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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
FB AJS Stormer 250cc / 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”.
FB AJS Enduro 360cc / 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
FB AJS Enduro 250cc / 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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.