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NO RESERVE -1987 Matchless G80 Project

Highlights


• Genuine low-mileage one-owner bike
• An ideal winter project for a capable restorer
• Lots of new and used spares included in the sale
• Engine reportedly in running order

The Background


Matchless was one of few long-standing motorcycle manufacturers which could claim to be as old as the industry itself. 

The first Matchless motorcycle was built in 1899, but it is best-known for its products of the 1950s, built under the stewardship of Associated Motorcycles (AMC). ‘Matchboxes’ of this period were popular and capable, although virtually identical to AJS bikes, which also fell under the AMC umbrella.

One model which certainly is not well-known, and could not be mistaken for anything else, is the 1980s Matchless G80. Originally, the 500cc G80 was launched by Matchless in 1946 and it sold consistently enough for it to survive until 1966, when Matchless itself reached the end of the road as AMC ran into financial difficulties.

The story didn’t quite end there; enter businessman and ‘saviour of the British motorcycle industry’ Les Harris. Harris is widely recognised for his rôle in keeping the Triumph Bonneville alive after Triumph declared itself bankrupt in 1983. When his licensing rights expired, Harris decided to have a crack at building his own motorcycle and, with the rights to the Matchless name, the new G80 was the result.

Designed by Brian Jones, who had a hand in designing the original Bonneville, the G80 looked like a classic British bike but had an Austrian four-stroke, overhead-cam Rotax engine of 500cc. 

Italian parts included front and rear Paioli suspension, a Dell’Orto carburettor, Lafranconi silencers and Brembo disc brakes, while the Varta battery and Magura switchgear hailed from Germany. The frame that doubled as an oil tank was a feature borrowed from the Harris Bonnevilles. 

Inspired by historic Matchless colour schemes, it was available in silver, black or metallic burgundy; taking advantage of modern developments, electric start and twin disc brakes were options. Introduced in 1987 and only built in small numbers, the G80 was sadly killed off by the recession of 1990, making it a rare machine today.

The History


This G80 was bought new from Roebuck Motorcycles in Pinner, Middlesex, by the late Mark Russell when he was a young man living in Balham. A lifelong motorcyclist and consummate enthusiast, for Mr. Russell the Matchless was the natural choice to sit alongside his other bike, a 1961 AJS which he would later restore and also keep for the duration of his life.

In the early 2000s, the Matchless was taken off the road and was stored in a garage for about 15 years where it unfortunately suffered badly from the effects of damp. Some three or four years ago, Mr. Russell decided the time had come to revive his faithful black charger and embarked on a restoration.

Sadly, he passed away before the project could be completed, although we are told that he succeeded in getting the engine running again.

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The Paperwork


In addition to the current V5, the Matchless comes with a wealth of paperwork which includes various invoices plus some MoT certificates from the 1990s.

Being the careful sort of owner, Mr. Russell held onto all the important paperwork and literature which was issued with the bike when new, including the sales invoice from Roebuck Motorcycles, the Owner’s Handbook and the Motorcycle Service and Warranty Book, plus its first few tax discs.

There is also a photograph of the bike taken in the 1990s, an original Matchless G80 promotional brochure and a number of technical diagrams.

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The Condition


The Matchless is being sold very much as a project, as it is in a partially dismantled state and has suffered significantly from the effects of damp. The deterioration to the paint and brightwork will be apparent from the photographs, but so far as we can tell the frame is in good order. 

We have no reason to suppose that the petrol tank’s deterioration is anything more than cosmetic, although we cannot make any guarantees. The aluminium mudguards and the seat do not appear to have suffered much, if at all.

There is, of course, an opportunity to complete an ‘Oily Rag’ restoration retaining the bike’s patina, although Mr. Russell was evidently of the mind that it should be returned to looking like new, as he has elected to replace some of the parts in which the deterioration was more advanced with new or good old-stock items. For instance, he appears to have already replaced the rear wheel and shock absorbers and there is a new headlamp bowl waiting to be unpacked.

Bidders will naturally have reservations about whether the dismantled bike is complete. As it was a complete bike three or four years ago, and Mr. Russell was an earnest and careful enthusiast, we do not envisage that anything important will have become separated from it.

The Mechanics


While the bike obviously will not run while the engine is partially dismantled, we are advised that Mr. Russell did succeed in getting it running again before he passed away. 

However, a running engine does not necessarily equate to a ridable bike, and we cannot make any guarantees about the gearbox or final drive. 

While we have every reason to believe all the necessary parts are present, some cogs have quite severe corrosion and may not be reusable; it may still be necessary to source or manufacture some new mechanical parts.

Major mechanical or electrical parts which are present, but not fitted, include the chain, the right-hand brake lever, four indicators, a spare carburettor, two exhaust silencers and what would appear to be the original rear shock absorbers and rear wheel, although the items presently fitted are in better condition.

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The Appeal


The Matchless G80 is an interesting product from a time when there wasn’t much of a British motorcycle industry to speak of, but there was plenty of nostalgia for one. 

Les Harris’s valiant effort to let Matchless have one last hurrah is as interesting today as any ‘true’ Matchless from the AMC days, and of course the 1980s G80 has the advantage of being modern enough to use every day, should you so wish.

Of course, this example is some way off being used just yet, but it will make a rewarding project for someone who fancies a rare, practical and attractive modern British classic.

It should be an ideal winter project for the experienced restorer, although its restoration should also be feasible for the novice who doesn’t mind seeking occasional specialist help.




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Vehicle specification
  • Year 1987
  • Make Matchless
  • Model G80
  • Colour Black
  • Odometer 17,964 Miles
  • Engine size 500
  • Location Sussex
  • Country United Kingdom
Bidding history
2 bids
  • Lucien1•••• £200 01/12/21
  • ruffef £100 30/11/21

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