Matchless Motorcycles – An Overlooked British Classic

Matchless Motorcycles are one of the oldest British motorcycle companies and up until the collapse of parent company AMC in 1966 they produced some pretty special motorcycles.

We largely look back at these machines with a sense of nostalgia and longing for days gone by when motorcycles were simple, no tech, just two-wheels and the open road. 

These vintage British bikes were the foundation for what was to come with the motorcycles that we ride today. Let’s start by taking a quick look at the history of the Matchless Motorcycle Company. 

History of the Matchless Motorcycle Company

Matchless Motorcycles and AJS Motorcycles were two brands run by the bigger Associated Motorcycles (AMC) company. Essentially throughout the lifespan of the brands they both produced the same motorcycles but were re-badged appropriately (with few exceptions).

The collective history of Matchless Motorcycles and AJS is rich and goes all the way back to 1899, then spanning over six decades until 1966 when AMC folded.  

Matchless Motorcycles was established by Henry Herbert Collier with sons Charlie and Henry (Collier and Sons). They got their start as with most early motorcycle marques by producing bicycles. 

By 1899 they had their first prototype motorcycle and it was in production by 1901. 

By 1905 they had their first V twin powered motorcycle with rear swingarm suspension which was one of the earliest bikes to have suspension of this kind. 

In 1907 the Matchless motorcycles team started racing and by 1912 they were building their own engines (prior to this they were using supplied engines purchased from other manufacturers).

In 1926 Henry Collier died and the business was left behind for the two sons to run. In 1931 Matchless purchased AJS Motorcycles. 

AJS had only produced three standalone models, the AJS 7R, AJS Porcupine and the AJS Four (pre-war). Any motorcycles after this were mechanically identical between AJS and Matchless motorcycles with different styling packages. 

By 1933 and exclusively by 1935, Matchless were supplying V-twin engines to Morgan Motor Co. and from 1935 to 1940 they supplied V-twin engines from the Matchless Model X to Brough Superior for use in the SS80.

They would also go on to supply an overhead valve version of the engine for the Brough Superior SS100, a motorcycle with genuine claims to being the worlds first superbike.

It was 1938 when AMC was formed which was the umbrella company for Matchless, AJS, Sunbeam Motorcycles, James Motorcycles, Francis-Barnett Motorcycles and eventually Norton Motorcycles

In 1960 AMC was struggling and they decided to drop everything except Norton and Matchless/AJS singles. 

The singles weren’t selling and neither were Norton’s offerings to the market.  

Eventually by 1966, AMC folded with Manganese Bronze Holdings buying Norton and forming Norton-Villiers and they went on to release the new Norton Commando. 

That however, was the end of Matchless and the last of the bikes were sold in 1967. 

Charlie Collier and his Matchless at the first Isle of Man TT 1907

Charlie Collier winning the first Isle of Man TT in 1907
A photo of the metal reproduction sign hanging in my workshop

The year was 1907, Matchless had been producing motorcycles for 8 years, and Charlie Collier was feeling lucky on the day that he entered the very first Isle of Man TT Singles race. 

He took home the trophy that day with an average speed of 38.21mph, which is worth pointing out was flipping fast at the time. 

In 1909 it was his brother Harry’s turn to take home the win and Charlie did it again in 1910. 

The Collier boys were not only involved in the production of some of the fastest motorcycles of the era, but they were the ones winning the races themselves. That’s a pretty awesome legacy. 

Let’s take a look at some of the iconic Matchless bikes that were produced during the company’s reign on British motorcycles. 

Matchless G3

a 1944 G3 Matchless motorcycle
A 1944 Matchless 350 G3

In the 1930’s Matchless were having a good run with their side-valve and later on OHV singles. They decided to produce two families of bikes, the ‘Clubman’ and ‘Tourist’. 

The Clubman family were high-performance OHV vertical single machines and the Tourist bikes were tuned to a lower spec only available in 250cc and 350cc side-valve singles and one 990cc V-twin. 

The Matchless G3 was the 350 Clubman. It featured a 347cc OHV single cylinder engine and the G3 would remain in production right up until the 1960s Matchless production ceased. 

The G3 Clubman came in a Standard Clubman and the Clubman Special. Both models featured the hairpin valve springs that Matchless became renowned for, and a vertical cylinder. 

It was the Special that demanded a premium over the Standard, as it was designed specifically for the Trials enthusiast. Upgraded components included fenders, tires, front forks, tool boxes, centre and side stands, handlebars, controls and different gearing. 

In 1937 the G3 received a new engine and 1938 the bike was overhauled once again. Matchless built many G3 motorcycles for the military during WWII.

Today, you can pick up a G3 anywhere from £3,000-£8,000 depending on condition, if it has been restored, model year etc. 

In the US you are best looking to Europe if you are keen to get your hands on a G3 as they are quite hard to find on American soil. 

Matchless G9

Matchless G9
This 1952 Matchless G9 Clubman was sold by Bonhams in 2018 for just under $6000

In 1948 Matchless released the G9, their very first 500cc vertical twin cylinder, at the Earls Court Motorcycle Show in London. The AJS Model 20 was released at the same time and the only difference was the Magneto was mounted in front of the cylinders on the G9 and behind for the Model 20.

The G9 had been produced as with most other big twins during that period following the 1938 Triumph Speed Twin taking the world by storm.

Matchless were directly targeting the US audience and first years production almost solely went to America as a result. By 1949 production increased and the UK market could get their hands on the British built motorcycles. 

AMC attempted to essentially upgrade Triumph’s twin design and the main upgrade feature was a centre main bearing added to the crankshaft which increased strength and rigidity compared to the Triumphs of the day. 

The crank was made out of cast-iron instead of steel and the alloy cylinder heads were two separate castings. They were reliable, heavy duty machines that were more than adequate to withstand the boost in power and displacement that would later come for the G9. 

£3,000-£5,000 in the UK and up to $10,000 will get you a G9, although it is worth noting they are few and far between. Your best bet is to look toward auction houses and specialised classic collectors websites. 

Matchless G11

AJS Model 30
AJS Model 30 (1956) photo by SG2012 is kindly licensed under CC BY 2.0

By 1955 Matchless had boosted the G9 from a 500cc to 600cc and the G11 was born, by 1958 it had increased again to a 650cc in the form of the G12. 

The G11 (AJS Model 30 as shown above) stood out from the crowd thanks to its main centre bearing which meant it was much smoother than other British twins. 

It was pretty much identical to the G9 with exception of the engine enlargement and as such it was equally robust and ready to be a true British thumper of a machine. 

Production continued until 1959.

Between £3,000-£5,000 in the UK and $8,000-$12,000 in the US will get you a G11 but they are as equally difficult to get hold of as the G9 model.

Matchless G45

Matchless G45
1956 Matchless G45 500 by Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1951 the G45 Matchless model was unveiled at the Manx Grand Prix. It debuted as a race bike based on the street version G9 model.

Only around 80 G45 units were produced and sold to the public. 

The G9 was stripped, the cast iron cylinders swapped out for alloy barrels and new cylinder heads that increased flow and cooling. Finning was added to the front exhaust rocker box, which is a unique feature to the G45.

The cam was upgraded and it received two Amal GP carbs. The AJS version was pretty much just re-badged and was named the 7R. 

Both the G45 and 7R battled for the top places in races. In 1952 the G45 won the Senior Manx Grand Prix. However, this was clouded with controversy as rules at the time forbade factory racer prototypes from competing.  

In a bold move, unheard of at the time, Matchless and AJS made their models available to the public albeit in limited numbers so they could continue to compete. 

With such limited numbers produced and even less of those considered to have survived until now the G45 is a rare bike to find for sale. 

There was one for sale with Bonhams and that fetched £36,700, you can check out the listing here.

Matchless G80

1952 Matchless G80S
1952 Matchless G80 S

In 1949 Matchless released the top of line 500cc single and it was named the G80.

It featured a rear swingarm with two shocks and telescopic hydraulically damped front forks. The swing arm setup was straight off another brand AMC had control of, Velocette. 

Petrol conditions in the UK at the time were pretty poor so as a result bikes had relatively low compression ratios, the G80 had a 5.9:1 compression ratio. 

It featured hairpin valve springs as opposed to the traditional coil springs of pre-wartime machines. 

The Matchless G80 remained in production until 1968 when the last of the bikes were sold. 

£5,000-£10,000 will find you a G80 in the UK, with the most expensive being immaculate condition and early model years. 

In the US $10,000-$12,000 will find you a G80 although they are not as easy to find as they are in the UK. So, once again it may be best to look towards importing a model if you are in the US. 

Matchless Motorcycles - An Overlooked British Classic

Related Posts

Leave a comment