With entries now closed for the annual Scottish Six Days Trial in May 2018, reports indicate that the event is almost 100% oversubscribed with Secretary, Ms. Mieke De Vos looking at a pile of over 500 entries.
This happened as far back as 1972 when the event was massively oversubscribed to a similar magnitude and saw the commencement of the now famous ‘ballot of entries’.
At that time, the then Secretary, the late Jim McColm and the SSDT Committee of the day pondered what to do and a ballot system was put in place.
The 2018 ballot will take place between now and the festive season, with all successful and non-successful entrants being informed between 25th December and January 1st.
The Dutch born SSDT Secretary, Mieke De Vos urges entrants not to make contact with the SSDT administration before 1st January, if you have not heard any news.
No doubt there will be a flurry of social media activity between now and the new year with successful entrants gleefully declaring their acceptance and unsuccessful entrants drowning their sorrows.
However remember that with all large events there is an attrition rate of around 10% who have to withdraw their entry prior to the event for a variety of reasons. So don’t be overly despondent.
Full details of this most famous of all trials can be found on the SSDT website, www.ssdt.org
As for Trials Guru? Yes we will be there! – May 7-12, 2018 – WATCH THIS SPACE!
Here at Trials Guru, we are always looking for something different and original and instead of featuring a rider, we obtained this article about the unsung heroes of our sport, the observers. Without observers, we would have no events. Trials Guru asked an observers’ daughter to pen us an article, this is the result.
Words and photos provided by Helen Graham:
Following a photograph of a well-known and reliable observer ‘Farmer John’ being featured on social media, a flurry of praise ensued with comments such as: Legend; Respect; “Hope I can do that at his age”; “Dedicated to North East Trials”.
There were also questions raised about the life of this 87 year old man in a flat cap, who braves all weathers to observe at trials throughout the North East and beyond.
John Graham was born on 10th January 1930 in Blanchland, Northumberland and at an early age moved with his parents to a rented farm in Hexhamshire, where he lived until the age of twelve when the family moved to a different farm in Hexhamshire, known as High Raw Green, not far from Whitley Chapel.
John wanted to join the RAF as he wanted a trade, and particularly wished to be a mechanic on aeroplanes.
Sadly this was not to be, as being an only child it was expected that he would work for his father and then take over the tenancy of the farm, which was owned by Northumberland County Council.
Let us not forget that in those days there were few cars or tractors, and work on the farm was by means of four legged ‘horse-power’. John states his father got the first family car in 1947, and only after that did they get a tractor on the farm.
Farmer John has only ever possessed one motor cycle, a 1950 Ariel 500 with sidecar. He describes the sidecar as a “wooden box for carrying stuff in”.
John got married to his wife Nancy in 1958, and in 1962 they began farming for themselves at High Raw Green. Sadly the Ariel 500 and ‘box’ had to be swapped for a wagon chassis to make a trailer to be used on the farm. Money was scarce and any available was put into the farm. John is a self-taught engineer and this was not the only trailer that he has built throughout his life.
John and Nancy had a hard life on their dairy farm. They had a herd of over 40 friesian dairy cows to be milked every morning and evening. In summer there was hay and silage to harvest. In winter there were severe snowstorms and John was a well-recognised figure out on his tractor with snow plough fitted to the back, to clear the local roads of snow so that the milk tanker could get to the farms to take the daily production of milk from the farms to the dairy.
John and his younger daughter Anthea began going to motocross every Sunday afternoon. He described it as “an interest, at weekends”.
In 1991 when he and Nancy retired from farming John started to go to motorcycle trials, and says that Harry Norman “roped him in to observe”, and he has been doing so ever since, for 26 years in fact.
Let us not also forget that since John retired from farming in 1991 he has worked continuously at Hexham Auction Mart as a stock person, a manual job, and starts work there at 7am every Tuesday and Friday, and other days when sheep and cattle or other sales take place.
John has observed at all local trials, plus the Yorkshire and Cumberland main trials, and this year is his 20th year for observing at the Scottish Pre-65.
His elder daughter Helen questioned him closely: What do you enjoy about being an Observer?.
His immediate reply, with a wry smile, was “Authority”!
She asked – Do you want to elaborate on that?, and Farmer John replied “to make sure there’s no rock-shifting”.
She asked him what he thinks about observing in wind and rain and all types of weather and his matter-of-fact reply was “It doesn’t bother me because I’ve been used to it all my life”.
Has he a favourite venue?
FJ: “No, but the Scottish Pre-65 is one I enjoy very much. It was a one-day effort originally, and I observed at Pollock Hill for 12 years, The Pipeline, twice or thrice at the hotel up on the top. It was Brian Short who ran the Weardale Trial who got me to do it. They always wanted me to observe at the Scottish Six Days Trial but I declined, it was unfair on anyone that was with me because I would be out from 7am – 7pm. I’ve seen most of the sections at one time or another.”
Does he have any problems with any of the riders?
FJ: “Some of them didn’t like getting Fives but there’s no arguments nowadays because a Five is a Five! I know most of the riders well now”.
What do you think of the new/young riders who are taking part in trials now?
FJ: “They are progressing well”.
A lot of people are surprised you are so fit and healthy at your age of 87 years. What do you put that down to? – FJ: “Hard work”.
How long do you intend to continue? – FJ: “Till I Die”.
Well “Farmer John”, let’s hope that’s not for some time yet!!
His daughters just also want to say that behind every good man there is a good woman, and Farmer Johns’ wife Nancy still makes his bag of ‘bait’ every Sunday morning for him, before he heads off to the relevant Trial of the day, and has his cooked meal ready for him when he gets home.
Legend is probably quite fitting, don’t you think?
2017 Pre’65 Scottish Trial – Major Gaff!
When 87 year old Farmer John Graham was asked if he had a favourite venue to observe at he described the Pre’65 Scottish as being ‘The Trial’.
This year, 2017 was to be his twentieth year as an observer at the Pre’65 Scottish Trial.
His daughter Helen has always said that for as long as he wants to observe she will drive him the 225 miles to Kinlochleven from his home town of Hexham, Northumberland.
This duly happened this year, and she drove Farmer John and wife Nancy on a beautiful sunny day from Hexham to what had been a wet day in Kinlochleven.
Farmer John had been given a brand new section to observe at on Friday 28th April 2017, at Man na Gualain. He was most concerned that he had not checked it out. Helen took him to the meeting of all observers the evening beforehand and once having received his official programme he was keen to check out his section.
He was duly at Kinlochleven checking in the following morning and was duly at his section well before he needed to be, so keen is he!
Farmer John was glad to find that the section was harder than what he thought it would be and “riders lost quite a few marks”. He was as ever vigilant that there was no “rock-moving” and he thoroughly enjoyed his day, chatting with entrants and people who were watching the trial.
Saturday was a section he had been at previously, Camas na Muic, and the only blight in his day was the amount of riders who stood on a particular “rock” in the section in an attempt to move it. As ever he was on the ball and fair in his marking.
Unbeknown to him organisers of the Pre-65 Scottish wanted to acknowledge his 20 years of observing at the awards evening on Saturday 29th April. He is not a big social attender but Helen suggested it might be nice to go as he hadn’t been previously, so he obliged.
Farmer John was there presented with an engraved whisky glass and medal acknowledging his 20 years of observing. He was very grateful, albeit very confused when the organisers made a huge and very embarrassing blunder by having the presenter, Graham Archer mention that he was retiring.
Well, his daughter Helen was very quick to point out, that is the first she had heard of him retiring, and he has made no decision to do so!
As an interesting aside, after his two days observing Farmer John, Nancy and Helen travelled down the west coast to Portpatrick for an overnight stay there. Farmer John and Nancy had stayed there almost fifty-nine years previously on their honeymoon. Farmer John was again in his element with his other interest, seeing the countryside and cattle on the Mull of Galloway and visiting a farm near Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway which belongs to a cattle dealer that is a client at Hexham Auction Mart where Farmer John works.
Roll on your 21st Pre’65 Scottish Trial Farmer John, and never lose your interests.
Article: Copyright – Trials Guru & Helen Graham 2017
The Twelfth annual Highland Classic Two Day Trial is becoming a very popular event, with the maximum entry being surpassed in less than 48 hours of it’s opening just after midnight on Wednesday, 1st February.
The go-ahead organising committee of the Inverness & District club were surprised at the take-up of entries of which they changed the format after protestations last year that it favoured previous years riders.
Club and company secretary, John Moffat said: “In 2016 we were accused of nepotism where we sent out paper-based entries to every rider who competed in the 2015 event and the Royal Mail were very quick at their delivery for some reason. The official entries opened a day later although this wasn’t the overall intention. Quite a few prospective competitors felt that this was unfair. However, I’d like to point out that quite a few regular riders have supported our event since it’s inception in 2005 when it went from a one-day trial to a two-day affair.”
Moffat continued: ” We are quite overwhelmed at the response this year as we were full by the Thursday evening. We made a conscious decision to reserve some of our entry for special ‘Guest’ riders which has been kept to a minimum and are over and above the 150 rider maximum. These riders were chosen for their contribution they have made to our sport of off-road motorcycling or were nominated by our ‘Trial Partners’ – that is Apico Factory Racing; Putoline Oils UK and Classic Trial Magazine who have been very generous in their support of the 2017 event. As a contingency, we have a 15 place reserve list in opertion, just in case any competitor pulls out, pre-event”.
The ‘brainchild’ of Inverness Chairman, Malcolm Smith who thought up the original idea of the event which takes place on 10/11 June on the shooting estate, Alvie, near Aviemore which is run by the enthusiastic Laird, Jamie Williamson and managed by Estate Factor, David Kinnear.
This year the theme is ‘The Honda Edition’ and the Guest of Honour is 1977 British Trials Champion and Honda factory rider, Rob Shepherd. A special award will be made to the rider making the best performance on a Honda who has not won any other award. there is also a Best Female Rider award.
Shepherd will ride a specially prepared Honda TLR250, but it is very likely that his ex-works TL305 will be there and it is hoped that Rob will demonstrate ride it during the end of one of the days.
Jean Caillou from France will be there, having entered on the ex-Marland Whaley factory Honda.
The ‘Guest’ riders announced so far are: Rob Shepherd – Honda (Guest of Honour); Yrjo Vesterinen – BSA (3 times FIM World Trials Champion); Vic Allan – MV Agusta (1974 – British 250cc and 500cc Motocross Champion); Chris Milner – Triumph (former Comerford Bultaco rider); John Hayden – Yamaha (Putoline Oils UK); Nick Shield – Yamaha Majesty (Classic Trial Magazine tester). It is still a possibility that Nick Jefferies – Honda may appear if TT committments allow.
Other notable successful entrants are former TT winner, Iain Duffus (Fantic) and Yamaha Motor Company’s Rob McElnea.
The event is billed as the ‘Friendliest Classic Trial in Scotland’ and that is helped by a relaxed atmosphere, a great place to ride off-road, sensible flowing sections, a ‘Specials’ category in case some machines don’t fully comply with class boundaries, cheese and wine at the end of Day One and for this some sections lost to the event a few years ago which are very traditional to Scotland.
The trials world was shocked with the announcement by the reigning and seven times British Trials Champion, James Dabill that he has withdrawn his entry from the 2017 Scottish Six Days Trial in May.
Dabill broke the news via his own social media account today, 1st February. He recently changed camps from Vertigo to Gas Gas and is contracted to compete in the Spanish National Trials Championship plus the World series.
James broke the news as follows: “So this was a very long and tough decision of mine and after speaking with some of my close friends, family and Team Manager, I have decided to withdraw from taking part in this years’ SSDT. It was not an easy decision as it’s one of my favourite events but I feel it’s the best way for me to really concentrate on having a good year at world championship. With the first TrialGP being only a week after the SSDT, I don’t want to lose precious time training and preparing myself and my bike at the highest level possible. I would like to thank everybody who respects my decision and I will see you up in Fort William for the first weekend and I would like to take this opportunity to wish all competitors a great and enjoyable week, Cheers Dibs”.
Dabill’s announcement once again brings into question the tactics of the manufacturers who were always keen to win the prestigeous Scottish Six Days Trial, seen by many to have an impact on sales, in the UK at least, of trials machines. However, the World Championship does carry an equally prestigeous tag, that of World Champion.
James Dabill does value highly a win at the SSDT, he has achieved this twice in his career, 2007 and 2011, so this was clearly not a decision he wanted to have to take. However, he is a professional rider and his job is to satify his contractual obligations first and foremost.
Trials Guru’s John Moffat commented: “This must have been a very tough decision for James to take. I have interviewed him up at Fort William on the local Nevis Radio and been on stage at the presentation of awards when he picked up his wins in 2007 and 2011. He is always quite relaxed in the mornings before the off and really enjoys riding the SSDT. While it’s a great shame for SSDT fans that James will not be riding in 2017, but we wish him well in his World series, TrialGP endeavours and hope that he will return to ride the SSDT in the very near future.”
Ted Heather was, I think, one of the quiet ones with his own brand of humour. When he was Clerk of the Course for the West Wilts Motor Club’s famous, or was it the infamous, Tanner Trudge Time & Observation Trial he would sometimes ring me up pretending to be perhaps Sammy Miller or another well known rider. I would usually be certain it wasn’t who Ted said it was and would be racking my brains to work out who it was on the phone, stalling for time so I could decide who it actually was on the line!
Ted was very independent and didn’t find it easy to ask for help marking out, and you had to twist his arm to get him to agree that you could come out & help him setting up before the day. Then he would say at Club Meetings that he didn’t get much help! He was quietly very proud of the many Trudges when he was Clerk of Course. I think it was 19 or 24 and it was only years later, after the Club had stopped running the Trudge because of dwindling entries that I realised Ted had wanted to make that milestone. Ted said nothing when we decided to stop running.
Ted drifted away from the Club after that, but kept involved every year in the SSDT where he would be in the parc ferme and would be out at ungodly hours putting up Route Markers. I guess those early mornings were no trouble to Ted after the many years of early starts that he had as Postman working out of Corsham. I recall him saying to me, with a chuckle, that David Hempleman-Adams, the explorer had given him a sponsored anorak which David had used on an expedition!
Ted was a keen gardener, and his own immaculate garden impressed sufficient people to ask him to look after theirs that he had more than he could really cope with. He did a lot of walking after he ‘retired’ and with the new hip that he had late last year he was planning a walking holiday in September when he would have turned 80. He liked dogs and had a succession of large dogs although I don’t think he had another after his dog, Sam, died.
Ted played his part in the Wessex Centre too, he had been President & had been awarded the Harry Croft Trophy, he had been a Centre Steward spanning the times before the days when Stewards didn’t need licences and when they did!
It’s rumoured Ted ‘helped’ riders who wanted to enter the SSDT by ‘putting in a word to the Committee’. It was rumoured that Ted paid the SSDT Entry Fee for one of the Centre’s best riders every year. Ted would just smile and be non committal if I gently tried to persuade him to let on. We know Ted was actually hurt that one or two of those he did help never actually thanked him for his intervention. The last time we saw Ted was at the in the Fort William parc ferme last year.
Ted leaves behind his widow, Rachel, they had no children.
Rachel was very involved with the Wiltshire St Johns Ambulance Service, joining in 1955 and has been the Divisional Superintendent for the Chippenham District.
I remember Ted telling me, with another little smile, that he had conducted Rachel’s driving test when they were in the RAF in Germany. She passed!
My wife Phyllis was Secretary of the Meeting for the Tanner Trudge while Ted was Clerk of Course for quite a number of years, and they always exchanged Christmas cards. Last year Phyllis’s said we weren’t going to Scotland this year, and Ted’s said he had a new hip.
We heard on Monday that Ted had passed away late last week from Wessex Centre Secretary, Theresa Talbot, who had been told while at Sundays Vic Brittain Trial.
It was maybe 20 years ago that Ted had had an intestinal cancer which he completely recovered from. Some time after his hip operation.Ted had a DVT and a fall., He was readmitted & had another fall. A scan showed that he had a left lung shadow & a brain tumour, and he rapidly deteriorated.
Our thoughts are with Rachel. Ted, RIP – you will be remembered.
Words: Trials Guru – Rob Farnham (Oz) – Mick Andrews
Photos: Rob Farnham – Rob Edwards – Mick Andrews
What is 644BLB?
It was the registration number allocated in January 1961 to a 350 Matchless, which was used exclusively as an AJS and owned by the Associated Motor Cycles Ltd competition Department at Plumstead, South East London.
The motorcycle was to be used by factory supported riders and we know that AJS factory rider, Cliff Clayton used it in the 1961 Scottish Six Days Trial. Clayton was a member of the Barham MCC, and lived at Gillingham in Kent.
644BLB however, was to become better known in the trials world as Mick Andrews’ factory AJS, as he competed on it from 1962-1964 when factory supported. It was a machine that took Andrews on two consecutive occasions to the runner-up position in the Scottish Six Days Trial (winners Arthur Lampkin – BSA C15 – 1963 & Sammy Miller – Ariel – 1964).
Don Morley, the well-known photo journalist spent a great deal of time researching the works trials AMC machines when he was preparing his book, Classic British Trials Bikes which was published by Osprey. Don had photographed many, if not all, the factory models over the years.
Morley told Trials Guru when discussing some articles, that some AMC trials machines were registered as one marque but actually used as the badge engineered stablemate. 644BLB was one such machine, an AJS in use, but registered as a Matchless. The same method was employed for the machine registered 164BLL, issued to Gordon McLaughlan. There has never been a definitive reason for this other than perhaps the AJS 16C was a slightly more expensive model than the corresponding Matchless variant G3C and as the factories had to pay the then ‘Purchase Tax’ on a registered machine, perhaps they saw this as a way of saving some money?
Don told Trials Guru that: “I should really have paid more attention to the finer details of the works bikes when I had the chance back in the days when they were used week in, week out by the factory supported riders. I have questioned many of the stars of yesteryear about the finer points of the machines they rode some time later, to find that most hardly touched the machines as they usually were repaired, modified and serviced by the relevant competition departments. No disrespect intended, but I take most of the so-called modifications by riders with a pinch of salt.”
Where is 644BLB?
Our article begins with a message sent through social media to Rob Edwards, the former factory Cotton, Montesa and, at one time, AJS teamster. Rob had ridden a factory supported but privately bought AJS in the 1964 and 1965 SSDT, it was registered ‘970PL’ and had bought it from Comerfords in 1963.
The enquiry came to Rob Edwards facebook page in December 2016 from Rob Farnham from Queensland, Australia (who we will refer to as ‘Oz’, his shortened internet name, for the rest of the story) who had seen Rob’s story on Trials Guru and a reference to his promotional trip with his employers, Montesa Motorcycles ‘down under’ in 1975. A photo was within Rob’s story sitting on a 350 AJS which Noel Shipp of Wollongong owned at the time and was reputedly Mick Andrews’ AJS factory machine.
Oz picks up the story: “I purchased the bike from Noel Shipp in December 2008, as being a bit of and AMC competition bike nut, it was an opportunity too good to miss. Sadly Noel was unwell then and died in the September of 2012.
Noel had shipped 644BLB out from the UK in 1970. I have a note of who he purchased it from, but he was actually after another trials machine, a Triumph I think, but took the AJS as his second choice.
Obvious changes have been made between 1964 and 1970, mainly the bottom frame rails and footrest hangers.”
“I have done very little to it as I have too many projects but was only spurred into motion following a request from John Cuff, a member of the bike club I’m a member of, the Historical Motorcycle Club of Queensland as he needed some bikes for club magazine articles for 2017. He had seen my Matchless G80CS but knew nothing of the 350 AJS, 644BLB. His main interest is trials and competition machines so he was very excited when he saw it.
Most of my previous research had drawn a blank so was quite excited myself on Rob Edwards response to my post on his facebook page.”
Oz had been doing a lot of digging in an attempt to catalogue the machine’s history, but over the years details of ownership had been lost and of course never rely on people’s memories.
Oz had heard that after Mick Andrews had handed the AJS back to Plumstead, Gordon Blakeway had ridden it. This was false as Blakeway had been issued with 187BLF, the ex-Gordon Jackson machine when Andrews was still riding 644BLB for the factory and was subsequently riding the 250 James (306AKV) for AMCs in 1965.
It was likely that after Andrews moved on, 644BLB would have been moved on also as the factory was in financial decline and several machines were sold off to dealers, the most noteable being Comerfords in Thames Ditton, Surrey and it was most likely that 644BLB would have found its way to this dealer given their connections with the factory.
Oz clarifies how he undertood matters initially: “I was actually led to believe that Rob Edwards had made his debut in the Scottish Six Days on 644BLB in 1965. This was caused by the caption in ‘British Trials Motorcycles’ by Bruce Main-Smith on pages 12 and 13 which read: ‘Rob Edwards (opposite bottom) made his Scottish debut on Andrews’ ex-works 350 AJS, with unofficial factory support’. The photo does show Rob Edwards, but I now know through Trials Guru’s Rob Edwards Story and AJS & Matchless Trials articles that this was actually Rob’s own private but factory supported AJS (970PL). The photo in Main-Smith’s book was taken from a rear view and the machine had lost it’s rear registration number plate, making identification difficult. On top of this, Noel Shipp had told me Rob Edwards had been a privateer rider post 1964, which is one of the reasons I contacted Rob Edwards via his Facebook page.”
In reality, Rob Edwards had taken over the berth left in the AJS official team for the 1965 Scottish Six Days, riding his own AJS, suitably modified as Andrews’ mount 644BLB was not available, this occurred due to Andrews moving to ride the James. So why did the AJS competition manager not allocate 644BLB to Rob Edwards? That may remain a mystery, was it by then sold off or did they not have time to prepare it for the arduous SSDT?
Oz is keen to find out who purchased and rode 644BLB from around 1964 until it was exported to Australia in the 1970s. He still has the road fund licence tax disc from 1970 with the index ‘644BLB’ and ‘350 Matchless’. This would be the last time the machine was road registered in the UK.
Research indicated that as the machine had left the UK shores, the registration mark had become void due to the mid 1970s ‘amnesty’ that was afforded owners to have their vehicles applied to the DVLA computer at Swansea.
For many years it was thought that the ex-Gordon Jackson AJS (187BLF) had been exported to Australia, even Jackson himself believed it to be so, but it was actually the Clayton/Andrews machine 644BLB that had gone ‘down under’.
The AJS & Matchless Owners Club were contacted in January 2000, but their archivist, Mrs Pat Hughes confirmed that the later competition model records were missing, they had all the road going machine despatch details from 1946 onwards. So another blank was drawn, but the important thing is that the machine still exists half way around the world from where it was built and used. The only confirmation was that the motor number stamped on the crankcases was that of a 1961 model G3C Matchless.
The Mick Andrews connection:
Mick Andrews has been asked many times what he did for a living and simply answers that he commenced a motor mechanic apprenticeship with Kennings when he left school in his home town of Buxton in Derbyshire, but quickly earned a place in the AJS factory trials team riding their works prepared 350cc 16C model, registered as 644BLB at seventeen years of age in late 1961. His name had been put forward to AMC’s Hugh Viney by Ralph Venables. Viney had sent a letter to Andrews, which was the way it was done back then, offering him an AJS.
Mick Andrews told Trials Guru: “I had a Matchless which my Dad Tom bought for me and I had some good rides on that. I came home from work one day and my Dad said that I had better have a look in the garage and there stood a gleaming AJS sent up by Hugh Viney for me to ride. It was 644BLB with a blue tank and gold lining, it looked beautiful”.
Andrews first appearance on the factory AJS was at the national St. Davids Trial in Wales when he partnered Gordon Jackson and Gordon McLaughlan. That was in 1962, also Andrews’ first time in the Scottish Six Days Trial. In 1963, Mick was second in the SSDT to Arthur Lampkin. Andrews went on to not only win many national trials on 644BLB, but it also established him as a force to be reckoned with in the sport. His last SSDT on 644BLB was the 1964 event, again finishing runner up to Ariel’s Sammy Miller, riding in the factory team comprising of Gordon Blakeway (187BLF) and Gordon McLaughlan (164BLL) with the fuel tanks refinished in ivory white with simplified lining and gold monogram, the penultimate time an AJS team would compete in the annual classic. In 1965, the final AJS team comprised of Gordon McLaughlan (164BLL); Gordon Blakeway (187BLF) and new recruit, Rob Edwards (970PL) who took the best 350cc cup.
Mick Andrews: “I did hear many years ago that my old works AJS had been sold to someone in Australia, but I never did see it again. It’s nice to hear that it is still around, OK maybe not exactly as I rode it, but still it’s good that it has survived this long. I was in New Zealand with my wife Jill in 2010 and a bloke came up to me and said, you’re Mick Andrews! I said how do you know me? The chap replied, ‘well I moved out here some years ago, but I did all the work on your AJS, I worked in the comp shop’. I couldn’t believe it, you see Hugh Viney told my Dad and I that we were not allowed to modify or change things on the motorcycle, so my dad sent the AJS back to the factory every Monday morning and they sent it back up to Buxton so I could ride it at the weekend, we never really touched it the whole time I rode for the factory. I never met the guy before, but he made sure the motorcycle was well prepared each week for me to ride.”
Andrews continued: “When I rode for AJS I always rode with the long-stroke motor, never the short-stroke, I didn’t like them. They seemed to suit Gordon Jackson, he liked the sharper power delivery, but it wasn’t my choice. In 1964 we were all offered 250 James to ride, the two Gordons were not happy and handed them back, but I said to the then AMC team manager Eddie Wiffen, that I’ll stick with the James (306AKV) and never looked back.”
The long stroke motor looks to have stayed with 644BLB and having examined the engine number it is that of a 1961 G3C Matchless and is in keeping with known serial numbers. The factory did not usually build special factory bikes from scratch, they normally chose one or two from the production line and used these to register them for road use. They were usually tested and them the dispatch clerks booked them out to the ‘Competition Department’.
So what happened to 644BLB after its time as a works machine expired? It is still a bit of a mystery, apart from the obvious, that it was exported from the UK to Australia. Motorcycles change hands and sometimes many hands at that. Without the old style ‘Registration Book’ or buff log book as they were universally referred, it makes it difficult to trace a machines’ history.
What is known is that this AJS, or Matchless as it was registered with the authorities is concerned, was sold off, through a main dealer is most likely as many ex-factory AMC machines were disposed of in this manner.
At one stage, the registration number re-appeared on a 350 AJS in the annual Pre’65 Scottish trial at Kinlochleven in the hands of Andrew Arden, whose father Maurice was the man behind Big John Products, a one time sponsor of Mick Andrews. However, it wasn’t the original machine, it had been in Australia for 15 years or more and the machine was a replica, the dummy registration number plates used purely as a ‘nod’ to Andrews achievements on his original Plumstead built machine.
It was discovered that Noel Shipp bought 644BLB from a UK sales agent, a Stan ‘Rodwell’ or ‘Phelps’ based in Ilford, Essex, so the motorcycle was shipped over.
From photos taken in 1975 during Rob Edwards and Mick Andrews trip to Australia, one notices that the bottom frame rails had been removed and replaced by a plated assembly which gave a flush area to mount an alloy sump-shield in an attempt to loose some weight. This was not a factory modification as AMC believed in making the factory machines look exactly like the standard production competition models.
Having said that, the late model factory trials machines all sported the lowered rear subframe and short, but kicked up rear mudguard fixing loop. This allowed shorter rear suspension units to be deployed while maintaining the same rear wheel movement.
The tank appears to have been changed over the years. Initially it had an alloy competition tank finished in blue and gold lining.
Oz: “As previously mentioned Noel Shipp fitted the black 2 gallon AJS competition tank at some point although when he got the bike it had the red fibreglass Matchless G85 style tank on it. This is actually an interesting tank as its shape and fitting is definitely for a G85 but there is a drip recess around the fuel cap and the bottom of the tank is finished off quite roughly. It has ‘R. E. G Mouldings’ inscribed on the bottom, maybe someone over in the UK knows of them?
I bought a polished alloy Lyta Gordon Jackson style tank from Rickmans for another project which requires a fully painted tank, it seems a shame to rough up such a nice tank and I eventually found the black and silver painted tank on eBay, so my current plan is to use the painted tank for the other project and the nice shiny one could be painted up similar to the one used by Gordon Jackson.”
History of course records that Andrews rode the 1964 Scottish with a Jackson style tank in off-white/ivory with the gold AJS monogram.
Oz confirms that the primary chaincase has an alloy inner case with an outer steel component. Production AMC trials machines were never supplied with alloy chaincases, only the factory ones had them.
Oz who is a lover of originality added: “Of course there is always the matter of whether the bike should be conserved as it is or perhaps restored back to factory finish circa 1964. While 187BLF looks very nice, any traces of its history will have been wiped away during the extensive restoration, in my opinion it has been somewhat over done.”
“At present 644 is neither ‘fish nor fowl’ as the wheels have been restored, the tank isn’t original to any period, I have the correct style of tank and muffler, and a very good frame repairer who is more than capable of making original pattern bottom rails, however I have several other projects before I even think about what should be done with it, so that may be an interesting area for discussion on your website?”
So there we have it. It would appear that the former AMC factory AJS, 644BLB has found a new home at the other side of the world, without the factory dispatch records it isn’t possible to identify 100% and without a shadow of a doubt this is the ex-Andrews machine, but the evidence certainly points firmly that it is.
It’s a nice end, because if this is truly 644BLB, then its good news that it survives and hasn’t gone to the AMC factory trials machine graveyard and it’s in a good home.
Or is this the end of the story? We will have to wait and see because researching old motorcycles history is something that never really stops.
Trials Guru … 644BLB Post Script!
James Holland founder of JHS Racing Ltd the motorcycle performance centre in Bristol, read this article and came in with additional information.
James: “Back in 1998 I made contact with Noel Shipp in Australia as I was keen to establish the whereabouts of Mick Andrews’ ex-works AJS. Noel wrote to me and sent me some photographs of the bike he had bought from England some years previously. He wanted around £5,000 for it, which in 1998 was a lot of money for a machine that was many thousands of miles away. I was very tempted, but I had to be sure that it was the real deal. I spoke to Mick about it when the photos arrived, but it had been many years since he last saw the AJS and of course he didn’t do much work on it as the factory took care of all that.
There were some details that did point to it being a works AJS, but I had a lot of committment going on back then and I decided that I wouldn’t re-import the bike and left it at that.
Noel Shipp sent me a nice letter in the November of 1998 and also detailed separately the frame and engine numbers which I believe are still valid to this day having spoken with John Moffat who was given them in confidence by Rob Farnham.
It’s amazing that this article should be written many years after I walked away from a deal that could have re-united Mick with the first factory machine he ever rode in anger and on which he was propelled to stardom.” – James Holland, Bristol
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