Matchless: A Classic British Motorcycle Marque Worth Remembering

For every revived motorcycle brand like BSA, there’s an equal number of classic ones that still lay by the wayside. Here in the US, for example, we have historic brands like Henderson and Pierce-Arrow. And from Britain, we have marques like Vincent and Velocette. But there’s also Matchless.

Matchless made its reputation through winning races

Although it no longer exists, Matchless was one of the earliest British motorcycle companies, Silodrome reports. It was founded in 1899, and like fellow British marque Triumph, it started out making bicycles, Silodrome reports. But just eight years later Matchless won the very first Isle of Man TT, RideApart reports. And it won again in 1909 and 1910 with two of the co-founders riding.

With racing success came business success. By the 1930s Matchless began buying out some of its rivals, Silodrome reports. By the 1950s it owned AJS, Norton, and Sunbeam, combining them all together to form the umbrella corporation AMC, Rider reports. Unfortunately, AMC collapsed in 1967, and while Norton carried on for a time, Matchless was finished. But before it went, the brand produced several beloved bikes.

Matchless is perhaps best-known for its single-cylinder racers like the G50, Motorcyclist reports. Introduced in 1958, the G50’s 496cc makes 51 hp, which, for a 331-pound bike, is a lot for the time period. It’s sometimes called “the Golden Racer,” due to its gold-painted magnesium crankcases and cam chain covers, Silodrome reports. And in 1984, Dave Roper rode one to victory in the first-ever Isle of Man Historic TT, becoming the first American to do so, Motorcyclist reports.

Matchless bikes were also extremely competitive motocross machines in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Cycle World reports. One of the best was the 1951-1967 G80CS, with ‘CS’ standing for ‘competition’ and ‘suspension,’ Hagerty reports.

A red-silver-and-black 1961 Matchless G80CS parked on a stone path on a lawn
1961 Matchless G80CS | Bring a Trailer

It has a torquey 497cc four-stroke single-cylinder engine, twin rear shocks, a telescopic fork, and a stronger-than-standard frame, Silodrome reports. And the later G80 TCS Typhoon features an upgraded 596cc single-cylinder engine, Silodrome reports.

However, Matchless also made some twin-cylinder motorcycles. One of the most iconic is the Matchless G45, which won the 1952 Isle of Man TT, Silodrome reports. It was one of the first homologated racing bikes, RideApart reports. And by the end of production in 1957, its 498cc twin-cylinder engine made 54 hp.

Matchless engines powered classic vehicles besides just motorcycles

The Matchless name doesn’t just appear on its own motorcycles, though. The company was also one of Brough-Superior’s engine suppliers, Hagerty reports. It built the 1.0-liter V-twin that powered the SS100, at one point the world’s fastest motorcycle.

The front 3/4 view of a red 1933 Morgan 3-Wheeler Super Sport with a Matchless V-twin in a concrete garage
1933 Morgan 3-Wheeler Super Sport with Matchless V-twin | Bring a Trailer

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Matchless engines aren’t only found in classic motorcycles, though. The original Morgan 3-Wheeler’s V-twin comes from Matchless, too. Specifically, the later Super Sports models, Hagerty reports.

Apart from the racers, its bikes are relatively affordable

Although the Matchless name disappeared in 1967, there was an attempt to revive it. The 1987-1990 G80 was more of a parts-bin special, though, MCN reports, and doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors.

A black 1956 Matchless G45 production race motorcycle by a wall on a black-and-white checkerboard
1956 Matchless G45 | Bring a Trailer

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But getting a classic Matchless motorcycle, though, doesn’t have to break the bank. True, racers like the G45 and G50 can be expensive; a 1962 G50 went for $40,145 at a September 2018 Bonhams auction. And the earliest models, such as the Model X, go for similar money, Bonhams reports. However, it’s possible to find a good-condition G80S or G80CS for $5000-$10,000 on Bring a Trailer or other auction site.

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