Ted Havens aims the big AJS 7R single over the top of Bray Hill on the Isle of Man 7T course, pulling over 130 mph in top gear. Running tight against the curb on the left, he pins the throttle wide open on a full downhill charge, the bellow from the open megaphone echoing off the low brick walls lining the road. He pinpoints the right-hand curve at the bottom of the hill, skimming the curbstones. The bump at the bottom of the Bray compresses the suspension to its limit, throwing the rider's knees into his chest. With a headshake, the bike accelerates away to the cheers of the crowd. The year was 1954, and this young, Canadian rookie from Victoria, BC was living his dream of racing in the Isle of Mann TT.
Havens had had a successful racing career in Canada, winning the 350cc BC championship in 1952. The following year he came third in the Canadian Nationals, and then made up his mind to race in the TT. So, in the company of his friend and fellow racer Bob Cooper, Havens headed off on a five-day trip to New York by train. Catching the boat to Liverpool, they landed in England on a cold January day in 1954 and marched straight to the old AMC factory, where they both found work.
The two Canadian lads purchased new AJS 7Rs and got their feet wet by racing the bikes at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. In May they quit their jobs and headed off for the Isle of Man to race in the TT, which Havens describes as, "A good education." The two small town boys from rural Victoria were thrown in at the deep-end, racing against the world's best riders including John Hartle, Rod Colman, Ray Amm and the legendary Bob McIntyre, on the toughest circuit in the world.
Unfortunately Cooper crashed heavily in practice and wrecked his machine, so Havens was on his own. Rod Colman won the 350cc junior TT that year at an average speed of 91 mph, but in a field of 90 riders, Havens placed 15th, winning a Silver Replica at 84.8 mph. A young racer by the name of John Surtees was just ahead in 11th place at 85.4 mph. Havens took a second bronze trophy riding the 350 7R in the 500cc event and, incidentally, was the first 350cc bike home. A fabulous result for the young Canadian rookie.
Inspired by his success at the TT, Ted entered the Ulster GP in Ireland and it was there disaster struck. He crashed the 7R and was badly injured, lying in hospital unconscious for a week. Upon recovery, he caught the boat back home to Canada with his bike. Out of work and money, the AJS was sold and then went through a succession of owners, one of whom succeeding in blowing up the 7R's engine by dropping a valve into the cylinder.
For $350 the AJS 7R was sold to a local dealer who promptly removed the original engine, replacing it first with a BSA twin, and later on with, heaven forbid, a Triumph twin engine. This was a popular cafe racer conversion for an old race bike in the early '60s.
The original 7R motor was sold for spare parts to another racer, who later sold it to an enthusiast who carefully put it into a dry wooden box and stored it in his mother's attic where it lay for the next 30 years.
It is here my old friend Murray Neibel, owner of Modern Motorcycling Ltd. in Vancouver, enters the story. Murray campaigned a Manx Norton in the '60s at the old Westwood track. After taking the checkered flag at the end of a race, he slowed, only to be rear ended by the second place rider who just happened to be piloting that very same AJS 7R/Triumph special.
This was Murray's first encounter with the bike, but 10 years later he ran into the AJS 7R/Triumph again, this time at a swap meet in Portland during the 1970s.
Then the 7R/Triumph special disappeared for nearly three decades.
Some 25 years later, the owner of the 7R engine entered Murray's shop and told him about the engine he had in storage in the attic. Murray purchased the engine in 1995 and set about locating the rest of the bike he had long forgotten about. An ad he placed in the personals column of the local newspaper, "Aging biker seeks relationship with older British motorcycle," turned up a few leads on other collectibles, but no AJS 7R.
Finally, a chance conversation with another enthusiast led Murray to a house in Burnaby. The owner had moved to the United States, but his mother said all of his furniture and other belongings were stored in the garage. Inviting him in for tea, the old lady spoke to Murray of her son's interest in old motorcycles and said she thought there was an old bike in the garage. Following more tea, they decided to take a look. Buried beneath the old furniture Murray spotted a familiar oil cap peeking out from behind some boxes—he had found the AJS 7R.
Following months of long distance negotiation with the owner, the vintage machine was purchased and brought back to the shop for restoration. After being apart for four decades, the engine and the frame were together again. Even better, Ted Havens, a regular visitor to Murray's shop, identified the bike as being the original AJS 7R he had raced at the Isle of Man TT races in 1954. More than 40 years later, man and machine were re-united.
Ted assisted Murray with the pain-staking restoration, a labour of love for them both. A new tank and seat were ordered from England, while the damaged 7R motor was fitted with a new crankpin, piston, rocker arms and valves. Extra struts that had been welded onto the frame in order to fit the Triumph motor were removed and the frame was restored to factory specs.
The original "Jampot" rear suspension units that had been replaced when the AJS was fitted with the Triumph engine were found in the same local dealer's garage where they had been quietly waiting for 40 years.
Now fully restored to pristine condition, this particular AJS 7R-one of only 40 built by the factory that year-has been conservatively valued at $25,000. But for Havens and Neibel it's priceless.
Inasmuch as the AJS overcame grievous injuries to be re born, Havens too recovered from his accident in Ireland and continued his racing career in Canada, setting the Westwood lap record on a G50 Matchless in 1961. He retired from racing in 1964 only to return again in 1986, to race a GSX-8750 at the age of 60! Now in his 70s, Ted regularly rides an 1100cc Suzuki streetbike, and you probably won't be able to catch him through the twistie bits.
After years of storage and scads of not-so-surgical alterations, the major components of this venerable racer were reunited and restored to the factory's original good intentions.
Thanks to Shane Kenneally, Canadian Biker
and thanks Ted...