Story and photos: Jim Scaysbrook.
To the many purists, it was a sad day when Associated Motor Cycles, owners of AJS, Matchless, Francis Barnett, James and Norton, shifted the last-named marque from its traditional home in Bracebridge Street, Birmingham, to the vast, grey AMC factory at Plumstead Rod, Woolwich in London. It was the final act in the integration process that would see the company’s big bikes slip into a melting pot that would sap their identities in a spate of badge engineering. Up to this point, the various brands in the AMC stable had been allowed to pursue their own interests – up to a point – that saw models openly competing with each other. But by 1962, AMC’s direction was firmly in the hands of not the drawing office, but the accounts department.
When Norton announced they had stretched their venerable twin to 750cc in the form the Atlas, Matchless decided they too must have a 750 in the range. And so the equally venerable Matchless twin, which had started life as the 500cc G9 a decade earlier and had become the G12 in 650cc guise, was coaxed out to 739cc to form the G15. By all accounts, the G15 was a fragile thing, and was sold in a fairly mild state of tune in order to keep it in one piece, making it little quicker than the G12 650. All of which has nothing to do with the G15CSR you see here.
In 1964, AMC, now with Norton ensconced in Plumstead, gave up on the G12-derived G15 and produced what was listed as the G15 Mk 2. This machine was created by the marriage of some Matchless cycle parts, some Norton cycle parts, and the Norton Atlas engine. The practice at the time was to integrate an increasing number of Norton components into the Matchless/AJS range, most obviously ditching the famous AMC Teledraulic front forks, which had gained such a desirable reputation on the front of thousands of 350cc G3 Matchos in WW2. In their place on the new G15CSR was a lengthened version of the even more famous Norton Roadholders – the longer style having been developed for the US model Atlas Scrambler a year earlier. The wheels also came from the Norton parts bin; familiar full width hub items laced to 18-inch rims.
Despite the extra urge from the Atlas engine, the Mk2 version failed to excite the press in their road tests, as well as the buying public. AMC’s response was to produce a CSR version, as they had done reasonably successfully with the G12. In fact, the new Matchless/Norton owed much of its styling to its forebear, and was initially listed in both British ‘café racer’ form and the US market Scrambler version. Both featured with thin alloy mudguards plucked from the successful G80CS Scrambler and used on the G12CSR, a steel version of the beloved ‘compy’ fuel tank for the Scrambler, tough-looking swept back exhaust pipes on the UK model (which could also be had with optional clip-on handlebars) rear-set footrests (which were so rear set that there was no provision for pillion rests), reversed gear change and rear brake, longer Girling rear shock absorbers, and what Dunlop called their dual purpose tyres – the K70, which was in fact quite a decent tyre for dirt roads but notoriously gripless on the tar. Visually, the CSR was hot stuff.
Chassis-wise, the G15CSR employed the twin down-tube, single top tube Matchless frame, modified at the steering head to take the Norton front end. The engine’s specification continued unchanged, with twin 1 1/8” Amal Monobloc carburettors, but the overall gearing was lowered slightly in the interest of brisker acceleration. Compression ratio was a fairly soft 7.5:1 and the engine had a claimed 49 bhp at 6,400 rpm. A UK test in 1965 resulted in a 115 mph top speed with 13.8 seconds for the standing quarter mile – the sort of figures designed to titivate the rockers of the day whose favoured tackle was the BSA Lightning and Triumph Bonneville. The trouble, was, by the time AMC got around to producing a model aimed at the greasy-hair group, the rockers had grown old, got married, and been forced to adopt more sensible transport for growing families.
The machine featured here is in the US specification that was produced from 1966 to 1969, and also sold in limited quantities as the AJS Model 33 CSR. Although substantially identical to the more common café-racer version, the US model has subtle differences. In place of the rakish swept back pipes are standard (as in Atlas) exhaust pipes and mufflers. Because of the rear set footrests, the UK model had a reversed camplate inside the AMC gearbox, to provide the usual one-up, three down shift pattern with a reversed gear lever. However the Scrambler has conventional forward-mounted footrests and gear lever, so it reverts to the standard AMC selector camplate. The tacho drive, which exits the front of the timing cover, likes to lean against the top of the right hand exhaust pipe – a precarious situation for a plastic coated component – so it is sheathed in a metal sleeve, which only partly cures the problem.
Quite probably, inspiration for this model came from the Norton Nomad dating back to 1958. The Nomad used a 600cc Dominator 99 engine (uniquely fitted with twin carburettors) in the single down-tube frame used for the ES2 single and the Model 77 sidecar hauler, with high, wide handlebars, kicked up mufflers and raised footrests. Aimed at the market dominated by the Triumph TR6 Trophy, the Nomad enjoyed modest sales. On the G15CSR, the attractive alloy chaincases replaced the pressed steel version used on the Atlas, and 19-inch wheels replaced the street version’s 18 inchers. Informed sources reckon that only around 100 of the G15CSR Scramblers were built, and about 85 of these were destined for USA. Despite the best intentions and heavy publicity by US distributors Berliner in the American media, sales were slow. So slow, Berliner urged AMC to cease the time-honoured practice of stamping the year of manufacture on the crankcases, as stock piled up in the warehouses. The model soldiered on until 1968, finally having its fate sealed when AMC itself went belly-up in early 1969.
To add to the confusion, there was yet another 750cc model conjured up in the same range – the Norton P11. This one was dreamed up by Californian Norton distributor Bob Blair, who had been racing a Matchless G85CS in local desert events. After all-but destroying his Matchless in a major prang, Blair fitted a Norton Atlas engine into the G85CS chassis, which itself was heavily based on the Rickman Metisse design. When Blair petitioned Berliner to put the hybrid into production, the word came back from AMC that the chassis/engine marriage would not work, so Blair’s machine was crated and sent to London to prove it actually could. The P11 went on sale in USA in early 1967 and found a willing market, with demand outstripping supply. A more road-focussed version, known as the Norton Ranger, was produced in very limited numbers from 1968, but like all other models, disappeared when the Commando came on stream the following year.
It was a confusing time for AMC and its dwindling band of loyal customers. As the end drew near for the once-proud AMC concern, bikes were assembled piecemeal according to whatever parts were in stock or could be sourced from suppliers on extended credit. All of which makes Anthony McKay’s 1967 G15CSR quite a rare motorcycle, especially in these parts. Anthony has a soft spot for big British bikes, and has an Ariel Square Four amongst his small collection. The G15CSR came via Melbourne specialists Classic Style Australia. Classic Style proprietor Jon Munn had known of the bike’s existence for some time – it had been owned from new by an Australian ex-pat in USA. It is 100% original, right down to the Dunlop K70 tyres, and according to Anthony, runs like a clock.
Specifications: 1967 Matchless G15CSR Scrambler
Engine: Norton Atlas parallel twin.
Bore x stroke: 73mm x 89mm
Compression ratio: 7.6:1
Fuel system: 2 x 30mm Amal Concentrics
Clutch: AMC 3 spring.
Gearbox: AMC 4 speed.
Frame: Matchless twin downtube cradle
Front suspension: Norton Roadholder forks
Rear suspension: Girling shocks
Brakes: Norton 8 inch (203mm) sls front, Norton 7 inch (178mm) sls rear.
Wheels/tyres: 19 inch, 3.50 x 19 front, 4.00 x 19 rear.
Kerb weight: 184 kg (405 lb)
Seat height: 838mm (33 inches)
Fuel capacity: 11 litres
Top speed: 177 km/h
Power: 49bhp at 6,800
Price when new: £380.00 (UK)