Matchless - object of desire

2012-01-20 10:00

I'd never heard of Deneysville, in Gauteng, until just before Christmas when a motorcycle round trip was undertaken via Lake Avenue Historic Motorcycle Museum to find out exactly what the place held in store.

If you ever get the chance, and I’m assuming you're reading this column because you love motorcycles of yesteryear, Lake Avenue Inn, Deneysville, on the shore of the Vaal Dam is but about an hour’s ride from Johannesburg on a modern bike, and home to the biggest historic motorcycle museum in Africa.

Started by motorcycle ace mechanic John Boswell and Charmaine Munro about three years ago, the museum is home to around 200 machines that are viewed on a rotational basis. There are plenty more in storage to look forward too while “fresh finds” are being fettled in the museum’s workshops on a continuous basis.


Boswell told me: “What we have here is something really unique and very South African — a dedicated motorcycle museum for local and international race and road-going machines from years past — and they are on view the whole year around.”

Our very own SA riders, such as Jim Redman, Paddy Driver, Kork Ballington, Rod Gray, Les van Breda, Keith Zeeman, Johan Boshoff and Arthur Browning – some of whom even managed World champion status – have at some time or other ridden the very different and diverse bikes on show.

From a racing Yamaha TZ750 to a BSA B50 motocross machine, to stock in trade Velocettes, Indians, Sunbeams, Ariels, Royal Enfields, Triumphs, most displays are to be found in pristine condition at the Deneysville museum. For me, possibly the star of the show has to be the Matchless G50 ‘Wagon Wheel’ 500 single-cylinder machine that’s currently on display.

Johannesburg avid bike collector and enthusiast Ian Groat keeps his Matchless G50 ‘Wagon Wheel’ machine with Boswell and told me the history of the bike with the rather strange sounding name.

“It was designed by Irish brothers Tom and Ayrton Arter who were behind the amazing wheelbarrow Matchless G50 for their star riders in the late 1960's and early 1970s, Peter Williams and Paddy Driver, who featured in the UK and European racetracks on these 500cc grand prix senior racing singles.


“Tom Arter bought a pair of special Reynolds frames that had been made by double world champion John Surtees," Groat continued. "These lightweight units formed the backbone of a great handling race bike, but Williams, who was employed by AMC Race Shop, took almost two seasons to bring his idea of using magnesium rims into fruition.

"In fact, when he wheeled the bike out for practice for the first time, race fans walked past and laughed out loud saying: ‘Who will ride a bike that looks like that?’.

“Well he had the last laugh, for the machine occasionally even outrode the legendary three-cylinder MV Agusta and their all-conquering world champion Giacomo Agostini,” said Groat. “This bike’s combination of modest power, coupled to the extra lightness proved a formidable combination in the Isle of Man TT races of the period, achieving several podium finishes to their credit.”
• The entrance fee to the motorcycle museum is an almost-laughable R20. The place is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but open for the balance of the week, including weekends. Their website has more information.