The history of incomparable motorcycles

For a time, Matchless was the largest manufacturer of motorcycles, and since the turn of the century, the Collier brothers have been involved in two-wheelers. Both Harry and Charlie Collier believed in competition, and by World War I the brand was well established. The company’s premises were in Plumstead, south-east London, and were quite a ways from the center of Midlands industry, but this seemed to have little effect on its prosperity.

In the 1920s, they also built automobiles. By the early 1930s, the company had a range of singles much like any other manufacturer, plus a large V-twin for sidecar work.

By 1930, they also had the new Silver Arrow, which was kept under wraps until the last minute. It was another attempt to provide the touring cyclist with a sophisticated fully equipped machine.

The Silver Arrow was a side valve V-twin with dimensions of 54 x 86 mm and 394 cc. Its two cylinders were set at 26 degrees within a single casting under a single head. The result looked odd, more like a single that was too long, and with the exhaust coming out of the manifold in its right corner and the carb in the middle of the block on the left.

The gear-driven camshaft lay the length of the machine and extended to the rear to drive the mag-dyno. It suggests a shaft drive, but this was wishful thinking, because the chains transmitted power to the three-speed gearbox and then to the rear wheel.

Lubrication was by dry sump with the oil tank bolted to the front of the crankcase, so there were no external oil lines. The frame was tubular, with pivoting rear suspension controlled by coil springs and friction dampers mounted under the saddle.

The front end had beam wishbones and both wheels had drum brakes interlinked to a pedal on the right, while the front brake could also be operated independently using the handlebar lever.

It was topped by a bar-mounted instrument panel, complete with dials and switches. This was to provide the finishing touch to a machine sold to the most demanding as being quiet, smooth running and as comfortable as a car.

The problem was that enthusiasts would clamor for advanced developments and sophistication, but would never buy it. Fortunately, Matchless continued their line of simple machines that sold well and kept them solvent.

All singles had a vertical cylinder with the magneto tucked behind it and the smallest was 245cc and comprised the R/4 side valve and OHV R/6. Then came the 348cc twin-port T/S2, while in the larger class there were three models with the side-valve 497cc T/5 and 491cc V3 leading the way.

There were two versions of the latter, one with twin ports and the other, called the Special had one. The Special was guaranteed to be capable of 85 mph. Lastly, there was the 583cc side valve V/6 to round out the singles.

There were two versions of the big v-twin and both used the same 982cc side-valve engine. The basic model was the X/2 and the other X/R2, which had chrome wheels and nickel-plated cylinders.

All models had dry sump lubrication using the rotating and reciprocating plunger assembly in the sump. This system was to last for decades.

Silver Arrow had been a focus of interest when it was first shown, but it was too small and placid to get people excited. Within 12 months, this changed when the company introduced a machine with a four-cylinder overhead cam engine at Olympia. It was called Silver Falcon.

Equally new, and just a few aisles away at the fair was the Ariel Square Four, either model would have been a hit, but for two machines, with different engines, to turn up during a slump was quite remarkable. The Falcon was, in essence, two Silver Arrows placed side by side. The dimensions were 50.8 x 73mm and it had a capacity of 592cc but the angle of 26 degrees was maintained.

The Hawk had a duplex primary chain with a Weller spring tensioner, so the four-speed manual gearbox could run on a fixed center. Like the twin, it didn’t achieve much success because it was expensive at a time when the world was in trouble. It also paralleled the Ariel in terms of having head joint issues if pushed too hard, while the bezels groaned or rattled, which was fine on a close racer but not on a luxury sporty model.

In May 1931, a lightweight 500 was added to the range as the D/5, taking its name from its low weight, which had just passed under the tax barrier. This was an achievement, as the machine was equipped with electric lighting powered by a Maglita unit. The engine was a slant cylinder, side valve 497cc. Dry sump lubrication was employed and a three-speed manual gearbox was fitted.

1932 saw the introduction of a single port D/6 and dual port D/3, each equipped with a 348cc OHV engine, the 348cc D model, the 583cc C SV model, the 583cc C/S model 491cc OHV and the 245cc R/7 and D/S models.

All models had a new cloth oil filter installed in the oil tank that year and a front cam engine damper. Beginning in 1933, the company began its practice of prefixing each model designation with the last two digits of the year, thus the D/6 became 33/D6.

The 1934 range was narrowed down a bit, and casualties included the Silver Arrow, D, D/5, D/6, D6 and D7. The fender trim was changed to a gold line in 1935 and the change to chrome wheels reflected a move away from the economies of the depression years.

In April 1935 an important new model was announced that would mark the style and format of the range from then on.

The new G3 was known as the Clubman. It had a vertical cylinder and used the trusted measurements of 69 x 93mm to get 348cc. It had an OHV, a magneto tucked behind the engine and a dynamo below that, where it was chain driven from the crankshaft.

During the 1930s Matchless supplied engines to Brough Superior, Calthorpe, Coventry Eagle, OEC and OK Supreme.

1936 saw a radical reorganization in the list with only the F7, D5 and X4 side valves remaining. During 1937 Matchless decided to stop supplying machines to the technical press for road testing and this continued for many years. The company also bought the rights to the Sunbeam motorcycle company, leading to the formation of the AMC group, although the Sunbeam name was sold to BSA in 1943.

AMC continued to make motorcycles and racers. However, in 1954, they withdrew from racing following the death of Ike Hatch and fierce competition from other European bikes.

With declining sales during the 1960s, AMC decided to focus on the Norton twins and Matchless/AJS singles, but these were unsuccessful and the factory ceased production and AMC became part of the Norton-Villiers company in 1966. .

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