The 1916/17 Matchless-Vickers Machine Gun Motorcycle

Published May 27, 2015

We’ve featured a few machines that have claimed to be the perfect ‘post-apocalyptic’ machine, the Scrambler from the Walking Dead being one of them, and while having a crossbow holster here or a hidden axe there could be useful, honestly, we’d feel a lot safer riding one of these. It’s a Matchless-Vickers combination sidecar and machine gun unit. If you’re planning on smashing your way through hordes of zombies, a faux-rusted gas tank might look the part but come on – you want real firepower, like this awesome motorcycle packs. And you can have it, if you’re prepared to pay around $40,000 at Bonhams this June.


Like most technological innovations, this Matchless-Vickers sidecar appeared shortly after the outbreak of a World War, the Great War to be precise. The British Army was in desperate need for dispatch vehicles and contracted Douglas, Clyno and a few other outfits with the task – Matchless didn’t get a direct contract but contributed to the war effort with this model. The Brits decided to ship them off to the Russians but after the Russian withdrawal in 1917, many of these machines were left unattended and unclaimed across Europe. The vast majority of them were bought back by the manufacturers and sold on to civilian customers.


This particular JAP engine Matchless-Vickers model was part of one of those lost orders and found its way back to British soil, auctioned for a mere sixty one guineas: in modern currency, sixty one guineas would have commanded the same purchasing power as $5665 would today. This Matchless was first registered on the road in 1919 with the plate FX 4289 to a chap in Dorchester, England but what happened to it between then and 1998, when it was bought by a new owner, is unknown. The new buyer, a member of The Great War Society Living History Group, mechanical craftsman and professional engineer, took on the task of restoring the Matchless back to its former glory and you’re looking at the fruit of his efforts right now.


Fortunately, the previous owner already owned the deactivated Vickers machine gun: which is still cockable and moveable, with a variety of mounting positions, including the ‘anti-aircraft’ setting. With the machine gun already sorted, the rest of the restoration was relatively easy: the ammunition boxes and the shield have all been faithfully reproduced and everything works as it should. The original 976cc JAP engine has been completely restored, without any corrosion on the aluminum; the magneto needed a bit of work but that’s about it. Even the spare wheel has been returned back to factory standard – if that wasn’t enough, the JAP engine still houses the original Sphinx spark plug.


Other original features include the frame, engine and gearbox, as well as the forks, wheels, exhaust pipe, rear fenders, stands and the number plates. The only real work that needed doing was upgrading and replacing the spokes and tires, replacing the front fender and re-covering the original saddle with new leather.


$40,000 may seem like a rather daunting estimate but when you consider that so few of these machine still exist in the world today, it’s a real bargain for a perfectly restored military relic. And it’s a hell of a lot tougher looking than the Vespa TAP motorcycle/artillery conversion… If you’re brave enough to bid, you’ll find it listed at Bonhams Summer Classic Sale on the 20th June 2015. It’s a Brit bike though, so make sure you’re prepared to spend all of your future Sundays cleaning up your oil stained garage floor.


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Joe Appleton
About Joe Appleton

I’ve done a bit of work here and there in the industry – I’ve even ridden a few bikes for actual money but what it comes down to is this: I ride bikes, build bikes and occasionally crash ‘em too. I like what I like but that certainly doesn’t make my opinion any more valid than yours…

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