AJW Motorcycles :: History
Chapter 3

The Super Four

In November 1928 A.J.W. was showing its latest machines at the London Motor Cycle show at Olympia, on Stand 34, with an impressive line up of Big Twins. One was ‘The 8-30 Standard’, with its 980cc 4-cam J.A.P. engine, Jardine 4-speed gearbox,

8.30 Standard (Anzani)

8.30 Standard

Enfield 8in  brakes, Druid A.E.S. enclosed coil spring forks with steering damper and shock absorber, 7in heavy gauge mudguards, M.L.magneto, Amal sports carburettor with twist grip control, Dunlop tyres (26inx3.25in and 27inx4in). front and rear prop stands, etc. etc.

This model could be fitted with the 9.96 ohv Anzani engine or the 8 hp Sports J.A.P. side-valve engine at  £115.  Other extras, available for any A.J.W. model, were Lucas Magdyno electric lighting at £6 6s extra and an electric horn for £7 10s.

Also shown were a ‘Two Port Special’ and a ‘Twin Port Special’.  But the big surprise from the A.J.W. factory was the ‘SUPER FOUR’,  “ a car on two wheels”. It created so much interest at the show that John had to call the police to hold back the crowds. He gained a lot of publicity from this machine.

Super 4 1928-19


The name SUPER FOUR conjures up an image of something special and exciting.

Had the idea behind the project been a deliberate attempt to break away from the traditional method of motor cycle construction or was it built to compete for the Flying Kilometre record that so far had eluded John Wheaton? Perhaps he hoped that this entirely new machine would attract the sportsman who required high performance over long distances at 100 mph plus and would boost his business at a time when the big twin market was becoming more difficult.

So what engines were available at this time?  British Anzani had closed down. (Originally British Anzani, it had passed into the hands of the receivers around 1924 to re-emerge as Vulpine. Vulpine lasted until 1926 when it brought a disastrous High Court action against the Morgan Car Company, but a year or so later it bounced back as Summit with similar engine designs.)  The only other big twin on the market was the J.A.P. 850cc, which was being used by many other machines and there seemed little point in building a machine similar to those.

John was aware of Fraser Nash, who had recently moved into the old British Anzani works.   He had had considerable success with his cars at Brooklands and had also developed the V twin G N cycle cars.  John decided that Fraser Nash’s four cylinder, water cooled, side valve Coventry Climax engine could be the one that would best fit his requirements.  However, after discussions with Fraser Nash, it was agreed that they would build a special engine. It would be linered down from the original 1500cc to 986cc (56 mm x 100 mm) in order to be eligible to enter high-speed motor cycle events. The Shell Oil Company agreed to sponsor John to the tune of £100, the cost of the engine. This engine developed tremendous power when put on a test bed, in fact 10 hp more than was needed.  It had three main bearings and three camshaft bearings and the timing gear was chain driven.

Super Four’s car type steering

Super Four’s car type steering

The frame could not be a conventional motor cycle frame.  It had to be a chassis, a car type frame, to carry the weight.  It had side members of channel steel with two tubular cross members, bolted in by flanges, the engine block forming the key which locked it into a rigid whole. No essential part of the frame rose above the side members, and these were below the wheel centres; the strength and stability of such a structure is obvious.

The pair of vertical steering heads is housed in the front ends of the two side members with plain bearings for the pivots and ball thrust races to take the load. The moving head pieces were stout forgings, reminiscent of a car front axle, in which are mounted the steering pillars and wheel carrying blocks, the latter sliding, with long bearing surfaces, vertically between load and recoil springs.  As the springs turn with the wheel movement, ball thrust races were provided at the top and bottom.

Super Four Chassis

Super Four Chassis

A large grease nipple facilitated lubrication of the sliding surfaces and the brake anchorage pin was carried through the centre of the block.  The front of the chassis was out swept to allow ample wheel lock.  As all the steering loads were carried in the frame itself, control became a light operation, and a steering arm on the right side (again the car is evident) was considered sufficient connection to the adjustable underslung handle bar. This pivoted in a simple tube trussed up from the cylinder head, there being little more than the rider’s arm to support. The radiator mounted on a bridge across the frame, was of a hollow ribbon construction, not honeycomb. It was  stated in the brochure that a redesigned engine would be ready for the first production models.  It was also proposed to fit an Albion 3-speed gearbox in production models.

Unit construction of the engine and gearbox was obtained by building the gear shafts in behind the flywheel and the car type cone clutch.  The main and lay shafts were placed side by side fore and aft, not crosswise, over the end of the crankshaft, The counter shaft was bevel driven, with the chain sprocket and kick starter mechanism at opposite ends, the final drive being by 5/8in x 3/8in chain.

The gear control lever protruded conveniently through the dummy tank, which was really a dash to carry the instruments and a cover over the engine unit. It carried a speedometer (driven A.J.W. fashion from inside the front brake drum), a clock and the switch plate with ammeter, which were illuminated by a dash lamp.

Super Four Petrol Tank

Super Four Petrol Tank

The 5-gallon petrol tank (an oblong box) was hidden away behind the engine under the saddle, this again lowering the centre of gravity. A sight glass on the outside of the panelling indicated the level of fuel. Oil was carried in the engine sump only. The side shields, with car-type bonnet clips, could be lifted off in a moment, exposing all the necessary details.

Although the rear wheel was very effectively screened, its removal was quite easy as the rear spindle could be knocked out.     Part of the rear guard was hinged to lift up and allow the horizontal withdrawal of the wheel. The rear stand was conventional and a prop stand was provided on the right hand side of the machine.  It was proposed to provide a pair of loose ‘jack‘ pins, which could be used under the front ends of the frame to raise the front wheel. These pins would be carried in the tool-box, which was a stout metal case formed as part of the rear wheel shield.

Super 4 Frame 640 -27

Super Four Unclad

Large expanding brakes were fitted, the rear operated by the left toe pedal and the front by an inverted lever in the ordinary way. The wheels were shod with 27inx 4in. Dunlop balloon tyres. The carburettor was of the car type with single control from a twist grip. A magdyno or similar instrument supplied ignition and lighting.   The finish would be in dark blue or black, with cream side panels and dash.

This was undoubtedly a big mount, but not too big for riders for whom it was intended. The wheel-base was the same as the A.J.W. big twin 57 1/2 inch. The price was expected to be in the neighbourhood of £140, with full equipment included.

Super Four Rear

Super Four Rear

When Super Four was first assembled it was taken to the Mamhead straight outside Exeter for speed trials, but the limited length of the straight proved unsatisfactory for a full high-speed test.  However it did show up the inadequacies of the steering link. The steering was modified (first alteration) with two bracing struts on each side of the front wheel and direct steering was introduced. Speeds of 70 m.p.h.   were attained and at this limited speed the machine proved quite manageable.

So what now after a very successful show that John felt had enhanced and promoted his business? Perhaps continuation of the development of the road-going Super Four. However, the desire for speed and particularly the Flying Kilometre record still remained  and so it was in the next few months that Super Four underwent drastic changes.

All the instruments, lights, handle bar, exhaust, stands, seat, dummy and fuel tanks, mudguards and all the outer panels were removed. Also the brake hubs were removed from the wheels. The wheels had 28inx3.50in tyres.

Mechanical changes included lengthening the frame, modification of the steering and the road going gear-box being changed for the Fraser Nash idea of the driving chains.  Also a very light flywheel was fitted to the engine, and the drive was taken up by an inverted cone clutch inside a bevel box housing attached to the rear end of the crank case. Dogs and a chain on either side of the rear wheel enabled two gears of approximately 5.5 and 3.4 to 1 to be provided with the aid of the bevel gear box.

When bottom gear was in engagement, the gear lever came under the tension of a spring and was held in position by a catch, which, when released by a control on the handle bars, automatically allowed the lever to drop into top gear. A transmission brake, operated by foot, worked on the bevel cross shaft.  To reduce the stress from the rear wheel on to the chassis, two seat stays were fitted from the rear fork ends to the back of the cylinder block on the engine. This permitted the use of knee rests, which allowed the driver to assume a kneeling position.

The exhaust was now carried away by four separate pipes converging into a common silencer.  New racing type handle-bars were fitted. The braking system was now a contracting band  brake operating on a drum on the transmission cross-shaft.

Super Four Steering

The final modified steering layout.

A Cozette supercharger was fitted forward of the cylinder block and driven from the crankshaft by skew gears, and a special Best and Lloyd pump lubricated the vanes and bearings of the supercharger.  This was controlled from the handle-bar to avoid excessive oil in the mixture when the engine was idling, and a safety valve was fitted on the induction pipe to prevent damage to the vanes in the event of a backfire

A new 5-gallon petrol tank was fitted above the engine and an oil pressure gauge and a revolution counter were mounted in the tank.  The radiator now curled around its nose and swept down to the level of the cylinder head. An over flow pipe, which had a safety valve to prevent  loss of water from vibration, was fitted.

So Super Four was reborn in racing form. It was not as aesthetically pleasing as all the outer panels were flat sheets losing their previously rounded style.

On completion, Super Four was taken to Brooklands for testing.  John said that the power was terrific.  However, at the end of the straight it got into a wobble and went up the side of the banking, but fortunately its limited lock saved him from going over the top. He said that it was the most dreadful experience he had ever had in his life and that he was not going to try that again.

On returning to Exeter it was clear that more modifications had to be made to improve the handling. The steering was modified for a second time by the addition of a vertically mounted radius fork, sliding through an outrigger guide bearing to help prevent uneven spring tension. Also a large car-type Andre shock damper was fitted to control the front springs.

bike with sidecar


But the main change to Super Four was the addition of a Swallow racing side-car, as John thought this might help to stabilise the machine and would enable the passenger to watch the action of the steering. There were some problems attaching the side-car to the frame due to its unusual design. This was solved by making five connections; three to the chassis and two over the top of the side car body to the top of the cylinder head.

With all the latest modifications completed the Super Four combination was towed up to Weybridge behind a saloon car. Unfortunately it turned over during this trip and was seen being dragged along the road. I imagine that little damage was done, as the machine was at Brooklands in time for testing before the five laps ‘All-comers Passenger Handicap Race’, on September 7th 1929.

John became friendly with George Tucker, a Bristol man famous for riding Nortons and other machines at Brooklands.  George agreed to ride Super Four in the Handicap Race, but also entered a Norton ‘just in case’.  John sat in the side-car and off they went for a test run.  As they got on to the Byfleet Banking the combination took one leap and nearly had them both over the top.  George, on returning to the paddock saying that he was not going in that again and John adding, “Neither am I.”  However it was agreed that they would try again the following year. John was rather depressed with the events but it was time to pack up and prepare his machines for the 1929 Olympia Show.

George Tucker lying prone on Super Four

George Tucker lying prone on Super Four

George Tucker lying prone on Super Four.  The passenger is either John Wheaton or Frank Buckland. (bottom of previous page)

On return to Exeter SUPER FOUR was pushed into a corner.  Later it was decided to build a more conventional frame to take the Coventry Climax engine, but this was never completed.  Enthusiasm waned and later the engine was sold to a Mr Ramsey, a sports car enthusiast.  The frame was later broken up by Walter Dodd.

So came to an end the development of a machine that challenged the conventional motorcycle design practice of the time. It did not totally succeed, but it gave A.J.W. deserved kudos.

N.B. Road machine first and then the racing machine does not agree with a talk John Wheaton gave the Devon section of the V.M.C.C. in May 1976. Then John stated that the racing machines were first and road machines last.   However, I cannot ignore the printed and dated pages of the 1928/9 Motor Cycles magazines that clearly show otherwise.