I bought an AJS 350 from a friend in 1967 for a tenner. It was a 1951 model with the rear Jampot suspension.
Because I had not yet passed my test I acquired a sidecar chassis and attached it to my Ajay, utilising all manner of brackets and attachments, most of which had to be "freeded off" because they were distorted, bent, crushed, rusty etc. I purloined a wooden packing crate (a Cummins V8 engine box) from where I worked and with judicious use of more brackets, screws and bolts attached it to the chassis.
I eventually had it up and running as an outfit and set off up the road on it, never having ever ridden a sidecar outfit before. All went well until I came to the cross roads at the top of our road. I meant to turn left but couldn't find any way to get the beast to go the way I wanted. It went straight across the junction with me haplessly hanging on! Luckily nothing was coming at the time.
Over the next few days I got the hang of it, accelerating through left handers and braking through right handers, though the light weight of the sidecar meant on left-handers the engine box came up to ear level now and again (and again and again). It actually became a bit of a "party piece", something to amuse and astonish my mates; and I could do it at will, not just by accident!
I had also fitted ape hangers and adapted a BSA Bantam fuel tank that I'd found in a field to get the "Easy Rider" look that was becoming very fashionable.
"Never in the field of rallies, were bikes of so many, made to look so ridiculous by so few."
I fell in love with this bike. It was so reliable after the Tiger Cub I'd been riding up until then. The distributer on the Cub was always coming loose and would turn in it's bracket altering the timing and causing it to stop; just one among many things that caused our love/hate relationship, without the love!
Back to the Ajay. By now the engine box had been replaced by a sidecar body. I think it was called a "Bambi". It was a single seat body from a scooter chassis and cost me a fiver. I had painted it (with a brush!) black with the nose of the chair in red and yellow flames. It kind of looked like a Mitsubishi Zero that had been shot down; just what was I thinking!
The bike looks worse than I could have imagined it to be. Notice no lighting equipment ... no wonder we got pulled by the police in Leeds! I'm on the left, then it's Mike McDonough in the leather jacket and then Ronnie Metcalf. The other bike is a BSA B33 owned by a lad called "Dobbo". I think we're parked at his house.
My mates and I decided we we would go to the Krumlin Rock And Blues Festival of 1970. The line up included Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention and others too numerous to mention.
There was a guy called Mivi on a BSA B31 painted bright yellow which we called the "flying banana", Eric Woodall was riding pillion. Then there was me on the Ajay and a guy called Colin in my sidecar. Both of our bikes sported ape hangers, banana seats and general Easy Rider style modifications.
I won't go into too much detail about the event, needless to say it was brilliant. My first rock festival. Fairport Convention were absolutely magic, probably one of the best bands I've ever seen live.
By the Saturday night the weather had really taken a dive. A lot of the groups were cancelled (I can't remember Pink Floyd doing a gig) and it persisted down, accompanied by strong winds. The stage crew were having real problems just to keep the stage equipment intact.
The venue (in the Yorkshire moors somewhere near the M62) had been described in the programme as "a natural amphitheatre". It was fast becoming a natural reservoir!
Later on that night we were guided by the marshals to a tent (an inflatable miracle of modern design) where we could sleep for the night and would have a chance to dry out. We got our heads down for what seemed like 20 minutes, then all hell broke loose. It was anounced that our haven, in the form of a warm dry inflatable womb, was fast deflating because of a problem with a generator or some such device.
So out we went into the pitch black with 3 inches of mud underfoot and the rain coming down at 45 degrees like stair rods!
We were all past caring! We just settled where we could and fitfully slept in inches of water.
Next morning we set off for home. We were all soaked through, well except for Colin (might have been Mivi) who against all the odds had found his way to my outfit and had kipped in the chair with a big plaggy bag covering him!
The sun had broken through by now and the wind had dropped. It was actually turning out to be a nice day, the roads were now dry and the temperature must have been in the high 70's.
As we made our way through the outskirts of Leeds we were pulled over by a police patrol car; this was all we needed! They took one look at the bikes and then one of the two coppers went to his car and came back with a clipboard. The other one started checking over our bikes.
By now the sun was starting to dry us out and we stood there with steam rising from our sodden clothes as these two coppers inspected and listed the numerous faults. The one doing the inspection cocked his leg over Mivi's bike, caught the seat with his leg and it fell off into the road. He leaned over the bike to pick the seat up and noticed Mivi's kick start was held up with a bungee wire, the spring had long since broken. Undetered he placed the seat back on, cocked his leg over more carefully this time and eased himself onto the saddle using the apehanger handlebars to steady himself, only to find the handlebars loose and now down at the level of his knees! This ordeal went on for ages, him steadly prompting our bikes to fall to bits, his mate jotting down notes. Mivi and I could have crawled away and died.
Eric meanwhile (built like Brian Blessed and blessed with a similar humour!), who until now had no involvement in the whole affair, just stood and laughed; in fact he laughed so much he was hugging himself round his stomach and eventually collapsed on the pavement roaring with laughter. He rolled around on the pavement leaving big wet patches as he threw himself about in frenzied laughter.
Now and again he would raise his head like a circus seal to take in a new disaster, only to collapse again, absolutely aching in mirth.
How on earth these two coppers kept a straight face I'll never know! We were presented with a list of faults, about 5 or 6 each, and told we would be summoned to court over them.
I don't know how or why but neither of us heard another thing about it!
I think the two coppers had such a good laugh (though didn't show it) that they decided to let us off. Hell, they're probably still telling their mates about those crazy steaming bikers to this day!
I did eventually pass my test on a borrowed Honda C90 stepthrough (thanks Ian Todd) after which I removed the sidecar and rode The Ajay solo for a year or so; and I still loved that bike! I only sold it because of my mum's regular complaints about the amount of oil it deposited on the drive, courtesy of the two piece chaincase sealed (or rather not sealed) with a big rubber band. When I had the side car it hadn't been such a problem - I used to carry a washing up bowl to place under the chaincase and then I'd simply pour the oil back in again.
At that time we had a double gate to the short driveway at the front of house. The left hand gate was always fixed in place with a bolt into the concrete but the right hand gate was free to swing open with no latch or sneck to hinder its movement. I used to ride the now solo Ajay home, nudge the right hand gate which would dutifully swing completely open and I would ride through. That worked a treat until one day there had been an exceptionally high wind so my mum in her wisdom had placed a solid building brick behind it. In I came, nudging the gate as usual only to find the gate jam half open, by then I was half way through and the throttle cable, which hung in loop from the apehangers to the carb, caught on the edge of the gate, revved the bike up and sent me careering off to the right, into the garden, only stopping when I hit the neighbour's fence, with me being pinned under the bike for a few minutes! Oh such fun!
I had some fantastic times on that old Ajay, but it would be another two years, and another bike, before I discovered the joys of Rallying.
- Dave Honneyman