If ever a bike needs placing in historical context it is the AJS 7R. The time is 1948 and Europe is coming out of its nine years’ of a nightmare of crushing depression. Things are beginning to stagger back to normality and, in the bike racing world, this means racing: enter the 7R.
Before the Second World War, AJS had been at the cutting edge of Grand Prix racing with its fabulous super-charged 500cc twin. Now, the factory intended to make a thoroughly sound, reliable production-line racer which would be good enough to compete at international level and yet still be affordable by the serious amateur.
The factory had a long experience of chain operated, single over head camshaft engines going all the way back to 1930 and more recent at the time, the R7 works racer. The 7R continued in this tradition but also took more than passing hints from Velocette’s successful KTT race bike. For the 7R, AJS used both the same 74mm x 81mm bore and stroke of the Velo and also the neat eccentric valve adjustment for the single inlet and exhaust valves.
However, it is wrong to think of the 7R as a copy of the KTT – it is a generation further advanced. The 7R engine castings were fabricated in electron to save weight – and then anodized gold, not for aesthetic reasons but to protect the easily oxidized magnesium alloy from corrosion.
The frame was a modern, all welded, swinging arm design and the powerful brakes were also cast in electron. Overall, the AJS weighed in at a creditable 136kgs (a shade under 300lbs) and, with 30bhp being available at the back wheel, was both competitive and reliable.
The 7R was campaigned by the factory team and in 1950 Les Graham won the Swiss Grand Prix. This was to be an aberrant result since the AJS was always outclassed at the highest level by the factory Moto Guzzis and Nortons. By contrast, the 7R delighted in its sobriquet “The Boys’ Racer”: a bike for the ordinary racer to ride competitively.
In this final form, the AJS was good enough to win the 1968 British Championship in the hands of Alan Barnett.
The bike’s life was much extended by the patient work of development engineer Jack Williams who, despite operating on the thinnest of shoe string budgets, managed to coax the power up to 41.5bhp at 7,500 rpm.
Even after the 7R should have been laid to rest, the motor and gearbox enjoyed one final – and highly successful – comeback, in the legendary Seeley chassis.
Today, anyone with a deep wallet can buy a brand-new replica of the original 7R and the “Boys’ Racer” remains a firm favorite with current classic racing fans.
Riding an original 7R is still a wonderful experience. With a chassis designed for the rough, natural road circuits which predominated in the post-war years, the handling is docile and forgiving. The 7R motor pulls willingly and the four-speed gearbox is positive and reliable. There is ample room even for a full sized pilot and tucked in behind the flyscreen, with the rev. counter nudging 7,500 rpm it is easy to see why this bike earned a good living for many working racers.
For further information contact: AJS and Matchless Owners Club.
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