You can’t get more LA, than the Doors in 1971, so I have chosen them to provide the sound track to our desert racing story, ‘Riders on the Storm’, and Hollywood as we all know is famous for its Cowboy movies, so it’s no wonder its location is out in Los Angeles, surrounded by the dramatic desert landscape, required to film those John Ford action packed Classic’s, with cowboys being shot spectacularly off their galloping horses.
But what did these cowboys get up to, in the real world, on their weekends off, the stunt men and women, the film crews and actors, well some of them participated in a sport, a sport that would attract thousands, not just to watch, but also to participate in, they wanted to ride with their stars, they wanted to be part of the posse, they wanted to be in the action too.
Well the Viewfinders Motorcycle Club, was formed because they liked to race Desert…
But what sort of machines did these Desert clubs race; I had a chance to ask our Jim Morrison, our front man, someone who was there, dancing out in the desert sands, Brian Slark.
“I opened Norton Villiers Corporation along Paramount Boulevard, Long Beach, California in January 1969, which is just a stone throw from Hollywood”.
“My racing took second place to my career, as the AJS Service and Competitions manager”.
“We received the first Stormer’s in the USA, and our first task was to take them out and thrash them around the desert, ‘a tough job’. We did a lot of desert miles, we ran them into the sand, with no tank badges, because our task was to see what changes, if any, were needed before we unveiled them to the US dirt bike racers”.
“We soon realised, they were good, very good, so we quickly ordered special desert versions, these we decided would need to have some alterations, wide ratio gears for speed and larger gas tanks, you obviously don’t want to run out of gas in the desert, and desert racing covers a lot of hot, rugged miles, with not so many corners or gas stations”.
“Norton Villiers soon knocked these out and shipped them over with Peter Inchley, Fluff Brown was also expected to go, he wanted to understand the demands of the desert, but unfortunately his daughter was unwell”.
Peter Inchley, Long Beach, California.
AJS Desert Stormer 250 MX / 1970
The lean, mean, new desert machine…
In the hands of some very capable racers, the AJS 250 has won several moto-cross championships, and if things keep going the way they are, it will probably win quite a few more.
We don’t know how you’re fixed for hair, but all we can say, is if you’ve got enough, and you can hold that throttle open, all the way, there’s not a reason in the world, that you can’t do some winning yourself. It’s quick, ultra light, and handles like whoopy.
As for a cowtrail riders delight, well this motorcycle was designed for racing, it’s equipped for racing, and it’s good for one thing, and that’s racing!
Several things are noticable at first glance. The chrome wheel rims, with high tensile steel spokes, are on unusual polished alloy, conical hubs, they’re reminiscent of hubs found on early CZ moto-cross models so they quickly throw off the European mud.
The hubs are small, there’s not much room to stuff a big brake in either one of them, but on a moto-cross bike like this one, the brakes are not designed to be used that often. Most slowing down is achieved using the engine. Both brakes are single leading shoe, internal expanding variety, and both work as well as can be expected, for a brake this size.
The frame is a unique design, made of narrow gauge steel and is beautifully put together, everything eminates from the giant tubular spine, that runs from the fork head, to up under the seat. It’s of a cradle design, which comes down off the fork head, under the engine, to the point roughly near the base of the swingarm, then up to the main spine, in an area just about in the centre of the gas tank.
It looks spindly, but definitely isn’t, there is no twisting or any motion at all that can be felt, even under the hardest riding conditions. The welds are immaculately done and this frame, on our test model, is one of the finest we’ve ever encountered.
The AJS has a suspension system that makes some of the new Italian units look sad, the rear suspension is of the swingarm variety, and all of the motion is controlled by a set of large, adjustable, Girling shocks. One thing that impressed us was the mounting of the rear shocks.
Quite a bit of thought must have gone into this, and everything is definitely above average in this department. There are gussets with braces on the lower arm, and then the top portion is securely mounted to the frame, again by some large mounts.
The swingarm is unique in another cool respect, because of its unusual job of lengthening or shortening the chain. The pivot has two nuts on it, one nut is the actual pivot, and the other is the one that locks everything in position. If you loosen the top nut, this will allow the swingarm assembly to move forward or backwards, which in turn tightens or loosens the chain, the wheels are always aligned. This is a very good idea, but already, some have found another use for it, especially out in the desert.
We’ve heard that these guys bring along extra lengths of chain, and lengthen or shorten the swingarm depending on the terrain they are riding. There isn’t much adjustment, but if you’ve ever worked on modifying a swingarm, you know just how much difference one inch will make, to the handling.
Front suspension is tubular telescopic, and we all rated it far above average. Our particular works bike looked as if it had travelled the moto-cross circuit for some time prior to our receiving it, and one of the things that we noticed, was that the front forks were binding a little, from wear and tear.
Slacking off on the axel nuts didn’t change anything, so we figured what the heck, and went out riding anyway. It’s not every day that you can still rate a motorcycle with tweaked forks, as having better than average suspension, but in this case we do.
Fork trail is 6.25inches, and gives you a constant feel that you are in control of your motorcycle at all times. No matter what the terrain, there is no hopping or bouncing from either the front, or rear end.
AJS Desert 250 Stormer / Large Gas Tank / Ian Lewis
Along with everything else, the AJS Stormer is a fine looking motorcycle, as a machine goes, it is almost stark in appearance, but the functional look will enthuse the serious competition rider.
The frame is finished in silver, and the only bright colouring on the entire bike is provided by the thin, and well finished, bright orange fibreglass gas tank, which has been specially enlarged for the US market. Everything else on the bike is, polished alloy, dull alloy or chrome. What little chrome there is, is hard to find, unless you actually start to look.
The engine has a super wide power range, there’s nothing really new, or exotic about it, a single-cylinder, piston port-inducted two-stroke, displacing 247cc. The bore and stroke is a square 68×68 and the compression ratio is a good, solid, 11-1 and at 7,000rpm, it produces a healthy, 27bhp.
Inhalation chores are handled by one of the late model, Amal Concentric carburetors, having a choke size of 32mm, it breathes through a virtually non-restrictive Filtron air cleaner.
Getting the power from the engine, to the hefty four-speed gearbox, is handled by a wet metal diaphragm clutch and in our past experience, metal clutches tended to be a trifle grabby, but in the case of our test model, the clutch action was smooth, strong and slip-free, during the full time, we had the bike. The constant mest, four-speed gearbox has the following ratios: 2.53-1, 1.66-1, 1.255-1 and 1-1, if you require closer ratios for a special purpose, they are also available on request.
Mike Jackson / Barstow to Vegas / 1970
Some of you, since you began reading this road test, now have your lower lip, hanging out, in a bit of a pout. You had thoughts of buying this bike, for your cowtrailing. You’re probably the type that thinks, that you might race some day, but deep down, you know you’ll never do it, but you would still like to have, the sort of bike, that’s fit for the track.
Well, we said that the AJS Moto-crosser would never be a cowtrailer, but let’s face it, making this into a cowtrailer, wouldn’t be that difficult, trying to turn a “soft” A-1 cowtrailer, into a super, go-fast, racer of a Moto-cross machine, like this one, well that would be impossible.
So without too much hassle, you can have your cowtrailer, as long as you like cowtrailing fast…
There’s a bunch of stuff that you’d have to do, the gearing would have to be lowered, a smaller rear sprocket, because even in the lowest gear, this thing flat, booms along. You’re going to need a pipe with a lot more volume, and a larger stinger. The compression could be lowered, by either going the head-gasket or base-gasket route, and last of all, it wouldn’t hurt, add a bit more comfort and a smaller carburetor.
But why mess up this neat, skinny little scooter?
Let’s take a bunch of comments made by members of the staff, about this machine, our test AJS Stormer, and if you add them all together, it’ll give you a pretty good idea of just what we thought, of trailing this machine, for our two-week period. A good looking bike.. Easy to make friends with… Quick throttle, excellent, with adjustable footpegs, up and down… Handles well, and doesn’t shake its head at unexpected moments…
Muffler worked perfectly… but not the quietest thing around… Jump between gears well matched to power-band… Loads up easily, four or five kicks to start if you’ve drained gas…
When on the gas, grabs like a gang-buster… Light handling, good ground clearance, good balance and excellent centre of gravity… Starts easily at all times… If engine does load up, wing it, and it clears…
Corners great, groovy slider, corrects itself easily, very forgiving… Pipe tucked in very well, kept lean and skinny, easy to drag and lift… Brakes small, but very predictable, not violent, very secure feeling… Narrow gas tank, not a knee slapper… Saddle perfect height, average rider… Good clutch… Super transmission… May help to trim fork stops for cowtrailing… Comfortable, relaxed feeling from handlebars…
So, as they say in the brochure, every part of the AJS Stormer has been designed, tested, redesigned, modified, and redeveloped, to give you a thoroughbred.
A Moto-cross bike built with only one purpose, to provide you, with a winning machine. No half measures, this is not, an also ran….
And all the staff at MotorCyclist, agree…
Brian Slark – Leading High Mountain Enduro San Luis Obispo. CA. 1972, hit by a rider coming the wrong way around track.
Well we know the Stormer wasn’t designed for cow herding, but Norton Villiers had the right person, in the right place, at the right time, Brian moved the Desert project forward and increased the comfort required for these Desert Ajay’s, thicker seats and improved front suspension.
He also had real pedigree, before setting up the Norton Villiers Corporation in Long Beach, he had worked for a true Desert legend, and we knew him even on this side of the pond, for his stunt work in the ‘Great Escape’, Bud Ekins.
So Slarky was already an accomplished, skillful Desert racer, he knew how to set up a machine for this gruelling endurance sport and he had been taught by one of the best, even Triumph has now introduced, a ‘Desert Sledge’ based on the machine designed by Ekins, for and raced by McQueen, two great friends.
Brian Slark – “ I had taken David Aldana on as our Norton dirt track rider, his nickname was ‘Rubber Ball’, he rode for Team 13, but he hadn’t yet, started wearing his iconic full-body leathers with the skeleton motif, and after his fame from the movie ‘On Any Sunday’ it was natural to have him do a few Stormer publicity photos”.
So we even have our own Hollywood, Steve McQueen credentials, and then at this point Mike Jackson was dispatched, from Wolverhampton. He was to deal with the Sales side of the AJS & Norton US operation. Mike was a true Trials and Moto-cross nut, having vast experience from racing all across the UK and Europe, but even he was to face a very new and challenging form of motorcycle sport, in the Mojave Desert, just a few miles east of Los Angeles.
But fortunately he was to have a very good teacher, Brian Slark, and was to find that love, hate relationship that this new addictive sport rewarded the rider with, in the ‘Buzz’.
So where to start, well obviously the infamous hillclimb, the “Matterhorn” and with a Swedish AJS works rider, Bengt-Arne Bonn, and invite along the staff of the US magazine, Cycle World.
“The Y40 is a New Dirt Racer, Built to Revive an Old Name. It is Definitely British in Concept, but does it have, ‘What It Takes’, lets give it a proper test”.
“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”.
“Then in a shower of sand and rocks, the Swede instantly, 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 British motocross machine, it’s an explosive tribute to a motorcycle with the AJS name”.
Brian Slark – “Bengt was a very smooth rider, very underrated but he wasn’t popular with the other Swedish riders, he wasn’t on a Husky. I travelled with him and Andy Roberton through 1970 competing in the Trans -AMA series, and we had a great time, so more fool them”.
Brian, that must have been quite a sight, and then you were involved with the BAJA 1000 run, just down south, with Doug Douglas and Gregory Whitney, I know Mike Jackson was involved?
Brian Slark – “Yes, the next challenge is almost impossible to conceive, it is so tough and our man in the saddle would be Doug Douglas, a friend who ran an AJS/Norton dealership in San Bernardino, Southern Calafornia and a keen desert racer, but the BAJA 1000 was our preparation for an attempt at the Enduro, 1000mile record”.
During the BAJA 1000 race, Kim Kimball had followed the same route, using the fuel depots, and the support teams, to set a new time record on his Montesa. He shaved an hour off the record set, just a year before, by Dave Ekin on his Honda, this is what we wanted to beat.
Mike Jackson decided we should sponsor Douglas and Whitey in the BAJA 1000 Race, on a specially prepared AJS 250cc Stormer Enduro, but early in the race, Whitey crashed and knocked himself unconscious on a rock, so their race was over, but this was all great and needed experience for Mike.
Larry Smith in the Desert
The bike was undamaged so we continued with our plan to attempt to beat that solo record, in December, and Doug Douglas was uninjured, so ready to go.
So how did the challenge go?
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 225mile section he shed his Belstaff riding pants, the gaunletted mittens and the leather jacket, which he had also been wearing, 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.
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…. Amazingly, 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.
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.
Doug said, “It was a hard run for me and the Ajay, but this machine, could have gone on, a lot further”.
He was a very experienced desert rider and he, with the support from Gregory, had set a new record for the ‘Tijuana to La Paz’ on their Desert 250 Stormer, it’s a 1000mile endurance test, across incredibly difficult desert terrain, it was an utterly awesome feat.
Brian Slark – “He was so tired near the finish, he threw his helmet away to keep awake, got lost, and went backwards at one point, but still broke the record for a solo ride, he proved just how tough he, and these machines are”.
Gregory Whitney and Doug Douglas.
So what was next?
Brian Slark – “Desert has created teams, the Viewfinders for example are a desert club, whose members are in the movie industry in Hollywood, their club insignia is a movie camera reel”.
“Club rivalry is strong but friendly, very prestigious to be a member of a high point club like this”.
“Every club has to put on an event during the year. My club, Sunland Shamrocks ran a Hare n Hound, and an Enduro.
Our club wore a white jersey with a big green shamrock, which could be seen easy through the dust in the desert”.
“And you had to be seen, which brings us to the ‘Bomb’..”.
I thought all the smoke was just to create a piece of drama and sense of occasion, as in ‘On Any Sunday’ as McQueen readies himself on the line, but no… it’s not…?
“Lets go back to Mike Jackson”.
For our story, the man with his fingers on the keys, our Ray Manzarek.
It wasn’t going to take long for Slarky to introduce Mike to ‘Desert’, it wasn’t going to take long for the Desert, to seduce Mike, and turn him into a ‘Desert Cowboy’, swinging his leg over the saddle, and racing his 250 Stormer, from Barstow to Vegas.
In Desert racing (Desert) you’re not started by a flag, but a ‘Bomb’, you pile a stack of old tyres, 3 miles away, out in the distance, and then you set them on fire.
Like in an old TT, the riders have to start their bikes, no sitting on the line holding full revs, a mile away is the banner, a huge 30 foot affair, stretched out between two old, US Army Jeeps.
They wait for the smoke signal, rising like an atomic bomb, being tested on the dry plains of Nevada, the mushroom cloud reaches high up into the atmosphere, and then the banner is dropped.
The smoke has to be high, because as about 1,000 motorcycles are kick into life, throttles fully opened, it’s just like one of those old Westerns, with a longhorn ‘Cattle Stampede’, handlebars everywhere and dust, dust through which you cannot see, but if you have time to look up, you can see the direction you need to take.
If you make the ‘Bomb’, you’ve reached the course proper…
And Mike was to ride the Barstow to Vegas twice, in 1971 and then in 72, and on each occasion the entry exceeded 3,000 riders.
Here is his account of his first run.
Experts and Intermediates started at 8am, followed by the others an hour later.
There are two lines, each about a mile long and a 1,000 riders in each, the other 1,200 were to follow later.
It was almost silent, waiting with your bike, all you could hear, was the beat of your heart, thumping.
And then the banner dropped, and you kicked your bike, it was warm and it cracked into life, along with about nine hundred others, an amazing sound, the desert had sprung to life, up into first, and off.
A good start and I flew off the line, weight over the front wheel, staring at the ground ahead, this was a frantic dash, no one wanted to be in the dust, but neither did you want to go smack into a Yucca tree, leaves like knives.
The first goal is to make the ‘Bomb’, and then you’re into the ‘Ribbons’, these are tied to bushes, shrubs and trees in the organising clubs colours, they also mark up dangers, ‘Drops and Rocks’, I tried to make the ribbons in one piece, and in the leading pack, of about 200 machines.
Then I let myself settle, conserve energy and get into the rhythm of the Desert, focus on the machine ahead and chase it down, the gas is stashed about 50miles ahead, this takes about 90mins, and gradually you notice the gaps between the next bike begins to lengthen, you’re slowly getting into the elite riders, the race has begun.
At the first fuel stop the pit-crew reckoned, we were in about 50th place, an excellent first stint, but the words of Slarky were in my head, “Presevation not position”.
Then comes the mountain, a wonderful climb upto about 5000ft, at the top you even cross ice and snow, and then you’re back into a descent, flying down a never ending sand dune, an exhilarating experience, some are not so good at this and their front ends dig into the loose sand, I must of past ten or more bikes on this part of the challenge alone.
Now this may sound like a solo effort, but it’s also a team sport, you need back up, and mine was just about to pay off big. Slarky had insisted I take spare fuel, this seem rediculous, strapping a can of gas to your body, as your flying across the desert didn’t seem that clever to me.
But from your chair in the UK you would never have known how important upgrading the front end would be, a seat to give you a few minutes respite, and a gas tank that took you the extra mile.
I passed countless competitors pushing their machines, under the desert sun, sapping their energy and costing them time, I had to use that extra fuel but compared to what these other guys had to do, that was easy, and at the final fuel depot we were in about twentieth place.
Next was the State line, and across into Nevada, shining in the distance was the glass of the Las Vegas skyscrapers, visible in the haze, on the horizon.
I pushed on, the end was in sight, and I counted six more passes, but fatigue was beginning to bite, I made a mistake and went the wrong way.
I turned around a raced back, they were painful miles, but I got back to the course and started to overtake again, only to realise that these were riders I had passed before.
In the final count I pulled in at fourteenth, the winner was Husky mounted J N Roberts, he had covered the 190miles in a cool four hours, a Checkers member and a Hollywood stuntman.
But a great surprise was to follow, the AJS Desert 250 Stormer, had achieved, ‘Best in Class’.
I then went to bed, and slept for three hours after mixing and exchanging stories with the most extraordinary crowd of people.
All pumped with the adreniline from the day, in the bar at Caesars Palace, where the organising club had their temporary HQ, and to where they move the finish line at nightfall.
At midnight, riders were still coming in, blasting along ‘The Strip’ on open pipes. Others were washing bikes in the hallowed fountains, beside a cascade of stretch limos delivering gamblers to the Casino.
I wandered into one of CP’s half empty piano bars, where Fats Domino, a lifelong favourite, was playing, the man on the keys, what a perfect day.
Brian Slark – “I rode and finished on a 73cc Hercules, think it was the smallest bike there”.
“Being the wag that he is, when Mike rolled in at the finish. he asked the officials, ‘whens the race back to Barstow’. They shook their heads, crazy Englishman”.
In June 1971 a new magazine began to land on the mats of American front doors, Dirt Bike magazine had begun, and Desert was obviously going to be one of its topics…
And the AJS Desert 250 Stormer, went straight onto the cover of its third addition…
They considered British motorcycle manufacturers, to be an interesting bunch of people who built competition machines that, “developed fanatical followings throughout the world, without seeming to understand what riding conditions are really like in the countries, outside of the Jolly Old country and perhaps, the Continent”.
“Not since the days of Lawrence of Arabia have the British, been in deserts in a big way. Yet they have managed to develop and build racing bikes that have been successful for years in our vast, cactus studded expanses of American desert”.
I felt, a little patronised by the Dirt Bike staff, it seemed they had not heard of India, North Africa, and a little group of Australians and Brit’s called the ‘Desert Rats’, but there you are.
So the big four-strokes of Matchless, BSA, Norton and Royal Enfield, would obviously do well thumping around America, and as I’ve mentioned, Bud Ekins had already been preparing Triumphs and big AJS thumper singles successfully, to dodge the ‘Prickly Pears’, for sometime.
But then along came Bert Greeves.
Greeves has become one of the most dominant forces in desert racing. The springer front end and long wheelbase, would eat up rough terrain and those deep whoop-de-does, even though the designers of the springer probably had never seen, a ‘whoop-de-doo’.
And now the new AJS two-stroker, which had already established itself as a winner, with the British 250 Class Moto-cross Championships, followed by Doug Douglas, establishing the AJS Desert 250 Stormer’s cross-country capabilities, with the solo record for ‘Tijuana to La Paz’ and to complete such an ordeal, a motorcycles had to be built to take unreal punishment, and still continue to run strongly and reliably.
These bikes had the ability to hold up under the demands of high-speed, brush-busting charges that characterise, cross-country races, under the severe, long-term pounding to which American riders liked to subject themselves and their machines.
Greeves, was well established after years of competition development, and had a well-deserved reputation for good handling.
AJS seemed to have had less than its share of mechanical issues, especially for a new machine, the fact that most of the bugs had been sorted out of the Ajay, can be attributed to years of test and development in Britian, it was only introduced to the US, just last year.
Both machines, the old style Greeves and the new AJS, seemed to do the job, although they have different approaches, and this was even more remarkable when neither company set about there design with this intent.
Of course this kind of specialty machine, didn’t just happen, when the first Greeves started to prove themselves against the big 500’s, Nicholson and Conrad started testing and making refinements. These recommendations found their way back to Bert Greeves and, in the long and slow process of model change, these modifications were incorporated into the bikes for the American desert rider.
Greeves basic philosophy still remained firmly embedded in the development of the European motocross machine, and the fact that they were popular in the States had just been viewed as a nice bonus.
The AJS factory, on the other hand, took fresh interest in the peculiar tendency of American cross-country riders to go bashing across miles of rocks and sand, and their approach was, “Glad it works so well, what would you like us to do, to improve it”.
So as they said themselves, “us crazy Americans seem to have a way of finding motorcycles that are basically right for the job, and our way of riding”.
Moto-cross here is a different kind of sport, and AJS seems to be, beginning to understand this”.
“Both the Greeves 250, in its Challenger and Griffon forms, and the AJS Desert 250 Stormer are finding true favour, with the American desert and cross-country racer”.
The AJS Stormer, out front, in the race to conquer the dunes and sands of the American Desert.
Brian Slark – “But not all publicity was so good, the Moto-cross tracks in the West are often hard packed clay, with high jumps being popular, unfortunately we started having frame failures, cracking around the steering head, our solution was to replace them”.
“The works bikes were bronze welded and they gave us no problems. So we sent a request to strengthen this area back to Wolverhampton, all bikes find issues out in the Desert. But before AJS could respond, Dirt Bike magazine ran a photo of Doug Grant, crossing the finish line at Indian Dunes, wheeling just the front end, it had broken off, he had been winning, but this was not great publicty”.
“So, as part of my job was to look for new talent, to compete in Moto-cross and desert events, I hired Doug, along with Steve Hammer, Jim West and Morris Malone. Doug Grant turned out to be a great signing, he had already been the Class Winner of the ‘Barstow to Vegas’ – ‘Hare and Hound’, on one of our new AJS 370 Stormers, and we know how very tricky this event is to win, it was an extremely good result”.
“This made a fabulous introduction for the 370, a dirt bike needs to go through constant development, you can’t afford to stand still for even a year, and the Japanese machines were beginning to gain a foot hold. If you see a photograph with a square number plates on the front of Doug’s machine, this will be him competing in a Desert event, on plate #46, he would be racing in a Moto-cross event”.
- 1971: National 250 Motocross Champion, almost (2nd place overall in the 12 event Trans-AMA series).
- 1970-72: Factory works rider for Norton Villiers on an AJS Stormer (MX National #46).
- 1970: Class Winner of the ‘Barstow to Vegas’ Hare and Hound on an AJS 370 Stormer.
So Doug is our legend, our lead guitarist, our Robby Krieger, and he’s still out there, on his AJS Desert 410 Stormer, winning fifty years later…
Doug Grant now holds the #1 plate when racing his AJS 410 Stormer, nationally in AHRMA events, and he has never forgotten his friend and first sponsor, Butch Johnson (Bultaco).
“Steve Hammer, was the son of a fellow Desert racer and friend, I had watched him develop his skills since he was twelve. He had started on a 1964 Twin-port CZ, the perfect bike to prepare him for his professional racing, on the AJS 250 Stormer”.
Steve Hammer – “Brian set me up and gave me my first ride at Hopetown in 1969”.
This was really pre-Moto-cross in the US, for European riders it had been a job for a long time and they were far fitter, it took us a number of years to catch up.
The famous stunt man, Ray “Crash” Corrigan, owned Corriganville. He had built a movie set, a Western town, which became part of the track, along with an Indian village that the riders got to race through.
Many movies were made in Corriganville, like for example, John Ford’s, ‘Fort Apache’.
In the end Crash sold the whole site at Corriganville to Bob Hope, and he changed the name, to Hopetown but he didn’t stop the cowboys racing.
The Hopetown GP is raced around and through the old movie ghost town, about a 1000 riders, starting in groups of 10, at 10-second intervals, race ten laps, of the ten-mile course.
At one point you swing around a giant boulder, flat out, and then swoop down into the woodland and through a deep mud bowl.
Before a long fast sprint along the wagon trail, it’s a wild experience, a great challenge and a great race. The spectators line the route, and helicopters are often following the bikes, its some party.
It’s a different type of event to those out in the Mojave desert, which is huge, it rambles and scrambles over an area of some 50,000 square miles, the lowest part, is around 3,000ft above sea level, it’s full of danger, not just Huskies and CZ’s, but rattlesnakes and mine shafts.
For example, about a thousand riders will take part in a two-lap race, which covers around a hundred miles in total, flying through rock and shrub-strewn canyons and gullies, along dry riverbeds, then across sand dunes.
The riders take part, all at once, this is a Hare Scramble, you can refuel and undertake repairs in the start area, after lap one, then it’s another lap and it becomes the finish.
A Hare and Hound is much the same, but its two separate single lap rounds.
Steve Hammer – “I had great times working for Norton Villiers Corp”.
“Andy Roberton & Bengt Arne Bonn came over for one of the first Inter-Am’s in Ascot! And I took the guys out riding in the Mojave Desert, before race day, near Little Rock”.
“I think it made a Big Impression on them!”
“Two Awesome Chaps, my Idols, out with me, useing their skills and having a great time, taming the desert”.
“On race day I rode in the 250 event. It was really a stadium Supercross course, laid out within the TT track”.
“I spaced out when I got to the line and the pack left, I was so mad at myself that I got fired up and quickly went from last to third”.
“Our General Manager Mike Jackson, commented after, saying where did that come from, your lap times are as fast as any of the Euro boys!!!”
“ I had just made a good impression on our new boss, I really enjoyed this form of racing”.
“Finally in the 250 race I came in second, and then for the 500 race, we entered the same Norton Villiers, but this time we swapped it to a yellow tank, and told them it was a 370, it was still good enough to come in third”.
“The course had a few lumps and bumps, but otherwise was pretty flat, the soil was Ascot clay and had amazing traction!”
This was the beginning of the Inter-Am series in 1970, Moto-cross or Scrambles had been in the US for the last twenty years, but these were the first American Motorcyclist Association events, the National Champion was going to be the best American rider in these events, the Trans-AMA was the 500 series, and both were 12 events.
European riders would dominated these events, and series, for the next two years, no American was to win a single event, in 1973 there was also another change, the first Superbowl, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Super-cross was born, and it showed the future, won by 16-year-old American, Marty Tripes, aboard a Yamaha.
So this puts Steve Hammers results in the Ascot event into perspective, and why Mike Jackson took note, Steve, one of the US riders, had just notched up a second and a third, for the AJS Stormer, top scores for an American rider at this time, in these events.
Mike Jackson started his career at Greeves, he had vast experience in trials and scrambles.
Put him on a Stormer and he would be as happy as a ‘Pig in Muck’, and he had shown that the Stormer was perfect for the desert Enduro.
But he was in the US to sell Norton’s, road bikes, and sales were going well.
To sell Stormers in the States, wasn’t going to be easy, Husqvarna had been there since 1966, these guys had been happily challenging the old British four-strokes for years, the Swede’s had even set up their own Moto-cross series, which they dominated.
Edison Dye had set up the series, Husqvarna importer, he had also bought over talent like Torsten Hallman, the US market was already sold on these top European machines, to win over hearts and minds to AJS, with its new two-stroke, wasn’t going to be straight forward, they were late to the game.
Andy Roberton (above racing at Ascot, Trans-AMA) and Malcolm Davis (below at Saddleback 1970) came over to show off the AJS Stormer, to the American Moto-cross crowds, on the back of their one-two win in the British, 1970 Moto-cross Championships.
The full records for these two American series, starts in 1972, so the first years are difficult to track. The Inter-Am (born from Dye’s series) was won in 1969 by Arne Kring (Sw) on a Husqvarna, 1970 by Ake Jonsson (Sw) on a Maico, 1971 by Viastimil Valek (Cz) on a CZ, then in 1972 the US break through, Gary Jones (US) Yamaha, and then Suzuki take over from 1975.
The Trans-AMA, 1970 by Dave Nicoll (UK) BSA, 1971 by Sylvain Geboers (Bel) Suzuki, 1972 by Ake Jonsson (Sw) Maico, 1973, by Adolf Weil (Ger) Maico, then Suzuki run away with it, with Roger De Coster, after that.
Andy and Malcolm were also here to passed on their skills to the Norton Villiers Corp Works Team.
They went out riding together and travelled together, competing in the series.
At Carlsbad Malcolm took out a Brian Slark prepared 250 Stormer and gained a second against Joel Robert, the Stormer was showing itself to be competitive, Malcolm’s front fork slider had broken in half, at the finish line he throw his shirt over it.
But all the European bikes were living on borrowed time, and the Japanese weren’t the only trouble on the horizon.
Brian Slark – “I saw a 16 year old Jim West riding the wheels off a tired little Yamaha DT1, at a local event”.
“I signed him up to ride for AJS, we loaded two bikes on the trailer behind the van and drove 1,000 miles to Washington State (above) to meet up with the UK team for the first Trans-Am race”.
“He rode well and had fun riding up against the International competition, and meeting his AJS Stars, who past on tips after watching him race”.
“A Big boy with a big heart, who we miss, RIP”.
But this would be Andy and Malcolm’s only visit, as the AJS UK Team, they had both signed new contracts with other manufactures, but what a fairwell trip…
In this two-year window, 1970 to 1972 the AJS Stormer, and AJS US Team had given a very good run for their money.
Morris Malone 14yrs 6th Ascot Experts 500 / Jim West 18yrs 4th Ascot Experts 500
In the National’s, they had been the runner up, in Mike Jackson capable hands, it had won best of class, in the ‘Barstow to Vegas’ enduro race, Doug Douglas had set a new BAJA 1000 record.
It had been the first 250 machine, to conquer the ‘Matterhorn’, and the 370 had won the best in class, at the ‘Barstow to Vegas, Hare n Hound’.
From its inception in 1964, the ‘Barstow to Vegas’ had instantly became, the biggest desert race in the USA, typically drawing over 1,000, to 3,000 entries, making it a Thanksgiving Weekend classic.
Regardless the environmental pressures were to be the end of the ‘Barstow-to-Vegas’, after the 1974 run, the event was shut down.
The end of a wonderful desert party…..
Mike Jackson, on the way to the casino….
But even Steve Hammer, our John Densmore, driving the LA beat, out in the heat and dust of the Mojave desert, a super good ambassador for AJS, could do nothing to stop, what for some, would and had, brought it all to a premature end,
good old ‘Uncle Sam’…..
Steve Hammer – “Here’s a shot I have of me passing my friend Jim O’Neal in 1971 – He was slowed by his Gas Cap being off, and Soaking his body parts, all bikes, and riders had there own issues!!!”
‘This is the End’ well near ‘The End’, the beginning of the end, this had been the glory days of Desert racing, and the Desert Stormer had got there just in time.
It had experienced the true freedom and fun the American deserts provided, and enjoyed its moment in the sun, before the deserts were to become, off limits, to the ‘Riders on the Storm’.
At this time the Japanese models were about to hit the market, going into production, after showing that they could hold their own against established European and American desert bikes. Bringing with them a new concept, the leisure models, based upon these racing machines, but domesticated to run around town, and to become a very profitable market.
But other reasons, back home, also ment the Stormers days were numbered, suddenly NV stopped further development, and left crates of unassembled, unsold Stormers, in the storerooms of their suppliers, who were uncertian of what was going to happen next.
Mike Jackson – “Norton Villiers were to concentrate on the Norton Commando, which was selling very well, all across the States, and to be honest, we needed the factory space to keep up with supply, so we reluctantly, had to stop production of the AJS Stormer”.
Even though Vic Eastwood’s new 500cc proto-type Stormer was ready, and had shown great promise. He had made all the changes required to suit the American dirt rider, including changing the gear pattern and shifter to the left, but this was the result of politics in Britain, at the time.
The involvement of the Japanese, and the American film industry, kept the excitement going, for as long as it could, other spin off’s, the first helmet mounted camera, filming the action from the riders perspective.
And not only from the ground, the rider’s helmet cam captures a shot of the helicopter above, as it films the hero’s in the saddle down below, on its specially designed vibration free mounting, an insight, a vision of the very, very real dangers, that some of these desert cowboys, had already had to face, the backdrop to this freedom, in the wilds,
the draft, and not all were to make it back, so to those, we will never forget…
by Cliff Stevens.
Brian Slark 2021.
Doug Grant 2021.
Nick Brown and Mike Jackson 2021.
Steve Hammer 2021.
AJS Stormer Desert 250cc 1971.
Robert Baldwin 2021.