Retired gas engineer Pete Sole – no stranger to the pages of The Classic Motorcycle – has a simple, straightforward answer to the question ‘Why did he want a vintage ohv 350cc Ajay?’ “It’s reputation,” says Pete, of the lithe black-and-gold vintage sportster. The machine’s reputation was such in its day that the aura remains intact all these years later.
AJS – AJ Stevens of Wolverhampton – had already established themselves as a leading maker by the time this G6 left the factory. Popular with speedmen, the ohv 350s were renowned for their fine handling, light weight and minimal styling.
All that was powerfully backed up by the fact that in 1921 Howard Davies (HRD) had beaten the cream of the world’s half-litre talent on his 350cc Ajay, as he won the Senior despite giving away a massive 150cc to his competitors. In what was then the world’s most important race, it was an impressive act to say the least.
Though that is probably the most famous racing achievement of the ohv 350cc AJS, there were other notable successes too, including the win for Cyril Williams in the 1920 Junior TT, the top four places – headed by Eric Williams, who also won the 1914 Junior TT on a side-valve AJS – in the 1921 Junior TT and then Tom Sheard leading a one-two in the 1922 Junior TT. But it was in the hands of clubmen like Ronnie Parkinson – virtually unbeatable ‘on the sand’ on his Big Port – that the model’s reputation was really established, which came later.
The first ohv 350 was made available to the buying public for 1923 – having been unveiled at the 1922 Motorcycle Show – with eager speedsters snapping up a model with a proven pedigree. It was basically a replica of the works 1922 TT racers, complete with 15⁄8in exhaust port, which led to the ‘Big Port’ nickname. The exhaust port was reduced in size over the years and was never an ‘official’ AJS model tag – until after the AJS name had been bought by the Collier brothers in 1931 – but vintage AJS 350s of the 1923-28 period are invariably referred to as ‘Big Ports.’
Over the years, Pete Sole has restored all manner of machines to a fantastic standard, with the AJS no exception. He bought the Ajay in 1993 and set about returning it to its pomp and praises the help and guidance given by 1920s AJS expert Ray Carter. Asked if there’s any advice he’d give to someone hoping to restore a similar Ajay, Pete says: “Try and make sure all the bits and pieces are there.” All the bits and pieces are certainly there on Pete’s machine, and they come together to make a handsome vintage thoroughbred.