When I lifted the receiver and said “Hello” one day in 1996, little did I realize where this conversation would take me.
To start with, we need to go back to 1982 when I bought what was supposedly a pre-war 250 A.J.S., only to find out (through much letter writing) that this bike was actually a Stevens.
One interesting person I corresponded with, all those years ago, was one of the few remaining heirs of the Stevens family (yes, the ones who made all those wonderful A.J.S.’s that we love and sometimes hate). It was Mr. A.J. Stevens and he was on the other end of my phone. As you can imagine, I was very surprised to find Alec J Stevens here in Sydney on holidays, with a few days to spare, to talk about motorcycles and life with the Stevens family. Luckily (before I nearly dropped the phone), we were able to agree on a date for a get together with a few friends.
Present on that day were...... Adam Grant and Father David (Veteran and Historic MCC), Frank Malouf (500 owner VMCC), Lou Mifsud (the kickstarter), Reg Challenger (racer/speedway rider and story teller VMCC), Leon Willamson (Classic and Enthusiasts MCC.) Ted Conran (AJS & MOC), "Matchy" magazine journalist Richard Morris (Classic & Enthusiast. MCC) and myself, Dave deLapp (Host, AJS & MOC).
The following video clips are excerpts from that interview. They should download and play using Windows Media Player. If you are having any problems, please let us know using the `Contact Us` link on the navigation menu.
.... The end of AJS and new beginnings with `Stevens of Wolverhampton`. The Brough Golden Dream. (5 mins 15 secs)
.... AJS cars and motorcycles. (2 mins)
.... George Stevens` 1930 worldwide sales drive. Stevens family in Australia. (1 min 25 secs)
.... AJS manufacturing and AJS radios. (3 mins 50 secs)
.... Alec`s first motorcycle, the last Stevens. (1 min 35 secs)
.... Reg Challenger - racer. Douglas motorbikes. (2 mins 20 secs)
.... Frank Malouf and Lou Mifsud starting the 500cc Stevens. (27 secs)
.... Close-ups of the 500 running. (2 mins 43 secs)
.... David deLapp`s 250 D.S.1. (24 secs)
... more detail of the 250 cc. (26 secs)
... The Stevens family tree. Stevens advertising literature. (3 mins 35 secs)
Alec visited relatives in Ballarat (Colin and family) and met up with a friend in Queensland (Alan Cunningham). He came back to Sydney for one week and was then heading home for Christmas. It was a particularly hot summer and Alec found that he completely misjudged the effect the weather would have on him. Being a fit retiree, he decided to walk from his Kings Cross hotel to the heart of Sydney (during the heat of the day). The 10 mile round trip would have been easily achieved in the Hampshire countryside, but dehydration and sunstroke put Alec in bed for a couple of days (hence the ruddy complexion in the video). Alec learned very quickly to carry water and wear a hat outdoors.
Alec confirmed the Stevens family started business in Wolverhampton in 1883 when Jo Stevens started a blacksmithing shop. This area (known as the Black Country) was spawned by the industrial revolution and housed approximately 85% of Birmingham’s engineering workshops. It was aptly named, as most of it’s workers ended up the same colour as the perpetual black smoke which hovered overhead. Each of these workshops had their own coal fired steam engine / boiler. These were the source for all the mechanical power, supplied via elaborate pulleys to operate Lathes, Mills, Drills and Conveyors etc. Most of these workshops prospered immensely in the early 1900’s as the demand for transport via road and rail and the need for mechanization saw the growth of local Black Country companies like A.J.S., Sunbeam, Wearwell and Clyno.
In 1917 A.J.S. contracted to supply model ‘D’ military sidecar combinations to the War department and by 1920 the increased demand for A.J.S motorcycles led to building expansions at Graisley Hill, Retreat Street and the Stewart street works. At Graisley Hill (see below) the A.J.S. works housed it’s own foundry, enameling shop, frame works, machine and press shops, as well as the main motorcycle assembly plant. Everything, except electrical and rubber components were made in-house. The Stevens were so successful that they supplied engines to Brough Superior, Morgan and O.K. Supreme, to name a few. The company also made buses, light trucks, cars and radio sets, not to mention their unparalled success at the race track with the 1923 350 ‘Big Port’ O.H.V. model ( with it’s 1-7/8” exhaust) and later with the 1930 R7. overhead cam model. This was so successful that manufacturing of this model was continued, with improvements, as the famous ‘7R Boy Racer’. So named because the 350 capacity allowed it to compete in class events that were popular with junior (Boy) riders. The term ‘Boy Racer’ was used to taunt the riders of the senior (unlimited) classes, when the 350 7R would compete and win against them!
Graiseley Hill Works
The boom of the 20’s soon saw the depression of the 30’s. Alec recalled “This is what we believe in the Stevens family…..” He went on to say that in 1930 the Midland Bank, which looked after the affairs of the B.S.A., as well as the A.J.S., called in some of the A.J.S. loans. Sir Bernard Docker (who was Chairman of the B.S.A and also director of the Midland Bank) insisted upon payment. The fact that Hanford Stevens (Export Sales Manager) had just returned from a world sales trip, with more than sufficient orders to keep the company going, was disregarded. The Stevens brothers had all their money tied up in business capital and could not find the cash to service the loans. The Midland Bank refused to extend any more credit so the company went into voluntary liquidation in 1931. To do the honorable thing and pay all the creditors, the Stevens family raised cash by selling off A.J.S. to Harry Collier of ‘Matchless’. All A.J.S. creditors were paid in full (20 shillings in the pound). This left the Stevens family with very little, however they still had some machinery and premises to work from.
AJS share certificate 1926
In the ensuing years they made 3 wheelers and proprietary engines for AJAX cycles and managed to get back into motorcycle production (in a limited manner) by hand making a new range of motorcycles. As the A.J.S. name was no longer available to them, they called these new machines “Stevens”. The first Stevens motorcycles were made in 1934, their production being limited to 250cc capacity. These soon became popular in sporting and trials events. The increased demand for these machines led to the production of a 350cc in 1935 and a 500cc model later in the same year. The Stevens used ‘Big Port’ technology on all their machines, standardizing on a two-inch exhaust for all models. In 1936 the Stevens was the first production motorcycle to use a megaphone exhaust.Alec, reminiscing back to 1938, stated, “You know George Brough, well he tried to produce a motorcycle called a ‘Dream’. In fact he produced one or two – one with an Austin seven engine, the other was made by Stevens. George Brough used to come down to the Stevens to discuss these things and I can remember going there at the time when my father was doing my own bike, he was doing it in his spare time and it was the last bike Stevens ever made. I remember going down on a Saturday morning, George Brough was there to talk in some detail about this engine for the Dream. The Dream bike was never a success, it never took off, in fact Uncle Harry, when he saw the plans for it, he said ‘This bloody thing will never work!’. The bike was on display at the last (1938) London motorcycle show before the war. It never went into production.
The War years put an end to motorcycle production by the Stevens family, however the factory
at Retreat Street was still operating as the ‘Stevens Screw Co. Ltd.’ until 1992. In August 1996
a ‘Lone Rider’ monument dedicated to the A.J.S was unveiled at the old factory site.
Lone Rider monument`
Unfortunately, the buildings have now been demolished and a modern ‘Safeways Supermarket’
stands in its place.
This is a photo of Geoff Stevens at the monument during my visit in June 1997.
Geoff Stevens and the Lone Rider
Plaque at Graisely Hill
The following excerpts are from a taped interview between David deLapp and Dennis Griffin recorded in April 1984 near Dennis`s home in Victoria, Australia. The tapes show what an interesting and varied life Dennis had, working for the motorcycle press, dealing in motorbikes, owning some of the best of British motorcycles, and, most importantly for us, working for and with the Stevens brothers. His is a first hand account of those days, and a most interesting listen it is.
Click on the links below and the audio should play with Windows Media player. If you are having any problems please let us know via the `Contact Us` page.
... End of AJS, beginnings of Stevens. Tommy Deadman. Early days of AJS and T.T. racing.
... Brough, Scott, Triumph.
... Local motorcycle makers. Bradbury, Sunbeam. T.T. riders.
... What happened to the Stevens?
... Hoard of bikes near Banbury and other finds. First Stanley Woods Norton. 1912 Radco. Brough.
... Stevens road test. Mid 30`s motorcycle industry, end of AJS.
Early days of Stevens and the first specs for the 250cc Stevens.
... Stevens specs. Manufacturing processes and buying policies.
K B Norris National Rally winner on a Stevens.
... Stevens export markets. 1935 Stevens models. Gearboxes. Pricing.
... Move over to war work and the end of the Stevens. The last of the pre-war bikes.
... The Colliers during the war. Stevens production numbers.
... Stevens 350cc and 500cc design, engine, coachwork, mudguards, transfers.