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SNAPSHOT 364: 1927 A.J.S. 350cc – and Mobiloil

The Motor Cyclist Review seems to be a rare magazine. It proudly announced itself on its editorial page as “The Only Monthly Motor Cycling Journal”. The very few issues that we have seen were remarkable for the colourised photographic advertisements on their front covers – and this issue from 1927 shows a fine specimen. This Mobiloil promotion is a good example of advertising by association with another high-quality brand – and in 1927 A.J.S. bikes had that reputation.

The A.J.S. company can be traced back to Joe Stevens, an engineer (with sons Harry, George, Albert John (‘Jack’), and Joe Stevens Junior) who owned the Stevens Screw Company Ltd, in Wednesfield, near Wolverhampton. He had a reputation for high-quality engineering before the company built its first motorcycle in 1897, using a Mitchell single-cylinder four-stroke imported from the USA. Stevens then made his own engines, including parallel-twins and V-twins, which were sold to other manufacturers such as Werner, Wolf and Clyno.

In 1909, a Wearwell motorcycle fitted with a Stevens side-valve single-cylinder engine won a trophy for a 24-hour non-stop run and Jack Stevens decided to contest the Tourist Trophy in the Isle of Man. A J Stevens & Co (A.J.S.) was founded to manufacture motorcycles and the first model appeared at the Motor Cycle Show in 1910.

With the Junior limit raised to 350cc for 1914, the A.J.S. motorcycle grew to 349cc, with four-speed gears and chain final drive. A.J.S. achieved their first TT victory in the Junior 1914 Isle of Man TT race, also taking second, third, fourth and sixth places. The 349cc machine was most in demand but the company also produced an 800cc V-twin.

A.J.S. manufactured munitions and military motor cycles during World War I, and production of a much-improved 350 resumed in 1920. The side-valve engine was replaced by a new overhead-valve design that produced 10bhp. A.J.S. motor cycles won the 1920 IoM Junior TT and took the first four places in the 1921 race. And in the same year they won the 500cc Senior TT – the first time a 350 had won the 500cc race. First and second places in the 1922 Junior race followed.

The 1922 machine became famous as the ‘Big Port’ on account of its large-diameter exhaust port and pipe. It would be the mainstay of the company’s racing efforts until 1927 and in production form from 1923 it was their most popular sports motor cycle throughout the 1920s. The bike in our Snapshot is almost certainly a 350cc Big Port.

The Mobiloil oil dispenser in our picture is typical of forecourt equipment of the time. A hand crank on the right of the pump drew oil from the large square tank and delivered it through the spout that could be rotated from under the cover of the dispenser and would fill an oil pourer jug. The filling-station attendant can be seen here with just such a jug, filling the oil tank of the A.J.S. through a funnel. Ah, for the relaxed, bygone days before self-service…

Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive: www.richardrobertsarchive.org.uk

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