The 1926 350cc AJS that was ridden to victory in the last Durban to Johannesburg (DJ) road race on public roads in 1936 will return to the commemorative DJ regularity rally this year after a 20 year absence. The rider in 1936 was Cranley Jarman, of lived on a farm near Nigel and had bought the AJS originally for £4.10 as a commuter
This famous motorcycle, which is now part of the Franschhoek Motor Museum collection, will be ridden by Wayne Harley, the museum’s curator in this year’s 700km event which starts in Hillcrest, near Durban, on the morning of March 11 and finishes in Benoni the following afternoon. This will be the third time that Harley has ridden the DJ and the first time that he will ride a “flat-tanker.”
Jarman had worked at a garage in Delmas where the proprietor was a keen motorcycle racer which fired the youngster’s interest in becoming a racer himself. He took part in his first race – the Durban to Johannesburg classic – in 1932 on a 500cc AJS. He finished 20th despite “tyre trouble”. He entered this event again the next year and had engine trouble that forced him to retire.
He had earlier been very satisfied with a 1926 350cc side valve AJS which he sold in a weak moment. He was able to buy a similar machine which required a lot of work to get it running. He rebuilt it and saw it as a potential race bike, even though its main use was as a commuter with more than 10 000 miles covered in the previous 18 months.
A friend rode it in the 1935 DJ race, and it performed well so Jarman decided to enter the 10-year-old machine in the 1936 race, which turned out to be the last of these events to be held on public roads due to growing traffic volumes.
This famous road race was a handicap event which saw Jarman start from Durban 1 hr. 20 min. before the scratch rider. He had a relatively trouble-free ride, except for a tumble between Ladysmith and Newcastle and was first at the finish at City Deep, Johannesburg.
He kept the AJS – compete with race number panel on the side – in a corner of one of the rooms in his house on the farm near Nigel for many years. It later ended up in the Heidelberg Museum and subsequently became part of the display at the Franschhoek Museum in the Cape.
Jarman also built a replica of his race-winning AJS for his then-apprentice, Fred de Beer. Coincidentally, Hylton Allison, the Clerk of the Course for the 2022 DJ Rally bought this machine from De Beer. It had last been on eh road in 1956 and required a full restoration which Allison undertook, subsequently selling it to another enthusiast about 20 years ago.
Jarman retained his interest in motorcycle racing by working in the 1950’s as a mechanic for his friend, Borro “Beppe” Castellani, who was virtually unbeatable in local races on a Manx Norton.
Wayne Harley says the museum has kept the AJS running on a regular basis, but for the upcoming DJ Rally he has done a lot of maintenance to the wheel hubs and brakes while learning to operate a machine with a total loss lubrication system using an adjustable drip-feed Pilgrim pump.
“Firstly, I wish to pay tribute to Hew Hollard for his commitment and enthusiasm for the restoration project he undertook involving this very special motorcycle. The restoration was carried out for the Heidelberg Museum and Hew rode the bike in two DJ Runs after completing his work and was a finisher on each occasion.
“The ownership of the AJS was later transferred to the Franschhoek Motor Museum where it is in my care. My aim in the 2022 DJ Rally is build further on the history of this famous, 96-year-old AJS by getting it to the finish in Benoni, so I won’t be pushing too hard,” commented Harley.
Published by: Roger Houghton