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1960 Matchless G3LS pic
1959 Matchless G3LS

The image that first springs to most peoples' minds when thinking about automotive factories is one of streams of vehicles pouring off the end of a production line at a rate of several per minute.

That might be reasonably true of some mass-produced car plants today, but back in the '60s, motorcycle assembly at AMC was not quite that hectic.

It might also be a surprise to realise quite how little of the overall factory's floor area was taken up by the assembly operation, about 15% at the Plumstead firm (though that might not have been typical throughout the industry as AMC did manufacture a higher proportion of its parts in-house than most other marques).

Even that relatively small area was not concentrated in one particular place in the factory, with the engine and gearboxes being built in opposite corners of the third floor and the main assembly taking place at the Maxey Road end of the second floor (near to the lift).

Main assembly line pic
Main assembly line - building Norton Electras (c. 1963)

As the photographs show, each motorcycle was built on a small wheeled trolley that ran on a narrow-gauge railway track set into the floor which travelled around the outside walls of the area and terminated near the lift shaft.

Assembly trolleys pic
Assembly trolleys c.1950s

At each build station along the track, storage benches would be positioned, pre-loaded with the appropriate components at that stage for whatever model was being assembled at the time and, once fitted, the trolleys were moved by hand to the next build station by the assembly staff.

In 1962, the Dutch Motor magazine published a series of articles following a tour of the Plumstead Road factory.
You can read their detailed observation of the assembly track in Part 4 of
'This is How Your AJS and Matchless is made'.

Main assembly track pic
Main assembly track (1946)
Main assembly track 1959 pic
Main assembly track adding engine to frame
(Courtesy Motor Cycling Illustrated - March 1959)
Hugh Viney and Albert Bull 1959 pic
Hugh Viney - production manager watches Albert Bull fit rear chain
(Courtesy Motor Cycling Illustrated - March 1959)

Engines and gearboxes would have already been assembled and delivered from their respective departments, and other major components like wheels and front forks would be built-up in areas adjacent to the track, to be incorporated as sub-assemblies into the final machines.

Main assembly shop pic
Main assembly track (c.1966)

When each bike was completed, it would be lifted from its trolley by an electric hoist and placed onto its wheels and be filled with petrol and oil. At this stage a dummy petrol tank (made from the body of a trials toolbox) would sometimes be bolted transversely across the top tube, in place of the normal one, to avoid any damage to its finish during testing.

The machine would then be wheeled into the "run-up" area at the side of the lift to be started for the first time.

Each bike would be taken down in the lift to ground floor level by one of the many testers and driven around the local area for a road test of at least 12 miles, irrespective of the weather.

Rectifiers working on Commando bikes pic
Rectifier team working on Commando bikes (c.1968)

Following its return, the machine would be either approved for dispatch or returned to an area of the assembly shop where any corrective work was carried out by a one of a specialist team of "rectifiers" or, if the fault was of a trivial nature, by the tester himself.

As an example of the type of work carried out in the Rectification Department, ex-apprentice Keith Jackson recalls that, during his period of training there, he helped out in the correction of noisy timing gears on the range of small capacity Norton twins (Jubilee, Navigator and Electra models).

These bikes had timing drives consisting of several spur gears on fixed centres, the dimensions of which were all subject to plus and minus limits.

Cutaway drawing of Norton l/w engine
Cutaway drawing of Norton l/w engine
showing timing gear train
Although each component was made to the tightest possible tolerances, it was inevitable that occasionally the situation would arise where all the gears on one particular engine were on bottom limit, whilst mounted on shafts at top limit centre distances, resulting in a rattle on tick over.

When reported by the testers, these bikes would be handed over to the rectifiers who, according to Keith, "had a stock of all these gears and simply removed the timing covers, found the gears with excessive tooth play and then swapped gears around to find a best fit to quieten them down".

Some jobs were not quite so straightforward though, as Keith recalls working on the Electra model whose frames had the addition of a welded plate structure on their inner sides to make them strong enough for their 400cc engines.
"Removing cylinder heads or barrels on that model was impossible until all the frame bracing places were removed" says Keith, "Not an easy task!"

When the bikes were acceptable, they would be cleaned, have their decals attached and moved across the street to the packing shop.

Row of Commando bikes in Burrage Grove pic
Batch of Commando Fastbacks ready for despatch in Burrage Grove c.1968)
Johnny Penfold pic
Johnny Penfold putting finishing
touches to a Commando bike

Albert Bull 50-year service award pic
Albert Bull receiving his 50-year
service award from production director
Albert Bull 50-year service award text
Newspaper report of Albert Bull's
long service career
Commandos assembly at Andover video
Commando assembly video clip (18 sec)
featuring Johnny Penfold and Jimmy King
(Click on image to view)

Wheel Building (Pat O'Leary)
Wheel Building (Pat O'Leary)
Tyre Fitting (Harry Tombs)
Tyre Fitting   (Harry Tombs)
Super Clubman poster
Assembly Track
Man Behind Matchless - Wheel building
Wheel building

These three Motor Cycle magazine cover pages and sales brochure featured work carried out in the assembly department.
(Click on the images to see enlarged views)

You can view the complete collection on Cover Pages.

Assembly group pic
Main assembly department employees - including several testers
(hover cursor over faces to identify)
Eric Pratt Unknown apprentice Alan Jones Hugh Coleman Jimmy King George Batley Neil Collet Arthur Martin Joe Allen Johnny Penfold Johnny Foster Sid Werner

The next two group photos were unearthed from the archives with very little identification of the personnel.
Please contact the site if you spot anyone that you recognise.

Assembly group 2 pic
Main assembly department employees
(hover cursor over faces to identify)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Eileen Ward 10 11 12 13 14 Tom Potter 16 Roy Gilbert 18

Assembly group 3 pic
End of track assembly department employees
(hover cursor over faces to identify)
1 2 3 4 Jimmy King Stan Bassett Frank Hewitt 8 Harry Moore 10 11 12 Jim Walby 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

You can view another Assembly Group photo, taken prior to the 1951 Xmas holiday, on the Scrapbook page.

Main Assembly Personnel
Alf Akenhead
Joe Allen< 1951 >Rectifiers-foreman
Stan Bassett
Bert BennettWheel builder
Ted BennettForks
Jeff Boult
John BrenchleyEngine to frame
Ken BryantCommando
Albert Bull1917-1968Rear wheel, chain, mudguard (see newspaper report above)
Chris CallegariEnd-of-line
John Carnell
Bill CarpenterOil & petrol tanks
Bill Chapman< 1951 >2nd I/C
Dennis Coglan/Coghland< 1951 >Tyres
Brian Colgate
Ken Conie
Terry Ewings< 1951 >Bill Stroud's assistant
John GardinerEnd-of-line
Roy Gilbert
Ken GoddardForks
Alf GreylandEnd-of-line
Steve HamerRunner up
Frank Hewitt
Tim Hipkin
Archie IlsleyManager
Dick Jaques< 1951 >Rectifier
Tom Jolly
George Keen< 1951 >Runner-up (twins)
Roger Ketley
Jimmy KingRectifiers-engine
Bill Martin< 1951 >Runner-up (singles)
Bill MerrittFront wheel & mudguard
Harry MooreWheel builder
Arthur Newson
Doug NicholsHandlebars
Joe Nicholls< 1951 >Runner-up (singles)
Pat O'Leary1920 - 48+Wheel builder
Peter Pawson
John PenfoldFinish polish & transfers etc.
Tom Potter
Eric Pratt
Len RoddaRectifiers-engine
Len (Alfred Gilbert) Selfe1939 -69
Alf Simmons
Bob SmithRectifiers-engine
E (Tiger) SmithWheels
Bill Stubbs
Norman Surtees
Trevor Thomas
Harry Tombs1918 - 48+Tyre fitter
Allan Tyrrell1966 - 69
John WalkerSilencers
Bob Walpole
Eileen Ward
Sid WernerRectifiers
Barry WhittleyRunner up
Harry WinchRunner up




Engine Shop Personnel
Vic Bates
Colin BennettRunner up
Charles Wilfred Collinge1950 - 60 (?)
Roy East
Roy GilbertEngine builder
Ron Harold
Bob Hutchings
Fred NeillForeman
Gordon Pennington
Eric PorterForeman
Tom PotterForeman (Engine & gearbox shops)
Jack Pringall
Bob Regan
Pat SmithEngine Rectifier
Bill 'Alby' Stroud< 1951 >Engine Rectifier
Norman Surtees
Mike Wicks




Gearbox Shop Personnel
Nobby ClarkeChargehand
Norman Crew
? Lawrence
Jack PerkinsManager (+ Two Stroke Shop)
Tom PotterForeman (Engine & gearbox shops)
Sam Truscott