My brief was to sell the AJS range, which by now consisted of an unsophisticated trials machine fitted with a Villiers 250cc A-series two-stroke motor and the considerably more competitive 250cc Stormer scrambler, conceived and designed by Bob Trigg. This had great potential thanks to its state-of-the-art frame - similar to a Commando sans the Isolastlcs -but with more suspension movement than rival machines, and using Ajay's own forks and ultra neat alloy conical hubs, which were mud-proof.
The peppy engine was derived from the early 60s Starmaker. Villiers' original twin-carb comp-spec Starmaker had proved a great disappointment in both scrambling and road racing until Peter Inchley came on the scene. Peter sorted the engine for road racing, gaining an impressive third place, at over 91mph, in the 1966 Lightweight TT. Peter's role as development engineer was to make the engine suitable for the new AJS scrambler. He and his small team adapted well to the challenge and from 1968 onwards the mx community was amazed by the handling and speed of the Stormer prototypes ridden by Malcolm Davis, Chris Horsfield, and Andy Roberton, the former twice winning the 250 British Championship.
Production model Stormers, whose components were manufactured at Wolvo, began to be assembled in a corner of NV's unfinished building at Andover, By the time of my arrival in May 1969 about 200 examples had been supplied to the home market, and several hundred each to Norton Villiers Corporation INVCJ in Long Beach and Berliner Corp, New Jersey. Thanks to Poore's canny negotiation Berliner were obliged to purchase the same quantity of Ajays as NVC, an agreement they didn't much like, for they were not a race-oriented distributor but, with a territory comprising 43 states against NVC's seven, they could hardly argue!
On the first day of the new job [it said European Sales Mangier on my card] I was told despite that we held 150 UK orders AJS dealers had ceased taking machines, nor had there been any repeat orders from Belgium, Holland, or Sweden. An investigation revealed NV's organisation at Andover was a tad naive in the ways of the trade. Dealers might well order 10 scramblers in January, fully aware they'd only receive two or three by March, but knowing that their useful-looking order for 10 bikes would guarantee some priority for the first one or two. Factory systems were pretty casual back then and dealers were masterly in wriggling out of machines ordered but no longer required.
One of the reasons for the slow-down in throughput was a shortage of several important spares. Totally ignorant of how the comp market worked, or the importance of an efficient 'spares back-up', the Stormer spares provisioning had been calculated on the basis of a miserly 10 per cent. As any competitor knows a brand new two-stroke scrambler in its first season will digest several pairs of rings and pistons, plus cables, filters, footrests, mudguards, sprockets, and so on.
The spares shortage was definitely inhibiting AJS sales. Greeves, too, had recently launched the new steel-framed Griffon and were conducting an effective charm offensive on dealers, press and public alike. AJS listed about 20 active Stormer stockists, very few of whom were Greeves agents but, in them thar days, Greeves dealers had the best 'handle' on the market. Luckily for AJS we had Fowlers of Bristol who, under the direction of Harold Fowler, ran an exemplary operation and were by far our largest customer.
AJS nonetheless were receiving a bad press because our star rider, Malcolm Davis, had fallen out with Peter Inchley. There were also rumours about a new 370cc Stormer, scheduled for 1970. Human nature being what it is, there were already a handful of dealers saying "...we'll not take any further stock until the new model is available". All these factors combined to make the first few months at AJS fairly challenging but, undeterred, I rushed around extinguishing bush fires, endeavouring to gee up the clique of complacent folk at Villiers who were in a position to produce the relevant spares...becoming highly unpopular in the processl
Sensibly enough we arranged a Stormer track test by former World Champion Jeff Smith in Motorcyclist Illustrated; his writings were widely followed in the off-road arena. His sample spin on the Stormer was very positive, and helped sales considerably. |MCI was edited by Alan Aspel, a very personable character, but tragically killed at an industry Track Day in 1977.)
During the Stormer's two-year development period NV's AJS division had never attempted to cultivate the specialist press, unlike Greeves who for years had been on friendly terms with every key journalist. This reflected in the coverage AJS were able to achieve in either of the weeklies, or the odd monthly; it was the age-old question of good PR and personal contact, rather than any sums spent on advertising. Despite a miniscule budget John McDermott maintained an excellent relationship with the media for Norton, but no one in the company seemed to realise that AJS was consistently under-promoted.
C B G / WINTER RESTORATION SPECIALISTS
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