AJS & Matchless Owners Club

East Suffolk Section

Michael C’s 1960 AJS model 18 & Swallow Sidecar

mikechenery'sbikeThe Bike
The bike is a 1960 AJS model 18 heavyweight 500cc single which I have owned for thirteen years.  It was first registered in Charlton, London, in June 1960, coming to Ipswich in the 70s but ending up in a shed before restoration in 1997.  The AJS was fitted to the sidecar eleven years later, in 2008, and various changes had to be made to create a successful combination.  The wheels were re-spoked with heavy duty spokes and sidecar tyres were fitted.  Also the front fork springs were changed to heavy duty ones to stop dipping when braking and the rear Girlings were set to their hardest position.  Finally a new engine sprocket was fitted, with 20 rather than the standard 22 teeth.
The Chair
The sidecar is a Swallow Jet 80, made in 1956/7.  The Swallow Sidecar Company was started in Blackpool on 4th September 1922, on his 21st birthday, by the young William Lyons (who went on to make Jaguar cars) and his sidecars soon gained a reputation in motorsport, winning several T.T, sidecar races. I bought this sidecar from another club member in 2006.  It had lain in a barn in a sorry state but was complete except for the bike fittings.  The body is made from fibre glass.  When Swallow was taken over by Watsonian in 1956 the Swallow Jet 80 was one of the first models to be made in fibre glass as opposed to the earlier metal bodied Jets.  You can date the body by the shape, the 1958 Jet 80 plus having a different appearance.
After what seemed a lifetime of rubbing down with wet & dry, passing through several coats of paint, the gel coat was reached and damage to the sidecar’s nose was clear to view.  The body was re-sprayed black and silver, the silver covering the nose damage, and a blue pin stripe coach line was added.  The cockpit and seat were then re-upholstered in black with blue piping to match the bike.
The sidecar chassis is known as “silk frame” as the body is suspended in a loop frame, with the suspension unit passing through both the boot and the front to make for a very comfortable ride.  Having a boot with a lift up lid provides a very useful feature also.
The sidecar’s wheel has been re-rimmed and stainless steel spokes fitted.  It has what is known as the “wobbly wheel” feature, whereby the axle is in a torsion bar so that when the wheel drops into a hole the axle moves back slightly to absorb the shock, then re-positions itself.  I have the original hood but have not fitted it, preferring a tonneau cover, but as I had no original fittings I went to an Essex sidecar firm for fitting to be made and installed and for the bike to be correctly set up with the sidecar attached.  If this is not correct a combination can be unrideable!
Riding/Driving a Combination
I had a combination back in the 50s so when I went back to one in 2008 it all sort of fell in place again.  One thing to remember is that whilst you ride a solo you drive a combination.  Vital is to have the steering damper screwed down, for if not the steering will flap and throw you off!  The main thing is the technique for left-hand bends.  As you approach the bend you close the throttle and slightly turn the handlebars, (which is not so obvious on a solo); on the apex of the bend you open up the throttle so that the bike effectively passes round the chair.  If this is not done you could go straight instead.  You also need to lean into the chair so that it doesn’t lift up and tip over!  On a right hander the technique is to slow the bike slightly whilst turning the handlebars, so allowing the chair to overtake the bike.  You have to be that little bit more cautious going into bends than when solo, but apart from that they are great fun to own and drive and I have covered over 4000 miles since 2008.

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