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.
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.
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.
Bengt-Arne Bonn / AJS Stormer 250cc / 1969