Preview: Scrambles spirit

Words: Andy Westlake, Photographs: Gary Chapman

This blue-finished Matchless might not be completely original, but it certainly looks the part.

As the 350cc Matchless scrambles special fired into life, I was transported back to childhood and my first visit to Matchems Park in March 1964, where my love of big four-stroke off-road singles started.

The event was the Good Friday Hants Grand National and the line-up on that cold early spring day was a high-quality one, with the works BSA team of Jeff Smith, John Burton and Arthur Lampkin, the Rickman brothers on their pair of gleaming white Metisses and the AMC quartet of Dave Nicoll, Vic Eastwood, Chris Horsfield and four times British champion Dave Curtis on their factory Matchless’ all present and correct. At the time, a picture of Curtis broadsiding his bike to victory in a muddy winter time TV scramble was one of my most treasured possessions in my motorcycle scrapbook, but now here he was, just a matter of feet away, blasting stones and dust over the huge, enthusiastic crowd in pursuit race winner Smith and runner-up Derek Rickman on his Matchless-powered Metisse.

This month’s test bike doesn’t have the provenance of being an ex-works machine but it is a rare 350cc scrambler, a bike which was manufactured in 1952 and after being discovered as an engine and frame, was restored and brought back to life 20 years ago. It’s now owned by West Country enthusiast Gary Rendall who bought it, fully restored, along with an Ariel Red Hunter and a Model H Triumph in late 2018, although as he explained at the time he only went to ‘see it’ and wasn’t looking to add another bike to his stable.

“Having recently bought a BSA Rocket Three, I rode over to show it to an old friend, and while we were looking at the triple, he mentioned that he was reducing his collection and would I be interested in any of them… I’d instantly fallen in love with the Matchless, a superb looking bike with its silver grey frame and regal blue paintwork, and I ended up buying not only that, but also the Red Hunter and 1920s Model H.”

Neither Gary nor the previous owner have any knowledge of the restoration of the Matchless (which was made road legal in 2000) but thanks to some help from Roy Bellett – the AJS/Matchless dating officer – I’ve managed to uncover some of the bike’s history.

Finished in its traditional black livery, the 350cc Matchless was manufactured to scrambles specification on September 18, 1952, at Plumstead, and on completion the test rider was Jack Clover. The engine, frame and Jampot rear suspension units are all original, though it was not registered for the road.

Read the FULL feature in the July issue of The Classic Motorcycle – on sale now!

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