Make: AJW Summit
Model: Standard Twin
Engine: 597 cc (56 x 61 mm bore and stroke) overhead-valve vee-twin Summit (British Anzani)
Tyres: 3.50 x 19 in wired-on
Frame: Brazed-lug duplex tubular cradle, unsprung at rear
Front forks: Druid side-spring girders
Brakes: 8 in diameter at front and rear
Weight: 320 lb
Wheelbase: 56 in
Manufacturer: AJW Motor Company, Friernhay Street, Exeter

Believe it or believe it not, but the AJW motorcycle venture was something of a sideline to the still-flourishing Exeter business known as the Wheaton Printing Company The AJW initials stood for Arthur John Wheaton (better known as Jack Wheaton), and the first few prototypes were assembled in the maintenance workshop at the printing works.

Motorcycling was Jack Wheaton's hobby, and the first two AJWs, built in the summer of 1926, comprised a 496 cc single powered by a Swiss-made MAG engine, and a powerful-looking 996 cc vee-twin using a British Vulpine power unit. In fact British Vulpine, and Summit, were alternative names for the big British Anzani engine, and when AJW production did begin the 1927 season it was with a modest range of vee-twin models, using the 996 cc overhead-valve Summit, and side-valve and overhead-valve JAP.

The AJW was certainly a very racy-looking machine, with its bulbous torpedo-shaped fuel tank raked back, and employing a full duplex tubular loop frame with the top members running in a straight line from steering head to rear wheel spindle. The machine seen here was the standard sportster, employing single-port cylinder heads, but there was also an even more imposing device, with twin-port heads and two exhaust pipes along each side of the bike. Its top speed was claimed to be around 100 mph, which could well have been true. The AJW not only looked expensive, but was expensive, with the top-of-the-range version costing an awe-inspiring £ 145. Even the standard model, as pictured, was priced at £ 115.

Naturally, the make attracted an elite clientele (among them Brooklands racers such as Claude Temple and Joe Wright) and production ran at a low level - which, as a hobby project, suited Jack Wheaton admirably. But even hobbies have to earn their crust, and as Britain ran into the depression years of the 'thirties, so the character of AJW changed. The last big British Anzani vee-twin (by this time available in racing specification only) dropped out of the range in 1931, and only a 680 cc vee-twin JAP represented the breed for 1932.

Nevertheless the make carried on right through the 1930s, by this time using singlecylinder overhead-valve JAP and Rudge engines (one model, the 1933 AJW Flying Fox, employed a Rudge Ulster unit in supersports trim), supplemented by utility models powered by Villiers two-strokes. But Jack Wheaton was losing interest, and by 1937 the make had passed to other hands.

The final pre-war range announced for 1940 comprised a 500 cc JAP, and two versions of a 250 cc Villiers. But AJW was not finished, and in post Second World War years the make returned, with small-scale production of a vertical-twin side-valve JAP, supplemented by speedway and grass-track models. The failure of JAP to produce proprietary engines suitable for motorcycle use hampered AJW, as indeed it did Cotton and several more of the smaller British manufacturers, and in the 1950s and 1960s the make drifted into marketing 50 cc and 125 cc Italian-made ultra-lightweights carrying 'AJW' tank badges. It was, you might say, quite a comedown after such exotic beginnings! But at least the company lasted until 1981, outliving many bigger rivals.

Out of: 'Classic British Motorcycles Of Over 500cc' by Bob Currie  


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