Innovation does not guarantee financial success
Even before the 1900s, the Stevens Screw Company Limited up in Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton was very well respected as an engineering outfit. Run by father Joe and his sons, they experimented with a small Mitchell single-cylinder four-strokeimported from the USA and went on to significantly improve it.
They then made their own range of parallel-twins and V-twins which they sold to other manufacturers including Wearwell which went on to win an important trophy for a 24-hour non-stop run in 1909.
Jack Stevens set up a new company A, A J Stevens & Co in Wolverhampton and AJS entered the dictionary. By 1914, AJS won first, second, third, fourth and sixth places in the Isle of Man Junior Tourist Trophy.
Sadly, but in our very British style, the Ministry of Munitions prohibited the production of non-military motorcycles in 1916 and the AJS factory was turned over to manufacturing precision shell cases.
After the war, AJS produced a new overhead-valve design that produced 10 bhp and was mounted with a primary chain drive and won the first post-war Isle of Man TT in 1920 and the first four places in 1921.
AJS produced it famous Big Port, large-diameter exhaust model in 1922 and went on to manufacture a range of sidecars that are possibly better known than its innovative engine designs.
Possibly, the least known and most innovative development was its new chain-driven overhead-camshaft racing engines. These took AJS into Europe where it was winning key competitions by the late 1920s.
However, by the 1930s, its further innovation into alloy cylinder heads became too expensive in a declining market and, despite 100 plus world records to its credit, AJS was in financial trouble.
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Jimmy Green, Wolverhampton
25 August 2011, 12:49PM
My grandfather was an amateur radio ham who knew old-man Stevens. I am not sure, but it might have been Harry. Anyway, he had set up AJS Wireless shortly after the BBC was formed and manufactured radios.
27 August 2011, 10:55PM
There is good news and bad news. The good part is that the AJS brand is alive and run by Nick Brown, part of the Brown family who are long-term motorcycle players.
28 August 2011, 09:09AM
I think AJS was bought by Norton Villers back in the late 1960s. When I was at college, one of the lecturers had one. There was also some tie up with a race company called Cotton but I am not sure about the details.
30 August 2011, 10:12AM
Picking up on Colin's point above, I do know that Fluff Brown, who I think is the father or uncle of the current AJS owner, was the chief engineer at Cotton in the 1960s.
1 September 2011, 12:34PM
In my view, it was the Mini that killed the motorbike. When I was in college in the late 60's my parents helped me with the deposit on a mini and i became a car owner. This just killed off the bike and sidecar for me.
2 September 2011, 03:40PM
This has the beginnings of a good debate because I blame the unions for forcing old fashion practices on the struggling motorcycle industry. They really screwed things up and made our costs much higher than they needed to be. This open up the way for Japan to become dominant.
Honda's growing success in Brazil with their CG 150 Titan Mix engines
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