AJW Motorcycles :: History
Chapter 16

The Wonders of Wimborne

By 1952 Jack Ball had moved to Wimborne in Dorset. His new home was Cuckoo Cottage, Green Bottom, Colehill, Dorset. (The garage has been rebuilt since his occupation)

Main Workshop at Wimbourne

He designed and built many machines in the old garage, but his main workshop at that time was at West Row, Wimborne,

Cyril Quantrill reporting for MOTOR CYCLING spent a day at Wimborne in March 1952, testing an A.J.W. prototype cantilever-framed Flying Fox and observing a speedway machine with sidecar with a hinged wheel and his article is below.

An inventive type, is ex R A F flyer J.O.Ball, of Wimborne.  Acquiring the name and goodwill of the A.J.W. marque a few years back he has made his main interest to date the development of a bolted up speedway frame, in which a large diameter top tube is utilised as the fuel tank.  These frames – housing, of course, the inevitable J.A.P. engine – are to be seen in cinder shifting circles as far away from Wimborne as Scandinavia, and are also popular with the local clubman who race on quarter-mile grass circuits in the south and west of England.

One advantage of this particular frame layout is that, being of the straight tubes, bolted up type, it is readily dismantled, thus allowing for rapid replacement of any tubes that get bent.  But seemingly the A.J.W. frame is too robust, and the replacement business, correspondingly, too small, so Mr. Ball explores other avenues.

He constructs, for instance, a sidecar chassis of massive appearance but – because it is made of large diameter, light gauge tubing – of very low weight.  He has an ingenious system of springing a sidecar wheel.  He has developed a special sidecar for Speedway racing all ready and tested in preparation for the reintroduction of ‘chairs’ on the cinders, but more of that anon, and he has a potential production machine, for ordinary road use, which has several distinctly novel features.  I had a ride on it last week, when I took a trip to Wimborne in company with T P photographer George Moore.

The A.J.W. transfer has appeared on the tank of many a distinctive model in the past – from the almost legendary eight-valve big-twin to the sporting, and extremely low priced, ‘Flying Fox’ of the late thirties – and the latest design, when supplies of materials and manufacturing facilities enable Mr Ball to go ahead with his plans, promises to be quite as distinctive as any of its predecessors.  The intention is to equip each model with one of the latest sports-type 500cc J.A.P. power units, but the prototype has a standard two-port ‘Jap’, such as was used for certain pre-war A.J.W, Cotton and Montgomery models, and the gearbox is a three-speed Albion of around the same period.  Otherwise the general layout is very up to the minute.

The backbone of the frame is a 3in diameter, 12 gauge steel tube, brazed to the steering head and forming at its rear end a housing for the two springs which take shock and rebound loads on the swinging fork rear suspension.  This main tube also serves as an oil tank.

Brazed to the rear end of the ‘backbone’ two 1 5/16in16 gauge members run rearward and downward and have, at their bases, rectangular extensions forward, to form foot rest and brake and gear lever mountings and also to form the main support for the horizontally mounted power unit.  Two small diameter tubes, extending downward from lugs beneath the saddle nose, act as front supports for what would, on a more orthodox layout, be the rear engine plates. The gearbox is accommodated between the crankcase and the saddle.

Flying Fox

Flying Fox

Welded gussets inside the curve of the two rear frame tubes act as mounting points for the pivot bearings for the rear fork which -to conform with one of Mr Ball’s theories – is angled downward towards the rear wheel spindle.  A bell crank linkage, working through less than a right angle in order to give progressive spring action, links the rear fork with the sliding member inside the spring box.

The front forks employing double sliding tubes, and a single spring to each leg, anchored at both ends and, of course, hydraulic damping are of more robust construction but of basically similar design to those already used with success on the Speedway.

The front mudguard has a single, central mounting and the very deeply valanced rear guard is carried on a light tubular sub frame.  It is intended to fit side plates to the machine, cowling the power unit and the primary drive.  At the moment no kick starter is fitted, but that is ‘on the way’.   The model is extremely light, scaling less then 300 lb  with a full load of fuel and oil.

Allow for the fact that the power unit has seen better days, that the gear change is not altogether positive, that the brakes are progressive rather then arresting, and that I was distinctly conscious of the fact that the primary chain was both exposed and in need of adjustment, and it will be readily believed that any favourable impressions I gained during a short test run could only be due to the steering and suspension characteristics.

The A.J.W. handles well.  There is a nice relationship between the front and rear suspension systems and the steering is positive.  The centre of gravity appears to be low and the model can be swung through the curves in a manner of an old two speed Scott.  I would like to see Mr Ball overcome all the difficulties which face a newcomer to the manufacturing field these days and achieve his ambition of making a few ‘luxury sports’ models embodying this novel frame and engine mounting.

But in the meantime, while he is waiting for the supply position to improve, what of his side wagon for cinder shifters.  While I was trying the handling of the prototype over part of the Hants Grand National circuit, his assistant, E A ‘Midge’ Wells, had donned leathers and was looking for a volunteer to sit in the ‘chair’ during a demonstration of three-wheeled broadsiding on the Matcham’s Park training circuit.  A group of Bristol Speedway riders was there, limbering up for the coming season, and one of them, Jack Summers, obliged.

SidecarThe sidecar, a diminutive affair, has what would be a caster wheel, were it not for the fact that its vertical ‘hinge’ is anchored by means of a spring loaded arm. When stationary, or when the outfit is moving in a straight line, the spring, which is in compression, keeps the wheel toeing in, but as soon as the power is turned on, the wheel points outwards.  And as, in a power slide, the front wheel also points outwards, the two leading wheels align themselves to follow the curve, while the rear wheel churns the cinders in its endeavour to overtake the front.  It in really uncanny how ‘Midge’ can stay on his chosen line.  In fact, one almost wonders whether all the Speedway aces will not be demanding sidecars as an aid to safer corner sliding this season.

SidecarThe spectators will be wanting them, anyway, for one outfit on a deserted track is a spectacle exciting enough to conjure up visions of the scene with four of them jockeying for position under the arc lights and in the colourful setting of a modern Speedway stadium.  Maybe Mr Ball will have to shelve his road going project for quite a time, while he concentrates on hinging sidecar spindles.

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Now with the Grey Fox model finished due to the lack of J.A.P. side valve engines, and further development of the Flying Fox prototype discontinued, probably due to the lack of J.A.P. 500cc ohv engines Jack was building Speedway machines to special order only, using the J. A. P.  497cc Racing engines that he could still obtain.

But Jack Ball still had one new project; this was a spin-off from the Flying Fox Prototype and was to be called the Fox Cub.  He used the same spine-frame as used on the Flying Fox with small modifications, but this machine would be different, Jack had chosen a single cylinder two-stroke engine of unit construction with three-speed gear box.

It was a conventional unit with dimensions nearly square at 54.2 x 54 mm giving a capacity of 125cc.  The crankcase split vertically on the centre line and carried a pressed up crankshaft with bobweights and a roller big end.  It ran on three ball race mains and the chamber was sealed by bronze bushes, while the four stud iron barrel was capped by an alloy head with plug on the right and decompressor on the left.

J.A.P. 125cc Two-stroke

J.A.P. 125cc Two-stroke

Most unusual was the fitting of a cast iron piston, which was used to allow a closer running fit. (I have opened three of these engines over the years, one a brand new one, never run, but I have never found a cast iron piston, they have all been alloy. Ed.)  It did have a flat top and the combination of these factors and the twin transfer ports resulted in 3.5 bhp at 4000 rpm.  A Wico-Pacy flywheel magneto was fitted on the right, and a single strand chain on the other side took the power to a six-spring clutch.

The gear box was the same as that used in the Villiers 9D with the helical connection between selector fork and gear-change shaft.  A kick starter pedal was fitted on the right and a cover enclosed its mechanism and clutch lever.

The primary chain-case was also used to enclose the rear drive sprocket and the inner wall was cast with the left crankcase half.  Two holes at the rear provided passage for the rear chain.  To this casting was attached a flat steel sheet to form the chain case inner, after which the primary drive was assembled and enclosed by an outer casting held in place by a number of screws.

To my knowledge, these engines, (if they could get them), were fitted to A.J.W., BAC 1951-53 and ‘Glideride’ F.L.M. (Frank Leach. Manufacturing Co), Headingley, Leeds How many were built is not known.

The frame used by the Fox Cub was very similar to that used by the Flying Fox, with its 3 inch diameter top tube that formed its back bone, to which were welded two curved seat tubes, which supported the pivots of the rear fork.  At the base of these tubes was a cradle in 1inx2in rectangular section tubing, this cradle carried the lower mounting for a 125cc  J.A.P two-stroke engine and lugs for fitments such as footrests and brake pedal.

The rear fork, in 1 ½ in diameter tubing, pivots on Metalastik bushes and was controlled by springs concealed in the backbone of the frame.

 Fox Cub Frame (Left) Rear Fork Springs. (Right)

Fox Cub Frame (Left) Rear Fork Springs. (Right)

Shown above is the complete frame and rear fork used in the Fox Cub, also the adjustable spring assembly used to control the rear fork.  This screws into the end of the top tube.

952 Fox Cub Prototype

The picture (above) is my restored 1952 Fox Cub Prototype.  At the time of writing this is the only known machine of this type to have survived.  The petrol tank used was a cut down version of the tank used on the Grey Fox.  The frame and forks were finished in black crinkle paint, unusual, as were the roof bolts used to attach the rear fairing to the frame.  These were items that Jack had around at the time the Fox Cub was built so he used them.  The blue polychromatic paint used on the Fox Cub was first used on the early Speedway machines, and was also used on some Grey Foxes according to letters I have of Jack Ball’s.

The front fork is an oil-damped, telescopic type and has a 7inch front brake and a 5 inch  rear brake.  The Cub is fitted with 2.75inx19 in tyres.  It also has a seat that merges with the very deep section rear mudguard.

How did I come to own the Fox Cub?   Well, with my wife Daphne, I had just spent two and a half hectic days at the 1998 Stafford Classic Bike Show.  We were showing a 1933 Flying Fox that won its class in the show.  As we were packing up to go home and loading the bike on to its trailer on that rainy Sunday evening, we were approached by a man who told us that a friend of his had an A.J.W. at home and would we be interested.  But at that time we were more interested in strapping the bike down as it was raining, so Daphne took the man’s phone number and we went on our way.

On Monday morning I rang the number given to us the previous evening and David Hamer introduced himself.  Luckily for me David was a bit of a conservationist or the A.J.W. which he had had in his cellar since 1966 would probably have been lost.  He told me that the machine was a 1952 A.J.W. Fox Cub Prototype fitted with a J.A.P. 125cc two-stroke engine.  Well I was amazed that this one-off machine with all its parts and the original registration lay in bits in David’s cellar.   During the next few days he sent me all the information he had and many photos of the Fox Cub which proved its authenticity, so the week-end found us speeding hot-foot to Rossendale, in Lancashire.

David Hamer with the Fox Cub in his cellar.On our arrival at David’s home we were taken down to the cellar and shown the Fox Cub and it was, as David had said, mostly complete. There was no doubt about its authenticity so a deal was done and over coffee David told us how he had acquired the Fox Cub; it was whilst on holiday in the Bournemouth, Dorset area in 1965.  Being the owner at the time of a Grey Fox (rare in the U K) he was well aware that Jack Ball the designer and builder of that machine lived in the area. I think David spent a lot of his holiday trying to find Jack Ball’s home and, when he did, Jack took him to his summer house and there lying under a sheet, was the dismantled and damaged prototype.

Jack’s son Alexander, an RAF officer at the time, first registered the Fox Cub on 17th September 1952. The address given was Officers’ Mess, RAF Thorney, Emsworth.  It was registered continuously until January 1957.  I presume that Alex probably used it to commute from Thorney Island to his home near Colehill.  I am told that it hit a bus and that would account for the damaged front forks.

David obviously wanted to buy the Fox Cub but Jack I believe had promised it to a friend, but David did not give up trying, and finally in 1966 he persuaded Jack Ball to sell it to him.  So we had come full circle and as we stood in David’s cellar he told us how he had started to restore the machine but due to other projects it was never finished.

We loaded all the parts gently into our Calibra for the long run home where, after restoration the Fox Cub joined a small but growing family of other A.J.W.s.

“I think the Fox Cub is back in its spiritual home,” said David, in an article written by Dennis Frost for  The CLASSIC MOTOR  CYCLE in April 2001.

At the end of his article Dennis said,  “The Fox Cub is an outstanding lightweight the more so because its designer had to make do with a world of post-war shortages.  A much larger manufacturer would surely have produced a pressed steel version of that backbone frame and styled the rear mudguard more successfully too.  If a British lightweight motorcycle can be this good, way did generations of youngsters have to put up with the dreadful Bantam.“(Praise indeed)

Again the supply of J. A. P. engines for the Flying Fox and the Fox Cub stopped, so the production of the road machines came to an end, but Speedway engines were still available.

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