A Racer From The Past Storms Into The Present
Images: Paranjay Dutt
For people involved in passion-driven forms of occupation, hanging up one's boots might be the most daunting decision. Age is one big factor which forces people to do so, and, in this case, without unnecessarily humanising the whole idea, it's a bike whose age and rarity could have possibly proven to be a sign from the almighty to quit.
But for a race-ready machine from the early 1900s, if there's one word that wouldn't fit in its vocabulary, it'd have to be ‘quit’. And with a serial bike collector ensuring that there's no reason to do so, it's clear that this marvellous AJS H7 wouldn't need to stop doing what it's intended to do: setting the tarmac alight...
Made by A.J. Stevens & Co. (hence the name), the H7 was the more focussed, race-ready version of the overhead-valve-engined AJS H6; ‘H’ being the model suffix for motorcycles made in 1927. Referred to as the ‘Racer for the Road’, with its 350 OHV engine (that made 3.49 hp), lightweight frame, and sharp handling, there's hardly a reason why one would question the nomenclature.
And it's not just AJS fans and purveyors of classic machines saying that. The motorcycle's sporting credentials were cemented through success at the Isle of Man races. In the year 1927, IoM TT veteran Jimmy Simpson rode his AJS to a position finish for the Junior TT trophy. But that wasn't the first time an AJS showed its racing prowess at one of the most challenging races around the world. And it most certainly wasn't the last time, either.
Jehangir Foroogh might be known for his AJS and other classic motorcycles, but his journey began with a humble Bajaj Chetak. This got replaced by a Bullet, followed by a Norton... and the list goes on and on. His father was a keen motorcyclist, so it was pretty much in the genes. But that didn't mean his access to the winding roads and early-morning rides was as easy as picking one of Foroogh Senior's trusted steeds and heading out for a leisurely ride.
And while it'd be difficult for him to answer which of his motorcycles is his absolute favourite, my guess is that the AJS H7 would most likely be his choice. But I didn't want any of his other machines to feel bad, so the question was skipped. But the story behind acquiring his beloved ‘BMW 806’ can't be.
A classic case of love at first sight, when Jehangir saw this very bike, he knew that he had to get it. “It was parked in a go-down for about three decades,” says Jehangir; but it was in its original, unrestored condition. With its three former keepers, like Jehangir himself, being Parsis, the bike was loved throughout its life. It was sold to Jehangir on the condition that it wouldn't be traded—a promise he's sincerely kept. For those wondering, this was the year 2008, a decade-and-a-half ago.
And before you try to look for his phone number, he has no plans of breaking that promise. Even though 2008 seems like a century ago (or fifteen years, to be precise), this AJS H7 was still comfortably in the vintage age group when Jehangir laid his eyes on it. And before he knew it, the motorcycle, now under his name, made its maiden entry at a VCCCI rally. The AJS Club in the UK was contacted to certify the motorcycle's authenticity, and soon enough, they verified, after expressing their amazement at the fact that such an example existed thousands of miles away...
That's been a regular occurrence under Jehangir's ownership, both accolades and appreciation. It has been awarded top honours at prestigious events like Cartier Concours, The Statesman Rally, etc. While the motorcycle does get tucked away during the monsoon, it is ridden regularly otherwise. In addition to some well-known events across the country, like India Bike Week in Goa, this H7 was also a star at local rallies and get-togethers. Which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone considering that it still runs the majority of original parts: from the wheels to the seat, according to Jehangir.
The one thing that couldn't be salvaged was the fuel tank because rust had taken its toll on the original. So how did the restoration come about? While everything was there, he says, owing to it being parked for nearly thirty years, the AJS did require some repairs, painting, and re-chroming. “She is a class apart. No matter how many other bikes there are at rallies, it's a given that you'd see a bunch of people interested in the AJS. Always.”
And if you expect it to be a smooth ride, gliding over bad roads, not caring for potholes, etc., you're in for a surprise. Devoid of a proper suspension, it's not made for any of that, says Jehangir. “While maybe not as quick as modern metal, but it'll be at par.” With no metres, electrical, lights, or even horn, it's not your everyday commuter. But one look at the motorcycle, and you'd be able to know why.
The hand-operated gear lever is unique, and so is the overhead valve arrangement. Jehangir mentions that it doesn't end there. The clutch for instance uses cork, and while servicing isn't a very frequent affair (owing to limited yearly mileage), it does require some extra effort from the caretaker—or, in this case, the owner. It's not as easy as swinging your leg over and pressing the starter button. But a ride makes the extra effort absolutely worth it. “Too good,” says Jehangir.
The best way to sum it up is with the help of a simple analogy that came up while we spoke about personal preferences and how, for many, cars and motorcycles can be so close to the owner's heart that they might not let the dearest of friends or family touch the machines. Pretty much like fountain pens—an ideal one for the owner might just turn out to be a smudging disaster for anyone new to it.
A classic motorcycle like the AJS H7 is no different, says Jehangir. And his is a rather remarkable example. Not our words, but from two of the biggest motorcycling legends, Giacomo Agostini and the late Phil Read. Now the bigger question is, how does one top that?!
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