Matchless Motorcycles

History of Matchless Motorcycles

Matchless motorcycles were produced from 1899 to 1945, and from 1987 to 1993.

The company was founded in Plumstead, London, by Harry and Charlie Collier, who had started out producing bicycles and went on to establish one of the most important British motorcycle firms.

  • 1899 The Collier Brothers first experimented with power. This machine had the engine mounted above the front wheel.

    1901 They produced an experimental version whereby the engine was crammed into the space between the seat tube and the rear wheel. This model was not successful as it had a tendency to overheat in use.

    1902 They then went into production using a 2.75hp MMC engine that was hung from the frame downtube. Both brothers became successfully involved in competition.

    1904 Saw the arrival of a more powerful machine, fitted with a 3.5hp MMC engine. They also produced a forecar with either a De Dion or MMC engine, and a pillion attachment for the solo.

    1903-1904 Models

    1905 They now added suspension to their machines and later that year they produced a model fitted with a 6hp JAP engine on a spring frame.

    1906 The forecar was dropped and replaced by a rigid model with a 5hp Antoine V-twin engine. Other models were produced using various engines - spring frame with White and Poppe; rigid frame with Antoine and a spring frame ladies' model with a JAP. That year also saw success in competition and both brothers were selected for the International Cup Race.

    1907 At the very first TT race, Charlie Collier led from start to finish and, until a valve broke late in the race, Harry lay second. The 3.5hp Antoine was replaced by a JAP.

    1908 Further revisions came along with a two-speed gear and a TT model with an ohv engine similar to the one that won the TT. Further attempts were made at the TT but without success, although Charlie broke the world one-hour record riding at Brooklands.

    1909 Road models used JAP engines - 2.5hp and 3.5hp singles and a 6hp V-twin. Rigid or spring frames, two-speed gears and ignition options were available, while the 3.5hp White and Poppe engine was also an option. Early in the year Harry set a twenty-four hour record at Canning Town, averaging over 32mph/51kmh, despite problems and delays. Further success came when Brooklands began to run motorcycle races, and there was another win at the TT.

    1910 Competition success continued and by now the brothers had taken three of the first four races at the TT. The range expanded and the main engine in use was the JAP, along with some V-twin Peugeots. Belt drive remained.

1910 Cycle and Motorcycle Exhibition

H. Collier and Sons, Ltd.
18 Herbert Road, Plumstead, S.E. Stand No. 43.
The "Matchless" motor-bicycles are very well known by reason of their many successes upon the racing track and also in numerous trials. Amongst the improvements which will be noticed in the new models are a new free wheel on the rear hub, a very neat and effective cut-out, an adjustable belt pulley, and in the case of machines designed for sidecar work a double adjustable pulley for twin belts. One pattern will be fitted with the Armstrong Triplex gear. In the cases of the 3 H.P. single-cylinder and the 6 H.P. twin- cylinder engines mechanically-operated inlet valves are fitted.

A special feature in the 1911 productions will be the "Passenger Matchless," which is provided with a 6 H.P. twin-cylinder motor. The rear wheel is fitted with a 3in. tyre - really such as would commonly be employed upon a light car. A two-speed gear and free engine clutch are provided, and the side-car is very neat and easily detachable. We think that, considering the special attention that has been given to the really important point of adequately tyring the driving wheel and the provision of two driving belts passing over double-grooved pulleys, this machine will come in for a very considerable amount of attention from motor-cyclists who are enthusiasts on side-car machines.

  • 1911 All models, including the 5hp V-twin ohv TT model, had JAP engines. Harry came second in the first TT held on the Mountain circuit, and Charlie came second in the Senior but was later disqualified. That was an end to the major successes at the TT.

    1912 and for the next few years, it was mainly twins, with some fitted with a modified version of the Zenith Gradua gear to vary the ratio. Many models came and went and by the beginning of the First World War, the range had narrowed considerably.

    1915 During the Great War, some machines were built for service use although they were not contracted to make motorcycles for the army. They announced proposals for a flat-twin, three speed engine, but nothing came of it.

    Post war. The company continued to produce the model they had supplied to the army - this was listed as the Victory and sold in solo or sidecar form. New, bigger and better models were added year on year throughout the 1920s.

    1931 Despite the depression, the company launched something special that year - the Silver Hawk. It had a 592cc narrow-angle V4 engine with a shaft-driven ohc. It remained on the list until 1935, but as a de luxe model it was too costly to sell in any great number. The company then acquired AJS.

    1936 There were major revisions that year and most of the inclined engine models were replaced by the G-series.

    1937 The old V-twin engine was refreshed and was still used for sidecar models. The company sold the engine to at least five other manufacturers and also for the Morgan three-wheeler. Matchless purchased Sunbeam and formed the AMC group.

    1939 Matchless now had twelve models in their range and all but one twin were of the G-series. During World War II, Matchless made 80,000 G3 and G3L models for the armed forces.

    1940 Fewer models were listed because the company were supplying machines to the services - this was the G3 model.

    1941 The G3 became the G3L and a firm favourite within the services. It was light, easy to manoeuvre and had telescopic front forks.

    1943 Although the AMC name remained, the company sold Sunbeam to BSA.

    Post War. The fortunes of AJS and Matchless had become closely intertwined.

    1987 It had been many years since AMC had failed, but the Matchless name returned to the market through Les Harris - who had also built the Triumph Bonneville after the close of Meriden. This new, classically styled machine was the G80 and used a four-valve Austrian Rotax engine. Although the frame was British, many other parts came from Italy.

    1990 Sales were slow, so the motorcycles were produced for special order only.

    1993 Production ceased.

Source: Graces Guide

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Matchless Motorcycles