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Competition and Race Shop

AJS 7R racer pic
AJS 7R Boy Racer

Along with the Service/Spares and the Packing Departments, the AMC Competition and Race Shop (known simply as the Race Shop) occupied a position on the opposite side of Burrage Grove to the main factory.
It was a long, single-storey building that stretched back to the local railway embankment.
Access to its narrow end, which faced the road, was via a door at the top of a short flight of steps, with another entry door located further down on its left-hand side.

Although housed under the same roof, there was a very clear distiction between the two departments, each with their own manager and dedicated personnel who were all highly-skilled, being either respected or envied by the rest of the factory workers. Some saw them as the cream of the fitters and were proud of the company's involvement in racing. Others simply saw them as a bunch of lazy jokers who had the spare time to play games, while they had to sweat it out on piece-work in order to take home a sensible wage.
But, behind the scenes, the Race Shop staff not only had to exercise meticulous care in the necessarily slow building of a race or competition bike, but also work all the unsociable hours imaginable when the pressure was on before a race like the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races or Six-day Trials event.

They did, however, have 'perks', and the riders were known to give treats to their supporting mechanics to ensure that they remained dedicated to the task. (It was not unknown to occasionally see a famous rider slip into the Race Shop via the back door laden with a crate of beer, and these events no doubt added to the feeling amongst many that it was not just the road that separated the Race Shop from the rest of the factory!)

The Competition Shop

Wally Wyatt pic
Wally Wyatt

The road-end of the building was allocated to the Competition Department, comprising two fixed-height bike preparation benches where scrambles machines were built to the specific requirements of works riders such as Vic Eastwood, and separately managed by Wally Wyatt.

Comp Shop trio pic
Three 1948 competition models setting out for a road test from the works
Comp Shop trio pic
Outside the Competitions Department (Comp Shop) in 1966
Bert Lambert, John McLaren and Wally Wyatt

(You can view another photo of Wally Wyatt on the Scrapbook page.)

The Race Shop

The remainder of the building was under the control of development engineer Jack Williams who had his office at the rear (under a mezzanine floor where the race shop spares were stored), and looked out onto an engine assembly area, comprising assembly benches on one side with a lathe, cam profiling machine and various small machine tools along the other wall.

Jack Williams pic
Jack Williams

In the centre of the building, arranged at an angle, were several fixed-height bike building benches where the highly-skilled, specialist personnel took meticulous care in their preparation of 7R and G50 racing machines, often under pressure before major events, such as the Isle of Man TT races.

Preparing a Porcupine pic
Porcupine on race shop bench, with Charlie Matthews seated on bike.

Batch of 7Rs in race shop pic
Jack Williams with batch of racing bikes in preparation (from poster on the wall at the National Motorcycle Museum)

7R on test bench pic
Phil Irving and Jack Williams
with 7R engine on test bench (1961)

Outside, beyond the rear wall of the race shop, two water dynamometers were housed in separate underground caverns, accessed by steep steel ladders, where engines were tested for power output behind steel mesh guards.

Large diameter 2-speed fans, drawing in air from the roof, were positioned in front and behind the open-exhaust engine to provide air cooling at speeds up to 95 mph.

Readings were taken by the (well-earmuffed) testers of the brake output, speed, fuel consumption, barometric pressure, etc.

Note: Winter was not always the best time for testing as, if it was snowing outside, the fans would blow snow onto the test bed.

Fortunately, the exhaust noise from the test pits exited onto a railway line and not near to any housing, or the race shop would have received quite a few complaints from otherwise fairly tolerant neighbours.

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 Race Shop in Part 4 of 'This is How Your AJS and Matchless is made'.

Engine testing pic
Development engineer Jack Williams and
his assistant Fred Wynn testing a new engine.
(Courtesy Motor Cycling Illustrated - March 1959)
7R engine on test bed sketch
7R engine on test bed
Heenan & Foude dynamometer sketch
Heenan & Froude water dynamometer
The water dynamometer works by forcing water, under pressure, through
the central vane (detail 1). By closing the brass cups over the central vane,
the complete outer casing is caused to tip. To counteract this, balance
weights are hung on the rear and the inch scale adjusted to align the pointers
(details 2 & 3). Readings of weight, distance and RPM allow calculation of the
output of the engine on test.
Click for more information

Keith Jackson recalls that, during his apprenticeship placement in the race shop, in mid-1963, he was chosen to help out with a special engine test on the dynamometer.

It appears that the company had allowed Paul Dunstall (who had close contacts with AMC) a day's grace on the main test bed to try to improve the power output of one of his Domiracer engines.

Keith says that 'I had to install his engine onto the test bed, couple it up and then work with Jack Williams and Paul Dunstall to run the power curves on the dyno.
The work that day was mostly assisting when running the dyno, then having to extend the engine inlet tract with spacers, shorten the exhaust pipes and then run another power curve.
This was done many times over that day and the engine power output was improved'.

Sadly, Keith can't remember just what the power output was after all the changes, but refers to his contribution in obtaining it as 'such a privilege to have been involved in that day'.

Fred Wynn on modified Matchless single pic
Fred Wynn on modified Matchless single
G50 preparation pic
Putting finishing touches to three Matchless
G50s machines outside Race Shop (c.1960)
(Hover cursor over faces to identify)
Jack Emmott Derek Dixon Tommy Mortimer
TT group pic
Jack Williams, Eric Goodfellow and Rod Coleman
at the Isle of Man races. Rod came 3rd in the
1952 TT and won in 1954, on an AJS 7R3
1951 IoM group pic
1951 Isle of Man TT race shop group
(Hover cursor over faces to identify)
Joe Allen 2 3 Robin Sherry Fred Neill 6 Rod Coleman Paul Packman 9 Wally Wyatt
1951 IoM group (lunch break) pic
1951 Isle of Man TT race shop group (lunch break)
(Hover cursor over faces to identify)
Nobby Clark Ike Hatch Robin Sherry Bill Evans Paul Packman

The original versions of the 1951 Isle of Man group photos, with captions by Paul Packman, can also be viewed on the Scrapbook page..

(see also names highlighted in the personnel list for their Cover Page stories)

Loading Porcupine bike on plane pic
Loading Porcupine bike on plane

It took a toss of a coin to decide whether this picture should be placed on the Race Shop or Packing page, as it had certain merits for either.

It's a rare picture of a porcupine racing bike being manhandled up the passenger steps of a plane by airport loading staff in September 1954.
Research has identified that it was outbound for a late-season meeting in South Africa.
Accompanying the bike on the flight were AMC race shop technician Jim Boughen and rider Rod Coleman (who were not allowed to perform the loading due to airport security reasons.)

Experimental (Bill Lovett)
Experimental (Bill Lovett)

This Motor Cycle magazine cover page featured personnel of the experimental department.
(Click on the image to see enlarged view)

You can view the complete collection on Cover Pages.

Race Shop Personnel
Jim Barratt
Stan Bassettlater tool room extension
Jim Boughen1932 - 1969
Jack Brett
Bill Brooker1967 - Comp Shop - mileage tester
Arthur Childsengine builder
Freddie Clarke1946 - 48Manager ex Triumph/Ariel
Joe Craig1941 - 46Manager ex Norton
Jack (JH) Colverexperimental/engine repair
Jack Emmott
Eric Goodfellowformerly tool room
Wilf Grahamlater tool room extension
Henry John (Ike) Hatch1948-547R3 develoment engineer (d. 1954)
Des Henry1953 - ?ex. HWM
Ted Iffland7R3
Phil IrvingDevelopment engineer
Bert LambertWheel builder (comp shop)
Arthur Keelerengine builder
Bill Lovett1919 - 48Porcupine engines
Reg Masonengine builder
Charlie (Ginger) Matthews1928 - ?later drawing office clerk
Norman Maurice
John McLaren1950-69competition shop
Tommy Mortimermachinist/engine builder (formerly tool room)
Peter Murphy
Paul Packmanc. 1951
George Rowleyex-AJS
Monty Sayerc.1953?Manager
Bert Shade
Brian Spalding
Jack (C J) Williams1954 - ?Manager/Dev. Eng. ex. Vincent
Matt WrightManager/Development Engineer
Wally Wyatt ? - 1969Competition Shop manager
Fred Wynn1941-1959+Development assistant