FB AJS Stormer MkI 250cc / 1976
There comes a time when you realise you have to act; thinking about it, no longer cuts it. Your bike has been sitting at the end of the garden waiting for the day you decide to do something about it. You’ve fixed up the house and you’ve done the garden, but there, at the back, is you’re former pride and joy, the shame washes over you and in my case, I realised it’s my fiftieth birthday and I can do something about it.
But how do you go about it, the last time I rebuilt it, was back in the nineties, when it was my ride to work and weekend fun, I stripped it down one summer out in the garden, chucked away the worn out and damaged parts, and rebuilt with motocross shop parts, then I’ve ridden it until the clutch was worn out. Then the estate car and the cost of kids took over, so it’s been left for several years, as a non-runner, exposed to the elements, but the guilt is there in the back of my mind.
I don’t have a workshop, still have all my tools and a partner who doesn’t appreciate how useful the dinning-room table can be. So a plan was needed, I get out my spanners and start to take it apart, now that feels good, before I know it, I have a rolling chassis and I’ve found my old parts list, it smells like rotting canvas, but hey, a spreadsheet through those drawn out lunch-breaks will sort that out. I bought it when I was seventeen, with my first wages, from Motorcycle City in Reading, and it gave me the freedom I craved, it cost £380, on the road in 1976.
I had seen one in Motorcycle News, in the early seventies but never come across one out on the road, the memory had stuck with me though. But in the meantime, four years had past and I had made up my mind to buy, a Green Meanie. I had been going into the dealer and pouring over the advertising leaflets, whilst listening to radio Luxembourg. I had my first job offer but couldn’t face the bus journey, from my village, Sonning Common, every day into the Royal Berks Hospital in Reading, the time to act had arrived. So the final weekend before I started work, I went into town, walked up Oxford Road and turned to go into the dealership. They had changed the bike
s in the window and the second-hand Laverda Jota caught my eye, but behind it was something else. I can remember the excitement made my legs go weak. There was a used Stormer Enduro, it had a whacking great dent in the tank but I couldn’t careless. I turned straight around and went home.
I needed my dad to sign the hire purchase agreement. We were back within a couple of hours, I took him straight to it and was appealing to his engineering prowess, it’s British steel, your spanners will fit, it’s mostly aluminum, it will last forever, blah blah blah… The dealer came over, looked him straight in the eye and said, “That’s the fastest bike in here, and nothing will beat that off the lights”.
My dad looked at me, smiled and said…. “We’ll take it”.
So what next, I’ll phone Nick Brown, down in Andover. It was ages since I’d seen him, the last time we were young, I’d gone in and bought the Motoplat ignition system, pumping the volts up to twelve, the six volt system, with points were outdated and didn’t provide great lights. The replacement was a vast improvement, also providing a far superior and reliable spark. His dad, Fluff, had sorted that out for me, that was the eighties, Nick is running AJS Motorcycles Ltd for the family, and he said he could help with the engine but things had changed and I would need to search elsewhere for work on the rest of the bike. That suited me, I couldn’t do the work the engine required, so I packed it up and drove down to see him. On my arrival, ‘The Shed’, was much the same as I remembered it, they had shelves of spares and many cycle parts, so I took a few notes and left the engine with him, he said “Give me about six months”.
It was in an embarrassing state, the clutch needed replacing, water had seeped into the cylinder and the bottom of the sump. So it was a complete strip down, once split open, it was full of water, so the crank was damaged and needed to be replaced, all the casings were sent off and blasted back to new. The clutch was completely replaced with new parts and the gearbox was taken apart and cleaned up, the gears were still good enough to re-use. One thing to watch out for is heavily worn teeth on the small drive sprocket; this is becoming a very rare part. The top end was rebuilt, but the head was chucked away, funnily because back in the eighties I had blown a hole through the piston at full speed, locking the back wheel and going into a very scary slide, never dropped it though, it’s a very well balanced machine. But Nick was surprised we had re-used it the last time, it looks as if someone had shot it with a twelve bore at six feet. The Motoplat electric’s were sent off to Spain, to be checked over, put in an oven to dry out and if necessary they could rewind them but they were found to be fine. Thirty years old, I had expected the worst so was delighted with the news, there are a few alternatives on the market to replace this, one is offered by Electrex World, the STK-980-Stator Kit, which was designed by them, for their own 410.
I now had the rolling chassis, and I decided to hire a van and take this to the Motorcycle Restoration Co, in Saffron Walden, some of the work I would require doing was beyond my expertise, so after a phone call I arranged a meeting with Norman and set off. For example, the dent in the tank was still there, from when I had originally bought it, and this was the type of skills that a place like this offers, its aluminum and would need cutting open, reshaping and welding back together. I wanted to replace all the wheel spindles, brakes pads and springs, wheel bearings and have them rebuilt with stainless spokes. Many of the body panels I thought were past it, so the airbox, filter and connecting rubber for the carburettor needed to go. I would also replace the mudguards, which are alloy and readily available, all the cables and Amal alloy handle bar levers.
These I could all get from AJS Motorcycles Ltd. I also bought replacement fender brackets from them for the front (on the front I double up the bracket, this stiffens it further and stops the mudguard flapping about) and back, and they also had the plate for the rear of the airbox, which bolts to the base of the frame above the eccentric swinging arm. The front forks would also require some work, but I would have to wait until they were taken apart to know what shape they were in, I bought new double seals though which are an improvement to the originals. When the wheels were broken down the brake drums were badly worn, so these were skimmed out and I had Nick produce some thicker brake linings to fit on the pads. The original Akrontrims were fine so along with the conical hubs they were sent off to be cleaned up and polished.
With the frame I needed to do some alterations, the expansion chamber is low slung, on my machine, but it now required silencing, the bike is very loud with a straight through exhaust, I have been pulled over a couple of times because the police have thought I had modified it. So AJS constructed a new pipe and expansion chamber and we added a Stealth muffler. This doesn’t reduce power significantly. Also I wanted to add some rear pegs, Norman was the Motorcycle Restoration Co’s AJS man, but Chris stepped in here and fabricated two brackets which we welded to the frame, they would be tucked in behind the side plates and leave the pegs clear of the exhaust and other parts. I bought a couple of Harley Davidson folding chrome pegs to attach, which I felt were sympathetic to the rest of the bike.
Then I had to decide on the frame finish.
Stormers were produced with silver painted frames, talking to the guy’s at the Motorcycle Restoration Co, they recommended an Epoxy paint finish. I found this a tough call, paint you can repair, epoxy is a little more difficult, but they said it was tough enough for the job and the finished look is outstanding. As my bike won’t spend much time off-road, I decided to go with their recommendation. You will find the frame numbers in a couple of places, one is the front of the headstock and the other is under the large hole for the swinging arm on the right side, about parallel with the kick-start. I have also been told they can be near the top of the rear spring on the left, but I’ve never seen one there.
To attach the exhaust, I had Chris make a bracket and weld it onto the frame further back from the top right rear spring mounting, this is the point it was originaly attached, the Stealth muffler required it’s own mounting point and this meant I could use the original exhaust mounting arm, and with a bespoke alloy mount, the Stealth muffler could be neatly attached. The other point is lower down near the foot peg, here you have a disc which is part of the frame and rotates, the hole in it for the bolt and rubber mounting is off set from centre, this allows you adjustment as you attach the pipe, there are also two springs to tighten the whole thing up, you don’t seal the pipe to the barrel, movement is allowed.
AJS Motorcycles also have the frame and engine number records so if you wish to convert to road use or just know a bit more about your machine, this can been very useful, they do charge a small amount for documentary provenience.
The next part was the swinging arm bushes, the swinging arm is a bit of a beast to knock out so you’re unlikely to have much left after you’ve achieved it, so buy a new one, its unlikely you’ll ever need to do it again. I went the whole hog and replaced everything, it’s all available and you use this quite a lot, to keep good tension on the chain, I have also found that the small locking nuts on the top of the eccentrics tend to wear with this constant use, so good threads and good nuts keep the system tight and swift to use.
Apart from the frame and swinging arm, there are not many painted parts. The other pieces are the chain guide and rear brake torque arm; I decided for a bit of bling and durability, so included these in the parts sent off to get chromed. The other parts are the back plate for the airbox, which fits on top of the eccentric arm mounting, on the frame and is part of the rear mud guard, and on mine, the side stand, which I gathered together, and sent them all along to be included in the powder coating. The side stand has always been a bit of an issue, you won’t find it on the motocross bikes but on mine there is a mounting on the frame, a sort of half moon affair, and the arm has an open groove with a single straight through heavy duty bolt. The frame fixing wears and then the whole thing is prone to collapse, not fun when you come back and find your bike flat on the tarmac. So to cure this I welded a plate on the front side, closing the groove, the arm now swings down and rests sweetly against that, problem solved.
The Parts Catalogue is a must, it’s quite a big A4’ish ring folder, and should cost about £20 from AJS, it contains chapters of exploded diagrams on each area of the bike, with attached key numbers, on the opposite page, you have a parts list, telling you information like the nut and bolt type, and size, even the length of un-tapped shaft, the number you need and the order code, AJS still use this system. If you use this link, it will take you to the Stormer shop, but not all parts are listed here, contact them with the parts code. http://www.ajs-shop.co.uk/
I bought some freezer bags and wrote all the codes on the white tabs, as I stripped the bike down and I bagged them up, I also included the parts catalogue page and diagram key number. This avoided any part getting misplaced and the proverbial head scratching. I sent several parts off to be chrome plated, some wouldn’t have been plated originally*, some would. I included the gear lever, the kick start, the fork top nuts, the brake rod* and adjuster*, the front brake torque arm, the front brake arm, the front brake cable adjuster* (fitted on the lower fork leg with a small square cable seat, this part is very rare), the front fender bracket*, the rear fender bracket*, the rear brake torque arm*, the rear brake arm, the rear brake lever*, the chain guide*, the seat mounting plates*, the foot pegs* and mounts*, the exhaust mounting arm and several nuts and bolts associated with these parts. I also put together a spreadsheet of all the parts. I wanted to replace all the nuts, bolts and washers for the cycle parts, and many of these repeat over different pages of the parts catalogue. Then you can count up the totals for all the different types and order in bigger batches.
The parts catalogue is also the same for the 370 and the 410, some information is dated but on the whole this file keeps the project together, I even write notes on the pages to help with reassembly. Some parts had to be replaced, when I went to visit the bike part way in, Norman had put a brushed finish on the aluminum side panels, not what I wanted, so again I contacted Nick and he was able to supply an up-grade kit that some people put on their Motocross machines, but was also fitted to my Enduro. This provided two new side panels, the internal air box shell, new air filter and fixing plate, and the rubber connector for the carburettor, the only bits missing are the side panel fixings which Norman sourced for me, Dzus fasteners. I also bought a new seat with logo, new seat foam and fibreglass base, this all needs to be assembled and you are supplied with black metal clips that push onto the seat base to secure the cover. When I ordered the parts from AJS I emailed them pages of the spread sheet, they supplied nearly every single part I requested, there were a few admissions, they couldn’t supply the bolts required for attaching the rear sprocket to the wheel, these I ordered from a specialist website bolt supplier using the part catalogue information but I had to be happy with fully threaded bolts, and some large washers in the steering head and the fork top nuts were not available, so I used the old ones. Otherwise, all the cycle nuts, bolts and washers were replaced, like for like, the parts aren’t new but clean up very well.
So by now the engine was complete, I went down to pick it up, I was very happy with the work on the engine, it looked better than ever and needed to get back in its frame, so I drove it straight over to Saffron Walden. The forks had now been stripped and rebuilt, the chrome tubes were in excellent condition, I thought it likely they would need to be hard chromed, but they were even straight. I had not been so lucky with the fork legs; the alloy had corroded around the top and would not provide a seat for the seals. I had bought a spare set on e-bay, as you do, but when I had seen Nick and told him about this, he tempted me with a brand new set he seemed to have tucked up under his desk, no idea how he managed to just reach over and produce them, I was in deep by now so of course I wasn’t going to leave them there. I had also found a set of alloy headlight mounts on e-bay, I was really pleased with them and felt if they had been available in the seventies, they would of been Fluff’s choice. Originally they had a rubber mount with a chrome springy wrapping bracket, cut with a series of diminishing large diameter holes. With the alloy head stock and alloy handle bar mounts, the new ones fit right in.
The engine is mounted by three bolts, one of them is special, the one underneath slides in quite easily, you have to hold the nut in place as you slide it through, otherwise you have no room to get it on, the one at the front is straight forward. On the top you need the bolt that has part of the head cut away, and it goes in from the front, it’s so close to the engine shell a fully headed bolt doesn’t go through, don’t lose it, or the bolt. The entire fork alloy was polished and the forks rebuilt and installed. New steering head bearings were installed; the wheel bearings and the steering head bearings are all the same sealed units. The nuts, bolts and special washers and spacers for the steering head are all parts to look after; these are difficult parts to replace. When I bought the bike it had a Lucas chrome headlight, by searching on the internet I found Goffy’s and bought a replacement from him, it’s a copy, but by searching further I found you can locate original headlight glass and reflectors, mine has a wee bit of rust but is brilliant, and fitted perfectly into the new repro shell, it even has the Lion sat on the front. Paul was even good enough to write on the invoice the correct bolts to buy to fit it, so again I sourced them and they went in with the next chroming, arranging chroming isn’t too much of a drag, your parts just get included when a batch is being done.
So six months on and everything seemed to be going well, but those with experience know this can’t continue, so when this happens to you, know your not alone. The final frame part was the rear springs, I made the mistake in the nineties of ignoring the mantra, ‘never throw anything away’, and the Girlings were gone. So I bought a pair of Ikon motocross rear springs, these are Australian Koni replacements in black and chrome and are excellent, one day I may fit a set of replica Girlings or if lucky find an original pair, but that’s another day.
The chromed parts were sent off, almost immediately the project was started and the chain guard, which is fabricated from a single piece of aluminum sheet and is not included in the catalogue, it’s not a motocross part, was still at the workshop. Norman decided this needed a bespoke mounting bracket, and unbeknown to me, welded one to the swinging arm, before it was sent off to be powder coated. He also cut the chain guard down, because he thought it was unnecessarily bulky. This was not the case, it’s the original part, it’s large, yes, but this is to allow for a long groove, about 5 inches, this slot is cut up from the base and allows you to slide the chain guard up and down on the fixing bolt, you can then change the rear sprocket size, it’s mounted on the chain guide, and this was at the chrome works. Norman couldn’t see were it was mounted and thought it had been overlooked.
The wheels had now been rebuilt, I wrapped them in Michelin T63 Enduro tyres, I used a 110/80 x 18 on the rear, I may go up to a 120 in the future, but I needed to estimate the clearance for it to turn cleanly, so I would wait and see how it worked out, the bike is built to take a 4 inch rubber. Then I receive a phone call, “the rear springs are to big”, so I’m thinking about the tyre width and the new spring diameter. I head over to see them. I look at the rear of the bike, and the chain guard is squeezed between the rear spring and the wheel, and when it’s rotated, it rubs. We measure the spring diameter and looked through the catalogues and find a set of Hagon shocks that could give the room required, it was only millimeters, so reluctantly I agree, and we order them in. When these arrive, they are installed, I get another call, “it still doesn’t work”, I’m baffled, I’ve chosen a smaller tyre and the Hagon shocks are smaller diameter springs, I head back over, and take another look. This time the chain guide has returned from the chromer’s, with the rear torque arm and are fitted on the bike, then I notice immediately that the chain guard is not attached to the correct place. Then slowly the story unfolds, and I show Norman how the assembly should of taken place. So the swinging arm has to come off, the new bracket forced the chain guard over into the wheel and the bracket needed to be ground off and then the swinging arm sent off to be recoated. Also a new chain guard had to be fabricated, from the parts of the old one we made a template and knocked a new one together, not too difficult but a bit of a shame, I expect this was a bespoke part and slightly different for each machine, anyway no real harm done. Later on when I’ve got the bike home I realise the Hagon shocks are on upside down, unusual I know, but these shocks are designed differently and look upside down, even though your looking at the logo upside down, your brain still tells you they’re on the right way up, so I take them off and find the Ikon shocks fit perfectly.
So nearly there, I had replaced the handlebars years ago with a set of Reynolds, one day I had set off up out of the ‘Badgers Pit’, a deep hole up the woods, with a thirty to forty foot, almost vertical climb at the top. I selected the wrong gear, but instead of ‘chick-in out’, I gave it all I could, and just jumped out the top, landed on the back wheel but had no forward motion left, the bike spun a 180 degrees, dropped the front like a stone and in doing so opened the throttle full. I went straight back over the top, back into the pit, as the front dropped down I did a complete back flip over the handle bars, pushing the bike off to the right, with the rear wheel screaming like a mad, bad chainsaw. I landed flat on my back, thankfully cushioned by beech leaves off to the left of the track, but if you’ve ever doubted wearing body armour, change your mind, I was lucky not to land flat on my back, on protruding flints. I had a bruised ankle, but the bike survived, apart from the handle bars, so now I’ve bought a set of matching bars from AJS, but the originals would have knurled steel were the clamps tighten. Another non-original part is the rear light, I chose to change this to another Lucas part which I prefer, I also bought this from Goffy’s, and found a Lucas reflector to replace the reproduction one, it also provides a good mounting for an alloy number plate. The bike had now been rewired, I had bought two original Lucas switches, both I fitted to the underside of the air box shell, one is the kill switch the other, on and off for the direct current lights, it keeps a good spark when your not using them. The brake light is a small pull switch operated by the rear brake lever, which is attached to the brake rod by a spring, you can also use a brake cable, my frame has a fitting on the swinging arm to locate the brake switch. On the handle bars I have a dip switch and horn button, again I sourced this on the internet, they are vastly improved from the original Lucas parts. The coil produces direct lighting, this doesn’t supply enough decent power to drive a horn, originally it came with a squeezy hooter, so I found a small motor cycle battery, housed it in the air box and drive the horn on it’s own circuit. The speedo is the original Smiths unit, this was rebuilt and is driven by a rear wheel cable from the original Veglia drive. I may have this looked at again, it works but isn’t as positive as I would like. It also has its new Gasser side pull twist grip throttle and Amal front brake and clutch levers, with new cables, and the AJS SHB1 chrome handle bars are finished with Doherty grips.
The final parts, the carburettor, when I bought the bike back in 1977, it came with a 32mm Amal Mk2, Nick recommended a 34mm, so I bought a new one from the Amal Carburettor Company, this is still work in progress, I haven’t yet got this to my satisfaction, it runs fine but doesn’t pick up from standing, the way I would like, it runs on the highest octane fuel I can find with Silkolene Comp 2 at 32-1. All the fittings came with the air box, the rubber to the barrel is easy to source, the air box to carb, is not. The bike is now just about through its shake down, so tweaking the carb will be next, the throttle cable is also available along with the throttle from AJS Motorcycles Ltd. The tank, finally lost it’s dent, it was a bit of an old friend, the guy who bought it from new, dropped it before it was run in, broke his ankle and sold it straight away, it meant I could afford to buy it, basically brand new, so it was a tough decision, should I stay or should I go now, this was the only opportunity for it to change, so I decided to refurbish it. It was some of the best money I spent, it was sent out to a specialist, and it returned in perfect condition, it’s finished with a Monza cap, it just needed the badges and the bike was complete, it had its MOT and had taken nine months.
So I know this route for a rebuild is not for everyone, you must be mad or have a special reason. While its been away I’ve pulled out the cement mixer and built myself a small workshop, I had to clear the final weeds first, but hey, hard work never hurt anyone, now it’s home and dry. My warning is, it’s an expensive route, you won’t get your money back, that’s for sure, and even though you employ professionals, you’ll find you’ll know your bike best. Without them I couldn’t have done it, Nick at AJS Motorcycles did a Storming job on the engine, had all the experience and the tools, no one knows the engine better, MRC, provided engineering skills I could only dream of and bought in, the specialists, that proved their abilities, over and over. But I had the best fiftieth ever, my daughter took most of the photographs and travelled the journey with me, going into places others wouldn’t tread, fantastic, and of course ‘Biggles’. And I for one, think these bikes have earned there ‘Badge of Honour’, long live AJS. So, my special reason, this bike was the start of my independence, it means alot to me, and now my daughter is hooked… and then, I can’t forget my dad, he came over to see it, and I said, “told you it was built well”, he looked at me straight in the eye, smiled and said “you’re still full of it”. Well… I think that’s what he said.