AJW Motorcycles :: History
Chapter 15

Under New Management

After the war John Wheaton was approached by a demobbed RAF officer Mr O J Ball.  He asked John if he would be prepared to sell the old A.J.W  Company to him.   After some discussion the sale was agreed for the sum (I believe) of £50.  Jack Ball got little for his money; the good will, a few jigs and frames and not much else.

By the beginning of 1948 Jack Ball had found premises in a partly-built factory in Poole Dorset, but he was refused a licence to complete the building and given six weeks notice to quit.  He had to find new premises quickly and the result was that A.J.W Motorcycles   started production at 186, Seabourne Road, Bournemouth, Hants.

During the short time that Jack was in his Poole factory he had started to build his first speedway machines. The Poole speedway track was now up and running and some friends were asking him to modify and even build complete machines for them. Information on the speedway machines is sketchy, but I think his first machine, which I will refer to as Type1, would have been similar to the old style Excelsiors dated 1947/48. Type 2 shows some of Jack’s new ideas dated 1949/50.

 Type 2. Speedway machines fitted with J.A.P.498cc engine 1949/50

Type 2. Speedway machines fitted with J.A.P.498cc engine 1949/50

After Jack’s move to Seabourne Road, he added a new model to his range, the ‘Grey Fox ‘ and then his problems really started.   Some of his early frustrations were recorded in an article written by Bob Currie after a conversation with Jack, for The Motor Cycle  published on May 29th 1976 and reprinted below.

Bet the pictured on the next page will have quite a few of you scratching your heads in puzzlement.

The telescopic front fork and plunger rear springing identify it as a post-war model and yet can it be a vertical-twin side-valve?

Exactly so, for this is the 494cc A.J.W Grey Fox, of which around 70 were built between 1949 and1952.

That you may recall, was the period of ‘export or die’ and only six Grey Foxes ever reached the home market. The others went abroad, mainly to Australia, which is why only one incomplete example survives here.

Grey Fox 1949

Grey Fox 1949

“A.J.W had hoped to get back into production with the coming of peace but,” recalls Jack Ball (still technical consultant to the company now run by his son Alan) “Government departments seemed determined to fling every conceivable obstacle into the pathway.”

“Allocations of metals could not be granted until the would-be maker produced an order book filled with overseas contracts. There were licences and permits for this, that and the other, and shortages of everything.”

“It was just one big carve up,” declares Jack.  “I wanted to fit Bowden handlebars, but I had been placed on the Amal supply list.  Renold chain was unavailable except by the fiction of buying it back from Czechoslovakia, even though it had never left England.”

“The prototype of the Grey Fox was built at Seabourne Road Bournemouth, but I had intended to move to a suitable factory at Poole, work on which had started before the war, although the place was never completed. The application for a building licence was rejected, and with six weeks notice to get out, I had to find some where else in a hurry so that’s how A.J.W. ended up at Wimborne.”

At about this time the 1939-45 war was drawing to a close, Lucas had sent Jack Ball a brochure of their proposed peacetime equipment, rationalised to only three basic types. From it he selected a direct-current dynamo with contact-breaker unit at the remote end. And then there was the matter of the engine.

Around 1938 the J.A Prestwich factory had laid out a very simple 494cc side-valve vertical twin, however, when they sought to patent the camshaft arrangement, they discovered they had been beaten to the punch. It was this power unit, revamped, that J.A.P. now proposed to offer the smaller independent makers.

“Zenith, Cotton and ourselves all expressed interest in it,” continues Jack. “But the prototype engines were a long time coming through. And when I visited the works at Tottenham I found a bike bearing the previously unknown name of Ambassador, but fitted with one of the twins.”

( A letter I have from Jack Ball tells me that Kieft Cars also used this engine. Ed)

“We did get our engine at last, and built a prototype model. I had intended to use an Albion gearbox, but was allocated a Burman (we did indeed get a supply of Albion boxes for the second series of Grey Foxes, but that is another story).”

“By making a big effort, I did get a book full of export orders, so I believe, did Bill Cotton, who had also produced a prototype with the J.A.P. vertical-twin motor. But then we waited and waited, only to be told by J.A.P. that they had decided not to go ahead with the engine.”

“Well, I got authority from Bill Cotton to act on his behalf as well as our own, and stormed into the J.A.P. works, there I found that they had cast and machined the parts for several hundred engines. What I asked was stopping them from putting them together?”

“At last after a long delay production did start after a fashion.  We would get five engines one week, two the next, and nothing the next, then maybe four.”

“We had plans for a 125cc two-stroke, too, using a J.A.P. engine-gear box unit but again they dithered around so in 1953 I became so frustrated that I told J.A.P. run and jump in the lake, and production of the A.J.W. Grey Fox came to an end. Incidentally the last three frames employed 500cc Triumph ex-generator engines.”

So that is why a marque, which began back in the 1920s by building roaring eight-valve vee-twin ‘thousands’, no longer manufactures even medium-capacity models (well not at the moment let’s say). Instead, as they have done for a goodly number of years now, they direct their energies to importing and marketing Italian-made tiddlers. They could hardly be blamed for that.

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The J.A.P. 494cc Side-valve Vertical twin engines were now arriving at Seabourne Road in small numbers and it was December 1948 before the first Grey Fox was completed.

C.P.Read of Motor Cycling was given the first machine for his impressions of ‘First Off ‘  which resulted in the following article.

When the recent show closed its doors, all who had visited Earls Court remained firmly convinced that the motorcycle a la mode is the vertical twin.  Nearly every manufacturer who offered a model in the 500 class marketed a machine of this type.  Each had its individual characteristic, but one feature was common to all – the valves were in the head.

Therefore, when referring to the parade of programmes published in this journal on November18, no little interest was attached to the fact that two makers not at the exhibition, quoted their vertical twins as being side-valve models.  Motorcycles of this design have of course been seen as experimental jobs.  But the 1949 494cc J.A.P. powered Grey Fox A.J.W. recently offered to me for a record of my impressions, is the first catalogued side-valve vertical twin machine to come into the hands of a member of the riding public.

To the present generation the letters A.J.W. may not have the significance they had for riders of pre-war days.  Back in 1926 an Exeter printer, engineer and motorcycle enthusiast named A.J. Wheaton began to build machines bearing those letters on their tanks.  Rapidly they gained an enviable reputation and by the time the war broke out A.J.W. had been produced with a wide variety of specifications ranging from massive mile-eaters having ohv Anzani 1000cc as motive power to handy little utility two-strokes. Now. following the hiatus of the war years and those which immediately succeeded them, the company has been re-formed and this Grey Fox is the first production post war A.J.W.   They make them these days in Southbourne, just outside Bournemouth, in a modest works in Seabourne Road.  But they make them carefully and everybody, from the managing director, Mr J Ball, to the boy who carries round the tea, is an enthusiastic practical motorcyclist, thus perpetuating the original A.J.W. tradition.   As yet the staff is not a large one and production, which is mainly ear-marked for export (familiar phrase!) is limited and the machines are each hand-built.   When I arrived to pick up the ‘first off ‘ side-valve twin, I had to wait for it because one of the directors had just gone out on it to make sure that it was OK.

When eventually we, the Grey Fox and I, were introduced, instinct suggested that I should like the machine.  It had been obviously put together by people who knew about motorcycles and here are some of its salient features.

The twin J.A.P. engine was very fully described in ‘Motor Cycling’ dated March 28th 1946.  It has a bore and stroke of 63.5mm by 78mm.  Respectively, the cylinder block is of iron and the head is of aluminium alloy.  A single camshaft is mounted at the front and driven by chain, as also is the Lucas dynamo-cum-distributor-cum contact breaker. Tappet adjustment at long intervals is effected by shims.  The Amal carburettor is mounted in front of the block, between the two exhaust pipes.  No oil pump is fitted; the big ends picking up oil from the sump and distributing it throughout the unit.

Since the description referred to was published, sundry modifications have been made to the engine.   Prominent among which is the use of a separate 8mm Duplex chain from

the crankshaft to the dynamo, the provision of vernier valve-timing adjustment and the substitution of a built up crankshaft for the cast pattern originally specified.

The engine and the Burman 4-speed gearbox  (giving ratios of 5.2, 6.8, and 14 to 1), are mounted in a sub-frame or cradle, and provision has been made for this sub-assembly to be removed from the main frame in the least possible time by disconnecting the rear chain, engine controls, exhaust pipes and removing four bolts.

The frame itself is of interesting construction.   From the 2 1/2in diameter steering head a 1 1/2in top tube is carried back to a point beneath the nose of the saddle.  Thence two 1in tubes sweep each side of the wheel to the rear-springing members.  From points a few inches in front of and parallel with the latter, vertical tubes are dropped to meet the rear extremities of the two main frame tubes which are carried forward, beneath the engine and gear box, up to meet the lower end of the steering head.  Transverse bracing members are fitted where necessary, and from a frontal aspect the A.J.W. presents a satisfying example of a well laid out duplex frame.

Simplicity is the keynote of the rear suspension.  On each side are two 2in diameter duralumin bosses, one fitted into the top frame lug and one that at the bottom.  A vertical steel spindle joins them and on this slides the bronze-bushed light alloy fork end.  Above the slider is the load spring and below it is the rebound spring, each carefully chosen for its particular job.  Lubrication is looked after by a grease nipple on the slider, surplus grease finding its way down the central spindle and collecting in a well formed in the lower boss.   Over both springs rubber bellows afford protection.  Front end suspension is provided by Dowty ‘Oleomatic’ telescopic forks supporting a sprung front mudguard and built-in headlamp brackets.

Details include a capacious toolbox mounted above the gear-box,  with its lid at the top (a thought for those who have ever struggled to pack tools home and shut the box at the same time!), ‘clean’ handlebars with inverted clutch and front-brake levers, Smith’s trip speedometer, folding kick-starter, fully adjustable footrests, central spring-up stand and last but by no means least, a continuance of that most acceptable A.J.W. feature, the tank top rain gutter, to prevent water from saturating the riders legs on a wet day.  The tank, finished attractively in blue and red, holds 2 1/2 gallons of fuel, and two taps are provided, one serving as a reserve.

My initial run on the A.J.W. from the works to London, rapidly acquainted me with the pleasing fact that, so far as handling at any speed was concerned, the makers had got things just as they ought to be.  The machine ‘floated’ most comfortably upon springing and when cornering there was not the slightest trace of that ‘drift’ which is the characteristic of some systems.  A noticeable bottoming was experienced when the machine was deliberately bounced at over 40mph on a particularly bad surface, but for all normal conditions I would say that the A.J.W. spring heel does all that its sponsors claim for it.

Confidence in the steering was involuntarily engendered, thanks to a patch of badly made road encountered near the New Forest.  The front wheel was given a nasty sidelong blow at a shade over 60 mph, the damper was not even ‘biting’ at the time and the manner in which the A.J.W. shook itself out of the incipient wobble which followed was worthy of a race-bred mount.

Having thus satisfied my mind that my life-insurance policy would not be likely to be called into unduly early operation by such a proceeding, I waited until a suitable stretch of road opened out before me and wound the twist-grip hard against its stop.  The engine had already been run in and I had been given the OK to go ‘flat’ when I liked.

From 30mph upwards the machine was not entirely free from vibration (a point which, I understand, has now received the maker’s attention) the ‘period’ continued until up to the mile-a-minute figure, when everything then smoothed itself out until the engine was running like a ‘four’.  Getting as far back on the sprung mudguard as the touring position of bars and footrests would permit, I saw the needle of the speedometer cruise up through the 70s to the 80 mark and then a shade beyond.  Actually, the maximum recorded was 82mph.  The speedometer was rear driven and, allowing for all possible discrepancies, it may be safely considered that the sv A.J.W. is good for an honest 78 mph at which gait it was perfectly comfortable and seemed quite happy.  An immediate examination of the engine revealed no signs of overheating or oil leaks.

At the other end of the speed range, the A.J.W. could be ridden feet-up at a slow pace, although the engine seemed disinclined to pull evenly at low revs, probably due to fly wheel  lightness.

A tendency to wet the plugs made starting rather uncertain until the exact degree of flooding which the carburettor desired had been studied, but once the knack had been acquired a first kick-start could usually be guaranteed.

Overall, the fuel consumption worked out at 60 mpg while the oil used during my temporary ownership was negligible.  Braking was good, particularly as regards the front stopper, although that at the rear could, with advantage, have been a little less soft. Clutch and gear operations were faultless, while the air lever, placed beneath the saddle, could be ignored once the engine had warmed up.  Control of the coil ignition was automatic and operated perfectly through out the test.

Absorption silencers are fitted as standard, giving the appearance of straight-through pipes.  Although the exhaust note was sharp it was by no means offensive and was undoubtedly well within the ‘phonage’ permissible by law.  Nevertheless, I would, personally, prefer to see silencers of a more customary pattern specified as a matter of discretionary policy, for not every layman knows what absorption silencers look like.

Writing as a rider whose experience embraces many of the earlier models of this marque, I feel fully justified in recording that the1949 version has all the excellent qualities of its forebears, plus some others as well, and it is just too bad that the growing ranks of admirers of the vertical twin in Britain cannot, for the time being at any rate, yet acquire this very pleasant side-valve edition of the type.

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Most of the 70 Grey Foxes built went to Australia and many of those were sold through Jolly’s, the A.J.W. agents in Adelaide.  I am aware of two Grey Foxes in Australia at the time of writing.  The best of these is that owned by Gregory Summerton of Adelaide South Australia.   Apparently Greg’s machine sat in Jolly’s show room window for many years with no tyres fitted.  That probably explains its unused condition as it has only had 1500 miles on the clock.  This machine is one of the last made, as it has the larger type tool box.  It would have had an Albion gearbox instead of the earlier Burman box.  It also has none standard silencers fitted.

Grey Fox

Graham Walker for Motor Cycling describes the new J.A.P. engine in March 1946.

SILENT SIMPLICITY

It is not surprising, that the first post-war engine to be announced by the Tottenham factory should be a twin in the modern vogue, to wit, a 63.5mm bore by 78mm stroke 494cc even firing air-cooled vertical twin.  That it is of the side-valve type is of course, unusual nowadays, but there is a great deal to be said for this valve arrangement.  True, it is possible to design an ohv that has the smooth low-speed torque of a side-valver, but somehow or another no one ever seems to do it, and for the man who wants quiet flexibility with maximum accessibility, without clamouring for the last ounce of speed, the side-valve has many things in its favour.

That has been the basis of thought on which this new J.A.P. unit has been designed. ‘Simplicity with Mechanical Silence’ about sums it up and the following description will, I hope, show that the designer has achieved his aims by methods which make the sweetness of multi-cylinder performance available at an economic figure.

An examination of the special Fooks’s exploded drawing shows at a glance the strength of the deep ‘split fore-and-aft’ crankcase with its integral sump, which provides an ideal support point for attachment to the typical modern cradle frame.  The crankshaft, with its central flywheel and counterweights on the mainshaft webs, is a massive one-piece forging.  The diameter of the crankpins is 1 1/2ins.   The 1 1/8in drive shaft and the 1in  timing shaft are, respectively, supported on large single row roller and ball bearings.

The connecting rods are exceptionally sturdy Birmal L40 C forgings with bronze bushed small-ends, the split big-ends being lined with steel-backed Glacier-metal bearings.  The bottom cap of each bearing is provided with a long drilled ‘dipper’ stalk for the wet sump lubrication system, of which more anon.  The light alloy pistons are of the full skirt type, relieved at the sides and fitted with two compression and one oil control rings apiece, the fully floating gudgeon pins being retained by circlips.

The one-piece cylinder block, of special close-grained cast-iron, is deeply spigotted into the crankcase.  An air passage is formed between the two cylinders and a particularly crafty piece of coring work ensures a clear semicircular channel for air around each exhaust port.  Cylinder fins to the side of each exhaust port are ‘nicked’ to avoid distortion.   The duplex springs and the stems of the 1 3/16in diameter valves (inclined at 4 degrees to the vertical) are enclosed with the tappet heads in chests formed in the casting, sealed by quickly detachable pressed-steel cover plates.

A very unusual feature in the design is the position of the 11/16in inlet port, which is situated between the exhaust ports and carries a 13/16in choke Amal needle jet-type carburettor.  The complete cylinder assembly is held down on the crankcase by six 5/16 in studs.  The one-piece light alloy cylinder head, giving a compression ratio of 6 to 1, has triangular shaped combustion chambers, with their greatest depth over the inlet valves, the vertical 14mm long reach plugs being approximately central.  The head is attached to the cylinder casting by 10 well-spaced 5/16in studs.  A plain aluminium gasket is used; it is claimed that, in comparison with copper, the better surface contact obtained with this metal more then compensates for its slightly lower efficiency in terms of heat transference per square inch.

The hefty camshaft is supported in two 1in diameter oilite plain bushes, and operates direct on the flat-footed hollow tappets, which work in oilite guides.  Valve clearances are adjusted by means of pen steel shims inserted beneath the hardened steel tappet end caps.  The camshaft has three equally spaced keyways, thus allowing the timing to be varied within the close limit of one third of a tooth.  The shaft is driven by a triangulated 3/8in x ¼ in chain running over the mainshaft, camshaft and dynamo sprockets, and tensioned by a spring loaded blade, with a fibre block as an additional damper.

The special Lucas dynamo for the lighting and coil ignition runs at a higher speed than the engine (12 and 15 teeth respectively) and incorporated with the in built automatic advance mechanism, is a reduction gear reducing the speed of the contact breaker to half that of the engine.  Incidentally, accurate setting of the ignition timing is an extremely simple business, the removal of the cover screw below the contact breaker unit discloses another screw, which, when loosened, permits the timing to be reset, literally, in a matter of moments.

The lubrication system is the acme of simplicity.  Beneath each big end is a deep, narrow, semi-circular light alloy trough, in the bottom of which is drilled a small hole. Across the top of the three-pint capacity sump is placed a sheet-steel ‘roof’ through which project the mouths of the troughs.  As all sludge and other impurities automatically sink to the bottom of the sump, only clean oil rises through the afore-mentioned holes to maintain the constant level in the troughs.  Into these dip the hollow ‘stalks’ of the big-end assemblies, forcing oil into the bearings and splashing lubricant over the camshaft, cylinder bores and pistons.   The surplus oil, of course, drains back to the sump.

Lubrication of the timing gear and chain is provided for by four J.A.P. disc-type pressure release valves situated behind the camshaft pinion and suitably shrouded to prevent excess oil reaching them. These valves permit the free outward passage of oil-impregnated air from the case on the downward stroke of the pistons and produce a partial vacuum on the up stroke, thus ensuring the absence of oil leaks at crankcase joint faces.  A large tubular filling orifice, with a marked dipstick integral with the cap, is formed in the off side of the sump.

It will be appreciated that this system effects a considerable saving in cost, complication and weight, there being no mechanical pump, external tank or pipes, and no internal drill ways other then those in the big-end caps, whilst the sludge traps dispense with the need for filters.

The weight of the power unit is 74lb, the output at 5,000 rpm being 22 bhp and the maximum speed 75 mph.  Extended road tests have shown the engine to combine excellent slow pulling qualities, with good acceleration (reputedly equal to that of an ohv model of similar capacity up to at least 50 mph) and an almost complete absence of mechanical noise.

It will be appreciated that the unusual carburettor position enables the engine to be fitted into a very ‘short’ centre frame.  Alternatively, where a normal frame centre is used, there is ample room for accessories to be placed behind the cylinder block.

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If you own a Grey Fox (all four of you) or if you are only interested in this model could I recommend  “The book of the J.A.P “ from the Pitman’s motorcyclists’ library, written by W.C.Haycraft.  This hard back book is full of information on the care and maintenance of the Grey Fox and other J.A.P. engined machines and can still be found at book fairs and auto-jumbles priced at £5 to £7.

While Jack Ball was building the Grey Fox models he was still supplying a small number

Speed Fox speedway and grass track machines such as the

Speed Fox

Speed Fox

TYPE 3. 1951/52 Speed Fox (above) recently restored by Noel Clark.

Speed Fox

Speed Fox

TYPE 4. 1951/52 Speed Fox (above). This machine is on display in a museum in Sweden.

The Speedway machines ran on dope and drive the rear wheel via two chains, a countershaft and a clutch. It is believed that no more then fifteen Speedway and Grass track machines were built.

Of the seventy Grey Foxes built only four are known to have survived.

Only two Speed Foxes are known to have survived.

 

 

 

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