat machines twice their engine size. I thought that I might get some tuning tips so I wrote a letter, but the reply was disappointing as the only advice I received was to buy a new set of piston rings!”

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Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Tunstall / 1963

 Throughout his career Fluff’s build was ideally suited to lightweight two-strokes, and his solitary outing on a big banger left him reeling.

“My cousin was racing a 500cc BSA Gold Star scrambler and asked me if I fancied trying it. It weighed in at around 350lb and felt huge after the DOT. The vibration was horrendous and by the end of the race it felt like my eyes were going around like marbles in a jam jar!”

 While the Goldie might have been Fluff’s first and last race on a 500, by 1956 he’d achieved Expert status and bought his first Cotton – but it was not just his riding skills that were getting noticed. He was becoming adept and skilled with the workings of the Villiers scrambles motor, and was approached to fettle the Cotton ridden by Badger Goss. Badger’s success on the Brown-prepared bikes made Cotton’s principal duo of Pat Onions and Monty Denly sit up and take notice – “I want that man up here,” said Denly, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to Gloucester.

 He was taken on in the dual role of rider and development engineer, and it heralded the start of a long, happy and successful association between Fluff and the Cotton family.

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Frank Yarwood (DOT) and Jim Timms (Cotton) / Tunstall / 1963

 On both the scrambles circuits and in the development shop the combination of Fluff and Cotton became a winning formula, although it was Brown the racer that became best known. At virtually any open to centre or national lightweight race in the early sixties his tenacious but smooth riding style would usually see him battling for the lead, something I first witnessed at a bitterly cold and muddy TV scramble at Naish Hill in 1962.

With the luxury afforded to the works man, Fluff had long since progressed to a tow car and trailer to transport his bikes, but after an incident returning from a wintry Beaulieu some lateral thinking was called for, as he explained.

 “I think it was about 1963 and along with my friend and fellow Cotton rider Jim Timms we towed the bikes to a very snowy Beaulieu TV scramble behind my Hillman Minx.

It was extremely difficult racing on the hard packed snow and we all slipped and slithered a lot, which probably made a great spectacle for the armchair fans. On the way back home we had an accident, and although both of us, and the car were undamaged the trailer was written off. This left us with a dilemma as we were due to ride in an event at Accrington the following day, so we partially stripped the bikes and managed to squeeze both of them into the boot of the Hillman.

 It wasn’t an easy drive but we eventually got back to Gloucester where we transferred the one useable bike into the back of a borrowed Landrover and set off north. It was a freezing cold night and the heater didn’t work but we eventually arrived about six o’clock the following morning. We knocked up the organiser, whose wife took pity on us and cooked up a wonderful fried breakfast. We only had the one bike which we had to share, but fortunately we didn’t both get into the same final.”

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Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Tunstall / 1963

Like many small manufacturers Cotton continually walked a financial tightrope, but despite this it managed to attract some top names and was involved with some interesting development work. So what was it like to be there during these interesting times?

“A lot of well known names joined the Cotton fold including scramblers Ken Messenger, John Draper, Freddie Mayes, the Lampkin brothers, Malcolm Davis, and Bill Ivy on the Cotton Telstar. We also did a lot of development work with Cross Manufacturing in Bath, then with Peter Inchley, and later with Dr Bauer, on the prototype Starmaker engine from Villiers.”

Much of the Starmaker’s static development work was carried out on the test bed in Fluff’s galvanized workshop, although in the days prior to health and safety legislation no one considered the effects this might have.

 Tests frequently involved running the open megaphone engines up to speed, and on one occasion Fluff had to be picked up off the floor after becoming dizzy and collapsing with all the noise.

 Fitted with two massive Amal GP carbs, the Starmaker engine was turning out a heady 25bhp at 6,000rpm, but this quickly showed up the limitations in the lightweight Cotton frame and breakages were frequent, Fluff eventually cured this by introducing a large oval top tube to the headstock.

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Alan Lampkin / Cotton Starmaker Cobra / Sussex 1964

 The track tests and chassis developments took place at Hawkstone Park, although a typical day, which involved a detour to the Villiers factory in Wolverhampton, was often a long and frustrating one, especially when blighted by tests which broke the frames.

 Fluff continued to successfully race in both the UK and the near Continent, but development wasn’t just limited to the use of the Villiers engine.

 Given the success achieved by the Rickman brothers on their Triumph powered Metisse, the unit twin seemed to be an obvious choice of motive power.

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Prototype MkII, No47, raced as a Cotton Andy Roberton / 1967

So Fluff and Cotton designed a similar Rickman inspired design, and sold it in kit form, but after seven years at the Gloucester factory his development and engineering skills were being sought elsewhere.

 His work with Peter Inchley and Dr Bauer on the Starmaker project had also not gone unnoticed, and when Villiers came under the umbrella of the newly formed Norton Villiers in 1966, he was soon invited to move from Cotton to continue his work with the Starmaker team. Fluff takes up the story, “The Starmaker engine had proven its potential, but up to then it had appeared only in other manufacturer’s frames, so a new rolling chassis was required”.

 “Initially we housed it in a Rickman Petit Metisse frame, and Freddie Mayes raced it in both the 1967 British Championship and selected GP’s, as a Villiers Metisse.”

“Andy Roberton had also moved from Cotton and couldn’t get on with the Metisse frame, he had previously been racing his own single-down tube CZ, so I modified one of our Cotton frames, which he took to like a duck to water”.

From this they developed the Mk I prototype the Villiers Cotton, this single-down tube version became the Cotton Cossack, the MkII prototype, Cobra twin-down tube with elements from the Rickman, raced by Andy as a Cotton, No47, became the basis for the production AJS Stormer, when I visited Flints Farm in 2010, Fluff Brown was using the above MkII picture, as his screen saver.

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Fluff Brown / Cotton Cobra / Starmaker 360cc / 1965

From 1964 to 1966, Cotton and Villiers had shown that the Starmaker engine was a very capable road-racing winner in the hands of Derek Minter, Bill Ivy and Peter Inchley, all achieving incredible results with the Telstar and Conquest, followed by Inchley’s achievements, riding the Villiers Special, the engine was ready.

 Along side, Fluff Brown had developed the Cotton Starmaker Cobra, solving its frame fatigue issues by introducing a large oval top tube, as its backbone. The four-speed engine had been tested and developed, in this frame, in competition, but they had dropped the twin carburetor set-up, it was too complicated.

 The industry though was going through massive change, and Norton Villiers was one of the results. The Starmaker was a major asset, but needed further development, so Fluff Brown and Andy Roberton went to join Peter Inchley, Bernard Hooper and John Favill at NV in 1967, another new member of the team would be Bob Trigg.

Soon they would all have a new challenge, but at the start Peter Inchley concentrated on road racing by developing the Starmaker AJS. Along side, Fluff, with development rider Andy Roberton would continue to develop the prototype for the new Starmaker scrambler, and their team rider would be 1966 British MX Champion, and ex-Cotton rider, Freddie Mayes, who would ride a Villiers Metisse, often also referred to as a Norton Villiers, whilst the two prototypes paved the way for the new AJS moto-cross frame. 

The Rickmans though had their own ideas of what they could do with the Starmaker.


16. Starmaker Metisse / 1966


England’s Rickman Brothers, designers and builders of the Petit Metisse frame, and racers of their own products on England’s motocross circuits, are fast becoming a racing legend.

Metisse frames with 500cc Matchless singles, and with Triumph and Norton twins, are being seen more widely in this country, even though they are expensive, difficult to find, and not, as of this writing, commercially distributed in the United States.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Cycle World’s Publisher, brought almost the first Metisse, into the U.S. and made a story of it in the December 1964 issue. Since then we have shown several Metisse’s on the pages of Cycle World, each a sample of the frames so sought after, but so difficult to obtain. We might explain that the Rickman firm is devoted to the building of a high quality product, in very small quantity. An attempt at supplying the superbly built frame in quantity to Spain’s Bultaco firm resulted in Rickman’s entering into a licensing agreement with Bultaco, who now build their scrambler with their own Metisse type frame, the Pursang.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Only the highest quality, chrome-moly, steel tubing, is used by the Rickman’s, and the frame is bronze-welded, then nickel-plated and polished. Much of the original design of the frame can be traced to the familiar Norton “Featherbed” chassis, particularly the method of joining the tubes at the fork crown, but the Rickman’s have added many innovations to the pattern.

Among them are such niceties as carrying the oil in the frame, and the unique rear chain adjustment, using spacers on the swinging arm pivot. Fibreglass components, such as the fuel tank, fenders, air-cleaner and panels, are made by England’s famed Mitchenall Brothers. Which all brings us to the latest addition, our “Metisse of the day.” Metisse kits were, until a short time ago, distributed in the U.S. but due to the high unit cost, and the painful availability, the firm involved decided against the profitability of continuing the arrangement. But not before they had commissioned construction of a prototype, which they hoped would be available for import in suitable quantity. Using the Petit Metisse frame and components, in combination with an engine and transmission unit that is available in large quantity, the 247cc Starmaker.

The result is the Villiers Starmaker Metisse.

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Starmaker Metisse / 1966

Cycle World’s Publisher quickly added this rare bird to his collection, making only slight changes, such as replacing the European style 21 inch front wheel with a 19 inch, and a more comfortable and versatile set of handlebars. The Villiers Metisse frame is hollow, of course, but does not carry oil, as the engine is a two-stroke. Chain adjustment is accomplished with the eccentric spacers at the swinging arm pivot, permitting the use of a quick-change rear wheel for racing. Metisse kits are built to accommodate either the Ceriani forks, or the Norton units; the Villiers Metisse mounts the Norton units, modified by the Rickman’s for off road racing.

They are superb units, suffering in comparison to the Ceriani’s only in their weight. A tuned exhaust system is mounted conventionally on the engine, but is cleverly routed between the frame members and up under the seat, completely out of the way of the rider.

The space it occupies, on a four-stroke, is used to accommodate the huge air cleaner. As on other Metisse framed machines the fuel tank holds a mere 1.6 gallons, which is fine for an eight or twelve lap British motocross event, but for a Californian desert run, or a true long day of rough riding, it’s not enough.  

Obviously, the Villiers Metisse is not a trail or woods bike, but it handles superbly in the rough, and could very well be the best trail bike in the world, albeit the most expensive.

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Freddie Mayes, working on the Villiers Metisse with the Rickman Brothers / 1967

Readers may also detect a trace of regret in the current Villiers Metisse situation; such a fine thing should be for all. Perhaps one day soon, Rickman will adapt some fine old American mass production techniques and build enough Metisse frames to satisfy a burgeoning market.

 In the meantime, we will have to be content with a few of these mechanical marvels, setting a style for what we all hope will be a new era of scrambles machines.


17. The New Challenge


The need was pressing, the calendar relentless. Under Dennis Poore, the Wolverhampton based Manganese Bronze Holdings Company had acquired the wreckage of the collapsed Associated Motor Cycles empire.

Now, a determined effort was to be made to salve the Norton name from the Plumstead mire and, once again, give it back worldwide respect. But this was late 1966, and the target date for the re-born Norton, was the Earls Court Show of November 1967.

“So”, asked Dennis Poore, chairing the table full of talent called to his Kensington office, ”what are we going to make?”

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Norton P10 / 1966

From Villiers had come designers Bernard Hooper and John Favill, also from Wolverhampton were road-racer Peter Inchley of the development department, and Villiers production manager, John Pedley. Plumstead contributed, chief designer Charles Udall, and ex-AMC works director Charles Summerton.

What were they to make? Good question, but there was one possible answer. Veteran of the Velocette concern (where he had worked on the M-series engines, the Roarer and the LE, amongst other designs), Charles Udall had caused considerable surprise in the industry when, in 1961, he left Hall Green to join the AMC factory.

At Plumstead he had occupied his time in designing a double-overhead-camshaft vertical twin, code name, Project 10.

 In the final three years of the factory’s existence the P10 had covered considerable test mileage, much of the testing had been carried out at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) track, at Lindley, near Nuneaton.

 The bike wore Norton colours and employed a cut-and-shut version of the famous Featherbed frame. It’s engine was a four-speed unit-construction and, reputedly, it had begun as a 750cc, but was soon enlarged to 800cc.

 Most notable feature of the power unit was a triangular arrangement of small-diameter chromium plated tubes at the timing side, through which was threaded a chain of inordinate length (something like four feet of it, as Bernard Hooper recalls) to drive the twin camshafts.

In fact the chain was even longer than one might guess from external indications, for it ran from a small engine shaft sprocket, up and around the camshaft sprockets (twice the diameter of the engine shaft sprocket, to provide the necessary two-to-one reduction) then back to the timing chest where it doubled around an adjustable jockey sprocket before rising upward and rearward to drive the magneto.

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Norton P10 / 1966

The narrow tubes through which the chain ran were lined with PTFE – the stuff that is used to coat non-stick frying pans. – and each tube was located in the cambox end covers, and in the vee-shaped bracket on top of the timing chest, by O-ring oil seals. Camshaft sprockets were secured to the shaft ends by a vernier arrangement reminiscent of vintage AJS magneto-drive sprockets, to permit fine-tuning of the valve timing.

Naturally, to use a split-link in the cam-drive chain would be unthinkable, and so it was necessary to assemble the whole business of tubes and castings, rivet the chain, and then offer up the whole gubbins to the engine. Should there be an oil leak anywhere in the assembly, then hard luck! The whole thing had then to be dismantled and reassembled while the fitter crossed his fingers, and toes.

During the development stage, AMC discovered a number of bad vibration problems, and development engineer Wally Wyatt had tried fitting rubber bushes to the engine mountings, but because the pivoted rear fork was carried from the frame in the conventional manner, distortion of the mounting bushes when the engine was under load threw the rear chain off its sprockets.

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However, it would seem that even before there was any talk of a takeover of AMC, the possibility of producing the Norton P10 had been discussed, and drawings of the engine had been dispatched to the Villiers factory. With the takeover an actuality, Dennis Poore now recruited Dr Stefan Bauer from Rolls Royce, to lead the team charged with restoring the Norton name, and at some time a decision must have been made to adopt the P10 as the basis of the new model.

“I could hardly believe it”, recalls Bernard Hooper. “Our understanding was that we had been called to the Kensington meeting to give our recommendations.

What was very surprising also, at the Kensington gathering, was the attitude of Charles Udall, for he appeared very critical, very acid in his comments, and I don’t think Poore could have been very impressed.” (Presumably not, for Udall was soon to be sent on a period of “sick leave”).

It would seem that Udall had not forgotten his Velocette training, for the one-piece crankshaft of the P10 ran on a pair of taper-roller main bearings, in the same manner as the Velo Viper and Venom.

“But what worked well with the very narrow crankcase of a Velocette single,” says Bernard Hooper, “was rather less happy with the long shaft and bulky bottom-end of the P10, and it meant the taper bearings had to be preloaded by 11-thou when cold, so that there would be no end play when the engine warmed up.”

From January 1967, the design team under Stefan Bauer went ahead on redesigning the P10, in various locations. Tony Dennis, at Plumstead, made a total revision of the bottom-end.

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Norton Z26 / 1967

At Wolverhampton, Bernard Hooper evolved a totally new cylinder head and camshaft-drive layout, while gearbox specialist John Favill restressed the P10 gears and modified the tooth form. Meanwhile Bob Trigg (Ariel and BSA) was given the task of laying out a new frame to Stefan Bauer’s brief – which specified a backbone tube of large diameter and immense rigidity.

The project was given a new code name, the Z26. Hoopers new cam-drive had the chain running from a countershaft at the rear of the cylinder block and, passing between the cylinder block and, passing between the cylinders, driving the rear camshaft; from there, a short chain drove the front camshaft.

“This was not only neater, but cheaper,” Bernard points out. “The original P10 design embodied rocker arms which required fourteen different machining operations whereas the Z26 head used bucket tappets (actually, a Jaguar stock item).

I can’t remember if the Z26 was ever put into a frame, but in any case we had been given the deadline of November 1967 for the new Norton to be announced, and by June it was becoming obvious that there was no way we would meet that target with the Z26. The production people, for example, needed nine months to get tooled up for it’s production.”

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But there was an alternative. The Norton Atlas (a 750cc development of the long-in-the-tooth Dominator design) had turned out 47 bhp when it was last in production, in the meantime, work on the Atlas engine had been continuing on a low profile, and it was already producing more power than the P10 – even in its redesigned Z26 form – was likely to do.

So Manganese Bronze (or rather, by this time, Norton Villiers) decided to forget about the ungainly double-knocker twin and, instead, concentrate their efforts on what was really an Atlas MkIII. This would employ the more powerful version of the Atlas engine and, because the tooling already existed, would involve no new and expensive factory layout.

The frame would be the big-backbone frame that was devised for the Z26, and to give the model a more thrusting and modern look the cylinders would be canted forward. There was still the little matter of the flexibly mounted engine causing the chain to jump its sprockets, and various attempts to find a cure included a steel cable to resist the pull under acceleration.

Even so, some vibration would still be transmitted through the cable link to the frame. In a flash of inspiration Bernard Hooper suggested what seemed, on the face of it, a nutty idea.

How about pivoting the rear fork from the engine-gearbox mounting plates, not from the main frame? That way, the engine, gearbox and fork would be a sub-assembly insulated from the frame and rider. Recognise the recipe?

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In the joint names of Bernard Hooper and Bob Trigg, a patent was applied for (similarly, on the original patent application for the backbone type frame, the “first and true inventors” are quoted as Bauer, Hooper and Trigg). And so the new Norton was born.

Not the P10, and not the Z26, and not even the Atlas MkIII. In the AMC collapse, the old James Company had been submerged, but maybe not quite forgotten, for now Norton Villiers rescued one of the old James model names, to dub the new twin the Norton Commando.

Could AMC ever have produced the P10 in its original form? Very probably not, for tooling up would have been very costly, and Plumstead were in financial difficulties even before the prototype reached tangible form. Besides, with that massive crankcase assembly it represented a type of motorcycle that was already outmoded.

The P10, you might well say, was the very last example of the traditional British motorcycle.

Britain’s outstanding competition engine.

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Villiers Starmaker / 1967 

Products of high-precision engineering, each version has a massively strong crankshaft assembly, with caged needle-roller big-end bearings; a constant-mesh gearbox, with all shafts carried on neddle-roller bearings; and a virtually indestructible all-metal diaphragm-spring clutch.

Road Racer. The production replica of the Villiers ’works’ racing engine and without doubt Britian’s finest-ever racing ‘250’. Developing 32 bhp at 7,500 rpm, it is capable of producing speeds in excess of 120 mph. Equipped with an Amal 3GP2 carburettor and a four-speed gearbox with internal ratios of 2.21, 1.45, 1.2 and 1 to one.

Scrambler. The 1967 version of this rugged engine has been still further improved, giving it greater power throughout the speed range and enabling it to hold its own with the world’s best in class. Equipment includes an Amal Monobloc carburettor and a four-speed gearbox with internal ratios of 2.53, 1.66, 1.255 and 1 to one.


18. The Norton Villiers Fastback / 1967


When the 750cc Norton Commando was sprung on an unsuspecting public at the 1967 Earls Court Show, it was hailed as the savior of the British Motorcycle Industry.

With a top speed of 120mph and a standing quarter time as low as 12.8 seconds in practiced hands, the Commando was as fast as any motorcycle being made at the time.

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And although it was a long-stroke vertical twin, with a whooping 89mm piston travel, it didn’t vibrate! To be more accurate, it shook as merrily as any other unbalanced big-bore parallel twin, but the ingenious Isolastic rubber mounting system prevented the trembles from reaching the rider.

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The first production Commandos reached customers in April 1968, and the bike’s speed, handling, good looks and uncanny smoothness evoked a glowing response. Remember that the Triumph Bonnerville and the BSA Lightning were then the most advanced motorcycles the British were selling. The Triumph Trident and BSA Rocket triples did not appear until late 1968.

 “Is this an instant Classic’

Hailed Cycle World Magazine, it’s test Commando was the second fastest machine it had ever thrashed through the standing quarter, the time of 13.47 seconds only being bettered by a Dunstall Norton. It continued, “Certain fabled machines, such as the Vincent and the Ariel Square Four, have earned places high in the list of all time great motorcycles. No one should be surprised if the Commando acquires a reputation that will allow it to join this select band”.

What happened to turn that paean of praise, written in 1968, into the bitter comments offered in the Commando Service Notes, penned in the mid-seventies?

Web 103The culprit was lack of product development, the bugbear of many British bikes. With passing miles Commando riders found that their shimmed Isolastics were difficult to adjust and lubricate, the swinging arm spindle was weakly located in the gearbox cradle by a ¼ inch screw, the frame and centre stand broke, an inadequate layshaft bearing caused gearbox failures, and the alternator magnets worked loose, amongst other problems.

It would be convenient to lambast the Commando design team for these shortcomings, but not entirely fair. For the fact is that the Commando concept was stitched together in a remarkable twelve weeks through the summer of 1967 by engineers and stylists who were starved of funds and working with decades old components.

The Commando epitomised the Great British Compromise. But if the bike was a lash-up, it was certainly an inspired Bitsa.

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The projects chief designer, Bernard Hooper, was strapped for facilities, because Norton, as part of the AMC group, had just been rescued from collapse by Dennis Poore’s, Manganese Bronze Empire, which also owned the Villiers engine company in Wolverhampton.

Shortly after the takeover in 1966, Poore summoned executives from both camps to a round table conference in his office and asked them to toss around ideas for a replacement for the aging 750cc Atlas which had been around since 1961. A new bike was needed to revive Norton’s image, but it had to be available quickly and cheaply because of the shortage of funds. It was decided to resurrect a five-year-old design for a dohc parallel twin with a unit construction five-speed gearbox. This attractive sounding power source had been laid out, about five years before by Charles Udall, who gained renown with Velocette before moving to AMC.

Hooper’s team was charged with modernising the cylinder head of the P10, as the bike was termed, but found it hard to muster enthusiasm for the task. Development engineer Bob Trigg remembers, “The camshafts were driven by a huge length of chain, about three feet of it. This could have given terrible trouble in service. The engine also vibrated, as you would expect, and I felt it would probably leak oil.”

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Work on the P10 halted when it became obvious that the bike could not possibly be completed in time for the “67” Earls Court Show. And in any case, Wally Wyatt, one of Plumstead based engineers, had managed to extract from a modified Atlas engine more power than the P10 was capable of giving.

Only eleven weeks remained to the show when the P10 was finally abandoned and all efforts were switched to the Atlas powered machine. Yet Dr Stefan Bauer, Norton Villiers director of engineering, who had previously worked with Rolls Royce, insisted that the new Norton should not vibrate and must have a modern structure for its frame.

He didn’t want an old collection of tubes, even if it was graced with the featherbed name. How could these demands be reconciled with the vibration prone Atlas engine, which had been stretched from the 1947 500cc Dominator engine?

Bernard Hooper provided a tentative answer during discussions at Plumstead, hang the engine, gearbox and the rear swinging-arm on rubber bushes. This would soak up the shakes and avoid any tendency for the final drive sprockets to twist out of line.

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Hooper and Trigg talked over the idea on the train ride back to their base at Wolverhampton, and realised that it could work. Trigg began to prepare drawings, and also sketched out the backbone-type frame proposed by Bauer and Hooper.

This was based on a 2.25inch diameter spine, which carried a triangulated rear section and twin front downtubes. The finished frame weighed 24 lbs, nearly a third lighter than the famous Featherbed.

The Isolastic theory was a success in practice, Norton called in a leading rubber company for assistance, but were told that what was proposed would take two years to develop.

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With only weeks available, the Wolverhampton team had to tackle the job themselves, making initial experiments with very large bushes. These reduced the vibration level hardly at all, but a softer grade of rubber was found to banish the shudders above 5,000 rpm.

Bauer suggested cutting the bushes in half, which gave smooth running above 3,500 rpm, and a further reduction in size finally contained vibration below 1,800 rpm. ‘Riding a Commando was like flying an airplane,” Trigg remembers. Wild, rose tinted exaggeration? Not a bit, compared to the singles and twins then on the market, the Commando was an astonishing, almost eerie experience.

At tick over the fuel tank and exhaust pipes juddered and the front wheel jogged gently up and down. But vibration disappeared as the revs rose, and the Commando soared along like a turbine. The vibration bogey had been beaten, but there was still the urgent need to liven up the Commando’s ancient components with fresh styling.

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The team, that rushed the award winning Fastback into production. Among the development staff are Bob Trigg (second from left), Wally Wyatt (fourth left), Tony Denniss (behind cup) and Bernard Hooper (on Denniss’s left).

Wolf Ohlins, an advertising agency with no previous experience in motorcycling, was called in and they offered a surprisingly useful contribution. “Some of their suggestions made us laugh, but other ideas were good,” Hooper says.

One of the agency’s contributions was the distinctive, ear’s, at the front of the seat on the first Commando’s. To short to be effective as kneegrips, they were nevertheless part of a group of features that made the Commando stand out from other vertical twins of the day.

Visitors to the 1967 Earls Court exhibition will almost certainly recall the Commando displayed – it had silver frame, tank and cylinder barrels, an orange seat and large green globes on each side of the tank. The Wolf Ohlins advisers, had devised the globe as Norton Villiers new corporate image, and to this day it survives on the companies spares packaging.

But beneath the show bike’s gimmicky colours was truly elegant styling. The base of the glassfibre fuel tank, seat and tail unit ran in a single straight line from front to rear, a horizontal theme repeated by the low level silencers. The Atlas engine was canted forward at an angle matched by the front mudguard stays, frame downtubes, forward edge of the side panels and the rear suspension units.

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The handlebars were traditional British flats, and ahead of them jutted a chromed speedometer, rev counter and headlamp shell. An aluminium front mudguard was fitted and the single bolt primary chaincase was highly polished. Distinctive forged alloy plates carried the footrests.

In production the impractical garish colours were changed to a black frame and seat, and a green tank and tail unit. The Fastback, as the first Commando was called, was arguably the best looking Commando ever made, and an outstanding machine by the standards of the late sixties. Modification including the use of 8.9: 1 pistons had raised the power output to nearly 60bhp at 6,500rpm compared to the Atlas’s 49bhp.

A triplex primary chain replaced the single-row chain, and a new diaphragm clutch required only light pressure at the handlebar lever. Weighed with its 3.25-gallon tank half full, the Fastback scaled just 430lbs. This modest bulk allied to the Atlas motor’s mid-range poke produced those rapid standing-quarter times and a 0-60mph-acceleration rate of around five seconds.

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Villiers Starmaker / 1967


19. Mayes Races the Villiers Metisse


Freddie Mayes will contest this year’s 250cc World Motocross Championship with the full backing of Norton Villiers. He has signed a twelve-month contract to be the first Norton Villiers works rider, and he will initially race a Villiers Metisse special.

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Rickman Brothers / Villiers Metisse / January 1967

 New York public relations officer Ron Price broke the news of the Norton Villiers tie-up, with the Rickman Brothers, last week. “The Rickman Brothers have been very cooperative and pulled out all the stops to build two new machines, fitted with the new Starmaker scrambles unit,” he said.

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Villiers Metisse / Eccentric Swinging Arm

 The machines were completed at the weekend and will be tested at Hawkstone Park this week, prior to a competition debut at Saturday’s BBC TV scramble at Cuerden Park, near Preston, Lancs.

 The Metisse frame is a temporary measure as Norton Villiers work on developing their own machine. Don and Derek Rickman have used a duplex frame, similar to that of the Bultaco Metisse, with Avon glassfibre tank, body work and rear mudguard assembly.

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Villiers Metisse / Frame Adjustment for gear lever


20. Villiers Metisse


After much high pressure working by the Rickman brothers and Norton Villiers, the first competition machine from the new Norton Villiers group made its debut at the TV scramble on Saturday. (Cuerdon Park, Preston, 14th January 1967).

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Villiers Metisse / Cuerdon Park / 14th January 1967

The Bultaco Metisse frame has had to be modified to take the Villiers unit, the most difficult bit being the bottom frame rail, which has been gapped to make way for the gear lever (see picture). The huge expansion chamber has been housed but will be tucked away a bit more, later.

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FB Mk I Prototype / Eccentric Swinging Arm

It went well with no troubles, Freddie Mayes being in third spot in the 250 cc race, when he missed a gear on the hill. Development man Peter Inchley says it is giving “As much as anything”, this statement being backed up by the fact that Fred was gaining on Bickers on the straight in practice.

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AJS Stormer / Eccentric Swinging Arm


21. Freddie Mayes


As British Champion Freddie Mayes was in demand and found himself being head-hunted by Norton Villiers at the end of the 1966 season.

They wanted a top rider to help develop their prototype Starmaker engined motocross machine, which was to be the forerunner of the AJS Stormer.

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Auther Browning / Villiers Metisse /1967

The relationship started quite promisingly, with Mayes racing what had officially become a Villiers Metisse to victory at the end of February 1967 at Steart Hill Farm, in the ‘Somerset Mudbath’.

 Local man Bryan Goss was the star of the show but Freddie was the one making the news, coming home 1st in the Experts only race ahead of his new teammate Andy Roberton and Greeves mounted Malcolm Davis.

 Then in the 250 British Championship round at the Cotswold Scramble he gave the Cotton framed prototype ‘Norton Villiers’ its first major win in the second 250 race.

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Freddie Mayes / Villiers Metisse / Wakes Colne / 1967

 In the next round at the Cleveland Grand National in July, he turned in another solid performance taking 3rd behind the Huskies of Goss and Clough, who extended his lead over Mayes to eight points.

 Mayes rode well in the GP’s in 1967, gaining valuable experience, though he was plagued by mechanical problems all season.

 Typical of this was his bad luck at Wakes Colne in July, when an oiled plug eliminated him in the first race and he was also forced to pull out of the second race, mid-way through, whilst well placed.

 By September 1967 the project was given the ‘AJS’ name and at Hawkstone Park, Mayes took the Midland Championship to give it a winning debut.

 He also lead the Brian Stonebridge Memorial race at the same meeting, until a stray rock hit the timing cover causing the AJS to splutter to a stop.

This did little to help him in his struggle to retain his British title, but had Lady Luck smiled more kindly on him, Fred believes he might well have done just that.

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Freddie Mayes / Villiers Metisse / Morestead 1967

 In the final race of the 250 British Championship at Cadwell Park in October, he finished 5th and was edged out of runner-up spot in the Championship by Dave Bickers, who took the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the previous Hintlesham Park round.

Acknowledgement Photographes  Ericmiles47

Freddie Mayes AJS Prototype

Freddie Mayes / AJS Y4 Scrambler / Cadwell Park 1967


22. Andy Roberton


Andy won the Tweseldown Championship in February 1967, at the age of eighteen on his CZ, and a week later he was signed up to Norton Villiers as their second development rider, both he and Mayes had raced with Fluff Brown before, as Cotton works riders.

Fluff and project leader, Peter Inchley, were experimenting with different frames to house the Mark II Starmaker engine and had bought a batch of “Petit Metisse” frames from the Rickman Brothers to start. Andy made his debut on the Metisse framed bike at Naish Hill, in front of the BBC TV cameras, where he finished an excellent 4th place in his first 250 Grandstand Trophy race.

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Andy Roberton / Villiers Metisse / BBC Grandstand Naish Hill / 1967

Fluff Brown recalls that despite such a promising start, it wasn’t a fairy tale relationship. “Andy didn’t get on so well with the Metisse framed bike and he was disappointed with his results”.

“So I built up a bike using the Y4 engine in a Cotton frame, and he soon returned to his winning ways”. On the new Cotton framed MkI prototype Roberton was unlucky not to take his, and Norton Villiers, first British Championship win.

However, at the 250 GP at Wakes Colne in July, he was the surprise package as he emerged as the only Brit to get amongst the points.

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Andy Roberton / Villiers Cotton MkI Prototype / Wakes Colne / 1967

“The day was saved, however, by an outstanding ride in both legs by Villiers young hope, Andy Roberton. Despite being nervous in this, his first big race, Andy scratched with the best to earn his first championship point for sixth place overall’ Gavin Trippe MCN.

 British Motocross Championship – 1966              

  1. Freddie Mayes        Greeves
  2. Dave Bickers           CZ
  3. Alan Clough            Greeves

British Motocross Championship – 1967            

  1. Alan Clough           Husqvarna
  2. Dave Bickers           CZ
  3. Freddie Mayes        Norton Villiers | AJS Scrambler (Joint 2nd place)

A second place in the British Championship was no mean feat for the test year of Fluff Browns prototype. Breakdowns had been out on the track in front of the public, which was a brave policy for the team to follow. Moral though was very high, with such good results.

Looking at the MkII Prototype you can see how close they were getting to the production Y4 model. The wheels, front forks and expansion chamber would change but much of the work had been completed by the end of the season.

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FB Mk II Cotton Prototype / Farleigh Castle / 1967

The Norton Commando was Norton Villiers priority in 1967, they needed their new flagship machine on the showroom floor, as soon as possible.

Fluff’s development work on his Cotton Cobra based MkII Prototype scrambler with Peter Inchley and Stefan Bauer, had been a great success.

The Commando’s engine caused severe vibration, so Stefan Bauer’s frame brief in 1967 was to include a ‘backbone tube of large diameter and immense rigidity’.

The Cotton Cobra’s development had paid off; the strength that an oval backbone tube could provide had been proved by it withstanding the stresses experienced on a moto-cross track. The backbone frame was then developed further with the Ken Sprayson framed ‘Starmaker AJS’ and tested in the Isle of Man TT; it was faster than the 1966 version.

The lightweight twin down tube cradle from the Cobra was also used, with the Commando’s engine then cantered forward. Bernard Hooper, designed the Isolastic rubber mountings to decreased vibration and Peter Inchley’s old friend, from BSA, Bob Trigg, pulled all these pieces together to lay out thier new frame, the Z26.

A smaller version of this frame was then used for the AJS Y4 Scrambler, but not with the Isolastic rubber mountings. The Commando’s swinging arm was mounted on the rear of the engine so a new version of the eccentric swinging arm from the Rickman Metisse was designed and the new AJS Mongrel was complete.  

The Girling rear shocks were leaned and moved forward on the swinging arm, to give greater rear suspension travel and the long travel AJS leading axle front forks, an innovation, would completed the machine.

Freddie Mayes had raced the Villiers Metisse, and the AJS Y4 Scrambler to joint second place in the British Championships, now the bike with its upgraded AJS Mark II engine and AJS Y4 frame was ready for the 1968 season but production wouldn’t start until the new factory was ready in 1969.

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AJS Y4 Frame / 1968

The Commando, the Cobra and the Mongrel, had finally come together and now, was race ready, for Malcolm Davis.


23. Dennis Poore


Dennis Poore was the driving force behind the new Norton Villiers Co, which was created when his Manganese Bronze concern acquired the assets of AMC. He realised that, in so far as future production of Norton, AJS and Matchless machines was concerned, there had to be some serious re-thinking.

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 Gregor Grant / AJS The History of a Great Motorcycle / 1969

Complete reorganisation was essential; otherwise the manufacture of motorcycles would not be an economic proposition.

Although the decision to move to a new factory at Andover, Hants, was taken in 1966, it was not until 1968 that full planning permission was obtained.

The company’s intention was to have this new factory in full operation by the middle of 1969. The site was ideal, presenting no difficulties in communications between Norton Villiers and they’re outside suppliers.

With the appearance of the modern Norton Commando 750, it was obvious that Norton Villiers Ltd had its finger on the pulse of current requirements.

 What to do as regards AJS was another story. 

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Norton Commando 750 Fastback / 1967

Poore himself had been prominent in motor racing during the immediate post-war period and had won the RAC Hill-Climb Championship with his Alfa Romeo.

He had also driven an MG and a Viritas with success, and had been a member of David Brown’s works Aston Martin team. With Peter Walker as co-driver, he won the Goodwood ‘Nine Hours’ for Aston Martin in 1955.

Anyway, here was a chairman with an extensive background of competitions, together, with engineering knowledge of a high order.

With Norton plans already formulated, he had given a great deal of thought to the future of AJS and, in 1966, the opportunity to do something about it was presented by Peter Inchley. Riding a ‘Villiers Starmaker Special’, Inchley finished third in the Lightweight TT behind the works Honda twins.

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Peter Inchley’s Experimental Device / March 1968 / MCI Magazine

Anyway, here was a chairman with an extensive background of competitions, together, with engineering knowledge of a high order.

With Norton plans already formulated, he had given a great deal of thought to the future of AJS and, in 1966, the opportunity to do something about it was presented by Peter Inchley.

Riding a ‘Villiers Starmaker Special’, Inchley finished third in the Lightweight TT behind the works Honda, six-cylinder Specials.

No British-built ‘250’ had been in the first three since 1950, and none had come anywhere near lapping at the speeds, which Peter Inchley accomplished. He averaged 91.43 mph for the 264-mile distance.

Inchley’s machine had a Villiers Starmaker engine fitted into basically a Bultaco frame, with six-speed transmission.

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Peter Inchley and Freddie Mayes / Villiers Metisse / 1967

The designer-rider was an acknowledged two-stroke expert. Born in Smethwick, he had joined BSA in 1960 and, in the same year, started racing on his friend Stan Cooper’s Ariel Arrow.

He later went to Ariel, where he was concerned with much of the development work on that well made two-stroke. His next move was to EMC, where he worked with Joe ‘the Professor’ Ehrlich on two-strokes.

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Starmaker AJS / 1967

He also rode for EMC in races and finished fourth in the 250cc Spanish Grand Prix; Inchley then joined the Villiers concern late in 1963.

So Norton Villiers decided that the name of AJS would be applied to a 250cc two-stroke and that the board of directors would back Peter Inchley in the 1967 Lightweight TT. Ken Sprayson, of Reynolds tubes, was commissioned by NV to construct the frame.

This was of the backbone type, built up from 2.25 inch x 18 guage steel tubing. Dual loops of ¾ inch diameter tubing ran from the steering head to act as front down tube members, then pass under the engine to terminate on mountings for the rear damper assembly.

A new AJS engine was planned and it was decided to retain the six-speed transmission for the TT.

However, the new engine could not be made ready in time and Inchley reverted to using the 1966 Starmaker unit, with which he had raced at Mallory Park and at Snetterton, as well as setting up a new 250cc Brands Hatch record.

 The AJS proved to be even faster in the Isle of Man than the Bultaco-based version.

Fluff with the works bikes

Fluff Brown / Testing / March 1968

Inchley averaging 92.89 mph when he was forced to retire when placed fifth, owing to a serious error by the oil company concerned.

When Inchley stopped to refuel, instead of the ‘petroil’ mixture, the tank was filled with neat fuel; a complete engine seizure was the result, another team receive the “petroil’, for their four-stroke machine, also bringing their race to an abrupt end.

Nevertheless, there was little doubt that the AJS single-cylinder was as far advanced as any of the equivalent continental two-strokes.

Inchley himself had been getting as much as 36 bhp at 8,500 rpm – and over 140 bhp per litre, is a real achievement with a ‘valveless’ single-cylinder engine. Racing in the TT was merely a means to an end, as the shrewd Dennis Poore, saw immense opportunities for a ‘scrambler’, designed specially, for the booming sport of Moto-cross, in late 1967, the prototype scrambler, for the AJS Y4, was complete.

 Acknowledgement: AJS The History of a Great Motorcycle – Gregor Grant – 1969

AJS Alamo September 1967

AJS Alamo Scrambler / September 1967

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Earls Court Show / AJS Y4 Scrambler / October 1967


24. Malcolm Davis / AJS Scrambler / 1968


From 1960 to 1965, Greeves and DOT had dominated the first years of the 250cc ACU Scramble Drivers’ Star, Greeves had won the event every year, apart from in 1961, when Arthur Lampkin, gave BSA, there last 250cc show, and was crowned champion. The competition was renamed in 1966 and become the British Motocross Championship.

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Malcolm Davis / Peter Inchley’s Experimental NV Device / 1968

By then, CZ and Husqvarna were also knocking at the barn door, Freddie Mayes in that first year managed to hold on to the trophy with his 2-stroke Greeves, for one of there last times, with Dave Bickers on a CZ in second place. The next year Freddie achieved joint second place with Dave Bickers (CZ), on the Villiers Metisse and the new AJS Y4 Scrambler, in its development year, the Championship being won by Alan Clough, on his Husqvarna, the first foreign machine to win the event.

So the AJS Y4 was now up against, truly international motorcross competition, of the highest order, ridden by top-flight riders, another example of this was to be Don Rickman racing on his Bultaco Metisse, in 1968 two rounds of 30min + 2 laps per event was introduced.

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Don Rickman / Bultaco Metisse / 1968

The last time AJS had won the trophy was back in 1954, with Geoff Ward, when it was an open 500cc, thumper event.

Dave Curtis, also won it for Matchless in 1958, they had fought off BSA, who would go on to win the new 500cc class from 1960, which seperated the 4-strokes from the 2-strokes for a while, for six consecutive years, with rider Jeff Smith.

The battle for this new wave of 250cc 2-stroke technology though, was to be, even tougher, the competition was to come, not just from just across Britian, but from across Europe, and then in the 70’s, from across the World. Malcolm Davis was an up and coming star, he was racing for Bultaco, and had ridden their new 360cc to race victory in the 500cc class, the 2-strokes had just started there attack against the big bore BSA’s, he was just what AJS needed.

He was snapped up by AJS and entered in the opening round, of the BBC Grandstand Trophy, at Canada Heights on Armistice Day in 1967. He immediately collected two points for a sixth place in the 250cc section. Then at Kirkcaldy, Scotland, he added four more points for a third place. The final round was at Caerlon, comprising of two separate events. Davis won the first one and was fourth in the second. Only World Motorcross Champion, Jeff Smith, exceeded his total of 19 points.

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Chris Horsfield / AJS Y4 / Ringwood 1968

The AJS Y4 had arrived with a vengeance, in the world of motocross, and Malcolm Davis had got his hands on, the right machine, at the right time, he was now ready to compete in the 1968 British Motocross Championships, against that powerful opposition in the shape of the works riders and the new machines of Bultaco, CZ, Husqvarna and the old enemy, Greeves.

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Norton Villiers Advertising /1968

The opening round was the Cumberland Grand National, and Davis won the first event with his teammate, Dick Clayton second on the other AJS. Then at Glastonbury, Clayton was the runner-up in the first heat with Davis likewise in the second.

They had made a solid start to the season and at this stage, the championship placings were as follows


  1. Derek Rickman (Bultaco) 26 points
  2. Andy Roberton (Husqvarna) 18 points
  3. Malcolm Davis (AJS) 16 points
  4. Dick Clayton (AJS) 13 points


Round three was at Cleveland, York, and here AJS bought in the experienced crowd pleaser, Chris Horsfield, to replaced Dick Clayton, he won the first heat, overtaking race-leader Davis on the 11th lap. The latter finished fourth, slowing with electrical problems.

Horsfield then charged into the lead in heat two, with cheers from the crowd, but in the chase Davis slipped up and hit a tree, losing a lot of time and being over taken by several riders, and then to everyones surprise, Horsfield lost his petrol tank, a stupid maintenance failure. Davis though, continued the pursuit, and fought his way through to take third place, this moved him much closer to Rickman and the Bultaco, it put him only five points behind.

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Norton Villiers Advertising /1968

Then there was the thrilling battle at Cuerden Park, and this time Malcolm Davis was ready, having learnt from the failures in preperation from the earlier rounds, the team had worked hard on the bikes, before the race began. The electrical problems they had experienced in earlier events had now been eradicated and in the first heat, Malcolm thrashed Arthur Browning by almost half a minute, leaving the Greeves in his dust.

He then did the same, in heat two, with Browning again tasting the dust. The AJS was flying, just at the right point in the season, these results put Davis and the AJS in an almost unassailable position, for there was only one round to go – at Nantwich, Cheshire. He had 37 points to the 26 of Rickman, the 23 of Roberton, and the 21 of Browning, Bultaco, Husqvarna and Greeves were being put in their place.

Ringwood Malcolm Davis 1968 001

Malcolm Davis / AJS Y4 / Ringwood 1968

The final races were incrediable, Alan Clough (Husqvarna), who had just beaten the Villiers Metisse / AJS Y4 Scrambler to become the 1967 British Champion, was racing on his home curcuit, and he took advantage in the pouring rain, he was chased by Rickman on his brilliant Bultaco Metisse, and Roberton on the other super fast works Husqvarna. But Davis had an incredible race, he fell off sliding in the slippery mud, but this time the electrics didn’t fail, he remounted and chased down the pack, and fought until he achieved third place, he had only needed 6 points from the final two heats. That was 4 points in the bag, and Rickman was left facing the last race with only 32 points, Davis rode for fun, the bike finally, completely sorted of its gremlins and he again enjoyed third place, that gave him a season total of 45 points, an astonishing achievement for the team, thirteen more than Rickman and his Bultaco.

 Acknowledgement: Out Front – Ian Berry – 2011

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Malcolm Davis / AJS Y4 Scrambler Advertising / 1968

 British Motocross Championship – 1968

  1. Malcolm Davis         AJS Stormer
  2. Don Rickman           Bultaco Metisse
  3. Andy Roberton       Husqvarna

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AJS Double T Racer Advertising / 1968

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AJS Y4 Scrambler 250cc Advertising /1968


25. ISDT Matchless 360cc Two Stroke


Web 137#112 John Tye AJS 250, (SUK 879F) #106 CJ Stebbings AJS 250 (SUK 881F) #19 Sgt E J Thompson AJS 250 (SUK 878F) #147 Wirdnam Matchless 360 (SUK 880F)

In 1968 AJS experimented with a special project using the Y4, four, street legal, trail versions were built at Marston Road, all equipped with wide ratio gears and spark arrestors on the end of the tailpipes, they also had a rudimentary lighting system taken from the 9E Villiers setup. Three of them had 250cc engines and were badged as AJS machines. The fourth one had the new 360cc engine and was badged as a Matchless.

Members of the Royal Air Force Motor Sports Association rode the four bikes; they had entered the team into the 1968 International Six-Days Trial, taking place in Italy.

1968 ISDT

#19     Sgt. E.J. Thompson, 250 AJS, retired on the first day.

#106   C.J. Stebbings, 250 AJS, received a bronze medal.

#112   Jon Tye, 250 AJS, received a bronze medal.

#147   Wirdnam 360 Matchless, received a bronze medal.


Now the AJS Y4 was given its name….

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AJS Stormer 250cc Y4 Advertising / 1969


26. AJS Stormer 250cc / 1969


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Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1969

When you unbolt the stable door on the new 250cc AJS Scrambler, 27 horses come galloping out at a terrific pace!

There is no hesitation – they kick you straight in the pants and you spend the next few seconds trying to tame the unleashed power and bring the bounding bucking machine under control.

Drop into second gear and open the throttle and still the front rears upwards almost as though the machine wants to unsaddle you.

There’s no doubt that AJS have produced a thoroughbred and in just two short years of development have swept the scrambles board in Britain clean, to take the British 250 Motocross Championship by a clear 13-point margin.

Works rider Malcolm Davis has had his fill of disappointment over the past two seasons but by perseverance, any problems with the early frame, suspension, engine, carburation and electrics have been overcome.

High-speed film cameras and slow-motion film were used to study suspension of every type of scrambles machine in action and from 18 months of tough, racing development, AJS now have the champion 250cc two-stroke scrambler.

Identical models to the works machines are now in production and it was one of these machines that we were invited to test at the new AJS works near Andover.

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Fluff Brown the heart of the Team / Thruxton / 1969

Not being a works rider or expert scrambler, it is very difficult for me to cast an expert opinion as to how the new AJS Y4 compares with other makes in the class.

But after spending some time lapping the small test circuit, I can at least give you my impressions regarding the performance, handling and power output that this machine provides.

As I’ve already mentioned, the power from this seemingly conventional two-stroke is terrific. At a mere 6,400 rpm it produces 27 bhp and the actual power band is spread so wide that even with the engine running almost down to stalling point, it will still pick up and accelerate quickly to its maximum.

This means, of course, that whether you’re in sticky mud or sand, the tractability of the motor will pull you through.

Also, the weight factor of the machine is very important as with a total of 220 lb. for 27 bhp, the Y4 has the very impressive figure of 135 bhp-per-ton equal to the very best.

The motor has standard piston controlled two-stroke porting but, obviously, the actual positioning and size of the ports play a major role in the power extracted from the engine.

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The compression ratio is a tough 12.3: 1 and the bore and stroke are square at 68mm. Carburation, is affected by a modified Amal Concentric 932 model carburetor.

Starting the bike was no problem, when warm the second kick brought results and when cold, it was simply a matter of flooding the carburetor slightly, and when the motor fired, keeping it revving until it was warm and clean on carburation.

Response to the throttle was instant on any occasion and there appeared to be no signs of the motor going “ off the mega “ – a common complaint with tuned motors when the revs drop. A great deal of work has gone into the design of the upswept expansion exhaust system to obtain the “correct” scrambles motor characteristics.

An all-metal diaphragm-type clutch is used to transmit the power of this poky little motor to the four-speed gearbox. It is very light to use and very robust. In fact, the gearbox is a delight and using this clutch, only the lightest of pressures is required, to swap cogs in the gearbox.

The company virtually makes everything; the engine/gearbox; the exhaust system; the front forks and the frame, on this new AJS scrambler.

Only proprietary items such as the carburetor, tyres and wheel rims are made elsewhere.

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Considerable thought has gone into every detail on the Y4. For example, the brakes, which have to work under grim conditions from wet muddy water to dry dusty circuits, have a special sealing ring to keep all damp and dirt out.

It is the careful thought, which has gone into these seamingly minor items that has produced the AJS Stormers reliability.

The same thorough approach to design in order to keep water out of the works has also been made, with the electrics and carburetor intake.

Reliability is the keyword and it has been proved that the AJS has, after a short 18 months of development, made the grade by winning the British Motocross Championship.

What’s it like riding the machine? Well after completing three cautious laps of the test circuit, I begin to get used to the bumping, bouncing and shaking, and then I really started to enjoy myself.

The light weight of the bike made it perfectly controllable – most of the time – and if one did get into a spot of trouble it was simply a matter of opening the throttle a bit more and showing the bike who was really in charge.

Only once did it pitch me off – just to prove that you couldn’t win all the time. However this was no fault of the bike, just my nervous approach to a bend during which I happened to touch the front brake too hard. Golden rule number one broken – don’t touch front brake on slippery surface on bend.

The handling of the machine was perhaps the most surprising feature apart from the sheer power, it was perfect.

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Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc Y4 / 1969

The confidence one achieved while belting along over bumpy, slippery surfaces was really something and could all be put down to the unique frame design.

A really robust spine tube is the heart and strength of the unit and the remainder is made up of lightweight, triangular sections for rigidity.

The result is a complete motorcycle with minimum of whip over the most tortuous terrain. The AJS designed and made front forks coupled with matched Girling rear units complete the frame parts and with a front fork travel of seven inches and rear travel of just over three inches, the mount keeps the wheels firmly planted on bumpy surfaces.

That is of course when the bike isn’t leaping the brows of hills as sure footed as a spring lamb. Future plans for the AJS marque are constant development; to improve this already fine machine and both Malcolm Davis and Andy Roberton will be taking on the World Champions next year.

As works team riders they are confident that they will be in with a chance against the all-powerful Continentals.

When the AJS name died at Woolwich, who could have believed that it would be reborn so successfully.

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Peter Inchley / California / 1969

It’s obviously a winner put in the right hands!


27. AJS Stormer / United States


With the advent of the Y4, AJS was certainly ready for the world markets. In the spring of 1969, this beautifully built scrambler had a highly enthusiastic reception in the USA, particularly on the West Coast where a new corporation had been formed to handle both AJS and Norton.

Ever increasing interest was also shown on the continent of Europe. The first Y4 to go to Holland was an outstanding success, in seven events; its Dutch rider took five first places.

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In developing the Y4 prior to production, AJS adopted a policy of testing it in actual competitions, instead of the ‘closed door’ policy employed by many other manufacturers.

In truth, this was following the example of the Stevens brothers who had used a similar formula for introducing their new machines.

There were heartbreaks, mistakes and mechanical failures – all of which occurred in full view of the public.

However, every single failure or breakage was investigated thoroughly.

Peter Inchley and his team were determined that when the Y4 reached production, it would be meticulous, having the built-in reliability factor that has characterised the Ajays of the past.

Simplicity was a feature; the AJS technicians avoided anything in the nature of added complication. Their aim was to build a machine that could be used in event after event without the need for extensive overhauls and tedious stripping down.

Although a power-output of 32 bhp could be made available, Peter Inchley calculated that 27 bhp at 6,400 rpm was ample and would increase the reliability factor, so essential in motocross events.

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High-speed cine-photography and slow motion cameras were employed in order to study the behaviour of suspension units in the most extreme conditions.

These modern scientific methods have resulted in the remarkably efficient and wear-free lightweight ‘Teledraulic’ front forks and Girling suspension units.

Unsprung weight has also been drastically reduced by the adoption of ultra-light AJS hubs and high tensile rims. To ensure absolute reliability in the transmission, AJS engineers have employed an all-metal, diaphragm clutch, similar in design to that fitted on many high-performance race cars.

The drive is taken through a close ratio four-speed gearbox of immensely strong construction. Trouble free ignition is supplied by the energy-transfer system, consisting of a new-pattern coil, matched to an AC generator.

This supplies a hefty spark right through the engine speed range. An Amal concentric type 932 carburettor has been modified specially for the Y4 two-stroke engine.

An air-cleaner is standardised, which actually aids the power unit, as does the scientifically designed exhaust system.

 Web 147

Detail has been studied, throughout the design. The rear chain is easy and quick to adjust.

Spring loaded footrests are of the folding pattern; the hubs have an ingenious method of excluding dust and water; whilst weight is saved by the adoption of light-alloy mudguards and a two-gallon glass-fibre petrol tank, which is finished in orange.

The seat has been evolved after consultation with the team’s riders and is ideal for high speed, cross-country riding. When one studies the frame, it is realised that this is a masterpiece, of lightweight contruction, possessing immense strength and rigidity.

Built from Reynolds 531 tubing (as used in the Spitfire), which is bronze welded.

The AJS Stormer single-cylinder, two-stroke engine, developed from the original race Starmaker unit, has a compression ratio of 12.3 – 1, and is built entirely from aluminium alloy, both barrel and crankcase being machined to the highest possible engineering standards.

The cylinder is fitted with a spuncast iron liner, to provide longwearing properties. Piston, con rod and flywheels are individually balanced. Exceptionally good breathing characteristics produce excellent torque, particularly in the medium engine speed range. Bore and stroke are of 68 mm, giving a displacement of 247 cc. The engine runs on a mixture of castor-based oil and premium grade gas, in the proportions of 20 – 1.

With a dry weight of only a little over 220 lbs, and a power output of 27 bhp, it’s small wonder that the AJS Stormer is a real flyer.

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AJS Stormer Y40 / Crated for US Market / 1969

The frame provided many important motorcross innovations, the rear shocks were cantered forward and moved forward on the swinging arm, providing greater rear end spring travel; the front forks were leading axle an innovation, again providing longer front fork spring travel; the swinging arm had eccentric adjustment which allowed the chain to be tension adjusted quickly and very simply; the rear axle was fixed, it didn’t need to be used to tension the chain, so the rear wheel was always in alignment: the frames main backbone oval tube with its triangular inner box section was extremely light and incredibly strong, the wheels also had conical hubs to repel mud, stopping it building up.


28. AJS 37A-T 250cc Trials Bike


The AJS 37A-T trials bike, was put into production in 1969, whilst this has much in common with the Y4 in general design, there are several differences.

In the first place, torque is of far more importance than a high power output for mud-plugging, and the 246 cc Mark 37A engine is notable for its ability to slog at low speeds in the stickiest of conditions. It produces 12.4 bhp at 5,000 rpm with a maximum torque 16 lb/ft at 3,200 rpm, on a 7.9 – 1 compression ratio. The carburettor is a S25 Villiers unit, with renewable paper element. The four-speed gearbox is manufactured by AJS and has ratios of 3.6, 2.4, 1.56 and 1.00 to 1.

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AJS 37AT Trials / 1969

A high-level exhaust system is used, the pipe being carried over the top of the engine; the silencer is tucked neatly below the rider’s seat and with adequate protection against burning the rider’s legs.

Cotton Motorcycles Ltd built the frames, based on the Y4, for AJS from cold drawn steel tubing. It is sif-bronze-welded, with a tapered top-tube for maximum rigidity, and has a single down tube. The forks are Metal Profile, designed to accept the continuous hammering which machines have to take in the devilish sections, which are a feature of modern trials. Girling oil-damped units take care of the rear suspension and the swinging arms are constructed from 1¾ inch tubing, pivoted on ‘lubricated-for-life’ bearings.

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For more information on the AJS 37A-T check out this link to Trails Guru.



29. Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer / 1969


For the start of the British 250cc Championship season, Davis was to get off to a flyer at the opening round in Tilton, in the first race he stomped home in the lead, beating the Greeves ridden by Wade, Browning and Allen. He had overtaken Goss on his Husqvarna early in the first race, but in the second, Goss was to win, followed by Wade, Malcolm had fallen early and had to fight through the pack to pull off third place.

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Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer / 1969

The next round he was to run into trouble, and was the start of a bad time for AJS and Davis, at Nantwich the AJS seized up, in both rounds, and this was not the first time.

 At the end of 1968, Davis had put himself in a position to win the 250cc Grandstand Trophy, in the last round in Kirkcaldy, he was up against Clough, riding a Husky, they had equal points. His teammate was now Andy Roberton and they both set off, full of confidience, he had won several of the earlier rounds, but then the unexpected took place, first was Davis, the engine siezed on the third lap, then soon after Andy’s bike shuddered to an abrupt halt. Davis was furious, the hard work battling with Clough, wasted, and in front of the TV cameras, the reason he was given, was, 2-Star fuel. But now it had happened again.

The team moved on and went to compete in the Spanish GP, things seemed to be going better, he was out in the lead in the first leg, then the engine spluttered to a halt, in the second round again, he fought back, again in the lead, the engine spluttered to a halt, water was getting into the electrics.

Finally things came to a head, the next race was in Switzerland, in the first race the spark plug was hit by a rock, in the second, his chain broke, two small mishaps, but he was again furious, and this time he let everyone know.

“I’ve had plugs break on the bikes about four times, and when it’s happened once, it shouldn’t happen again. The whole thing is really annoying, as these bikes are fast and handle beautifully”.

AJS sacked him ‘for not trying hard enough’.

Now this would seem to reflect badly on AJS, and the Y4, but there is an irony to this tale, read on….

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Andy Roberton / AJS Stormer / Thruxton / 1969

Davis soon secured a ride for CZ, and went straight back to his winning ways. At Farleigh Castle he competed in the Maybug Scramble, in the first race he got into a bit of trouble and crashed with a back marker, but he went on to win the second 250cc event, beating Browning and Bickers.

He was back in the saddle, and ready to get back to the GP’s, his first was the Dutch but here whilst fighting with Robert’s for the lead, his throttle cable broke. In July he could only manage 7th in the French, the next round though was at home, at Dodington.

Unfortunately, in race one he got off to a blistering start, and was chasing down the race leader, Geboers, when he had a mishap, a front puncher…. In the second race, again he fought through to second place, and this time his mishap, was the front wheel bearing disintergrating…

Then the British Championship resumed, he must have been pulling his hair out. He wanted to retain the title, and he put all his riding skills and his doggied style together. At the Cotswold Scramble he was in the lead in both heats, but was beaten by Goss on the Husqvarna in the first, then in the second, the gremlins were back, his carburettor failed…

He defended his title to the last round, at Tirley, he won the first heat, but was unable to hold on to the lead in the second, beaten by Goss, which gave Greeves their last 250cc British Motocross Championship, and gives us an insight into the gremlins of motocross, AJS style or CZ…

Acknowledgement: Out Front – Ian Berry – 2011

British Motocross Championship – 1969            

  1. Bryan Wade            Greeves
  2. Malcolm Davis         AJS/CZ
  3. Bryan Goss              Husqvarna



30. AJS Stormer – Sales                        


My brief was to sell the AJS range, which consisted of an unsophisticated trials machine fitted with a Villiers 250cc A-series two-stroke motor and the considerably more competitive AJS Stormer 250cc Y4 scrambler. This had great potential thanks to its state-of-the-art frame, similar to a Commando without the Isolastlcs – but with more suspension movement than rival machines, and using Ajay’s own forks and ultra neat alloy conical hubs, which were mud-proof.

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Production AJS Y4 ‘Scrambler’ / 1969

The peppy engine was derived from the early 60’s Starmaker. Villiers original twin-carb comp-spec Starmaker had proved a great disappointment in both scrambling and road racing until Peter Inchley came on the scene.

Peter’s role as development engineer was to make the engine suitable for the new AJS scrambler. He and his small team adapted well to the challenge and from 1968 onwards the moto-cross community was amazed by the handling and speed of the Stormer prototypes ridden by Malcolm Davis, Chris Horsfield, and Andy Roberton.

Production model Stormers, whose components were manufactured at Wolvohampton, began to be assembled in a corner of Norton Villiers unfinished building at Andover. By the time of my arrival in May 1969 about 200 examples had been supplied to the home market, and several hundred each to Norton Villiers Corporation in Long Beach and Berliner Corp, New Jersey.

Thanks to Poore’s canny negotiations, Berliner were obliged to purchase the same quantity of Ajays as Norton Villiers Corporation, an agreement they didn’t much like, for they were not a race-oriented distributor but, with a territory comprising of 43 states against Norton Villiers Corporation seven, they could hardly argue!

On the first day of the new job (it said European Sales Manager on my card) I was told despite that we held 150 UK orders, AJS dealers had ceased taking machines, nor had there been any repeat orders from Belgium, Holland, or Sweden. An investigation revealed Norton Villiers organisation at Andover was a tad naive in the ways of the trade.

Dealers might well order 10 scramblers in January, fully aware they’d only receive two or three by March, but knowing that their useful-looking order for 10 bikes would guarantee some priority for the first one or two. Factory systems were pretty casual back then and dealers were masterly in wriggling out of machines ordered but no longer required.

One of the reasons for the slow-down in throughput was a shortage of several important spares. Totally ignorant of how the competition market worked, or the importance of an efficient ‘spares back-up’, the Stormer spares provisioning had been calculated on the basis of a miserly 10 per cent. As any competitor knows a brand new two-stroke scrambler in its first season will digest several pairs of rings and pistons, plus cables, filters, footrests, mudguards, sprockets, and so on.

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Production AJS 37AT ‘Trials’ / 1969

The spares shortage was definitely inhibiting AJS sales. Greeves, too, had recently launched the new steel-framed Griffon and were conducting an effective charm offensive on dealers, press and public alike. AJS listed about 20 active Stormer stockists, very few of whom were Greeves agents but, in them thar days, Greeves dealers had the best ‘handle’ on the market.

Luckily for AJS we had Fowlers of Bristol who, under the direction of Harold Fowler, ran an exemplary operation and were by far our largest customer.

AJS nonetheless were receiving bad press because our star rider, Malcolm Davis, had fallen out with Peter Inchley. There were also rumours about the new 370cc Stormer, scheduled for 1970. Human nature being what it is, there were already a handful of dealers saying “…we’ll not take any further stock until the new model is available”.

1969 AJS 250 cc Dutch rider Henk Vosters

Henk Vosters / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1969

All these factors combined to make the first few months at AJS fairly challenging but, undeterred, I rushed around extinguishing bush fires, endeavouring to gee up the clique of complacent managers at Villiers, who were in a position to produce the relevant spares…becoming highly unpopular in the process. Sensibly enough we arranged a Stormer track test by former World Champion Jeff Smith in Motorcyclist Illustrated; his writings were widely followed in the off-road arena. His sample spin on the Stormer was very positive, and helped sales considerably.

Ake Tornblom Sweden 1970 001

Ake Tornblom / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970

During the Stormers two-year development period Norton Villiers AJS division had never attempted to cultivate the specialist press, unlike Greeves who for years had been on friendly terms with every key journalist. This reflected in the coverage AJS were able to achieve in either of the weeklies, or the odd monthly; it was the age-old question of good PR and personal contact, rather than any sums spent on advertising.

Despite a miniscule budget John McDermott maintained an excellent relationship with the media for Norton, but no one in the company seemed to realise that the AJS Stormer was consistently under-promoted.

Acknowledgement: Kappa – Classic Bikes – 2013

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AJS Y4 and AJS Y5 ‘Scrambler’ Advertising / 1969


31. Thruxton Airfield


In the summer of 1969, I had an extremely pleasurable visit to the Norton Villiers factory in Andover in the company of the firm’s managing director, Dennis Poore.

I received a first hand look at the shiny, spanking new assembly plant and the new production AJS Stormer 250cc and 370cc moto-cross bikes.

The 250cc machine will be available next month in the US, and the 370cc will not be far behind.

I had an opportunity to ride both versions on the neat little circuit behind the race development shop, not far from the main factory, on the Thruxton racetrack.

I had a lot of fun thrashing the 250cc moto-cross machine around the track, before handing it over to AJS’s sensational Andy Roberton to demotrate what it could do, and I can’t remember seeing anyone throw a motocycle through the air, any further, or any higher.

John Player Norton Workshops Thruxton

Norton Villiers then wheeled out their wild, Norton Commando 750cc production road-racer and invited me to take a lap or two around the smooth, Thruxton racetrack.

Norton Villiers factory rider Peter Williams showed me the ropes, then quickly pulled me off, when it became apparent that I was still a bit rusty, my broken ankle had left me a little out of practice, and this machine is fast, very fast.

Norton Villiers have assembled quite an impressive team of riders, engineers and mechanics, they are young and eager, and extremely capable.

Under Chief Development Engineer, Peter Inchley, and Competition Team Manager, ‘Fluff’ Brown, they have built up this moto-cross team in a remarkably short time.

Andy Roberton and Malcolm Davis have now been joined by Swede, Bengt-Arne Bonn, who is already touring in the Inter-Am Series, to complete the AJS moto-cross team.

Peter Williams handles the road racing tasks, while overall supervision of racing and engineering is by famed designer Alex Issogonis, the Norton Villiers Engineering Director, along with Bob Trigg, who now also works on the Norton’s development program.

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Michel Combes / AJS Stormer 250cc / Motocross 500cc Champion de France 1969

We were treated royally by the Norton Villiers public relations man, John McDermott, skeptics about England’s motorcycling future will do well to take another look at what is going on around these workshops in Andover, the Norton Villiers crew are all enthusiasts, as well as being very talented engineers.

The Norton Villiers racing department, who are responsible for these incredible machines, is housed in old buildings, left over from the Second World War, and several of them still contain relics from those dangerous times.

The circuit was a USAAF airfield and it has a Hurricane parked at the gates, as a memorial, to those airmen who for a short while, called this home.

The perimeter road is now the circuit and this is where the aircraft were dispersed, for safety, during those war years, it was also an assembly point for gliders before the invasion of Europe.

When the Norton Villiers team first moved in, pin-ups of Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable were still decorating the drab concrete walls, but despite this basic habitation, in a very short time, these guy’s have built the AJS Stormer into a serious World contender.

It’s the new excitement around here, and it has made many of us old-timer’s, very happy to see those beloved initials, AJS racing again

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Bengt-Arne Bonn / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1969


32. Peter Williams


The development of the two-stroke engine was moving forward fast, on many fronts, and it was becoming difficult to extract more power from the Starmaker single to remain competitive in road racing, so from 1969, AJS concentrated on the development of the Starmaker, for the Y4 Scrambler.

Peter Inchley retired from racing and took on the role of Competitions Manager. He had eventually produced 40bhp, from the Starmaker, in its ultimate guise, and had given the early water-cooled Yamaha twins, a good run for their money.  

Now his main interest was with the Norton Team, at Thruxton, and he concentrated on the race development of the Norton Commando, whilst the Starmaker engined AJS Y4 Scrambler was to go on, to perform admirably under Fluff Brown.

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Peter Williams / Norton Villiers Performance Shop Ltd / Thruxton Airfield

But this was a time when Peter Inchley became frustrated, he had to learn to rely on others to do things, which he thought he could do better himself, he had lost his freedom, he was now working in the more restrictive corporate world, of Norton Villiers.

He still took the chance to take the bikes out for testing and development, and after a decade of racing, there was bound to be a few spills. He had been put in the back of an ambulance once with a broken bone, only to fight his way out, past the medics, and walk away whilst feigning perfect health. He also dropped the Norton Commando, at Thruxton, whilst testing with Peter Williams, he was going into the Chicane and he instictively put his hand up to protect his precious pudding basin helmet. The top of his middle left finger was taken clean off, by track abrasion, his remedy, tissue paper, and white masking tap, his work though was to leave a lasting legacy.

By now Peter Williams had come to work with Peter Inchley, and in time he was destined to also become a true champion He was highly regarded by British motorcycle fans, because he too, was a race winner. It may also have been in part, because he chose to stay with a British Motorcycle firm, striving to remain competitive against the onslaught of Japanese manufacturers, which had substantially more power.

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John Player Norton / 1973

His father was Jack Williams, who had been in charge of the AMC race department.

He had told Peter he could go racing, when he could afford to pay for it. Peter first rode an AJS 250cc supplied by Tom Arter and partnered Tony Wood to victory in the 1964 Lightweight Class of the Thruxton 500. This earnt him a ride on Paul Dunstalls’ Domi Racer, at the 1965 IOM TT, however it blew up on the first lap. For 1966, Tom Arter took Peter under his wing, and Peter became one of Britains best short circuit scratchers.

He turned down a factory ride for MZ that year, and for several years in the late 60’s Peter raced Toms G50 powered “special” framed bike. Known as the “Arter” Matchless”, the frame originally started off as a sister frame to a “Surtees” 7R Special, but was remodelled over time in larger diameter Reynolds tubing, and was refined in many other subtle ways.

Peter was already experimenting, by reducing frontal fairing area, and maximising engine cooling with the use of cooling ducts, within the fairing space. By a process of continuous refinement, and exceptional riding ability, Peter was able to keep up with and occasionally beat Agostini, on his works MV.

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Peter Williams / John Player Norton / IOM 1973

The high spot of the 1966 season was his second place to Giacomo Agostini, who was riding a works MV Augusta, Peter was later to come second to Agostini three times in Senior TT’s, he notes dryly, that on the only occasion that he beat Agostini, Agostini fell off!

Peter was second in the Senior TT in 1967 and led the World Championship for five weeks with other second places, but a major crash at the East German GP put him out for the rest of the season. He still managed to finish fourth in the World Championship though.

So Peter was already well known when he joined the Norton Villiers Performance Shop, part time, in 1968.

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Peter Williams / Matchless Arter / 1969

Peter won the 500cc British Championship in 1970, on the Arter Matchless. Whilst he was working for Peter Inchley, at Norton Villiers, he had joined on the understanding, that he would be employed as a rider, as well as in the drawing office, during the day, he worked on the Norton Commando and in the evenings, he worked on the Arter Matchless.

Finally Peter Inchley decided to have one last ride, he left Norton Villiers early in 1971 and returned to racing, in the British 125cc Championships, he came second to Barry Sheene, on an ex-works MZ, the rest is history, he went on to develop the first 500cc water-cooled Suzuki, he was an exceptional development engineer and an extraordinary racing talent.

Frank Perris, then took over Peter Inchley’s legacy at Norton Villiers Performance Shop, and worked to obtain sponsorship from John Player’s for the Norton, and the team went on to develop a full F750 racer, on which, Peter Williams later won the F750 TT, at the Isle of Man.

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AJS Stormer 250cc Y4 & 370cc Y5 Leaflet / 1969


33. AJS Stormer Motocross Pair


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 Andy Roberton / AJS Stormer 370cc / 1970

After intensive prototype testing and for the last few months of 1969, with Andy Roberton riding the new model at motocross meetings, the AJS 370cc Y5 is now in production. The established AJS 250cc Y4, updated to include a number of modifications, goes forward as the Mark II version. 

Both are powered by the AJS single-cylinder, two-stroke Stormer engines which represent the latest stage of development of a unit, which started life in 1962 as the Villiers Starmaker. There remains a faint family likeness, but the AJS engineers are quick to point out that, since the original Starmaker was announced, over 300 improvements have been made.

The Y5 and Y4 are identical in most respects. However, cylinder bore sizes are 83mm for the 370cc and 68mm for the 250cc, carburettor choke sizes are 34mm and 32mm and the exhuast expansion chambers differ in volume.

Quick identification point is that the two-gallon, glass-fibre fuel tank is coloured yellow on the Y5 and orange on the Y4.

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 Andy Roberton / AJS Stormer 370cc / 1970

The engine is of straightforward, robust design. A crankshaft with full-circle flywheels runs on two roller bearings in the high-grade, light-alloy crankcase, cast with extensive ribbing at the bearing housing to ensure adequate support. Crankshaft sealing is by means of spring-loaded, garter-type seals. The stroke for both engines is 68mm.

New for this year are the massively finned, light-alloy cylinder and head, as used last year on only the factory Grand Prix models and the machines exported to California.

Another change is a more robust connecting rod to cope with the increased power and permit the same bottom half to be used for both capacities. The rod runs on a caged, needle-roller big-end bearing and a plain bearing at the little-end.

A spun-cast, austenitic-iron liner, which has an expansion rate only fractionally less than that of the light-alloy, is fitted in the cylinder. The cylinder head has a squish band and a centrally located spark plug.

Compression ratio is 11 to 1, as compared with 12.3 to 1 used on the 250cc last year. Combined with the larger fin area for the cylinder and head, this ratio reduction gives a lower working temperature and, as a result, peak power is maintained for longer periods. 

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 Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970

The gravity die-cast, light-alloy Hepolite piston has two cast-iron rings, and circlips to locate the gudgeon pin. Carburation is by an Amal Concentric breathing through a large-capacity, impregnated-paper filter mounted on the left side beneath the seat.

The exhaust system is a push fit in the port and is retained by frame attachments. A chromium-plated heat shield protects the rider’s legs. Ignition is by energy transfer, with the flywheel generator on the right end of the crankshaft and an external, 6volt Siba coil mounted under the seat.

To withstand exceptionally harsh gear changing, the selector fork pins engaging with the cam drum are high-tensile steel. A duplex primary chain drives the all-metal diaphragm-spring clutch.

The frame has, as its main stress member, a fabricated, tapered steel spine extending rearward from the steering head. A duplex, tubular frame suspended from the main member serves only to retain the power unit. Engine mountings and attachment points for the rear-suspension units are strengthened to make the frame suitable for both engines.

Rear chain setting is made by adjustment at the rear fork pivot. The pivot spindle is located by metal discs, each with an eccentrically positioned hole.

To exclude mud and water from the 5inch diameter brake drums, each shoeplate has a peripheral groove locating a cast-iron ring, which bears on the edge of the steel brake liner.

On the test track, with the ground frozen solid, the conditions could have been better for galloping a pair of motocross machines, such as these competition Ajays, across the icy surface, but there was no choice.

Both bikes, handled perfectly, you could confidently ride them zestfully anywhere and the power could be controlled to a nicety, it speaks volumes for their design.

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 Andy Roberton / AJS Stormer 370cc / USA / 1970

Although their power characteristics are similar, there was no doubting which was the 370cc. Opening the throttle produced a steady increase in purposeful surge right through the full range.

There was no sudden arrival into the power band, which could of spelt more than excitement on the slippery surfaces.

The gearbox was a delight to use. The all-metal clutch took upto the drive smoothly and positively. Once the machine was under way it was not needed, for the cogs could be changed in either direction with just a flick of the pedal.

Roger Harvey 1970 Cadwell Park TV

Roger Harvey / AJS Stormer 250cc / Cadwell Park TV / 1970

The 7inch travel of the two-way damped AJS telescopic front forks, and the damping of the adjustable Girling rear suspension units, produced handling which, even under the borderline conditions gave me enough confidence to rush across the frozen ruts and aviate both models off the jumps, it quickly become, pure enjoyment.

This colourful pair, come in at a keen price, and there is little doubt, in my mind, that they are due to become, a hit on our circuits as well.

Colin Hill Northampton 1970

Colin Hill / Northampton / 1970


34. Davis and Roberton / 1970


The AJS Stormer by 1970, had over its first three years, achieved two, second places and one first place, in the British Motocross Championship.

Malcolm Davis was now 26, and he had returned to the AJS Competition Team at Thruxton, his teammate for the season would be Andy Roberton, both racing the Mark II Stormer, which had gone through a thorough testing and reliability program.

In March, they took their machines and immediatly won first and second places in the 250 Grandstand Trophy at Dodington Park, with his smooth riding style, Malcolm would achieve second place overall in the competition, again an excellent start.

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Joel Robert / Suzuki 250cc / 1970

His next race was the Spanish GP, he was up against Joel Robert, riding a Suzuki, and this is when we should remember, Ernst Degner and Walter Kaaden, this was the first GP victory for a Japanese motocross machine.  

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 Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970

In June the British Motocross Championship started at Tilton, Davis won the first round, with Andy coming second. In the second round Davis won the race, lapping everyone up to sixth place, it was a very clear demonstration of his skill, and the performance of the AJS Stormer.

He went on, he injured himself in the Dodington GP, but it didn’t stop him, and in the next round of the British Championship at Carlton Bank, he won both rounds. At Cuerden Park, again he dominated both races, and achieved a record six consecutive wins, Bryan Wade’s Greeves was now experiencing those Motocross Gremlins, it had seized up in both rounds.

Then came the final round of the Championship, it was in Berkshire at Beenham Park, Davis led from the beginning, he was clear and out front. He then to everyones amazement, dropped, or ‘layed down’ his bike, on the final corner, this meant Andy Roberton, his teammate came second in the Championship.

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Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970

An astonishing teammate moment, they had set the field alight and the AJS Stormer was now a true, race proven, multiple Championship winning, motocross thoroughbred. Davis and his AJS Stormer could of clearly won, every race that year.

A one-two in the British Motocross Championship though, was an incredible result, ‘Fluff’ Brown and his team, had built, their ultimate Motocross machine, and little did they know how important an achievement it was, the last British 250, to ever win the series. In 1975 the rules were changed and the British Motocross Championship becomes a single event.  

Acknowledgement: Out Front – Ian Berry – 2011.

 British Motocross Championship – 1970            

  1. Malcolm Davis         AJS Stormer
  2. Andy Roberton       AJS Stormer
  3. Jeff Smith                 BSA


British Champions / Andy Roberton, Malcolm Davis, Fluff Brown and Nick Brown / 1970

Andy would go on to become Champion in 1972, riding for Husqvarna, and Malcolm, riding a Bultaco Pursang, with its Rickman Metisse based frame, would become Champion again in 1973, the two machines dominated the event until 1975.

Vic Eastwood won the final round at Beenham Park, this was Vic’s first win after two years on the sideline, after breaking his leg. This was actually good for the AJS Competition Team, because their interests had now shifted, after losing Peter Inchley, they wanted to take on a new challenge, the 500cc events, and they needed a new development rider, and engineer, and he had the experience and skills that they required.

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Malcolm Davis / British Champion / AJS Stormer 250cc Poster / 1970


35. AJS Stormer 250cc Y40

AJS Stormer 250 Y40 (US. Y40 1970, Y41 1971)


The Y40 is a New Dirt Racer, Built to Revive an Old Name. It is Definitely British in Concept, and it has, “What It Takes”.

The brooding face of Saddleback Park’s infamous “Matterhorn” hillclimb stared down at the lightweight 250cc two-stroke, irritatingly blatting its exhaust notes off the surrounding canyon walls, AJS works rider Bengt-Arne Bonn looked nervously up the forbidding 60-degree slope.

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Bengt Arne Bonn / Thruxton / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970

Then in a shower of sand and rocks, the Swede charged up the slippery approach with the front wheel clawing in the air, the bike quickly reached the final 20 feet of sheer rock.

Without hesitation, the astounding unity of man and machine cleared the summit, the first official and successful attempt by a 250cc machine in the parks history.

This was our introduction to the all-new motocross machine, the Cycle World test staff, it was an explosive tribute to a motorcycle that is the revival of the AJS name, and at last is being offered to the privateer.

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 AJS Stormer 250cc Y40 Advertising / 1970

Norton Villiers developed the AJS Y40 with one purpose in mind; build a machine to win motocross events. Utilizing the advice of the firm’s young engineers, they set out to achieve their goal.

This project had to be new from the ground up; no makeshift rebuild of an existing model would be competitive against the machinery currently available. Engine development was the first step; without a robust powerplant the new machine wouldn’t stand a chance.

The goal was a two-stroke with lots of power, with the broad torque curve necessary for the rigors of motocross.

Requirements for this type of performance are met with the AJS 250’S single cylinder engine unit. A square bore/stroke dimension is used, which is not in keeping with previous British practice of small bore-long stroke engines.

To gain the needed horsepower, the engine would have to work at a greater rpm. Long strokes and high crankshaft speeds have never been beneficial to engine life, thus the reason for the square dimensions incorporated in the engine design.

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Cast aluminium crankcases are amply webbed for strength, and split vertically to reveal a full circle flywheel assembly.

Clearance between the inner crankcase cavity wall and the outside of the flywheels is kept to an absolute minimum to insure maximum fuel charge through the transfer ports and into the combustion chamber.

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AJS Stormer 250cc Y40 / 1970

Flywheel halves are fully machined, and the crank mainshafts are integral for added rigidity of the crankshaft assembly. The big-end crankpin is pressed into the flywheel halves, and acts as the inner race for the con-rod rollers. Large roller main bearings are used on the mainshafts.

Four studs, originating in the crankcases, pass up through the conventionally ported aluminium cylinder and through the cylinder head. Two additional small studs are used to attach the head to the cylinder. This is done to minimize distortion at the cylinder head joint.

The piston is supported on the small end of the rod by a bronze bushing, which seems curious. As this area of mechanical stress is subject to intense heat and friction, a needle bearing in this location – common two-stroke practice these days – would seem more appropriate.

A flywheel magneto, located on the right side of the crankcase, provides ignition. The points and condenser are accessible under an inspection cover on the outside of the magneto flywheel cover.

This is handy for timing checks, as the points, are actuated by a cam on the outer end of the crank, and you don’t have to peer into a small slot in the magneto flywheel to check the point gap.

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On the left side of the engine, an aluminium cover, houses the primary drive and clutch assembly. Power is transmitted to the clutch by a Reynolds duplex roller chain. A single diaphragm type clutch spring applies pressure to the all-metal clutch plates.

At this point it is worthy to mention that it is not good practice to hold the clutch lever in for more than a few moments at a time. The friction caused by the slipping clutch will cause the metal plates to heat up and swell, thus making gear changes hard and neutral almost impossible to find. If the clutch is used as intended rather than a substitute for neutral, everything works fine.

Transmission design is conventional, following tried and true British practice. The mainshaft attaches to the clutch centre hub, and passes into the separate gearbox case. Spacing of the four ratios is close; to suit the engine’s torque curve and the type of events the machine will be used in.

The shift pattern is an upward pull of the lever to engage low, with the remaining three on the down stroke, and neutral between low and second. It would be preferable if the pattern were reversed, with a downshift required for low. It is much easier to step down to engage a low gear while bouncing over rough ground. Otherwise, the gearbox was terrifically smooth, allowing shifts without the use of the clutch.

To prove they had built a stout engine and gearbox, the power plant was first fitted to a road racing chassis, and entered in various club and national events throughout England.

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Different exhaust lengths, port timing, carburetor sizes, and tuning methods were tried until the desired power and reliability had been achieved. Frame, forks and wheels had to be designed with lightweight and maximum strength the keynote.

The Norton Commando frame met the basic requirements, so a scaled down version was assembled by the Reynolds Metal Tubing Company, using 531 steel alloys, one of the strongest available. A large diameter, thin wall tube makes up the backbone, while smaller duplex tubes cradle the engine-gearbox unit. Diagonal tubes form a triangle to join the main top tube with the duplex cradle members, and provide additional strength between the steering head area and the swinging arm pivot point.

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 Position of frame number

Reynolds 531 is also used for the swinging arm. Flat plates, welded to the duplex tubes that cradle the engine, spread out the stress of the pivot area. Rear chain adjustment is carried out Rickman Metisse style, but with a minor variation. The eccentric discs don’t have to be changed as on the Metisse, only rotated to give the desired slack in the rear chain. This method eliminates adjustment at the rear wheel, and assures a more rigid wheel to swinging arm attachment, while sprocket-to-chain alignment is held constant.

Wheels and forks are AJS’s own design, and show thought, as well as quality in their construction. Conical hubs riding on sealed ball bearings carry the load, while 5-inch diameter brake drums on both wheels do a good job of stopping the machine. Bigger brakes would be an unnecessary weight, and might prove harmful on the slippery surfaces of a motocross course. Impact resisting steel rims are spoked to the hubs. The fork stanchion tubes are chromed, and slide freely in aluminium lower legs. Internal springs work evenly throughout 7-inch of travel. Damping is on the stiff side, but does provide a stable feeling over the rough. There is no rebound “klunk” or bottoming out when landing hard.

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A colour impregnated orange gas tank gives the Ajay a functional look. It is narrow and gives the rider good knee grip to control the machine. The gas cap is the flip-top variety, and would occasionally pop open at the wrong time, allowing fuel to slosh out. Peter Inchley, the AJS Competition Manager, has assured us that the cap was being changed to eliminate the problem.

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The black vinyl cloth covered seat is comfortable and well placed, allowing the rider to shift his weight to and fro for better traction at the rear, or to keep the front wheel from getting to close to the vertical point. Both fenders are aluminium, and do a minimal job of keeping the mud off the rider. The rear is rubber mounted, while the front is attached to a spring steel brace that is bolted to the lower fork yoke.

The one-piece exhaust/pipe/expansion chamber unit is also rubber mounted, and self-locking nuts are used throughout to attach various components. Foot-pegs are aluminium alloy, and are adjustable for height by rotating them on a splined shaft. They also fold, and have a flat steel spring to return them to their original position should a stray immovable object be encountered. The controls all work nicely, although the aluminium clutch and front brake levers are stiff and thus prone to break easily, don’t keep their clamps to tight.

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When AJS had a complete machine, British motocross star Malcolm Davis was selected to give the new model a go. He satisfied the firm by taking the British 250 Motocross Championship in 1968, the Y40’s first season of competition.

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So the new Ajay two-stroke has already proved it has all the necessary ingredients to make it a successful motocross machine.

The engine is functional and performs well. Starting was never a problem. Even when it was loaded up by using the wrong gear and too much throttle, two or three kicks would bring it back to life.

The power curve is mild and there is never a feeling that a sudden burst will make the machine unmanageable. The Y40 does possess a creditable amount of torque for a 250, as shown by pulling it up the “Matterhorn”. It is very easy to overrun the engine’s torque peak without knowing it. This just wastes the usefulness of its pulling power, and prematurely wears the internals out.

Best results are gained in performance by shifting to a higher gear early, and letting the engine pull. This riding technique gives more traction and makes handling easier.

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AJS Stormer 250cc Y40 / 1970

Suspension, front and rear, is one of the finer points of the machine. The forks allow the rider to maintain control without the fear of the bars being pulled from his hands. Bumps and ruts are navigated with minimum effort, and suspension movement during both compression and rebound is smooth and consistent.

The rear dampers allow just a hair more travel than was apparently foreseen in the placement of the rear frame loop, for the rear wheel rubs the fender slightly when landing hard. A logical remedy here would be to bend the rear frame loop upwards slightly allowing a higher position for the fender.

At any rate, the rubbing effect is hardly perceivable to the rider, and it certainly didn’t prevent Davis from winning that British title! The Ajay has a feeling of neutrality about it, something like a tree branch that springs back to its original position when bent.

When getting out of shape over rocks and bumps, the Y40 would return to the stable position it held previously.

This is not to say one cannot fall off, but the Ajay does try to keep its wheels on the ground, even when the rider is doing his best (or worst) to counteract the machines built in stability.

Weight distribution is in keeping with motocross tradition of having a light front end. It is possible to pull the front end up with the throttle, but the machine does not give the feeling that it wants to go over backwards.

Success of the Y4 as a machine designed to win motocross races, has already been proven.

It has excellent geometry; predictable/effective suspension; robust engine and gearbox unit; and a generous power band.

Also on a more subjective level, the bike simply feels right.

If this seat of the pants experience informs us truthfully, the new AJS will do well.

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AJS Stormer 370cc Y50 Advertising / 1970

Basil Knight / 2019

All this is making the memory banks stir.
I’d forgotten how I came to be at Thruxton and it’s slowly coming back.
There was an advert in the Andover Advertiser for a mechanic in the AJS scrambles team.
I applied and went to North Way where the Norton factory was for an interview.
Dave Joyce interviewed me after I had filled in an application form which asked what I had been doing etc. Dave said that they were also looking for a draughtsman and was I interested seeing as I had the training etc.
I then went to NVPS at Thruxton to be interviewed by Arthur Harris.
I was offered the job on £25 per week drawing up everything that didn’t have a drawing, but was being made anyway.
I drew up all the extras that were used on the Commando Production Racers, which were made in the top workshop. The AJS team were in the middle of the building, and 2 main riders were in and out on a weekly basis. They were Andy Roberton and Bengt Arne Bonn.


36. AJS Stormer 370cc Y50

AJS Stormer 370 Y50 (US. Y50 1970, Y51 1971)


Will the new AJS Stormer put Britain back again, as the top producer of Motocross iron?

A few years ago moto cross competition reached a fever pitch in Europe, just as interest in this sport was beginning to blossom in this country.

On the level the wins and championships were falling to the superior lightweight two-strokes of the Swedes, Czechs, Spanish and others. Initially known as scrambling in Europe, moto cross domination had been taken away overnight from the British machinery.

The four-stroke scramblers of AJS, Husqvarna, Triumph, Matchless, BSA, Norton and others had fallen into the background, lost in the dust of the domineering ring ding. Gone were those beautiful sounding four-strokers that were music to the ears of millions of European spectators for over a decade.

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Then one day in 1967 one of the British motorcycle weekly papers made mention of the secret development work being done by the AJS factory on a new motocrosser.

Without reading further, reminiscent thoughts of the old AJS singles came to mind.

But these were big heavy AJS and Matchless powered four-strokes, most of us had raced one of this at some time or other. Upon reading the content of the article we discovered that the British AJS works was developing a 250cc two-stroke for an attack on the international moto cross title.

In a little over a year from then an AJS Stormer 250cc, in the hands of Malcolm Davis had won the 1968 British Championship. No minor feat, considering the machine wasn’t even in production. With the British 250 Championship as a foundation, production of the Y-40 250cc Stormer commenced.

Now to expand their interests, the Norton/AJS factory has released the Y-50 370cc Stormer, for an attack on the 500 class. Having already tested the Y-40 version of the Stormer, we were in for a few surprises with the 370cc Y-50. Externally the Y-50 is identical to the 250 Stormer, except for the yellow, rather the orange gas tank.

As the photos show, the Y-50 Stormer is strictly business, and not one item is on the machine that doesn’t have a distinct purpose.

The only brightly painted item is the gas tank. Here we would of liked to have seen a little more effort put into applying the paint, but for a moto cross machine, that’s minor.

The overall quality and finish of the chasis, wheels, engine and suspension components, is very good. The welding of the tubular frame was apparently done with the close eye of the quality control department nearby.

The unusual construction of the frame with a large tapered top tube joining up to the double cradle design and 531 Reynolds tubing makes for a very strong structure.

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The engine and the bolt-together integral gearbox are identical to the 250cc unit, with the exception of the cylinder, piston, head and carburetor. The Y-50 engine has the same 68mm stroke as the 250cc, but the bore diameter has been increased from 68mm to 83mm, therefore bringing the displacement up to 368cc.

The cylinder head also has a larger combustion area, but retains the same compression ratio as the 250 at 11-1. To supply the increased thirst of the bigger Y-50 engine a 34mm Amal feeds the fuel and air to the 370cc unit.

The four-speed Villiers gearbox is also the same as used on the 250 mounts. Judging by the performance of the clutch and transmission, they both seem to be up to the demands of the Y-50 engine.

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As mentioned before, the engine/gearbox combination, are integral by benefit of bolting together rather than being cast together as one unit. The clutch is an, all metal plate unit that runs in a separate oil bath, and is driven from the engine via a chain.

The wheels and front suspension units, also both front and rear hubs, are cast and polished aluminum. They apparently provide minimum weight and maximum strength.

One thing that adds to the strength of the wheels is that they both use 40 spoke hubs and rims rather than the conventional 36-hole versions. Surprisingly, the AJS factory decided to design and build their own forks, this gave them full latitude in controlling the handling characteristics by being able to build the fork length and triple clamps to their own specifications.

Upon arriving at our favorite testing area, we ran into our first problem, before we even got the engine fired up. As it turned out it was to plague us for the rest of the day.

You can see in a profile view of the right side of the machine, the kick-start arm sits angled forward and tucked in close to the engine in its normal position.

First you have to reach down, pull out the footrest, then pull in the clutch, to free it from engine compression, and move it back far enough to get your foot on it to allow you to push it down.

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Then with a sharp downward thrust we took our first swipe at the kick arm, and then the trouble started. The kick arm only goes down a quarter of a revolution and stops very abruptly on the foot peg, this then lets your foot slip off the kick start and continue on down to the ground while the spring loaded arm comes back up the front side of your shin.

The worst part is trying to start the engine in this manner in the mud hole or on the side of a hill. Redesigning the kick arm or being able to move the foot peg out of the way would definitely be in order.

(Clearly no one had told them, that you could fold up the foot peg!)

We did finally get the engine started and discovered that it would fire very readily if you could only get more of a stroke on the kick arm. After taking the Y-50 for a short ride to clean it out, we found that it will sit and idle when warm like a well-mannered trail bike.

Yet the throttle response is quick, and brings the engine up to full revs almost immediately. When the machine is cold the clutch drags quite a bit, but as soon as it reaches operating temperature it’s smooth and easy to use, when necessary.

The throw of the shift arm is relatively short and the Villiers transmission pops into gear with a very positive action. Unless the rider makes a gross error it’s very difficult to ever miss a shift and go into a false neutral.

After the unit was warmed up we seldom found it necessary to use the clutch, except when you’re starting from a stop. You have to be firm and deliberate about shifting from one gear to another, for many a race has been lost by just missing one gear change.

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 AJS Stormer 370cc Y50 / 1970

The Y-50 engine is a very potent unit and feels to be every bit as strong as any other machine in its class. At first the power feels a little on the weak side, but this is due to the very broad power band. The engine pulls from about 2,500 rpm, but really runs best in the range from 3,500 to 7,000 rpm.

The power is smooth and almost absent of any sudden surge of speed. This in turn makes the use of the power very predictable and choosing the shifting sequence more positive for maximum acceleration.

There was one characteristic about the engine that was extremely bothersome, the vibration. The engine would pick up this vibration at about 4,500 and carry on going at an increasing rate to around 6,000 rpm.

The direction of the vibration seemed to be straight up and centred in the main tube under the seat and gas tank. The gas tank vibrated very severely. This also made it impossible to grasp the tank with your knees while riding. The seat also echoed the same resonance and made it extremely difficult to rest there for more than a few moments while accelerating.

The handlebars also transmit a good deal of the vibration to the riders hands, and the total combination makes a very difficult to stay aboard for more then twenty or thirty minutes without having to get off and rest. We would suspect that the combination of balance factor and the need for additional engine mounts lead to this vibration problem.

Regardless, it is a very irritating problem that should be corrected for a machine of this type.

The low saddle height, 30 inches, allows the rider, short or tall, to keep themselves in a position of absolute control whether standing or sitting. The location of the handlebars is just right for moto cross and most other types of off-road riding.

The location of the foot pegs is fine for most riders, though a taller man might want to lower them some. They are adjustable so this is no problem.

The handling of the Stormer is probably one of its finest attributes. Impeccable would be an appropriate term. The new Y-50 Stormer has superb handling qualities and it’s stable in even the most demanding of situations, regardless of the conditions.

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With the amount of power available the machine is extremely predictable and never once put us in a position of doubt.

We could come off a jump completely crossed up in mid air, yet each time the machine would land and track exactly where we wanted it to go. The only thing that deterred from the machines excellent handling qualities was the suspension units.

For some strange reason the Girling units on the rear came equipped with 110-pound springs.

These would be fine on one of the old 380 pound four-stroke Ajays, but 60/90 progressive or 88 pound straight wound items would be much more suitable for the lightweight Stormer.

Just about any time the rider desires, the front wheel can be lofted. Balance and weight distribution are excellent. Up front we found that the front forks were another item that could use some changes.

For the first thirty minutes of riding, until the forks had warmed up, the front felt like it was welded together and as rigid as a water pipe.

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When cold we could only get about two inches of travel action from the forks, but as the units warmed they loosened up and traveled their full stroke.

But strangely enough, after the forks warmed the damping action all but disappeared. Playing around with some other spring weights and different oils would be the answer here. A couple of nice features about the Stormer are the exhaust system and rear chain adjustment. The expansion chamber is very neatly tucked up and over the engine in a crossover fashion.

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This keeps the pipe from being in the vulnerable position under the engine and clear of the rider’s legs. The chain adjuster is a simple and sanitary excentric cam on each side of the swing arm bolt. Adjustment of the chain merely requires loosening a few nuts and moving the plate for proper adjustment.

The overall appearance and finishes are good. In appearance the new Y-50 is identical to the 250 Stormer except for the yellow gas tank. Traction at the rear is good, braking and stability, are very good.

The AJS factory has done an admirable job on the 370 Y-50 Stormer, in a short period of time. There are a few areas that could use a bit more tweaking to get all the performance and handling available, but these aren’t serious problems.

There has been a lot of testing and development work put into this machine and it could wellprove to be, Britain’s best moto crosser yet.

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Competition Shop / 1970


37. The Mexican Baja 1,000 mile Enduro


The BAJA 1000 race had been a great preparation for an attempt at the Enduro 1000 mile record. Kim Kimball had followed the same route as the race, so during the race he set a new record on his Montesa, and he had shaved an hour off the record set a year before by Dave Ekin on his Honda.

Mike Jackson of AJS had sponsored Douglas and Whitey in the BAJA 1000 Race on a specially prepared AJS Stormer 250cc Enduro, but early in the race Whitey crashed and knocked himself unconscious on a rock, their race was over. As the bike remained undamaged it was decided to take the opportunity to show what the Stormer could do, by attempting to beat the solo record, this December instead, and Doug Douglas was uninjured and ready to go.

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AJS Stormer 250cc BAJA Enduro / 1970

On this run there would be no NORRA fuel pits, check points or radio communication, so it was necessary to have an elaborate and well planned pitting operation. A light aircraft flown by Doug’s long time friend Larry Rose would provide the support required, along with preprepared storage dumps. The run began at a chilly 3am in Tijuana, where Doug sent a telegram to mark his time of departure. Doug found the morning run very cold and this slowed him down, his bulky cold weather clothing didn’t help.

After the first 225 mile section he shed his Belstaff riding pants, the gaunletted mittens and the leather jacket which he had been wearing under his Belstaff jacket, and continued. Next was 83 miles over the mountains, on the “Red Buff Road”, followed by the Chapuala Dry Lake bed, by the time he had finished these sections he had covered a straight 350 miles.

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Doug Douglas behind Whitney Gregory / BAJA 1000 / AJS Stormer 370cc / 1970

He had been hitting speeds of upto 75mph on the dry rutted roads, we caught up with him at a nasty little airfield called Punta Prietta, with food and fresh supplies, Larry gave the bike a thorough check over….   There was absolutely nothing to do.

At the halfway point, El Arco, the motor was running a little rough so here Larry cleaned the points and I changed the plug. Doug had a cigarette and some milk, his standard rest fair, he was relaxed and bang on schedule, next was a long daylight stint across the desert.

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Douglas enjoys a smoke while support pilot Larry Rose checks over the bike

Then into the night he rode, we couldn’t follow with the plane in the dark, so we flew on to the finish, through the gnawing chill of dawn he rode, accompanied only by the singing exhaust and his thoughts of the outcome. Then disaster, he got lost in the wilderness, he was beginning to suffer from the effects of fatigue. Everybody, including Doug himself, had felt that with good fortune and his extensive desert enduro experience, he might be able to shave up to an hour off the solo motorcycle record of 38 hours 54 minutes.

So when on that cold morning he finally rode into the seaport town of La Paz in an incredible display of combined determination, skill and machine performance, he was surprised himself, he had smashed a colossal 11 hours 39 minutes off the month-old record, reducing it to 27 hours 15 minutes.

At La Paz, Doug said, “It was a hard run for me and the Ajay, but it could have gone on a lot further”.

Again, he had proven that the AJS Stormer was the motorcycle with that get up and go, and will be perfect for Desert Racing or getting out with friends on the weekend, it’s a very exciting off-road machine. Before this, Malcolm Davis and Andy Roberton on Stormers were first and second in the 1970 British Motorcross 250cc Championship. So the machine has been perfected by constant top class competition, the Stormer is a winner in every sense of the word.

Modifications to the original AJS Stormer 250cc included Akront rims, Koni shocks, Lucas lights, Alloy tank and more padding to the seat, “What an Enduro”.

Norton Villiers dealership Padova, Italy

NV Dealership

Larry Smith 001

Larry Smith 002

Larry Smith 003

Larry Smith / AJS Stormer 250cc / Californian Desert


38. AJS Stormer Y41 and Y51 / 1971


For during most of the fifties AJS ruled the off-road scene with an iron fist that would only sporadically relax to let an occasional stranger through.

Suggested modifications from American competitors was immediately evaluated and acted upon to keep the initials of the founder, A.J.Stevens, out front.

The big black four-stroke singles reigned supreme. Then politics, changes, adversities and the arrival of a new big bore two-stroke challenger from Sweden…. end of an era.

Now reorganized under a more powerful parent company, Manganese Bronze Holdings Ltd., the Ajay flags are flying high again, and although their lusty thumpers have given way to a pair of two-strokes half their size, the AJS Stormer 250 and 370, the expertise remains.

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For, as in days of old, AJS is shot with executives brought up from the ranks of competition, men equipped to evaluate in-the-field suggestions on the spot. Engineer Bob Trigg, who designed not only the AJS but the Norton Commando as well, is a superb road rider and former Gold Star competitor.

His projects are tested by Norvill Performance Shop Manager Peter Inchley, ex-British road racing champ who lapped the Isle of Man at over 90 mph on a 250cc Villiers special, the forerunner of the AJS Stormer.

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The affairs on this side of the pond, are tended to by an astoundingly talented, double-threat man, by the name of Mike Jackson, former off-road racer and member of the Greeves factory trials team.

While Mike manages the seven Western states, including Alaska and Hawaii, for the parent company in London, the Eastern distribution is handled by, the Berliner Motor Corp, owned by Joe Berliner.

The team makes no bones about it: chassis performance is their forte, for with engine power already beyond the limits of human ability, only handling and durability will determine the off-road winners of tomorrow.  

And tomorrow is what it really is for AJS, for their present duo of two-strokes made their first debut in 1969 in Europe, sweeping first and second places immediately thereafter in the hard fought British Motocross Championship in 1970, with Malcolm Davis and Andy Roberton at the bars.  

It is basically the same machine offered for public purchase today. What is the future of AJS in the critically priced market ahead?

With their wealth of information based on past racing experience and present performance, it should be bright.

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Parts availability is reportedly 99 percent and out-priced only by Yamaha; an Ajay piston sells for $19.48. Growing dealerships are nevertheless selective; since the Stormers are strictly dirt machines, each dealer must be off-road oriented, and not necessarily a brother Norton agent.

Although warranties are difficult to offer on a competition bike, AJS has stood by legitimate claims to date, admittedly few. Priced at $1075 and $1245 respectively, for the 250 and 370 versions, the Ajays are from $15 to $70 less expensive than their most costly competitor.

Still more expensive than some, the Stormer offers uniqueness in its huge-diameter, thin walled, single-backbone frame, eccentric spindle swing arm adjustment, full needle roller gearbox and ease of maintenance. It is a beautifully made, and excitingly different looking machine, with the accent on rideability; the 250 being ideal for steady racers and the 370 for supermen only.  

It’s no secret; they’re after Husqvarna.

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AJS Stormer 250cc Championship Replica Advertising / 1971

Ironically both fielded championship caliber, big displacement four-strokes only a few years ago, with AJS having the upper hand. Now they’re at each other’s throats again – same environment, different weapon, the two-stroke – and AJS is the under-dog.  

Can they roll the big Swede over on his back?

AJS Stormer 250cc 1971 002

AJS Stormer 250cc 1971 001

AJS Stormer 250cc Y41 / 1971

AJS 370 001

AJS 370 002

AJS Stormer 370cc Y51 / 1971


39. AJS Stormer 410cc Grand Prix


 AJS are to produce a batch of 30 hand-built Stormer Grand Prix 410’s, the biggest scrambles two-stroke’s ever marketed by a British manufacturer.

They will also sell 20 hand-built 250’s, named the Championship Replica’s in honour of the success of Malcolm Davis in the 1970 British title series.

The factory has reached a capacity of 410cc on the new Grand Prix by lengthening the stroke of their 370cc engine from 68mm to 74.5mm. The cylinder bore stays at 83mm, so the actual capacity is 406cc, but a one mm oversize piston raises it to 414cc.

Both the 410 Grand Prix and the 250 Championship Replica’s share certain improvements and modifications.

The up-and-over exhaust system of the production machines is replaced by a new unit, which passes beneath the engine.

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AJS Stormer 410cc Grand Prix / Thruxton Comp Shop / 1971

“It means that only one right angle bend is needed in the pipe, and it gives an increase in torque,” said Nor-Vil chief designer Peter Inchley.

Frames will be formed of bronze-welded Reynolds 531 tubing and polished alloy fuel tanks will replace the standard glass fibre component, although the shape is similar.

Other improvements include alloy rims, high tensile handlebars, skimmed hubs, nylon lined control cables, and also the cylinder barrels are painted black.

“These special bikes will be taken from the factory at Wolverhampton to our Norton Villiers Performance Shop, stripped, bored and then rebuilt by the people who build the works scramblers at Andover.”

“Each engine will be put on the test bed and it will not be passed unless it exceeds our minimum power requirement, the 410 should give five bhp more than a 370, with a considerable increase in torque.”


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AJS Stormer 410cc Grand Prix Advertising / 1971

The factory hopes that Andy Roberton and Malcolm Davis will race the bike, named the 410 Grand Prix, for the first time at the BBC Grandstand International scramble on February 13th (MCN 6TH January 1971).

Vic Eastwood, one of the most respected names in British moto cross, has joined AJS as a development engineer and works rider.

The surprise move comes only weeks after the departure of Peter Inchley and their British riders, Andy Roberton who has gone to ride for BSA, and Malcolm Davis who has returned to Bultaco (MCN 24TH February 1971).

Eastwood, aged 29, has raced works Husqvarnas for three years. He previously rode for BSA and Matchless.

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 Vic Eastwood AJS Stormer 410cc / Thruxton / 1971

He won admiration for his fight back from a crippling injury in 1968, when he smashed his kneecap, he has been a professional freelance scrambler since he quit his permanent job with the former AMC factory team at Plumstead.

He said, “My job is not necessarily to win races, but to develop the new AJS 410 Grand Prix, through to production.”

Eastwood made his AJS debut in the Belgian International on his Stormer 250 on Sunday, he retired from the first race with engine trouble, but managed to fixed it for the second race were he managed to still come fifth, even after falling off.

He will contest the British Championships, some Continental meetings, and an autumn series in America later this year on the production prototype for the 410cc Stormer.

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AJS Stormer 410cc production version / 1971


40. Saddleback Showdown / AJS Stormer 410cc


The production version of the AJS 410cc Stormer is due for its debut at the Racing and Sporting Motorcycle Show in January 1972, and this new model will supersede the previous 370cc version. So Vic Eastwood gave it a final shakedown before its public review, here, in the November sun, in Irvine, California, at Saddlleback Mountain.

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Vic Eastwood / Newbury 1971 / ericmiles47

The AJS works rider, blitzed all comers at the CMC’s 500 Experts, riding this very fast and functional looking motocross machine. Vic cruised around the Saddleback course with an inspired Dave Smith dancing in his shadow. In all three motos, Eastwood won the drag race to the top of the start hill. In the first moto his quick lead allowed him to spend the first couple of laps learning the berms and ruts created by the earlier 250’s in their ten races.

Morris Malone on his AJS 370cc, held second place, with Smith just keeping up in third.

Then, Smith, Open Class winner at last weeks CMC, made his move on his Maico during the third lap. He shot past Malone and set his sights on Eastwoods thirty-yard advantage. On the last lap Smith put on a super burst of speed and almost caught Eastwood. Dave’s challenge didn’t catch Eastwood off-guard though, the NV Ace countered by teaching Smith the art of the 180-degree turn.

The second moto saw Eastwood slide gracefully through the first cormer into a precarious lead. Smith was hot on his heels with his Maico flat out, and Feet’s wasn’t far behind on his hungry Husky. Dave passed Eastwood as they headed for the Liveoak Grove Switchback, and gained about a ten-yard lead over the Englishman as they left the bend.

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After two unsuccessful chess moves, Eastwoods Ajay lived up to its name, and stormed past Smith after hitting the throttle early, out of the bend the next time round, Smiths Maico had nothing left and Vic drove the lead home.

Eastwood then encored the first two races, in the final, his machine leaving the others, humbled, by its superiority, combined with Eastwoods masterful riding. They had shown us Americans, “how”, the general consensus of opinion at the end, was that this machine,

“Is just a tad, faster…. “


41. AJS Stormer 410cc


Former Grand Prix rider Vic Eastwood, one of the most respected names in British Moto cross has signed on at AJS as permanent works development rider, and in fact is now the only full works rider the company uses in Europe.

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Freddie Mayes, Malcolm Davis, Andy Roberton, Chris Horsfield, Brian Goss and Dick Clayton have all come and gone, and Vic has been left to develop the new AJS Grand Prix.

Launched this year the production AJS 410 Stormer is the largest two-stroke scrambler the firm has ever produced. The 410’s actual size is 406cc, and the engine is derived from the original double British Championship winning 250cc machine.

The 250 Stormer, which continues in production into 1972, has bore and stroke dimensions of 68mm x 68mm. The 370 Stormer, the first 500cc Class model, obtained its capacity by being bored out to 83mm. Now this bore size has been retained, but the stroke has been lengthened to 74.5mm.

The engine breathes through a 34mm Amal carburetor, compression ratio is 10.75 to 1 and the ignition is by a flywheel magneto. It is entirely to AJS’s credit that they have declined to enter the verbal horsepower race so popular with other manufacturers. If every moto cross bike pushed out as much power as some factories claim, they would be fast enough to take the front line at Daytona. The trend seems to be to wait for your competitors to quote their figures, and then add some.

AJS on the other hand, are quite confident in stating merely, that their Grand Prix 410 develops comfortably “over 35bhp” at between 3,500 and 7,000 rpm, at the rear wheel.

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AJS Stormer 410 test day, Barry Sheene, followed by Fluff Brown

A large diameter spine tube forms the backbone to the frame. Oval in section, the tubes diameter varies from 3.5inches at the steering head to 2.25inches at the tail section. Twin hoops sweep under the engine from the steering head.

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Vic Eastwood and Andy Roberton / The Battle of Newbury / 1971 

AJS make their own design of lightweight brakes and front forks. Most moto cross bikes use fibreglass side panels to protect the carburetor and airfilter, but AJS opted for a fabric covering. The new alloy rimmed wheels carry Dunlop knobby tyres of the standard moto cross sizes, of 2.75 x 21inches up front and 4.00 x 18inches on the rear.

In Britain the 410 AJS sells for less than the ever-popular 400 Husqvarna. In addition, AJS spares are far cheaper, for example a 410 piston is a third of the price of the Husky equivalent.

So in Britain the AJS has a big price advantage over the top Continental bikes, by the time its shipped to America, this differential nearly disappears and it has to fight on more or less level terms with the big names from the Continent and Japan.

When you ride it, the first impression is that the handling is accurate and the machine is dependable.

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Vic Eastwood AJS Stormer 410 / Newbury 1971

The AJS Stormers front forks suck up the bumps perfectly and the bikes sure footedness shows no tendency to want to jump out of the ruts.

The front is on the heavy side, but this is really no bad thing and many riders prefer it, because it ensures the bike makes positive rear wheel landings from any jump.

The bike also encourages you to take handfulls of thottle coming out of turns, you feel confident that the front wheel is not going to rear up and you feel sure in the knowledge that its going in the direction you chose. The springing on the rear end is too hard however and allows the rear wheel to hop under hard braking, so you may want to have softer springs for hard ground racing.

The brakes themselves though are most impressive, powerful enough to cut speed dramatically if you get into trouble on the way into a turn, but they still offer enough feel to prevent you locking the wheels. 

Inside the hubs, AJS fit a seal, which is very much like a massive piston ring. It doesn’t stop water getting in, but this is not so important as the brake tends to dry out dampness anyway. But what it does do is keep out muck and dirt, which helps the brakes work more effectively and also lengthens the brake shoes life.

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Barry Sheene with his Alloy tanked AJS Stormer 410

The engine lacks some of the brute bottom end torque of other two-stroke moto cross bikes but it doesn’t load up in corners, even if its taken down to really low revs, so its down to the riders style. When the revs rise to the middle and upper end of the scale, it finds its zip and the power feeds in easily without any sudden surges to send the rear wheel sideways, this combined with its handling gives you a well balanced, competitive moto cross machine.

Riders of average build will be fine with its seating position and control layout, the gear lever is a bit high but you can adjust the footpegs to your own needs. Gearshifts can be made without the clutch, and the shift action is perfect.

AJS 410 1974 002

AJS 410 1974 001

AJS Stormer 410

If you miss a change, it will be your own fault, not the machines, you’ll only have yourself to blame. AJS offer two options for the internal gear ratios. The most common is the close ratio box, but it’s worth noting, that the expert, Vic Eastwood, uses the wide ratio option.

The rear brake lever is neatly tucked out of harms way and is easy to apply. The kickstart lever though can dig into your leg, riders call it “Ajay ankle”, but it has now been covered with a rubber sleeve, on all Stormers, it helps a bit.

For the serious moto cross man who’s moving up, to the 500cc class, the Stormer 410 is well worth a closer examination. AJS have gained some good results with their young rider Doug Grant, they have also smashed the endurance record down the Baja Peninsula, and that’s no minor feat. With Vic Eastwood on board, this machine could be developed into something very special.

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AJS Stormer Workshop Poster / 1971


42. AJS Stormer 250cc / 1972


Moto cross. Say those two words and you think immediately of brands like, Husqvarna, Maico, CZ . . . uuh, hmmm. In the United States, those three names dominate the action.

 When you talk moto cross, you talk Husky, Maico and CZ.

Well, the Big Three have been placed square in the crosshairs of a brand that’s been around about as long as the sport ….. AJS.

The latest version of the AJS 250cc Stormer, is as good, as any of the top-rated threesome we’ve already mentioned and now has some extras, that the Norton Villiers people hope will have serious racers buying British instead of German, Swedish or Czechoslvakian. Like any fine piece of specialised machinery, this machine is functionally stark, a lean no frills racing machine with one aim in life, to win in the hands of its rider.

Although the latest version looks almost exactly like the first batch of bikes imported in 1969, those looks are deceiving. 

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AJS Stormer 250cc Advertising / 1972

AJS engineers, attuned to the suggestions of racers, both here and abroad, have incorporated a whole bushelful of technical improvements which make the hungry looking Ajay a faster, better handling and more reliable mount than previous issues. While early versions certainly weren’t down on power, all the power in the world is useless unless it can be effectively used in a variety of conditions.

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AJS Stormer 250cc & 410cc Advertising / 1972

The first Ajays were, in a word, peaky, developing a great rush of power when the revs started to climb. The latest version, however, has benefitted immensely from important changes to both port configuration and timing. The result is a very tractable mount, which pulls surprisingly well in critical situations, like out of corners and on starts.

The AJS engine with its slight modifications has proven to be quite tough under race conditions. A new 10-fin barrel has also been fitted to assure an adequate degree of cooling. The all alloy unit has a spun cast iron liner to accommodate a bore of 68mm and a stroke of 68mm. Square you might say.

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The compression ratio is a hefty 11-1, which means a listed 25 horsepower at 7000 rpm with 22 lbs./ft of torque to take care of those steep hills. The four-speed gearbox, the same as in the earlier model, uses improved materials in key areas, particularly the gearshift selectors that were prone to breakage under exceptionally hard use. The all metal, wet, diaphragm spring-type clutch delivers the go to the rear sprocket which has been improved by using full length bolts that provide an extra margin of security.

Unifying this exciting power package is one of the more unorthodox frames going, a spindly looking wisp of a unit whose strength belies its fragile looks. In truth, it is as strong as an ox.

The main feature is a robust tapered top tube, roughly an oval in shape. Running from the steering head to a point under the seat, the diameter tube provides the main support for the rest of the frame which is fashioned from rather small tubing in a double loop cradle design, two tubes handling the engine and two jutting up at an angle from the swinging arm pivot to form the classic triangulated pattern.

The whole package, then, is tough, flex free and capable of withstanding just about anything short of an endo into a cement plant at 90 mph.

Andy White 1972

Andy White / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1972

One of the striking things about the Stormer visually is the amount of space around the engine. Even with the expansion chamber looping up and through, there’s plenty of empty space, which makes plug changes and other fieldwork a joy.

One of the main reasons there’s so much space is the fact that the engine sits so low in the frame, an important key to why the AJS is such a good handler. The centre of gravity is really down there and the bike sticks like glue when pitched into muddy turns and the like.

Perched almost procariously on the long main down tube is a handsome fibreglass tank, impregnated with bright orange paint. Another fibreglass unit, the seat base that supports the very comfortable seat, has been thickened to prevent breakage, a problem on the earlier model.

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The steel rims have been replaced with lighter Akront alloys, front and rear. Fork damping has been eased; previous models gave a particularly severe ride, steady to be sure, but the forks were somewhat stiff. The front fender mount is fabricated from spring steel, it now gives where the old one merely bent or fractured.

The clutch-operating pin is now made of a tougher, more durable material. An effective Filtron washable foam air filter replaces the old paper one.

Each engine is dyno-tested for 20min at the factory before going into a Stormer frame. These are but a few of the more significant changes, again, like the groove on the mainshaft holding the cluch circlip being deeper to improve clutch reliability, all improving this already fine machine.

Of course, the most noticeable improvement has been in the engine department.

John Bloor AJS Stormer 250cc Mow Cop 1972

John Bloor , alias VJ. AJS Stormer 250cc. MowCop / Stoke on Trent

The changes in port shape and timing have made the Stormer even more enjoyable to ride. However, you must approach the motorcycle on its terms. It is a genuine racer, not a dual-purpose street scrambler. The starting ritual is very, very simple.

Tickle the Amal concentric carburettor until it cries, fold up the foot peg and jab down on the right side kickstart, the engine comes to life easily and, even better, stays around to idle, something out and out racers don’t usually do well.

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Pull in the clutch, which has a particularly light action at the lever, and snick the lever upward with a toe into first. The pattern takes a little getting used to, one up, and three down. More than once or twice we overshot corners or turned hairs white, by upshifting when we should have been downshifting, or vice versa.

The gearbox operates smoothly with only a trace of jerk, as the power is delivered to the rear sprocket. The motocross models sport a closs ratio gearset which keeps the engine humming between shifts, Desert Racers can chose to have a wide ratio setup.

Riding the Stormer, you feel in control, the bike isn’t such a handful that you feel like an untrained monkey strapped to a machine with a will of its own. The quick throttle allows instant acceleration and this can get the neophyte in trouble with wheelies and other antics.

However, if front wheel aviating is your bag, the AJS is up to it with balance about right to carry the front for any distance. While the Stormer was bred for moto cross, a quick excursion on a semi-smooth TT Scrambles course demonstrated that the Ajay can slide and leap with the best of them, and you can chose to have an up or down pipe to suit your needs.

The latest 250cc AJS Stormer compares favourably with the other big three already mentioned, it has the power, handling and reliability of a thoroughbred mount. It’s provided with a spares kit and other accessories, and words of praise, it finally comes down to, will it win?

Well the bike is fully capable of running with and beating its global rivals, the rest is up to you.

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AJS Stormer 250cc   25bhp    1969 – 1973 – Y4

AJS Stormer 370cc   30bhp    1970 – 1971 – Y5

AJS Stormer 410cc   37bhp    1971 – 1973 – 410

Andy White 1st Junior Bleadon 1972

Andy White / Junior Winner Bleadon / 1972


43. AJS Stormer 250cc Comparison Test

AJS Stormer. Bultaco Pursang. CZ MX. Husqvarna. Maico. Montesa Cappra VR.


When we originally discussed the idea, to the staff of the Motorcyclist, it sounded terrific.

We’d simply wring out all the 250’s and then tell the reader just how it was.

This machine is the one to have; these others are good; this one is junk. We’d be doing a great service to prospective motocross riders by discovering the ultimate weapon for success. It sounded so good at the time, but we’ve seldom been so frustrated. 

We’d overlooked one important aspect of a motocross machine. The companies building the front running European models are no strangers to motocross. They’ve built such machines for a number of years, and like us, they have access to the offerings of their competition and any advancement of the art, no matter how small, does not go un-noticed.  

If brand A discovers a better way to do something, you can be sure that brands B, C, D and E will soon incorporate that very feature on their machine. This continual improvement process is good for the rider but doesn’t make the job of a magazine tester, an easy one, as we soon found out.

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Arrangements were made with AJS, Bultaco, CZ, Husqvarna, Maico and Montesa to supply us with a sample of their latest 250cc machine.

It was to be as sold to the customer with no special parts or pet modifications, even if those modifications had proven to be popular with the owners.

An exception to this was the silencer requirement, since some of these machines come without a built-in so the distributors supplied the bolt-on silencer of their choice.

The AJS comes with a downswept version that they now offer as an option, while the Bultaco and Maico came to us supplied with a Skyway accessory.

AJS also included their optional alloy tank in lieu of the larger fibreglass one that’s seen in their brochures and the Maico had been fitted with a set of Konis in place of the standard Girlings.

We’d have refitted the originals but the bolthole diameters had been increased for the Konis and the Girlings would no longer fit without more hassle than was felt necessary.

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Otherwise, the machines were, as best as we could tell, as they came from their respective factories. The Husqvarna and the Montesa were brand new with only a couple of hours of break-in on the engines. The others had been used; several of them for magazine road tests, but each distributor had checked and adjusted them before delivery.

They were aware that our test was to include a dynamometer run as well as on-the-course evaluations, and all were invited to participate in both if they so desired.

It’s always nice to have a qualified representative along on comparison tests since should something unforeseen occur he can right it on the spot and the machine will not suffer because of any unfamiliarity with their particular machine on the part of our test crew. Throughout the test only one change was made.

One of the bikes suffered from detonation, and with our approval the needle was raised a notch and the death rattle eliminated. Such a change is an accepted adjustment and one that in no way effected our evaluation.

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Other areas affecting individual performance were also taken into concideration. Since we don’t see ourselves as super-stars on a motocross course no effort was made to adjust each and every gear ratio to the course on which we tested.

Several of the machines, notably the Maico, Husqvarna and Montesa, could have done with a slightly lower overall gear ratio, but had we ridden at another course the others would have been found to be to low.

Such a change is related to riding style as well as course layout and we didn’t feel that spot-on gearing would have altered our opinions of any of the three.

Items like gearing, control layout and suspension settings vary with the individual and our assessments of these areas were made with this in mind.

The first comparison on our list was one of measurement and weight; some of the information found there is worth pulling out and noting. In a previous article we had been impressed by the Honda’s wet weight of 229 pounds and were surprised when the Montesa tipped the scales at 228. Admittedly, that’s not much of a difference but the Montesa accomplished the low weight without resorting to magnesium. The heaviest machine was the CZ, weighing a wet 256, but still lighter than the 258-pound Yamaha, again included in a previous test.

Wheelbases are all in the same area (54-56 inches), as are weight distributions. Full of gas, the Bultaco and Husqvarna carry 45% of their weight on the front wheel, the Montesa and Maico 46%, and the AJS and CZ 47%. Naturally, the inclusion of the riders weight alters these figures. How much depends on the riding style of the individual.

Of interest is the fact that of the Japanese machines only the Suzuki falls into this distribution category with 47% on the front wheel. The Honda carries 40%, the Yamaha 42% and the Kawasaki a feather-light 39%. Your guess as to the reasons for such a discrepancy is as good as ours.

A brief description of what each brand offers is in order before we get down to the actual riding impressions of each. There are nice features on every one of them and factors such as purchase price and replacement part prices will no doubt influence many as much as actual performance.

After all, in order to ride regularly one must keep the machine running and various parts are inevitably in need of replacement due to wear or errors of judgement out on the track.


AJS Stormer


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AJS is a name that’s been around off-road racing circles since it began. Way back the Ajay was a four-stroke single that had few peers. Today it’s a two-stroke single with a string of off-road victories.

The engine has a “square”, 68 x 68 mm bore and stroke, that pumps out a wide powerband that’s useable from about 4,000 rpm all the way up to 8,500, a limit that is controlled by the engine itself since on the dyno it just refused to rev any higher and yet didn’t shake or vibe as though it was about to self destruct. The dyno recorded a maximum horsepower of 22 at 7,000 and a maximum torque reading of 17.2 ft/lbs, at both 6,000 and 6,500 rpm. The absence of big jumps in the dyno figures generally relates to a smooth tractable machine, and this proved to be the case with the AJS.

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AJS Stormer 250cc & 410cc Alloy Tank Version / 1973

The engine is fitted with a 32mm Amal concentric carburettor. Drive to the four-speed transmission is by chain in the left side case, the right side of the crankshaft turning the magneto. Shifting is very positive, the right side mounted lever has an up-for-low pattern, which is foreign to most American riders and inevitably received a comment. Naturally, familiarity with the machine would avoid the initial confusion but it is still felt that the pattern should be reversed even if the lever stays on the right.

Jim Corbett 1973

Jim Corbett testing the new GP 250 AJS Stormer / 1973

While the engine offers little in the way of unique features, the chassis makes up for it. It is indeed unique, incorporating proven geometries with a concentrated effort to get the mass on the engine/transmission unit as low as possible.

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They succeeded to the extent that a side view of the machine reveals a strange open space between the cylinder head and the underside of the fuel tank. It would seem that the designers located the unit in relation to the rear wheel and then rotated it around the countershaft sprocket to a point at which the engine is as low as they can safely get it. Then the small-diameter frame tubes were bent around the existing components. The visible small tubing attaches to a larger-diameter backbone tube beneath the gas tank that extends all the way back to the rear of the tank where it picks up the wide hoop that supports the seat and mounts the top of the rear shocks.

A tubular swing arm incorporates a chain guide and brake anchor arm, and is pivoted at the frame on an eccentric for chain adjustment. The rear units are Girlings, and the tyres Dunlop with both fenders made from aluminium. Up front the forks are robust looking and support the axle in front of the tubes, as is also done on the Maico. This allows a steeper steering head angle without sacrifice of trail, and since the Ajay and Maico possess extremely predictable steering. It could be one of the features missed by their competition. Both brakes are in conical hubs and work very well, powerful enough to stop fast, yet predictable enough to be used when leaning over.

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All the controls work effortlessly, and while the seat is rated as the most comfortable of the machines tested, the handlebars are a strange bend that seemed to draw criticism from all who rode her. Other criticisms included a roaming air cleaner cover that, because of its flexible nature and singular attachment screw, can rotate around the screw and expose the air box to the open air.

It happened to us a couple of times, and had it gone unnoticed the engine could well have inhaled dirt and dust. On the bonus side is the lowest price of $1095 and some really low parts prices, particularly the usual big bucks item such as a piston. At $19, the piston is over $11 cheaper than the next cheapest, the Husky, and a whooping $24 less than the most expensive, the CZ.

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AJS Stormer 250cc & 410cc / 1973


Bultaco Pursang


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Bultaco may not have as long a history as AJS but it’s a history full of successes in competition. In fact at this very moment a Bultaco 250 in the hands of American Jim Pomeroy is dazzling the European motocross people. He won the first round of the World Championship series in Spain earlier this year with a machine almost identical to the one we tested and continues to run right near the front in the following rounds.

 Year after year Bultaco continues to improve their basic machines without resorting to major redesigns. The engine units in all models are so similar that it is actually surprising that one concept can be so successful in so many forms of motorcycle sport. They’ve won road races, desert races, dirt track races and motocross races, as well as dominating international trials events for years. And it’s all been done with one simple, but super-efficient engine design.

The latest version of the Pursang uses vertically split alloy crankcases that house the forged flywheels and five-speed transmission. With a bore of 72mm and a stroke of 60mm the engine showed a maximum horsepower of 24.8 on our dyno test. Usable power comes in at about 4,500 and hangs on until 8,000, providing a smooth, soft kind of power that’s easy to get on the ground.

Like the Ajay, the transmission is chain-driven off one end of the crankshaft and the pointless ignition off the other. The most obvious changes from earlier Bultacos is the large square cylinder and cylinder head, a necessity to get rid of the increased heat that goes along with increased horsepower. Fed by a 32mm Spanish Amal and wet foam Filtron air cleaner, the engine is a very compact unit fitted with a left-hand kick-starter and a right-hand shift. However, the down-for-low pattern is easily mastered and while in the case of the Ajay the shift lever location was criticised, the Bultaco’s is livable even for riders nurtured on Japanese machines.

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The frame itself is tubular with a large front downtube that splits into two smaller diameter tubes that run beneath the engine, around the swing arm pivot and up to the front of the seat. Here, the seat and fender support loop joins with the main frame to form a very rigid looking unit. The triangle formed by the tubes from the swing arm area and the main loop houses a giant air box for the replaceable filter element. Fibreglass side covers on each side serve a dual role in the form of the number plates.

This is all very neat and tidy. The rear wheel uses a conical hub and is mounted in one of the most robust swing arms of the bunch. Large snail-type chain adjusters are used to locate the wheel and a chain guide attaches to both the swing arm and the rear brake anchor arm. The front wheel has a new all alloy conical hub that, together with the backing plate, spokes and alloy rims, weighs all of 7 pounds. Both brakes work well and are easy to use when leaned over. While both fenders are fibreglass we found them to be far from unbreakable. An unplanned flip, broke the front one without bending the forks or doing any other damage. Fibreglass is also used for the fuel tank.

The tank is narrow and tapers towards the rear to the same width as the front of the seat. The seat itself is best described as a board-with-a-nail- in-it. The seat base has a sharp hump right where the rider wants to sit and the only way to avoid discomfort is to slide either to the front or rear. During the test we were given a newer Pursang seat brought into being by popular demand of Pursang owners and the difference was remarkable. Till then it never occurred to us that something as seemingly insignificant as a seat could so drastically increase lap times. All the controls, both hand and feet – work smoothly and contribute little, if any, to rider fatigue. The price of $1195 puts it $100 up on the Ajay but still $100 under the next one up the price scale.

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The name CZ has been synonymous with motocross for more years than most of us like to remember. And for a machine that has undergone only minor changes over the years, it’s a credit to those responsible for the original design that it has been so competitive for so long.

Certainly there have been continued improvements aimed at staying competitive, but the machine’s concept has remained the same, good low speed power and superb handling through a strong chassis and very low centre of gravity. The power unit is simple piston port two-stroke that proved to be the lowest revving engine of the six tested. Our dyno test showed us that the engine need never be turned over 6,000 rpm, and that it refused to go over 6,500rpm even if you wanted it to. Such low operating revs are bound to pay dividends in the reliability department since even the CZ’s maximum horsepower output of 22.2 is developed at a leisurely 5,500rpm, a whooping 2,500rpm less than the highest horsepowered Maico.

The compact crankcases house both the crankshaft and five-speed transmission with prevision for the magneto on one end of the crank and the primary drive gears on the other. The straight cut gears are extremely noisy, causing us to check the oil level after just a few minutes riding. There was adequate oil, and the whining of the gears became less of a concern the more we rode.

The shift and kickstart levers share a common shaft on the left side, the kickstarter having a positive detent to keep it in against the case when not in use. A thoughtful feature that eliminates the annoyance of a kickstart lever that folds out and gets in the rider’s way. Shifting is effortless and positive with every shift, and clutch pull can be accomplished with two fingers. Up top, the large alloy cylinder mounts to the crankcases in what many might at first feel is an old-fashioned manner.

Instead of long through-studs from case to head, the cylinder has a base flange that attaches by means of four short-studs. The head is then bolted to the top of the cylinder, a practice that has all but disappeared in the last ten years, its advantages apparently being overlooked by many manufacturers. The through-studs do actually make a stronger package, but the short studs and base flange allow the cylinder to grow during running without distortion. It just grows up and the bore stays round. With long studs, the alloy and steel studs grow at a different rate, inviting bore distortion and the possibilty of seizures.

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Cylinder bore is 70mm, the stroke 64mm, identical to the Montesa and .040 inch off the Husqvarna in both dimensions. Fuel is supplied by a 29mm Jikov carburetor that has a generous air filter hidden in an air box underneath the waterproof vinyl side covers. Several of our test riders had previous experience with CZ’s and all felt that this particular carburetor was a vast improvement over earlier ones in as much as the engine carbureted well from an idle right up to maximum.

The rugged-looking chassis situates the engine very low, the centre line of the crackshaft actually being a little below the axles. The rear shocks are not adjustable and heavier riders could well feel that they would need replacement. The front forks work, offering a soft ride but still managing to absorb the hard jolts found on most motocross courses. Both brakes are predictable, although the welded-on clutch and brake lever brackets were felt to be a bad feature.

 The suggested price is $1299.

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Husqvarna CR


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Husqvarna has been at motocross for a while too, although their basic engine unit was discarded last year in favour of the new, improved version they now offer. Left hand shift, five speeds and generally a slimmer look make the Husky different and yet still obviously a Husky.

 Of all the machines, only the Montesa rivals, the Husqvarna, when it comes to detailing, and obvious attention to the small things. Every nut on the machine is a lock nut; every component is finished as though the machine were being prepared for a custom show. It’s understandable why Husky riders are clannish, there’s a pride of ownership even if you never ride the machine.

The engine developed a maximum 23.7 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and was bettered only by the CZ in low rpm power. This comes from a bore and stroke of 69.5mm x 64.5mm very close to the CZ’s dimensions. Primary drive is by gear off the left end of the crank, and like all the rest, the magneto is driven off the other end of the crank.

A five-disc wet clutch drives a close-ratio five-speed transmission that has the down-for-low shift lever mounted on the left side but has facilities for moving the lever to the right side for those who prefer the old Husky system. The usual one-kick starter lever is also mounted on the left.

As with all previous Huskys, the entire engine is heat-dissipating black in an effort to keep it running cool, as well as looking nice. A 36mm Bing carburetor has a large diameter air filter attached directly to it and accessible through a cover on the right side. While the machine comes equipped with a dry paper element, replacements are Filtron wet foam units.

Chassis details are much the same, as previous machine’s, notable items being lightweight fabricated fork crowns and an upswept exhaust system, the only one of the machines to have the expensive pipe up and out of the way of damage. With the AJS you have the neat choice of either way, our test model having the down pipe.

The frame consists of a large diameter single downtube that splits to two smaller diameter tubes beneath the engine. A backbone extends from the steering head under the very slim gas tank and down past the swing arm pivot. A rear frame section forms the seat and 3-way adjustable Girling shock mounts. Unlike the Husqvarna’s, of several years ago, the frame is one welded unit, the older bolt-together versions being a thing of the past.

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Riding position is important in motocross and the first time you throw a leg over the Husqvarna it feels right. Nothing bumps your ankles or forces you to sit any other way than comfortably. The seat is long, although a little hard, and combines with the rear taper of the tank to make it easy to move fore and aft with ease. We’d heard some criticism of the flat, smooth footpegs but found no justification for it. They’re angled a little to suit stand uo riding but we never found our feet slipping off as we’d been led to believe. On both sides, the brake and shift levers were easy to find and use whether sitting or standing. The new “dog leg” Magura clutch and brake levers were the most comfortable of all tested, forcing us to wonder why everybody doesn’t use them.

Big-handed riders may not care but those of us with smaller digits tire quickly when forced to roll the throttle hand around the grip to get to the front brake, with the Maguras the reach is less than a fingers length.

Both wheels are lightweight and have adequate, if smallish brakes. The fenders are “crash-proof” plastic, and while we didn’t have an occasion (at least with the Husky) to put them to the test, they could be twisted and squeezed by hand and gave no indication of being fragile. If you did crash hard enough to smash one we’d bet that there’d be a lot of other expensive damage before fender replacement. New price is $1369, a whooping $274 more than the Ajay, and more than all but the Maico, but replacement parts prices are right in line with most of the others.

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Top eliminator when it comes to maximum horsepower, as well as highest priced at $1468, the Maico offers a slightly different approach to the ideal motocross mount.

Function has obviously taken precedence over appearance as a sales tool, and all who rode it agreed they’d rather have it that way. Its track record speaks for itself, when it comes to performance and probably will for some time to come. Like Bultaco, Maico have stuck with one basic engine design for a long time, enlarging this very basic 250 to 360, then 400 and finally 501cc. If it works and stays together as a 501 there’s little doubt that the components can hang together under the pounding of an engine half that size.

Together with the AJS, the Maico’s a four-speed due in part to the fact that a five-speeder just can’t be squeezed into the existing cases, and also due to the fact that the engine’s wide powerband gets along just fine with four.

The 246cc actual displacement is accomplished with a bore of 67mm and its stoke of 70mm, the only under-square long-stroker of the bunch. In spite of this fact, the Maico still revs as high as the short-stroke Montesa and “square” AJS, developing it’s maximum of 27.7 at 8,000 rpm.

This high-revving power, plus a good, if not outstanding, range of lower rpm figures, makes the Maico a bit of a phenomenon. Long-stroke engines are not supposed to rev higher than short-strokers, but nobody seems to have told Maico. Like most, the Maico has an engine/transmission unit housed in a common set of crankcases, driving the clutch off the left end of the crank and the magneto of the right.

The kickstarter and the down-for-low shifter are both on the left. Starting is an easy chore, as is gear shifting. However, clutch operation is a little on the heavy side and the use of the clutch to shift is soon avoided. Fortunately, the gearbox seems up to the occasional abuse.

The jazzy new top end on the Maico is distinctive, and based on the dyno figures it does the job. It’s dubbed a radial for obvious reasons, and sports a 36mm Bing carbutetor, just like the Husqvarna. As might be expected, the wet-foam air filter is located in a sealed air box just behind the carburetor and under the seat.

The Maico’s air box is the biggest one of all. The frame is a double loop arrangement that goes beneath the engine to the swing arm pivot where it is joined by the rear suspension and seat hoops. A single tube runs beneath the tank, to join two additional struts coming straight up from the swing arm area, a very rigid layout.

A healthy and rather long swing arm is controlled by Girlings with 3-way adjustments. As we’ve already explained, our particular model had been fitted with Konis for whatever reason by a previous magazine while they had it under test. We’ll assume that the Girlings work just as well; they certainly couldn’t have worked better.

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Long looking but smooth working front forks control the 21-inch conical hubbed front wheel that has its fibreglass front fender up under the lower crown, a feature common to all the machines tested, if not all machines now made for motocross. The rear wheel is also built around a small conical hub. Both wheels use steel rims rather than alloy, a factor that doesn’t seem to affect the machines weight since it is bettered only by the Montesa and the Bultaco.

For the first timer, the Maico is the only one of the machines with a riding position that could be called strange. First impressions are of a shorter motorcycle with the rider altogether too close to the handlebars.

This impression soon disappears once a few laps have been put under the wheels, but we admit to some skepticism before riding it. Combined with a fork lock-to-lock travel reminiscent of a road racer rather than a motocrosser, the Maico may discourage potential buyers during showroom try-outs.

Once one’s accustomed to the feel and remarkable steering control the Maico offers, no changes would even be considered. It handles a little differently, but it certainly handles. We’ve already commented on the hard-to-pull clutch, but all other controls are effortless. The seat is comfortable, the brake and shift lever are right where you need them so that the rider can concentrate all efferts to going fast.

Once he’s finished riding he’s treated to the best sidestand of them all. It’s also the longest, which enables a rider to park the machine almost anywhere. By the time some of the others find a hard enough spot for the stand to hold the machine upright, a Maico rider can be out of his helmet and gloves, and guzzling something cold.

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Montesa VR


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Last, but certainly far from least, is the VR Montesa. It is definitely the newcomer of the bunch that like the Honda is challenging the accepted motocross machinery, without years of development on a basic package. All new, for 1973, having been developed during 1972 by the Montesa factory team and rider Kalevi Vehkonen. In their first year of competition, Montesa finished fourth in the 250cc World Championship, beating out all the very same famous names that we are testing, the VR incidentally means, Vehkonen Replica.

As we’ve gone through the previous five machines we’ve often mentioned the fact that the current machine is like models of years gone by. Part of the reason for this is of course, the great cost of changing an existing machine. Some changes need to be made, but starting with a clean sheet of paper is next to impossible. Montesa did almost that, and we looked forward to appraising a machine that was built from scratch to win motocross events. Also, we looked forward to comparing such a machine with the ones it was designed to beat.

Even Montesa were hard pressed to start absolutely from scratch, although they came very close. The whole Montesa 250cc line is based on the same general engine configuration, an in-unit engine and transmission much the same as the majority of two-stroke singles. With the VR, however, they opted to retain the main crankcases and make every effort to narrow the overall-width.

This was done with a new primary drive setup that pulled the gears and clutch as close as possible to the centre crankcases. The narrower the engine the lower it can be mounted in the frame. The lower in the frame the better the machine should handle. They accomplished both. Internally, the stroke of the original Cappra was decreased, the bore increased the result was 70 x 64mm dimensions.

Our dyno test showed a maximum output of 23.5 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, but the engine had over 23 from 7,000 on up. It’s of interest to note that the Montesa had the most horsepower at 2,500 rpm and also the most at 8,500 rpm, exhibiting a range that is so wide as to be almost unbelieveable. The numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger and never drop off. The engine runs out of air before it runs out of horsepower. It peaked at 8,500 rpm, but would not run at 9,000. It definitely likes to be revved which is exactly the opposite of the CZ, and yet the on-track performance is near identical under most circumstances. One rather distinctive external feature is the stepped cylinder finning. We’re not sure why they do it, but question its performance assist.

We won’t question the contribution of the 34mm Bing carburetor, for the engine carburates from idle up to 8,500 rpm. It never seems to be off the ports. No waiting, no hesitation, it just goes when you dial the throttle on. Those narrowed primary drive gears feed power to an all-steel clutch and five-speed transmission. Shifting is positive, the lever mounted on the left side with a down-for-low pattern.

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The kick-starter’s on the right side, well forward and out of the way of the rider’s leg, and usually required only one prod to get the engine going. Clutch operation was a two-fingered affiar.

The seat height of 33 inches is exceeded only by the Ajay’s 34 inches, but in spite of the height it never felt as though the rider was up in the air. Like a couple of others, the control locations seemed to suit virtually all riders, no matter how short or how tall.

An all-new chassis was built to house the highly modified Cappra engine, and those responsible for its design accomplished, light weight and rigidity in the conventional manner. A single down tube in front of the engine splits into two smaller diameter tubes to cradle the engine and then join the other main tubes at the swing arm pivot. A single tube extends back under the fibreglass fuel tank to a point just in front of the seat where two tubes from the top of the swing arm mount intersect. To reduce weight, the rear frame is constructed of even smaller diameter tubing, the whole assembly weld into one unit.

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Montesa’s own front forks are used to control the 21-inch front wheel and specially designed Betor rear shocks handle the rear. A good deal of time and effort was spent on the rear wheel, even to the extent of having Pirelli design and produce a special 4.50 x 18-inch tyre just for the VR.

Fully aware of the pounding that a rear wheel gets in motocross competition, an all-new light alloy rear hub, wider than any we’ve ever seen, was created. With such wide spread lacing of the spokes the rigidity of the wheel assembly means long life for the spokes and ultimately fewer failings for the Montesa rider. Plastic fenders protect the wheels, the front one up under the forks in the MX style.

Since we’ve already tagged the Husqvarna as exhibiting the finest detail workmanship, it would be hard to claim the Montesa as such. However, it is a very close second. These are niceties from one end of the machine to the other. Features that are perhaps unnecessary from a functional standpoint but are a nice touch that makes the rider feel as though the designers were thinking of him when they built the machine. For instance, the name Montesa on the gas tank is sunk into the fibreglass where the rider’s leathers will never rub it off.

Even the fuel petcocks are unique, consisting of a little ball inside a rubber sleeve. To turn the fuel on the little ball is squeezed off its seat. Another cutey is a little vernier gauge on the handlebar mount that indicates the position of the bars. If you have the bars off, or twist them in a spill, they can be relocated to the exact same position as before. A la Japanese, the transmission oil capacity is cast right in the side cover for quick consultation, should you forget the amount during an in-field oil change.

The machine even comes equipped with small plastic front fork shields on their leading edges. Little things mean a lot, especially when you’re laying out $1315 for the pleasure of owning a new motorcycle.

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Jim West / AJS Team USA

Rider Comparison


If you’ve stuck with us so far you’ve not been anymore enlightened than you would after several days of visiting the respective dealerships. Now that you know who has what, and have absorbed some of our comments on this and that, you no doubt are asking the very same question we did when we conceived this mass comparison.

Which European 250cc motocross mount is the best?

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Not the best in one aspect such as having the most power or the lightest weight or the lowest price, but the best for the job of winning motocross events. We took all six machines and went riding. We went to Indian Dunes, a motorcycle park that has two motocross courses, and to Escape Country, a similar motorcycle park in Southern California.

It didn’t take us long to realise that we’d bitten off more than we were capable of chewing. It hadn’t been quite so hard with the Japanese machines and we were confident that those evaluations would be shared by anyone who’d ridden the four bikes we’d tested. But after just a morning’s test it was apparent to all concerned that the European machines were all excellent, differing in certain handling characteristics but certainly not ultimate performance. Once we admitted this, and also admitted that each of the machines could be ridden faster than any of us were capable of, we hit on another method of evaluation.

In spite of the realisation that there was no way to honestly list the machines as the best, the next best and so on, we did admit that we had preferences. We preferred the engine of this machine and the chassis of that one. We preferred particular features on some bikes because we felt they allowed the individual to go faster with more confidence than similar features of the others. To get a better picture of what each offered to the rider interested in motcross, we went a step further.

We contacted eight riders of the type we felt would be, or were, in the market for a motocross machine of the type being tested. They were perhaps no better equipped to evaluate the machines than we were but we hoped that a cross-section of their impressions would reinforce our own. Each was selected because he’d at one time or other, owned or ridden one of the models under test, if not in it’s current form at least one that was not too far removed at the time of the feature. After allowing them to ride each machine for as long as they liked, we hit them with the questions. Since most were more familiar with one of the machines than the others we eliminated their particular one from the quizzing.

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It was very interesting. In some areas there were deadlocks, or “let me ride the Husky or the Montesa again before I answer that one”. Some would ride one or two machines, rave about one in particular, then, totally reverse their preferences once he’d ridden a couple more. Some didn’t like a machine on the first go-round, then fell in love with it as their time in the saddle accustomed them to the particular characteristic that had first put them off.

The Maico created that impression with several of our testers, due mainly to its extremely positive steering. The Montesa was a double surprise to most since it is so good and also so much better than any previous Montesa. It’s so light and has such instant acceleration that many commented that they had to go easy on the gas through the bumpier sections to keep from doing out-of-hand wheelies. The reverse was true of the CZ that, while as fast as any in lap times, was just so easy to ride that it never felt as though you were going fast.

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The Bultaco’s whisper quiet exhaust and soft but healthy power gave the same impression. Through out the ride-talk-ride sessions that consumed all of two days at Escape Country, certain patterns began to appear. Each machine was getting its share of praise in one area or anther, but only a few of the machines were getting all the riding. In the rider’s subconscious, if not on paper, a couple of the bikes had already been eliminated. The AJS, clearly the best value for money, sat more than it was ridden, due mainly we believe to the unfamiliar up-for-low British shift pattern.

Complaints of a hard back-jarring seat on the Bultaco were probably responsible for its idleness more than any other lack of performance, for in many of the question areas the Pursang scored high. Thumbs up for performance, thumbs down for comfort. Later, when the Bul’s seat was replaced with a softer saddle, all agreed that it was a different motorcycle, but the harm had been done, the impressions formed, and the Bultaco suffered in the overall tabulations.

We’d asked lots of questions of our “average” motocross testers, but one of them told us all we wanted to know. After they’d sweated through such hard to answer questions as which had the most comfortable seat (AJS); finish and workmanship (Husky); most precise steering (Maico); predictability (AJS, Maico and CZ); we hit them with the question any prospective buyer would ask himself, if he’d had the opportunity to ride each one as long as he’d liked, “On which machine would you do best in a race?”

This is where the preferences really count. None of the testers had much trouble deciding which one he’d take home given the opportunity. There were no double choices, each rider by then had made his pick and would back it up with statements like, “I just feel I could go faster”, or “It suits the way I ride”. Unfortunately, our democratic process didn’t present us with a winner.

Of the eight, two picked the CZ, two picked the Maico, two picked the Montesa, and the remaining two votes, went to the Husqvarna and the Bultaco.

But..  without exception, all of them, liked the Y4 AJS Stormer.

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Malcolm Davis / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1970


US Works Riders


AJS Stormer Jim West

Jim West / US Works rider

AJS Stormer Bengt Arne-Bonn

Bengt Arne-Bonn / US Works rider

AJS Stormer Steve Hammer 1970 Carlsbad California

Steve Hammer / US Works rider


44. The Cadwell Park,  Castrol Trophy


A secret invader from AJS terrorised Cadwell Park this weekend when Vic Eastwood bolted from the gloom of Saturday’s television scramble and scored a super silent double.

The all British “500” with which he outpaced his rivals is believed to be the final prototype of a forthcoming production scrambler.

“This is the first time I have raced it but it will be the machine of the year in 1973”,

Eastwood declared after winning both the Castrol and World of Sport finals on his stealthy newcomer.

As hush-hush as the feline purr of his amazing new AJS Stormer, he said, “I can’t tell you much more than you can see for yourself, the one thing I will share, is that I only used second and third gear”.


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Bryan Wade 20 (400 Husqvarna) / Castrol Trophy / 1972

Eagle eyed viewers who watch Eastwood win last months ITV World of Sport race on his AJS 410, after he jumped out of the starting gate, will notice that this machine has a left foot gear change.

Other innovations include a rubber-mounted power unit, very similar to the Norton Commando and a huge silencer with flexible bellows on the same side as the gearshift and kickstart. Weight is believed to be around 220 pounds.

Vic Allan (400 Bultaco) was the only man to beat Eastwood during the day, and that was in one of the qualifying heats. After a practice spill during which he broke part of his clutch lever, the Scot caught and passed his rival as they grappled with the murk.

Up against Bryan Wade (400 Husqvarna) in his other heat, Allan was forced to surrender his command when his back brake rod jumped out of its socket. He finished third behind Eastwood and Bob Wright (500 CCM). There were only five qualifiers from each heat.

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Vic Eastwood AJS Stormer 500cc  / Castrol Trophy / 1972

Miraculously, the dense fog thinned as TV cameramen prepared to shoot the Castrol Trophy final. But the conditions were far from ideal as Eastwood shot into the lead, emitting little more noise than a vacuum cleaner.

While Paul Harrison (400 Husqvarna) went down at the first bend, Eastwood hummed away from Bryan Goss (400 Maico) and his crackling Maico, Wright held third place from Allan and Banks (400 CZ).

Next time round, Allan and Banks displaced Wright and left him to the tender mercies of Wades television comeback. There was a dramatic moment as Allan slewed to overtake Goss, a flint flew up and gave Goss a black eye. Shaken by the missile, Goss retired as Wade grasped third spot from Banks.

“You can’t wear goggles with so much mud flying about”, said Goss as he prepared for the next skirmish.

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 Paul Harrison (400 Husqvarna) and Bob Wright (500 CCM) / Castrol Trophy 1972

    Castrol Trophy Final.

  1. V Eastwood (500 AJS)
  2. V Allan (400 Bultaco)
  3. B Wade (400 Husqvarna)
  4. J Banks (380 CZ)
  5. R Wright (500 CCM
  6. D Nicoll (380 Greeves)

In the bad weather Eastwoods next demonstration, in the World of Sport Trophy, was no less impressive, leaping past Goss as Terry Challinor (400 Husqvarna) fell victim of a full power slide by Wright, Eastwood hurtled past, into the lead. Allans bid to stick on his tail was foiled by Wade, who dived through on the inside and caused him to run wide.

Quickly overpowered by the whispering trio, Eastwood, Wade and Allan, who were all sporting efficient silencers, Goss settled for fourth spot while Banks repelled ferocious attacks from a determined CCM duo.

Although Norman Barrow (500 CCM) dropped back, Wright harresssed Banks all the way, but Malcolm Davis (400 Bultaco) failed to feature and he could only enviously watch as the AJS vanish into the mist, after a flint punctured his back tyre. 

   World of Sport Trophy Final

  1. V Eastwood (500 AJS)
  2. B Wade (400 Husqvarna)
  3. V Allan (400 Bultaco)
  4. B Goss (400 Maico)
  5. J Banks (400 CZ)
  6. B Wright (500 CCM)

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 Vic Eastwood AJS Stormer 500cc / Castrol Trophy / 1972


45. Son of Stormer / 1973

The strong, silent, prototype


When Vic Eastwood isn’t hammering around the Grands prix circuits, he’s a development engineer for AJS and the connection between the two ways of life has just appeared in the form of the new works motocrosser.

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This prototype is based quite obviously on the 410 Stormer, but it started life almost by accident. Vic was ‘playing around” with a frame, when he discovered that Graham Evans was also playing around with a big engine up at the Wolverhamton factory.

The two naturally got together, and as the plans went beyond the playing around stage, Martin Jackson was roped in to draft out the new designs and Robin Clews to weld it together. Suddenly Norton Villiers had got them selves a new racer.

The chassis had been modified, as Vic had found necessary to cope with the tough competition. Like on the front forks, where he’s changed the spring rate and damping rate, producing totally new handling characteristics.

Eventually there may also be new leg castings and fork sliders. The original motor was a bored and stroked 410 using a Stormer gearbox.

The unit vibrated and so they decided to use a modified Isolastic set-up pinched from the Commando to isolate the frame. This system was retained even though they eventually ended up with a completely new engine. Vic says that once the swinging arm is set up it will last for two or three meetings without any trouble.

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The motor is a conventional piston-ported two-stroke brought up to 500cc. it drives through a Stormer all-metal clutch and a Norton gearbox. One unusual feature is the type of chain used for the primary drive, where they’ve reverted to an inverted-tooth type.

This was because a triple row chain roller was necessary for reliability, but it was just too wide, and the inverted tooth design was the only way the drive could be made strong enough and compact enough. That is, without completely redesigning the whole transmission and using a gear drive.

They’re not playing around with reed valve induction for the simple reason that “we’ve got more than enough power”. Vic goes on to explain, last year they were getting 47bhp, the new motor gives 39bhp, but it’s quicker. The power starts from tick-over upwards and runs on through the 7,000 peak to 8,000 rpm.

There is so much low-down torque that they don’t need to change the exhaust systems to suit different courses and Vic adds that the motor is more like a four-stroke as far as riding is concerned. The exhaust itself is an interesting point – inside the box is a series of tubes and chambers, which give the expansion box effect, with a silencer in the end.

It results in the required torque characteristics and keeps the noise down to 90dB. In another effort to keep the level of noise down, the decompressor was designed to blow out into the exhaust down pipe. Carburation and ignition are looked after by a large Concentric and a Spanish Femes system. The Amal carburetor is fitted with a redesigned air filter, which again keeps the noise in, while keeping the dirt out.

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The machine bristles with features built in from Vic’s vast experience of the pro motocross, either making for greater reliability or for convenience while working on the machine Vic gave our artist Peter Weller a guided tour around the AJS and the detail sketches he took show just how much thought has gone into the design.

As an indication of the competition, Vic says, “we’re using the brakes more and more as the bikes get faster”, and consequently the Ajay’s brakes have come in for some attention. At the moment this is mainly confined to getting the balance of the brakes set up properly – for example, Vic has spent a lot of time experimenting with the rear brake leverage to get it just right.

When we saw the machine it was weighing in at 104kg, which is reasonably close to the other works machines currently on the GP circus. Vic says he’s got the handling just how he wants it and he’s also got useful power right through the rev range. All that needs to be done is to prove that the machine will stand up to the tough life of international competitions, and the NV will have more than a works prototype.

Will it go into production?

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It’s a bit early to answer that question yet – Vic’s team are still in the last stages of finishing off the factory machine and no definite plans have been made for it at this time. AJS will almost certainly make use of the knowledge and experience gained by racing this machine, however from what Vic says his greatest problems are not mechanical but are mainly concerned with the company’s future.


46. AJS Stormer 500cc / Silent Might

Ken Heanes rides the AJS prototype dirt shifter.


How well does the works AJS motocrosser perform? Is a 500cc two stroke too much to handle or will it eventually figure in the over-the-counter ready to ride raceware?

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Ken Heanes – Mr ISDT, he was also a dispatch rider, with Fluff Brown, in the Royal Engineers.

After a look around the details of the AJS reported last month, we get four-stroke exponent Ken Heanes to ride Eastwoods’s prototype. Here Ken talks to John Robinson after the test session.

R – How did it go Ken?

H – Well, first, I’ve been a four-stroke man all my life and my impression of any two-stroke is that it’s too buzzy, it’s too smelly and it’s too noisy. Well here’s one that wasn’t noisy and I liked it for that. It’s also the first two-stroke I’ve sat on that I could fit into – the seat, footrest and handlebars certainly suited me. As for business, yes it was buzzy, but it had a great amount of bottom-end-power. It is a full 500cc I’m told, it certainly got the low-down power and seemed as quick as most of the things I’ve had a ride on.

R – Vic says the engine is more like a four-stroke power as far as the characteristic go.

H – Yes it is. It almost has the characteristics of a four-stroke; it’s certainly got the pulling power. As far as riding it goes, the gear lever and brake were on the wrong side for me, but I soon got accustomed to it…. after one or two “moments”…. rushing around the gravel pit I did change gear with the brake lever once or twice. Anyway, we ran it in the gravel pit in which Vic practices, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I found it very good on choppy ripply sand and on very bumpy going with cross gullies the back end was exceptionally good. If I’ve got any point of criticism it’s that I found the front end too heavy, I felt that the steering could be improved. It seemed very heavy on cornering and wanted to hold on to the ground. Vic of course, rides a motorcycle differently to me, and it may well suit him. He said I wasn’t the first to criticize this though, and he was thinking about doing something to the forks. That was about the only thing I could criticize it for. Over hard ruts it’s really good. It doesn’t jump about, it’s dead straight, and the more you power it on, the straighter it goes, which is one thing I like about a bike.

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R – Yes, this is what Vic said. He also said it was good on slippery surfaces – chalk and things like that.

H – I didn’t get a chance to ride on that sort of surface but I would think it probably is. Because it’s a five hundred you can drop it to nothing in a gear then open it up and get away. This, once again, is the characteristic of a four-stroke.

R – What is the motor like?

H – It’s good, it comes in with a bang, but it’s useful power. It will also pull a high gear, which rather surprised me – unlike most two-strokes which you have to buzz all the time.

Here was a two-stroke, which you could stick in a high gear and chop it across the rough stuff.

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R – Would you say it was fast?

H – I would say it was quick. I would say it was very quick on long straight stuff – it’s as quick as you need.

R – How did it feel in a long series of bends when you’re continually picking it up and laying it down again?

H – That was when I found the front end weighed heavy. I don’t know what the machine weighs, but I thought it was a bit heavy.

R – Maybe it’s the weight distribution rather than the all up weight.

H – Yes, it could well be that.

R – Going back to the motor, what did you think of the rubber mounting?

H – I did like that. When you’re revving it hard the vibration doesn’t come through the handlebars.

R – I should think that’s very important in a long race – vibration could be very tiring.

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H – Yes, it’s most important. This is a good thing I would have thought – like everything else, it’s a wonder it hasn’t been thought of before. It’s also a good idea to have the exhaust pipe cut in half with the flexible joint – on most two-strokes in a long race the silencer and exhaust pipe break up. I thought this was a particularly good idea and it’s obviously been done to eliminate that.

R – How about the brakes? Vic told me that he finds he has to use them more and more as the racing gets tougher – how did you find them?

H – I found that I could manage that all right. I think he thought the brakes weren’t good enough. This may well be so for a Grand Prix rider, but for me they were perfectly adequate.

R – How would you sum the AJS up?

H – It’s a comfortable, manageable machine, possibly the front end steering could be improved. It’s the two-stroke with the nearest four-stroke characteristics I’ve ever ridden.

R – How does it compare to, say, the BSA for handling and rideability?

H – I would still prefer the BSA, personally, but that is purely a personal thing. I would say that in mud the four-stroke is still the better bike, but on a grassy circuit, as we have in the Southern Centre, I would say the AJS would be unbeatable.

R – What does it seem best suited to, slow corners or fast ones?

H – Fast ones. It suited fast corners better, on the slow ones it comes down to the weight on the front again. It did make my wrists ache on slowish corners.

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R – How does it handle jumps, does it rear up quickly or what?

H – Jumping? I’d have said it was ok, it did have a tendency when it left the ground to try to turn over backwards, I found. And every time I took off, it always jumped to the left – you often seen pictures of Vic in mid-air with the back trying to come round to the front. I felt that might be a characteristic of the rubber mounting.

R – You think it might be distortion at the swinging arm mounting?

H – Yes, but I don’t think it would be a problem once you got accustomed to it, knowing that when you hit a bump it was going to go sideways a bit, it would be all right.

R – It certainly makes for more interesting photographs, if nothing else.

H – Another thing I liked about it, of course, is that it’s British.

To sum up, I liked it first and foremost because it’s British, secondly because it had four-stroke characteristics, it suited me for size, and it wasn’t noisy.

R – Could you suggest any other modifications, which might be necessary? Is it strong enough for example?

H – I think it’s strong enough. The footrests Vic has on it suited me, but then again I don’t think they would have been strong enough for an open-to-centre runner. Still they were made with Vic in mind and, of course, he’s not hard on a bike.

R – One thing I had my doubts about was the Isolastic type mountings – on the Commando’s they can lose their adjustment, and allow play in the swinging arm.

H – I think it will be strong enough, although possibly they will need replacing occasionally.

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R – And if it isolates the vibration it must be a good thing, from the fatigue point of view.

H – Right. Essentially it’s a bike you can buy, paint your number on, then go out and win.

R – Do you think this is a machine for the clubman, or is it strictly for the professional, a GP rider’s bike?

H – No, a clubman could win anything on it, providing he was a good enough clubman! But quite frankly in this country at the moment there are only a handful of people who can ride the bloody things well enough. Vic Eastwood can ride it, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for anyone.

R – Can you see a market for it then?

H – I’d say it’s an ideal purchase, both for GP’s and open-to-centre racers. This is a competitive machine and Vic’s proving it’s a winner…

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47. Vic Eastwood


It’s tough at the top in the world of moto-cross and Vic Eastwood, now 31 years old, has been celebrating success and shrugging his shoulders at the occasional failure. Just over four years ago nobody would ever have believed they would see Vic Eastwood back at the top and challenging for a top place in the World Moto-Cross Championship. This was because of that really nasty prang which caused multiple fractures leaving him on crutched for many months. But the doubters hadn’t reckoned on Vic’s very special brand of determination, which not only brought recovery and his return to peak fitness, but also meant that his will to win hadn’t been even dented.

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 AJS Stormer 410cc / 1973

This was proved last December by him taking his new AJS and winning the Television Moto-Cross Championship against some of the toughest opposition on the British circuit. Afterwards I met up with Vic to find out about this very special new AJAY moto-crosser, which he has been developing for Norton Villiers.

How long have you been back at AJS, as their rider and development engineer?

Just over two years. I first started work for Associated Motor Cycles at Woolwich back in 1960 and I rode the ISDT for them in 1961 and 1962, riding their big, old AJS 500cc single cylinder four-strokes but you can’t really compare the AMC company days with the present AJS set-up.

 What’s the difference?

Well in those days we were riding big, heavy machines, which weighed over 300 lbs, now we’re riding lightweight two-strokes with equal, if not more power, like the 410cc Stormer.

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 AJS Stormer 410cc / 1973

What’s the new AJS like?

At the bottom end it’s much the same as the works BSA that I was riding a few years ago, but where the BSA would run out of steam fairly quickly, and you would need to snatch another gear, this machine just keeps revving. It is very much a prototype, virtually a one off machine, which is being used to test all the ideas we have up at Wolverhampton for a top moto-cross machine.

We’ve seen you racing this machine and it appears extremely competitive against works Husqvarna’s, CZ’s and the like! Is it the bike or you as a rider that makes it a winner?

Vic Eastwood 001

Obviously I would like to think that I play a part, but all the credit must be given to the machine. After two years work, we are at last getting somewhere and given really top-flight riders, I think this current machine stands a chance against the worlds best.

Who has been responsible for developing the new AJS motor?

A guy named Graham Evans. The motor started off as the original Stormer 250 but Graham inlarged it and developed this prototype engine. I pinched it off him before I went to the USA last year and it did seven races out there with no trouble.

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AJS Stormer 500cc / Vic Eastwood / 1973

What’s the capacity? Is it the same as the original 410cc Stormer motor?

No…. it’s more than that, but I can’t say at the moment, the bike and motor are still under development.

Winning the television championship must have improved its chance of going into production, this must have meant a lot to you, but can you see ways of improving these races?

Yes, I think they are far too short to be of any real value to the riders and spectators. If they were half an hour, then you could watch the start, then feature a few riders before going back to the finish. This would give the riders a real test of their riding ability and a test of their stamina, which they will need if we are ever to compete successfully in the longer GP races across Europe.

Vic Eastwood 002

You entered the 100-mile Enduro and finished third overall, an excellent result. Did you enjoy it?

It was great. But I was surprised to see so many riders, absolutely shattered, after only a short distance into the race.

When you think that Robert and Geboers do that every weekend racing in a Grands Prix, you realise that there is just not enough moto-cross in this country which comes up to these standards. It is essential that we have competions in length and toughness of course so that we can prepare our riders for competing successfully in the World Championships.

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AJS Stormer 500cc / Vic Eastwood / 1973

I remember talking to you when you were at BSA and then you were preparing all your own kit, does this still apply?

In a way, yes, Graham Evans obviously does the work on the engine, but I still do the final bike building at home. I don’t work a nine to five, providing I have all the bits and pieces, plus the motor, I can work without interruption when ever I like, night or day, and put the bike together and get it race ready.

What about other new ideas and modifications you would like to see built into the new machine?

Vic Eastwood 003

There is no lack of ideas. This new AJS motor was developed by Graham in his own time, we are now proving that his machine works, I’m hoping that soon we will get full factory backing so we can really push on with the job.

At the moment though, Norton Villiers are obviously busy with the John Player F750 and developing the Commando range. I suppose they can only do one thing at a time.

One of the things I noticed during the 100-mile Enduro was how quiet the new AJS was in comparison with other machines. Yet, you still seemed faster than most, is it necessary to have a noisy bike to go fast?

Not at all…. We have a chap named John Favill working out of Wolverhampton, who is a wizard. He’s responsible for silencing the Nortons, and he’s also done a great job with the AJS, he originally built the Stormers excellent gearbox. At the moment we are running a system at 96 decibles, which is well within regulations but we can also run it at 90 decibles without any real loss of power.

Vic Eastwood 004

You mentioned John Favill was also a gearbox king, how many gears does this machine have?

Four at the moment, but with the wide spread of power available we don’t really need any more than three gears, and on some courses we get away with using only two. One of the reasons for this is the lightweight of the machine.

It tips the scales at around 210 pounds, with a little more pruning we will achieve a very competitive weight to power ratio.

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Will you be competing with this new big AJAY, in the next World Championships?

Yes, I really hope so, this AJS has the potential, it handles, and has the power, if we can get a works team together, we can get out there and topple the continentials from their domination of World Moto-Cross.

Thanks for the chat Vic, and the very best of luck in achieving just that, in the 1973 Season.


48. Norton Villiers Triumph


The merger of Norton, Triumph and BSA, took place in 1973, under the direction of Ted Heath’s Conservative Government, to protect the future of the British motorcycle industry.


AJS Stormer 410cc Advertising / 1974



49. The Final Days Inside NVT / 1974


Norton Villiers Triumph is no more, or at least is now so small that it’s not truly a major manufacturer.

 What went wrong?

There have been plenty of accusations: bad management, poor labour relations, government mishandling and lack of competitive motorcycles. These are all reasons but to pinpoint the blame would be impossible and would not change the result.

For Norton it has been an especially sad time. The Company had regained a little of the respect held in the Bracebridge Street days but, ironically, it was a decision by the man who rescued the name in 1966 that brought its final downfall.

Had Dennis Poore not accepted the challenge to save the BSA and Triumph group as well, Norton Villiers would still be going strong.

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Norton Commando US / 1967

Roger Jordan started working in the Wolverhampton drawing office of Norton Villiers on March 1st, 1967, Bob Trigg, destined to become the Chief Engineer, had started, two days earlier. They were the first members of a new design team to be set up by Dr Stefan Bauer, the new Director of Engineering.

It was their job to create the engineering, which would launch new products for the newly re-formed company, but most drawing offices are ivory towers, refuges where draftmen, like recluses can contemplate the world from afar. Dr Bauer would be the first to admit, that he knew very little about motorcycles, but his enthusiasm and engineering expertise led to the Norton Commando and the AJS Stormer.

Already recruited by Dennis Poore were, the ex-Villiers engineers Bernard Hooper and John Faville, of Starmaker fame. The new design team were assembled at the Villiers works in Wolverhampton, away from the problems of the Woolwich based Norton production line in London.

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Meriden / 1974

The first requirement was a replacement for the aging Atlas, a four-cylinder engine was ruled out, on cost grounds, and Norton and Villiers were still in the hands of the receivers, so money was scarce. The first engine chosen was the twin-cylinder double knocker, which had been quietly developed at Woolwich. The output figures of the engine were good, and performance of the machine was impressive, its design also held promise for further development, although its prototype was pretty rough.

Its bugbear was vibration, so it was decided to rubber-mount the engine, Norton had already tried this in London, by rubber-mounting a Dominator engine in a Featherbed frame. But their experiment only proved, that some form of positive side location, for the engine, would be necessary, to stop the chain peeling off during acceleration.

 At this stage, Dr Bauer’s new broom began its clean sweep.

 All the design team had assumed that the successful Featherbed frame would continue, but Dr Bauer denounced it as being an unsound engineering structure, relying on the engine/gearbox unit for its strength. Rubber mounting would rob the frame of this support, so a completely new frame was required.

The frame, which they evolved, had a large diameter backbone tube from the headlug with a triangulation of small tubes down to the swinging arm pivot. Apart from a design oversight, which resulted in the first production frames failing, it was eventually a success.

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Then the first management “about turn” took place, they decided it would take too long to put the double knocker engine into production, so the faithful but aging Atlas engine was to be continued, this was the first, of many management ‘about faces’.

However, the summer of 1967 saw the company in an expansive mood. More design and development staff were recruited, and the Commando took shape on the drawing board, then came the prototype.

 A consultancy firm, Wolff Olins, was also engaged in the project, their contribution to the Commando was the styling of the petrol tank, seat and rear fairing, which had the desired effect of attracting attention.

 We also now had the green ball symbol, which became more a joke than a meaningful trademark. By show time a prototype was complete, but not in running order. It had taken thirteen weeks from a clean sheet of paper to the machine on display, at the Earls Court Show, the Commando was a great success, and pulled in big crowds.

 After the excitement of the show, came the painstaking period of development, the first working prototype was built at Woolwich and brought to Wolverhampton. During the early part of 1968, Bill Brooker, a gentle giant from Woolwich, was brought up to the Midlands as the full-time test rider.

Bill became very enthusiastic about the project and would demonstrate the vibration-free qualities of the design by riding without his boots on. For final development and preparation for production, the Commando returned to Woolwich where it would be manufactured.

Many thousands of miles were put on the final production prototype, enthusiasm for the new model was high, and the machine was never short of a pilot.

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Wolff Olins pitch to Norton Villiers

At Wolverhampton, the attention now turned to the AJS Scrambler, but the company had problems. The manpower build-up had been too quick, the financial burden proved too large, with the inevitable redundancies. All departments were ruthlessly cut, so quick was the redundancy decisions that one person was recruited on a Monday, and asked to leave on the Wednesday. AJS recruited a number of works riders, but there was never complete harmony between employee and employer, in this environment.

Freddie Mayes, Chris Horsfield, Dick Clayton, Jimmy Aird, Malcolm Davis and Andy Roberton, all rode for the factory team in the early days, but with the exception of the latter two, didn’t stay long.

In early November 1968, the AJS development team set up in premises on Thruxton airfield in Hampshire. Pioneering times, converting the old RAF buildings into habitable workshops, one problem was the electricity supply; the fuses would blow if too many heaters were put on at the same time and so isolated was the building, that on one occation a member of staff was lost in a blizzard, for two hours, trapped by the perimeter fencing.

Jim Corbett

Jim Corbett / AJS Stormer

Under terrible conditions, their enthusiasm unnoticed, the development team produced the AJS Stormer. Their keeness for the job may have mislead the management team into believing that all the employees had the same dedication, and this lack of management/worker awareness was indemic, throughout the company. The shoddy workmanship of the Norton Commando was the result, but the isolation of the Thruxton team meant the Stormer didn’t suffer the same fate.

In 1969 the Woolwich factory closed, and the manufacture of engines and components for the Commando was transferred to Wolverhampton, and the assembly line to the new premises in Andover. This meant an additional frieght cost of 120 miles for each Commando produced; it was obvious that this financial burden could not be carried for long. Despite management statements to the contary, many of the Andover workforce, some had moved from Woolwich, felt very insecure.

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 FB AJS Stormer 250cc Enhanced / 1974

Bill Smith, Sales Director, went, then Ron Price, the companies PRO, left within weeks of arriving. Talent galore was axed, two Managing Directors came and went, and by 1970 others like John Mc Dermott had gone, along with Dave Poole, a very clever production director and Norman Ryan, the General Manager, recruited from Ford. Loyalty, which was freely given, became less freely given and insecurity continued to spread, like fear.

Nortons were selling well and as every bike went out of the door, money came in; the emphasis was on production rather than quality.

 A shortsighted policy, which led to large, warranty bills. After the initial frame failures, due to a design fault, the Woolwich machines were of a high manufacturing quality, but now an all time low was reached, the hard earned respect for the Norton name was being thrown away with production issues from the Andover and Wolverhampton machines.

In early 1970 the drawing office returned to Wolverhampton. This did not improve the morale in Andover, as it was generally considered to be the start of an enevitable move up north.

The struggle for quality continued, throughout that year. Weekly meetings on, quality control, modifications and other production issues, ground through the machines problems but progress was painstakingly slow; there was always a good financial reason for not going ahead with this change, or that. The warranty bill through from 1971 was enormous. It could be piston rings, porous head castings, faulty valve guides, any combination or even all. Every unsold bike had its piston rings and valve guides replaced, and as more customers complained, their bikes were also modified.

Next in 1972 the main bearings began to fail, the cost of new bearings, £5, and the labour to replace them, £20, this accounted for most of the profit on a new bike, and this also continued, worst still, to drag the Norton name through the mud.

Then came the dockers strikes of 1973, the export spares and bikes lay in warehouses for weeks, feedback of technical information apparently began to go unheeded and requests for help on service problems were answered with, “Sorry, we haven’t come across that problem before”.

The Commando 850cc models were a consolation, the quality was much better, and reliability was greatly improved. The Interstate model became very popular with the touring fraternity and at last the company was beginning to move in the right direction, but at what cost.

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 FB AJS Stormer 250cc Enhanced / 1974

 That decision mentioned at the beginning, expanding from Norton Villiers, to Norton Villiers Triumph, for whatever reason, political or finacial, proved to be a ‘Bridge to Far’.


50. FB AJS of Andover / 1975


Some way past a pub on the other side of a one-shop village, not long after taking one fork of a “Y” junction on the unclassified lane, I thought I was lost. Then the rutted track I was searching for showed its face, there was no mistaking it because a weathered and peeling board, nailed to a magnificent old beech tree, pointed the way, in tiny letters, “AJS Motorcycles“.

Actually it was pointing in the opposite direction, straight through a field of wheat, but they couldn’t fool me, I’m a country lad and even I knew it was wrong to ride across a field, even if it was to a factory that produced fine hand built bespoke scramblers.

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FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc / 1975

Two miles down the puddle-strewn track, and after a couple of survive-or-die cross ups on my muddy street wise Triumph Bonneville, I saw the farm, or did I mean factory. Flint’s Farm has the usual selection of outbuildings, sheds and barns, maybe a few more than one might have considered normal, and one, was stuffed to the roof, with a few hundred, beautiful, brand new AJS Stormers. AJAY’s used to be, Black & Gold Giants, and made the sound of thunder.

AJS MkI 001

FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc / 1975

But these were Silver, Lean and Mean, fighting machines, which screamed like Banshee’s. Fluff Brown, the FB of FB AJS, and friend Clive Ellis have bought the manufacturing rights for the AJS “Y” Range scramblers, from Norton Villiers. They are the only company at this moment in time, which can produce the AJS Scrambler. It’s not fully clear, exactly what they own, so this will need to be sorted out sometime in the near future. But at the moment they wish to expand, increase sales, improve their product, and maybe even, extend their range.

Fluff Brown 1975

Fluff Brown FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc /1975

Fluff has been with the Y4 project, from the beginning, he started it back in 1966 with Peter Inchley, and ever since, has been responsible for much of its progress. He has long awaited the chance to develop the Stormer, along his own lines, he now has direct control, without interference and prior agreement from the Norton Villiers, company committee, he can now finally develop this bike, along his own lines, and extract its full potential. When Norton Villiers decided to relinquish the old name of AJS, in order to consolidate its interests in the rest of NVT, the Norton’s, Triumph’s and BSA’s.

Richard Winn

Richard Winn / AJS Stormer

Fluff made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, and I think they were taken by surprised, when in their eyes their humble development engineer, was in a position to buy them out. Originally he started out with another friend Reg Painter doing what they loved, building these racing machines, but unfortunately Reg couldn’t continue, so Fluff needed an experienced sales and marketing man, and Clive Ellis had encouraged him to take on the AJS right from the start, they could both see, that the bike still had market appeal, and the network of dealers were still crying out, for these machines.

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Clive Ellis with a barn full of brand new, FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc racers /1975

Clive used to be Norton Villiers, Home Sales Administration Manager, a position that gave him exactly the right qualifications and dealer contacts, for the job, and he is equally as enthusiastic about the potential of the new AJS Company, as Fluff and his dealers. The two men have sunk every penny they have, into the new venture, selling their cars and houses to raise the necessary capital, and when you’re married and have kids, as they do, that’s commitment to your vision and belief, in these machines.

In order to keep the price of the new machine as competitive as possible, local premises were required, to avoid the high cost of moving, and its unavoidable disruptions, besides which, city centre or even new industrial buildings were unnecessary. They would be distributing to their network of retailers, so didn’t required any snazzy showrooms, and a local farmyard was up for rent, so they took it. Also, I guarantee that there is no finer testing ground for this new machinery, than they already have, the bumps and ruts of their unique, approach road, it’s not the Bonneville Flats…

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Having bought not just the manufacturing rights but also all the AJS machines and parts, it was obvious to Brown and Ellis that their development policy over the next few years at least, must centre around the existing bikes. Fluff has always maintained, that some of the best racing, for the AJS Stormer, was during the days, competing in the World Championship GP’s. The bike though, had been let down by some very frustrating and fairly small mechanical issues.

Rob Wicks

Rob Wicks

These had led to losing vital championship points and in the end, the top championship riders. The fixings for the points, for example, were inadequate and the eletrics would suffer from poor water seals. Within a couple of months, Fluff had gone through the entire collection of old race logs, and cured any issue, that he found. The contact breaker now has a beefed up mounting plate and mounting point, and also, it won’t let you down in the rain, it’s perfectly sealed.

Things like the pistons are now top grade die-cast jobs by Hepolite, and set up specifically for the nature and needs of the bike, and you, its rider. Other improvements are a deeper groove on the mainshaft, now the clutch circlip is secure and holds the clutch firmly in place, gear selector jamming is also impossible because the selector cam barrel pins cannot drop out unless the whole unit is removed and rotated 180 degrees.

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FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc / 1975

So whats to stop an ace and the Ajay romping home with a World Championship this year? Well, it isn’t fast enough, the engine was designed back in the early sixties and this sport is the cutting edge of race engine technology, design and development. Norton Villiers stopped developing the engine back in 1970, with its big brother, the Stormer 410. Brown and Ellis have decided to work with this, rather than against it, this former champion is now aimed at the Clubman and the advanced Junior.

Rick Robertson

Rick Robertson / AJS Stormer

They also want to tune it so that it has a new life in Enduro racing, and also make it suitable for the weekend, Trail enthusiast for ‘Green Lane’ hacking. Experiments with various porting arrangements, firstly on the 250, including some seven port types, means that Fluff, can set up the bikes to the customers requirements and skill levels. A six-port pot, an unusual number of transfer ducts these days, has become their preferred choice for the non-expert. “We were able to prove on the dynamometer that connecting two of the seven ports, to make one large one, gave us a very worthwhile power bonus at low engine speeds, with the advantage of simpler, and therefore less expensive production requirements”.

More than any other topic of conversation, during our meeting was ‘the bottom end power delivery’, something they feel, would be of great advantage to the non-expert, being immediate and on tap.

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FB AJS Stormer Mk I 250cc Advertising / 1975

“One thing at a time, when we are satisfied with the performance of the 250, we will continue our work on the low end power of the 370, and then we might spend some time on the two units top ends”.

The 410 model has been dropped, temporarily, its much more powerful engine requires alot of attention, to smooth out its raw potential. Fluff feels confident, that the preliminary work, on the 370, promises a real performance advantage over the 250, so they can afford to wait, for the time being and come back to the big beast later. “Give us time though, we think we have our sense of priorities right, and we don’t want to over-reach ourselves, but we do want to get to work on the 410, soon”. More than just porting has contributed to this marked improvement, Hepolite’s new piston has been gas flowed towards the bottom end, and the new Amal lightweight concentric carburettor, has played a big part.

Allen Goddard AJS Stormer 410

Allen Goddard / AJS Stormer 410cc

The trouble of the engine, gassing at low speeds has been eliminated, starting is much easier and the whole rev range delivery is very smooth. I listened to one of the finished machines, idling like a well manored Roadster, as proof of this, and couldn’t deny that it was certainly a pleasant surprise.

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FB AJS Street Stormer Mk I 250cc Enhanced / 1975

An improved exhaust system now runs diagonally beneath the engine, and is one of the few concessions to fashion the team admits to, but it also works. “It is better, especially as its ACU rating is now well under the 90 decibel requirement”.

A fact that I found particularly impressive was that with the exception of the Girling rear shocks and the Lucas electrical systems, every component making up the entire machine was manufactured either by the company or by an outside local or British manufacturer to AJS’s specific and sole design.

Hubs, forks, frame, engine, gearbox, tank, etc… all produced by the company or one of these contractors, something of an example that other manufacturers of medium to lightweight machines could follow, as the component quality and performance are of the highest standard.

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FB AJS Street Stormer Mk I 250cc / 1975

Most of all though, I found Fluff Brown’s and Clive Ellis’s attitude towards their company highly satisfying, it made you want to be involved and become a part of it, a family. No boasting or claims of sky-high victories of either finacial or competition extremes.

John Foot 75 BulbarrowJohn Foot / Bulbarrow / 1975

Just a down to earth and very business like approach, to an area of the motorcycle market to which they feel they offer, the best machine, at a reasonable price, with the best back up of inexpensive spares and technical support.

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FB AJS Stormer 250cc MX / 1976

They have no works rider, but they have found John Foot, a 32 year-old rider who until last year was a Junior. They have supported him since he started riding in June “74’ and he has won 15 races in 14 meetings, immediatly earning him Expert status, a fine achievement, and real evidence supporting Fluff’s company ethos.

AJS Stormer 250 Enduro 1976 TP

FB AJS Stormer 250cc Enduro / 1976

John Foot AJS Stormer 1977

John Foot / AJS Stormer 1977

Fluff has a remarkable history as a team rider for Cotton, and as the Competition manager for both Cotton and AJS, and he can recognise raw motor-cross talent when he sees it, look at the young Andy Roberton, for example.

Peter Cutts 1976

Peter Cutts / AJS Stormer 250 / 1976

Clive added “we are already getting new orders from other competitors who have noticed Johns regular placings, and that’s what we want. He’s mature, a young kid might be over ambitious, making the headlines now and again, but we want someone who is cool, and consistent, and John delivers that perfectly”.

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FB AJS Stormer Enduro / 1977

To finish, I have to take one out for a blast, and I’m not disappointed, my thoughts immediately sprang to…. “this would make an excellent Enduro”. When I get back, shaking with adrenaline, I find out that, the generator does have the provision for an extra lighting coil, and they have plans to put these mean machines out on the road, and produce a ‘Green Laner’, which should prove to be, very competitive in price, and on the track. So have a word with your nearest dealer, I guarantee you won’t be sorry.

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FB AJS MX 360cc / 1978

Five years and five hundred machines later, Fluff Brown, is still in his farm shed, near Andover, building his crisp, rorty two-stroke off-roaders, and he hasn’t stood still. He must have sat back and watched the British motorcycle industry implode around him, from the peace and quiet of his country workshops, just outside Andover.

AJS Stormer Graham Inchley

Graham Inchley’s / AJS Stormer 250cc

Whilst he set about continuing to build the noisy machine that he loved, and which had been so intimately involved with, from its cradle at Cotton, to what must of seemed finally to be its grave, with NVT. But FB (Fluff Brown) AJS of Andover Ltd would continue to manufacture, scramblers, enduros and trail versions, of the 250cc, 360cc and the 410cc Stormer machines.

Built by hand to a flexible specification, meeting customer requirements and requests, with four and five port motors, with electronic ignition, and full race specification suspension, giving 12 inches of travel at the front and 10.5 inches on the rear, these machines just continue to power on, Fluff doesn’t stand still.

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Geoff Rob / FB AJS MX 360cc / 1978

Exhaust pipes, and even the brake shoes are now manufactured on the spot, but front forks, rear shocks, wheels, tanks and seats are bought in British components. Fluff’s only compromise, to the outside world, is the Spanish Motoplat electronics. A stickler for perfection, Fluff believes a job done properly usually means doing it him-self.

Nevil Wright Blackbush 1978

Nevil Wright / Bad Day / 1978

Frames are cut from chrome moly tubing and MIG welded together in one room, engines assembled in another, and the complete bike takes shape in a third. Norton Villiers had decided to use the race pedigree, of the AJS name, for their new scramblers, pinching ‘Fluff’ from Cotton, as their development and competition manager.

Cotton along with DOT, Greeves, (and the AJS Stormer has nothing to do with Francis Barnett) Francis Barnett, James, Sprite, DMW and others, which had all used the Villiers Starmaker engines, died overnight, as NV removed their source of motors. For Fluff and his AJS Scramblers though, the move was a big success. Hot on the heels of their first two-stroke scrambler, called the Y4, the firm launched the Stormer, which was a real “Cracker”.

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FB AJS MX 360cc / 1978

The AJS Stormer won Norton Villiers, the British MX Championships, for several years and recorded some fine victories in the World Championship GP’s. But by 1973, the rot at Norton Villiers had bought it to an end. So at the eleventh hour, Fluff made that offer, they couldn’t refuse, for the remaining stocks and rights, to the AJS name.

It was accepted and in 1974 he formed AJS of Andover with his friend, Reg Painter. Unfortunatily, a year later the partnership had to be dissolved, not giving up, Fluff, from that beginning with Reg, finally formed FB-AJS of Andover in 1975, and carried on for a while, working with Clive Ellis.

Now though, Clive has also gone, and all Ajays are built from new parts and they all feature torquey, tractable power, delivered to a four-speed gearbox via a duplex primary chain, and wet, multi-plate, all-metal diaphragm clutch. From the gearbox, available in close or wide ratio’s, power is delivered to the back wheel by Renold’s chain, tensioned by a unique, Fluff designed, self-sprung nylon block.

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FB AJS Stormer Enduro / 1979

Long travel Metal Profile front forks and Girling Gas Shocks put the power on to the dirt, and the trail bike comes with a choice of shorter suspension travel, for a more practical seat height. Akront alloy rims, each sporting double security bolts, are laced on to, conical hubs, containing drum brakes.

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FB AJS MX 250cc / 1979

The RD moto-cross and enduro version’s, are fitted with two-gallon high-density polythene petrol tanks, while the road legal trailster has a 1.75-gallon aluminium tank.

The enduro and trail versions have full 12-volt illuminations, the trail bike’s headlamp being mounted on rubber brackets, but no warning lights and tinny lights/horn switches. Flexible plastic mudguards, sidepanels and competition plates complete the rugged, rough stuff spec.

Although Fluff’s output is something below a 100 bikes a year, and these are nearly all sold before they’re built, he’d managed to get together, three bikes, for me to ride on the farm tracks and green lanes, which surround the farm. The 250cc trail bike I rode had a comfortable 33-inch seat height, thanks to shorter 9-inch travel lightweight front forks and 8.5-inch rear gassers.

Nick Brown : Pre RD AJAY : 1979

Nick Brown / Pre FB AJS RD MX 250cc / 1979

Starting was a piece of cake, and once I’d got the hang of the instant clutch, and righthand gearchange, felt at home and happy. The motor, less fierce than the competition bikes due to a smaller, unbridged exhaust port and narrower carb choke, chuffed along at tickover and pulled strongly from only a few more revs.

Only a speedo is fitted, so I don’t know where the power band started, but the acceleration changed from reserved to rapid in a smooth surge of torque at relatively low rpm, and pulled strong and hard over a wide powerband. This spread made the four gears plenty to choose from and cut down the effort required to maintain control and traction in the ruts, mud and gravel we encountered.

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FB AJS MX 250cc / 1979

Engine braking was usually enough on it’s own for the tricky bits, although a lower ratio could be used if you wanted to blast out of the mire. The front brake was progressive and ample for off-road use, but the rear drum was a little too fierce for my liking. Steering was light and precise, making the bike great fun to trials-ride over lumpy obsticles while standing up on the footrests and gripping the tank with your knees.

Team FB AJS Andover

The trials tyres fitted to our test machine gave an uncanny amount of control once they’d lost traction and I found it possible to travel sideways on wet grass for quite long distances without ending up on my ear. However, there wasn’t enough traction, for a clean bite of ground when trying to loft the front wheel over an obsticle, so maybe a knobblier pattern rear boot would be better.

Jon Brooks FB AJS 250 1979 Ham Lane Petersfield

Jon Brooks / FB AJS 250 / Ham Lane / 1979

Stepping off the trail bike and slinging my leg over the 360cc Enduro RD model, I realised just how different these apparently similar machines were. Firstly the seat height had grown from 33 to 36.5-inches, the full race specification suspension giving 12-inches of ground clearance, and secondly, I couldn’t start it.

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FB AJS MX 250cc / 1979

Fluff’s son, Nick came to my rescue; he had the knack of swinging the kickstarter just right and opening the throttle the correct amount to get the machine to burst into life. Once running the Ajay was pure magic. Powerful at the bottom of its rev. range and dynamite from middle to top, the bike jetted forward with an eagerness that will win trophies in the hands of a competent rider.

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FB AJS RD Enduro 250cc / 1980

Stacks of torque was available from any revs, in any gear and cracking it full on when in the powerband called for weight well forward to keep the machine pointing somewhere near the horizon.

AJS Stormer Advert

FB AJS Stormer Enduro / 1980

The full suspension travel really came into its own when rattling full tilt over the rutted and bumpy tracks, and it coped admirablly with the few leaps I tried. Again steering was spot on and the full knobbly tyres gave great confidence with silly angles of lean on the loose surface.

Adrian Yallop FB AJS 1979

Adrian Yallop / FB AJS MX / 1980

Lastly I rode the 250cc moto-cross version, which did everything the enduro bike did, but at about 1000rpm higher up the rev band. A little fussy, about which gear it was in, but it really jumped when it came on pipe and gave a lively, controllable and exhilarating ride.

AJS Red Devil MkI

FB AJS RD MX / 1980

Prospective owners will also be very pleased to hear that spares are 100 percent, and that full servicing, renovation and trouble shooting is to be had from no lesser authority than the machine’s manufacturer himself, the designer, and development engineer, Fluff Brown.

FB Works Team

AJS Works Team / Pictures Ian Lewis

Fluff Brown Works Team

Fluff Brown / AJS Motorcycles Ltd

FB AJS Stormer 250 001

FB AJS Stormer

Cotton Triumph Special

Ian Lewis – I used to help Fluff build up bikes in the early years, 1975. I would be the mechanic when we went to France and Holland, on pre 65 and pre 74 meetings. We built up this navy blue Cotton Triumph Special (with Nicks help), I owned it, they race it, and it was very successful in the UK and in France.

Fluff Brown 001

Fluff Brown

Andy Roberton

Andy Roberton

Andy Roberton giving Fluff a lift

Andy Roberton with Fluff pillon / Cotton Special

Rogues Gallery

Ian Lewis 001

Ian Lewis

Dave Heaton

Dave Heaton / AJS Stormer

Mick Ridley 003

Mick Ridley / AJS Stormer

Paul Graves. Eric Miles pic

Paul Graves. Photo Eric Miles / AJS Stormer

Terry Pickering AJS Stormer Severnside

Terry Pickering / AJS Stormer

Vic Rayner AJS Stormer 370

Vic Rayner / AJS Stormer

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor / AJS Stormer

Ben Jones

Ben Jones / AJS Stormer

Ivan Haskell

Ivan Haskell / AJS Stormer

Gary Smith : Red Devil MkI : 1980

Gary Smith / FB AJS RD MX MkI 250cc / 1980

Nevil Wright 81 Andover Experts

Nevil Wright / Andover Experts/ 1981

Paul Barton 1974

Paul Barton / 1974.

Fluff Brown

Fluff Brown / Flints Farm / Cotton Cobra

Nick Brown FB Cotton Cobra

Nick Brown / Cotton Cobra


51. FB Red Devil / 1980


This is the final version of the FB AJS Stormer, called the AJAY Red Devil, it has a completely new frame. Fluff has dropped the eccentric swinging arm adjustment, from the original Stormer, and introduced a newly configured, frame and swinging arm design.

The MX bike, along with the Enduro, sports the long travel front forks up front, with a new high-density two-gallon red polythene gas tank.

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AJAY RD (Red Devil) 360cc MX II / 1981

I picked up this leaflet when visiting Flint’s Farm in the early eighties and the new bike was just fantastic.

Fluff unveiled his new AJAY Red Devil moto-cross bike, with its new colour scheme, at the Bristol Dirt Bike Show, in September 1979.

The Trail version retains the larger capacity alloy petrol tank, and along with the Enduro has the addition of lights, etc for road use.

 There are two versions, on version one the front down tube starts at the headstock, as a large diameter single tube and branches into two, smaller diameter tubes, which cradle the engine and allows the exhaust pipe to pass through to the barrel.

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 AJAY RD frame and swinging arm (MkII) / 1980

The large oval backbone has been altered to a triangulated reinforced twin tube section, quite a departure from Fluffs original Stormer frame.

In many ways it reverts back to the early Cobra frame, that Fluff had help develop for Cotton back in 1964, whilst working with Peter Inchley, at Hawkstone Park, to house that first prototype Starmaker engine.

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AJAY RD frame and swinging arm (MkI) / 1980

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 Cotton Cobra frame and swinging arm / 1964

The Starmaker engiine has a central exhaust port, so one of Fluff’s original frame design changes, to the pre-Cobra Starmaker frame, had been to replace its single down tube with the lightweight twin down tube cradle.

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Andy Roberton and Reg Painter with the Stormer at Thruxton / 1970

Many riders prefer the single down tube design. One of the new Red Devil frames provides the option of that old Cossack single down tube layout. This has the handling advantages of a single down tube, whilst solving the issue of the Starmakers central exhaust port.

Fluff and Andy Roberton must have been very close to this layout back in 1967.

AJS Red Devil MkII Bombardier Rotax 250 MX 001 1981 001

AJS Red Devil MkII Bombardier Rotax 250 MX 002 1981 002 

FB AJS Red Devil MkII Bombardier Rotax 250 MX II

When Fluff purchased the AJS Competition set up from Norton Villiers in 1974, and started building the bikes he loved, the AJS Stormer, he still retained his affection for his Cotton’s, and would go on to build Cobra and Telstar replicas, in the nineties.

These motorcross bikes were based on his own Cotton race machines. In 1965 Cotton hadn’t been part of the Norton Villiers marque, when Fluff joined, and Cotton continued building competition bikes for several years after he had left, but not with the Starmaker engine.

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 FB Cotton Cobra 250cc 1964 Replica

So when Andy Roberton’s original Villiers Metisse from 1967, was found in a barn, it was a bit unexpected, when the layers of thick paint were scratched away, that revealed underneath was that very famous, Cotton badge. Obviously Fluff Brown and Andy Roberton had still liked to race as Cotton, whilst they developed the new, then unnamed, Norton Villiers scrambler.

“At Norton Villiers we initially housed the Starmaker in a Petit Metisse frame, and Freddie Mayes raced it in both the 1966 British Championship and selected GP’s, as a Villiers Metisse.”

“But Andy Roberton couldn’t get on with the Metisse frame, so we modified a Cotton frame, which he took to, like a duck to water. And this frame, would become the one, which later appeared in the production bike, carrying the name, AJS Stormer.”

So is Fluff telling us, with his wonderful sense of humour, when delivering his last piece of engineering brilliance, with a rye smile on his face?

 That really, to his mind, the AJS Stormer, was always the continued development of the Cotton Cobra, after all, he did name the final version, ‘The Red Devil”.

Red Devil MkI

FB Red Devil 250 MX 1979 MkI

Red Devil 001

FB Red Devil 360 MX 1980 MkII

Talking to Nick, in ‘The Shed’, on my last visit before AJS Motorcycles moved to their new address, we discussed the Stormer’s past, and we both agreed, simultaneously, that what the Stormer really needed, was a fifth gear.

Obviously the GP engine had six, but it had no kickstart and the four-speed box could just not take that extra cog, even though Fluff had tried.

 The moto cross Stormer will easily pull, well passed 70 mph, but you feel that there’s still more, your foot searches for that next gear.

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Villiers Metisse 1967 petrol tank stripped back

Villiers Metisse 1967 side panel, strip off the white vinyl numbers

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 and you get…   leaving the Black paint, number 173.

During its early days NV was trying hard to sell their Stormers to the lucritive American market, but the Starmaker engine had been designed by British centric thinking.

 NV stuck with the gear lever on the right and one up, unlike the Japanese.

The Stormer had also been designed, to win motor-cross races, but moto-cross was a small market and it was the Japanese who developed the spin off market from their moto-cross machines, the road useable Trail bike.

 If NV had taken note of that Rickman Starmaker Metisse, shipped to the US, back in 1966, put in a gearbox with a fifth gear, one down, and a version with the gears on the left, they may well have managed to crack that American nut, with that ‘mechanical masterpiece’.

 But that’s hindsight, NV was concentrating on the other bike that this wonderful frame produced, the Norton Commando, even so, the Stormer sold very well and NV tried the gearbox changes with the Stormer 500 prototype, but that was much too late, as Bernard Hooper had said, “it all took too long”.

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 Andy Roberton / Metisse Framed Norton Villiers / 1967 

 So when Fluff Brown moved into his Flint’s Farm workshops, in 1974, he continued to build motorcycles to the highest of standards, as he always had, even though these buildings were previously modest chicken sheds.

But that didn’t stop him, he had worked in conditions like these, way back at Hawkstone Park and Thruxton. He could see the Stormer still had a great future, so he put his plan into action, and not only did he continue to build competition scramblers, he immediately expanded his range to include, Trail and Enduro machines, the Street Stormers.

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Nick and Fluff Brown assembling their new AJAY RD Trail bikes / 1980

His doggied determination, and the bikes innovation, had twice won him the British Motocross Championship, he had been with the AJS Stormer project from the beginning to the end, he was the one who provided the backbone, the spine to this machines story.

And the Starmaker engine still holds the record for the fastest lap, ever recorded, by a single-cylinder 250cc machine on the Isle of Man TT course, thanks to him and the great, Peter Inchley, back in 1966.

When Fluff took over the Stormer project, Classic Motocross was a fledgling sport, he helped develop it into the fun it is today, and it was ideal for his AJS Stormer.

The AJS Stormer story continues, even though, it’s now nearly fifty, it’s still raced on every Sunday, a beautifully balanced, reliable and competitive Classic moto-cross machine, and with its racing pedigree, it’s also the last true… British…. ‘Thorough Bred’… AJS.

Fluff’s screen saver.

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NV Mk II Cotton Prototype, Fluff ‘David’ Brown.

“The confidence one achieved while belting along over bumpy, slippery surfaces was really something and could all be put down to the unique frame design. A really robust spine tube is the heart and strength of this unit”…….   The AJS Stormer.

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Fluff Brown building his last AJS Stormer / Completing One Hundred Years of AJS / 2009

My Dad “Fluff Brown” quietly passed away yesterday July 4th at Millway House care home, Weyhill, Andover, Hants. He had been suffering with vascular dementia. We are deeply missing him but feel at ease now that his suffering has ended. To me, he was inspiring, a friend and my partner.

Nick Brown / 5 July 2013.


Did Fluff save his best, till last, when he was free from corporate business interference,

was his ultimate motorcross machine, the FB AJS RD 360 MX MkII

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Nick Brown / Works FB AJS RD 360 MX MkII / 1981

One of Fluff’s sons Nick, a very competent MX rider himself, continues the business to this day and he has now expanded it, with a whole new range of his own, custom AJS Street and Scramble machines.

AJS Stormer Red Devil Single Shock 1983

Simon Brown / Works FB AJS RD 360 MX MkII Single Shock / 1983

“I’m not 100% sure, but I think this is the last pure bred AJS Stormer MX’er ever to be built, 1983. Again, not sure but I think Alan Arnott designed the rear linkage. It handled just as good as the 86 KTM. I really loved this bike and was the only one that didn’t put me in hospital.”

Simon Brown AJAY 250 Rotax 1985

“Cliff, and this is the 85 AJAY with the 250 Rotax motor. Even though it’s not a Stormer, I wanted to show you how dad managed to progress his bikes on a budget, that other companies spent on their office parties. I remember discussing with him how we would go on. Try to get a water cooled motor, the air cooled Rotax weighed the same as a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, or switch to KTM. We couldn’t get the water cooled motor as Armstrong had the exclusive rights. So in 86 we did switch to KTM.”

Above the Works Team, left to right, Colin, me, Brennie and brother Nick.

“After thought, broken thumb, 1 day hospital, 4 weeks plaster.”

Simon Brown. (also one of Fluff’s sons) now the home of the FB AJS Stormer.

Crb Sheet AJS

Price List

Roger Jeffery


52. Flint’s Farm, Andover


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Celebrating 100 years of AJS Motorcycles

Fluff’s final AJS Stormer 370cc MX




Fluff Brown, on the ramp leading up to the front door of ‘The Shed’ at Flint’s Farm

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Electronics bench

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Spare Girlings