Thank you to Katherine Boyle at Bonhams Auction House for the VERY high resolution photo and information. She writes in:
NOTES FOR EDITORS
History of the 1954 AJS E95 Porcupine
While statistics show that the Norton is Britain’s most successful post-War Grand Prix racing motorcycle, the country’s first success in the modern era’s World Championships was achieved by another marque with an equally illustrious racing history: AJS. And the machine that carried Les Graham to his, and AJS’, first and only World Championship was, of course, the legendary Porcupine. And unlike the Nortons, the Porcupine is a totally unique design, owing nothing to the production models.
Conceived during the years of World War II, the Porcupine was originally designed with forced induction in mind. Supercharged multi-cylinder engines had begun to threaten the single’s supremacy towards the end of the 1930s and, indeed, AJS themselves went down this road with their fearsome water-cooled V4. Fast yet difficult to handle, the latter had demonstrated that horsepower bought at the expense of excess bulk and weight was not the answer, so the designers’ thoughts turned to a twin. Laying the cylinders horizontally with their heads facing forwards would ensure adequate cooling and a low center of gravity, while at the same time providing room for the blower above the unit construction gearbox. When FIM (the governing and sanctioning board of international racing) banned supercharging at the end of 1946, the design was too far advanced to be substantially altered, though the cylinder heads were revised to raise the compression ratio.
Typed E90, but dubbed “Porcupine” by the motorcycling press because of its distinctive spiked cylinder head finning, AJS’ new challenger debuted at the 1947 Isle of Man TT piloted by Les Graham and Jock West, the pair finishing 9th and 14th respectively after a variety of problems. (By way of consolation,
West’s best lap was only three seconds down on the fastest and proved that the bike had promise.) Two years later, in 1949, the ultimate victory was achieved as Graham won 1st place in the inaugural Grand Prix World Championships astride the Porcupine, a win that was to become AJS’ and Graham’s only major title.
Many years later, AJS works rider Ted Frend – the first rider to win a race on the bike – recalled that carburetion had been the bike’s biggest problem, perhaps not surprising given that it had been designed for a supercharger, and over the years a bewildering number of different induction arrangements were tried. The bike was also bedeviled by magneto shaft failure – the cause of Graham’s retirement from the lead of the ’49 Senior TT just when two minutes from the finish – a problem that would not be solved until chain drive for the magneto was adopted on the revised E95 engine.
Introduced in 1952, the E95 engine had its cylinders tilted upwards at 45 degrees, an arrangement that called for a new frame, and featured a long underslung oil sump, and pressed-up crankshaft with one-piece connecting rods and roller big-ends in place of the E90’s one-piece shaft and shell-type bearings. Another new addition to the AJS team for ’52 was New Zealand star Rod Coleman. Coleman had first been given an E90 to try at the ’51 Ulster GP, and followed that up with a strong showing at the Grand Prix Des Nations at Monza.
“In the race it was quite definitely faster than the Nortons and I had little problem getting past Geoff (Duke) and Ken (Kavanagh) with just three Gileras only a short distance ahead,” Rod recalls in his book, The Colemans. “I did get with them and found again that the Porcupine was just as fast as the Gileras but was down a little on acceleration from the slower corners, but not by much. I was just beginning to think I had every chance of second place behind Milani when the motor stopped.” The cause was yet another magneto shaft failure.
For 1954 Jack Williams took over the race team and the result of his brilliant development work was a much smoother, more reliable engine and a better handling bike. The E95 Porcupine and works ‘triple-knocker’ 7R3 gained new pannier-style fuel tanks, which extended down on either side of the engine thus lowering the centre of gravity and affording a measure of streamlining at the same time. A new second version frame lowered the bike still more. An AC fuel pump raised petrol to the carburetors, and a clever delivery system involved mechanics standing the bike on its rear wheel to prime the header tank for starting!
Bob McIntyre, Derek Farrant and Rod Coleman were the riders, the last providing the Porcupine with its best international results of the season, placing second in Ulster and winning the Swedish Grand Prix. Sadly, just when the E95 was at last proving its full potential, 1954 would prove to be the Porcupine’s swansong year as AJS withdrew from direct involvement in Grand Prix racing at season’s end. In total, just four complete E95 machines were built, plus one or two spare engines. With the exception of the Tom Arter machine, they were raced only by the works team and never offered for public sale.
The last Porcupine to sell at auction was under the hammer of Bonhams’ current CEO, Malcolm Barber. It was the non-works, privateer-raced Tom Arter E95 Porcupine and it sold, 11 years ago in 2000, for £157,700 (approx. US$258,500) – a then British motorcycle world record. With the significant increase in demand for historical and rare machines at the top of the market, the estimate of $750,000 for this particular Porcupine offered in August’s sale is, in most experts’ opinion, quite reasonable.
ONE OF THE WORLD’S RAREST, MOST LEGENDARY MOTORCYCLES COMES TO AUCTION
Bonhams adds exceptional two-wheelers to its famed two-day sale at Quail Lodge.
San Francisco – Bonhams is delighted to announce that it will be offering the ultra-rare 1954 AJS E95 “Porcupine” at its renowned August automotive auction in Carmel, California on Thursday 18th August.
One of just four E95s completed by the factory, the Porcupine (so nicknamed because of the spiked cooling fins on its cylinder head) was created as a works racer by British manufacturer AJS and is perhaps one of the most legendary motorcycles in history owing to its brief, sunburst racing success and extreme rarity. (See complete history at the bottom of page)
“As far as motorcycles go, the Porcupine is at the very top,” says Bonhams CEO Malcolm Barber. “It is arguably the most beautiful, graceful and innovative racing motorcycle ever built, the perfect blend of technology and art. Comparisons are impossible but bikes of a similar caliber – rarity, significance and worth – could include a 1915 Cyclone Board Track Racer, 1955 Moto Guzzi V8 or a mid-1960s RC Honda Grand Prix. This AJS is an utterly important machine whose appearance at auction cannot be underscored enough.”
Because the number of AJS Porcupines is so scarce, each machine is well known with all 1954 models being accounted for (most earlier Porcupines were scrapped by the factory). Until recently, this particular example had been on display for more than two decades, occupying pride of place at the world-famous National Motorcycle Museum in England, its motor having been overhauled by Team Obsolete Equippe. It is estimated to bring upwards of $750,000 at auction.
Now in its 14th year, the Bonhams automotive sale at Quail Lodge is the longest running auction during the most famous collector car event in the world – Pebble Beach Car Week. Held in conjunction with the prestigious The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering, Bonhams is proud to introduce motorcycles to its successful two-day auction format and is now accepting highly select consignments, strictly limited to 50 of the finest and most iconic machines, to go alongside the AJS Porcupine. Incidentally, it was an E95 that won First in Class at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the first year motorcycles were ever admitted.
“Motorcycles are consistently attracting the interest of discerning motor vehicle enthusiasts and collectors, and their rising values confirm this,” says Ben Walker, Bonhams’ International Director of Motorcycles. “As the world’s premiere auction house in the sale of exceptional motorcycles, we see the addition of rare motorcycles at Quail Lodge as highly complementary to rare motorcars.”
Indeed, Bonhams is no newcomer to the two-wheeled market. The firm has the longest-established department dedicated to motorcycles of any auction house and sells, on average, more than 1,300 motorcycles, or $8-million worth, annually around the globe. Its list of leading sales and world-record prices is renowned and includes motorbike-specific auctions at Las Vegas (January) and the International Classic MotorCycle Show in England (April), as well as combined motorcar/motorcycle sales at the Petersen Auto Museum (November) and Le Grand Palais in Paris (February), to name just a few.
This is the first time a dedicated live auction of motorcycles will be held during the Pebble Beach Car Week and the opportunities for sellers are unprecedented. Owners interested in consigning “crème de la crème” motorcycles to this anticipated event may call 415-391-4000 or
e-mail one of the following Bonhams motorcycle specialists:
Ben Walker, International Director of Motorcycles, London: email@example.com
Nick Smith, US Director of Motorcycles, Los Angeles: firstname.lastname@example.org
David Edwards, Motorcycle Specialist: email@example.com
The Bonhams Sale of Exceptional Motorcars, Motorcycles & Related Automobilia will take place at Quail Lodge in Carmel, California, on Thursday and Friday, August 18-19, with the select group of motorcycles to be sold on Thursday.
For the consignment of exceptional motorcars to go alongside the likes of the 1979 BMW M1 Pro Car painted by Frank Stella from the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
For press inquiries and photos, please contact email@example.com or 415-503-3316.
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