Matchless 16s

527 KRA

It's a wonder it didn't get second hand oil ...

- Ben

In the early 70s Dunlop were threatening to send me to work in Canada. I had recently bought a 350 Matchless heavyweight single for spares for my AJS 18s and if I was to emigrate then I needed to empty my garage and a running bike would be easier to shift. The Canada project dragged and I complained to my boss that I was stuck in limbo and couldn't even book a holiday. He replied that I should book my holiday and let the firm compensate if I had to cancel. With my bluff called I joined the IMTC and booked a place on their partitour to the 1972 Ochrid FIM Rally.

What I really fancied in those days was the Yamaha off road style bikes but, as they were outside of my price range, I decided that the Matchless was the ideal bike on the usual basis - if it broke down I'd dump it and thumb home! So it was tarted up with a canary yellow coach paint job, matching headlamp cover and brake lever shrouds. The electrics were upped to 12 volts and indicators added. The ignition was changed to a magneto to reduce the drain on the battery. The number 17 was added to the side panels as that was my entry number in the FIM Rally. The front tyre had white walls painted on to try to keep the tyre a little cooler in the Mediterranean sunshine.

The bike proved very reliable and robust on the FIM rally. It was consecutively ridden into a ditch, slid down a mountain road and finally crashed into by a French bus. The bike was fine but I was hospitalised.

After the 1972 FIM Rally I could appreciate the need for a bike that would cope with the miles better and the Matchless was superceded by Noddy Muggleton's Fastback Norton Commando. The Matchless was relegated to hack bike but was still used extensively throughout the winters, for RAC/ACU training and for spring and autumn camping trips. It ran so well I never considered dropping in one of my AMC 500 engines though I did get hold of a duplex frame that I never got round to fitting.

One of the most useful things about the Matchy was its similarity to the Commando - no really. Not in performance of course but all the hand and feet controls were the same. Both had an AMC gearbox and both had Lucas handlebar controls. After riding the Commando I would get on the Matchy and my feet would miss the footrests because they were several inches narrower.

Whenever the Commando had new tyres and chains fitted before summer FTing the Matchy received the second hand bits! It's a wonder it didn't get second hand oil - I once tried filtering it through muslin but thought better of it.

One time I was hit by a car and the only damage that appeared a few days later was a hair line crack in a Teledraulic fork leg. A slight weep of oil appeared. Otherwise it seemed perfectly OK so I wrapped the leg in PVC tape and then lashed it with chord. A few years later I leant the bike to Kevin Brewin for a trip north. When he returned the Matchy he asked the purpose of the binding and nearly had a dicky fit when I explained it.

The Matchy outlived the Commando and was sold on with my AJS in 1980. It may still be out there somewhere. Bon Voyage.

- Ben Crossley