Motorcycles

1955 Matchless G80 CS: Alone Again, Naturally

by John L. Stein
16 April 2024 2 min read
1955 Matchless G80 CS: Alone Again, Naturally
(Photos by John L. Stein)

When the phone rang one fine autumn day in 2012, the caller seemed a little desperate – a motorcycle shop owner local to me in Southern California was looking for a saviour. Fortunately, it was nothing personal; the salvation needed was for a crusty 1955 Matchless G80 CS that he’d found. Shoved into the back of a local garage in 1966, it had been dismissed by its owner in favour of a new Yamaha two-stroke. After that, his Brit-bike days were done.

Frankly, the ensuing 46 years proved unkind to the London-built 500cc single, as its owner hadn’t noticed – or had, but ignored – a leaky roof, which turned the space into a breeder for rust and corrosion. And once he and his wife finally passed away, the dear Matchless was nearly beyond saving. But not quite. While family heaved the remnants of dad’s motorcycling life into a skip, I adopted the old dear and, with friends’ help, pledged to bring it around.

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1955 Matchless G80 CS

Like a geode – craggy on the outside and gleaming on the inside – the Matchless surprised us all. The carburettor and fuel tank proved spotless, and the dry sump’s remaining oil drained out clean. Servicing the magneto, checking the valve lash, replacing fork and engine oil, and adding new drive chains got the G80 ready to run. And run it did, after some fussing with ignition timing and throttle settings – and several mighty heaves on the kickstart lever.

Stripped for scrambling and flouting an open pipe and universal tyres, the G80 was – in period vernacular – a “desert sled,” a term that was likely both affectionate and punitive. Its only road equipment was a brake light, powered by a 6-volt lantern battery clamped to a frame tube. Who cares if the tags expired the same year the Chevy Camaro debuted? After our shop time, the Matchless ran down the road like a colt again, frolicking and bucking and full of life.

What to do with it now is perplexing. Neither a good dirt bike nor street bike by modern standards, it’s also too precious a time warp to restore. “Too few left in such condition” is my excuse for not touching it cosmetically. And so, the star-crossed Matchless sits once more, nearly 60 years after first being parked. For now, it’s in the back of a garage again. Thankfully, though, the roof doesn’t leak.

1955 Matchless G80 CS

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