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May's Bike of the Month: Armand's 1949 Matchless G80S


Here is my 1949 Matchless G80S.

This 500cc single is a tank....cast iron cylinder and head, fired by a magneto ignition. It was sold the year I was born, so, whenever I struggle with it, I can relate to how time has affected both of us. 1949 was the year the swing arm (pivoted fork) was introduced; therefore the "S" model.

Matchless, AJS and Norton were all part of the AMC motorcycle group. Matchless is one of the oldest known brands of motorcycles in England. The Collier family owned the marque. They started at the turn of the 20th Century in Plumstead, London. They manufactured bikes under their name between 1899 and 1966. These included small two strokes, war time singles and 750cc twins. The Silver Hawk and Silver Arrow are the best known early models.

A Matchless single ridden by a Collier won the first singles race at the Isle of Man TT in 1907 at an average speed of 38 mph...now that's flying! Their racing career continued through 1997; with a variety of custom bikes and Vintage Race entries.

In 1931 the Colliers bought the AJS motorcycle company, and by 1938 both Matchless and AJS became part of Associated Mororcycles (AMC...not the same AMC bowling alley guys that brought Harley quality down to crap in the 70s). Both Matchless and AJS produce machines under AMC. Many of the parts were the same.

1950s era singles were differentiated by subtle difference. Matchless often put their mag-dynos behind the engine, whereby AJS typically put them in front. Matchless singles were very popular scrambles and trials bikes in the 60s. Further consolidation of British companies occurred in the 1960s. At that time Norton joined the AMC group, and Norton twins found themselves replacing the Matchless and AJS engines.

1967 saw the last of the reliable and endearing Matchless singles. The sentiment ran deep. Many WWI and WWII veteran British soldiers had ridden their Matchless' through the trenches and bought one upon returning home. Matchless had many great innovations; amongst the best was the swing arm with their candlestick shocks (see my photos) and a wider shock called the jam pot. These shocks allowed rebuilding and refilling with oil.

I found mine in upstate New York. It was fairly together, but needed quite a bit of tweaking to get it running right. Now she's a reliable starter, and a real pleasure to ride. Unlike the Gold Star, it does not beg to be driven hard. It enjoys a nice 40 mph cruise through the backroads. As with any single, its easy enough to start if you know how; overflow the carb, retard the timing, push the kick start 'til you feel compression, pull in the compression release to get past TDC, let it go, and give it one hardy kick and she will start. There is no key. To shut the engine, just pull in the compression release.

Matchless toyed with coil and hairspring valve springs in their singles. The '49 uses the later. There are plenty of old Brit singles around. You can find them as cheap as $1000 for a running one, and beyond $10,000 for a well restored classic. I'm not into concourse restorations. I don't like worrying about a scratch here, and a small dent there. Its a damn motorcycle, and its meant to be ridden.

Armand Ensanian
Member #173
Brit Iron Rebels