The Ex-Steve Jolly: 1962 Matchless 498CC Racing Motorcycle

The disappointing performance of the Matchless G45 twin-cylinder racer prompted Associated Motor Cycles to develop an over-bored version of the firm’s successful AJS 7R 350 single as a contender for the ‘500’ class. Using cycle parts virtually identical to the 7R, the prototype Matchless G50 first ran in 1958, with production versions becoming available the following year. Development was overseen by AMC’s legendary engineer, Jack Williams, whose son Peter would later play a leading role in the G50 story.

With a claimed power output of over 50bhp and weighing some 30lbs less than a Manx Norton, the G50 should have been a winner, but it was not until after manufacture ceased in 1962, by which time around 180 machines had been completed, that tuner/entrants in Britain and the USA began to exploit the model’s full potential. Subsequent frame and suspension developments – most notably by Tom Arter and Colin Seeley – kept the G50 competitive into the ‘Japanese era’.

Ridden by Peter Williams, the Arter-Matchless proved that a single-cylinder machine could still be competitive on short circuits and at the Isle of Man TT, and in 1973 Williams finished 2nd in the Senior race, beaten only by Giacomo Agostini’s works MV. Many-times British sidecar champion Colin Seeley was another convinced that the design still had untapped potential. Seeley had bought Associated Motor Cycles’ racing department when the company went into receivership in 1966. The previous year he had constructed the first Seeley racing frame to house a Matchless G50 engine, and the AMC purchase enabled him to produce complete Seeley G50 and 7R machines. With their improved frames, the four-stroke singles enjoyed renewed competitiveness, Dave Croxford winning the British 500 Championship on a Seeley G50 in 1968 and ’69. Nevertheless, a G50 would not win an Isle of Man TT until 1984, when American Dave Roper rode Team Obsolete’s example to victory in the inaugural Historic TT. Today, the Matchless G50 and its derivatives continue to be mainstays of classic racing’s 500 class, thanks in no small part to the availability of faithful replicas of the original.

The fact that so few were built makes a genuine original G50 a prized acquisition today, and the example offered here is one of the very last batch of 50 machines built in 1962. It was acquired in 1964 by rising star Steve Jolly, who in addition to winning many British short circuit races on it, finished 17th in the 1967 Isle of Man Senior TT. Jolly then acquired a more modern Seeley G50 on which he built a career in Grands Prix. He retained the original G50 as a spare, and after retiring from active competition paraded it in the Mike Hailwood Memorial Meeting at Donington Park in 1982. Soon after, he sold it to racing journalist Alan Cathcart, himself a Matchless G50 rider from 1975. In 1985, Alan Cathcart sold it to the immediately preceding owner, a prominent Wyoming-based US collector.

The current vendor purchased the G50 in January 2015, and it has formed part of their important private collection in the UK since then. The machine is understood to be original apart from a Quaife five-speed gearbox and the period addition of a cooling ring shrunk around the front brake drum.

Report by bonhams.com


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