Retrospective: 1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist
Story and photos by: Clement Salvadori

What was this Model X? Collier & Sons began building bicycles in the 1800s, and then moved on to the motorized version, first budying engines to put into homebuilt frames and then building their own V-twin in 1912. After father died in 1926 the sons decided to take the company public and changed the name to Matchless Motor Cycles (Colliers) Ltd. In 1929 the 982cc (actual size) sidevalve V-twin was designated as the Model X—which was the predecessor to the Model X Sports Tourist that we are covering here. This long-wheelbase bike with a heavy frame was mostly sold to the sidecar crowd—which was mainly families in that time of the Great Depression: mom on the back, two kids and the dog in the hack.

Move forward seven years, the Depression was easing, and in time the X became the X/2, followed by the X/3 and X/4, each with very minor changes. 1937 rolled in and Matchless decided to make major changes, lightening and shortening the chassis and calling it the Model X Sports Tourist, putting it more in line with the sporting desires of the solo rider. Maybe this was the first sport-touring bike on the market.

The new X had 57 inches between the axles. By comparison, two famous Brit V-twins of the era, like the Vincent, had 56.5, and Brough-Superior, 59. The frame was a full-cradle, with twin downtubes attached to a pair of arms that supported the engine and transmission, continuing on to be part of the rigid rear end—pretty much standard for the day. An excellent Brampton girder fork sat up front, with the links forged and not stamped. Two large rotary friction dampers were on the sides, focused on vertical movement—the 1930s equivalent of air-adjustable fork legs. A third very traditional damper, which many readers will have seen on telescopic forks, was above the steering head to control sideways movement.

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All of this was done to improve handling, with the steering reputed to be light, precise and accurate. As one 1937 road test reported, the bike “…laid over in fast corners without any sign of snaking or wandering.”

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist

Wheels were both 19 inches, with a 3.25 tire on the front, a 4.00 on the rear. Braking was effected by narrow eight-inch drums with single leading shoes, and while the tester called them good, that would hardly apply today. Back then traffic was light, and riders were taught to think far ahead.

Handling was one thing, power was another. The bore and stroke was perfectly square, at 85.5 mm, and the compression ratio was 5.5:1. The two cylinders had an included angle of 50 degrees, and were slightly offset to allow the two connecting rods to sit side by side on the crankshaft. The cylinder heads had been modified to improve combustion, and thus create a little more power. A single Amal carburetor, with remote float bowl, sat on the left side of the engine.

At the base of the cylinders, on the right side, two shiny aluminum rectangles provided access to the pushrods for adjustment purposes. It was a dry-sump engine, with the oil tank beneath the rider’s saddle having a piecrust filler cap, easy to grip. A rotating plunger pump made sure the oil went where it was supposed to go.

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A Lucas magneto in front of the cylinders and a dynamo sitting above the gearbox provided electricity. The mag provided spark to the two plugs, while the dyno kept a six-volt battery charged, and a large headlight showed the way at night. The taillight was adequate, but apparently Matchless was not much interested in brake lights.

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist

Some 25 horsepower (estimated) went out to the single-row primary chain, and back to a Burman clutch. The polished round panel on the primary case could be easily removed if any clutch adjustment was needed. It controlled access to the four-speed Burman transmission, with another chain going back to the rear wheel. Of course, adjusting the primary chain meant moving the gearbox and then adjusting the main chain as well. Bikes of yore were labor intensive.

Lots of painted metal, with the two fenders and toolbox, along with the gas tank. The sprung seat provided adequate comfort if the road was not too bumpy. In the center of the 3-gallon gas tank sat the ignition switch, a trouble light, ammeter and a chrome cover for the missing optional clock. In 1938 Matchless changed its name to Associated Motorcycles Ltd. after buying the Sunbeam motorcycle company, and the “M” badge sprouted wings.

Performance was acceptable, considering the old design. A reviewer wrote that as soon as the bike got under way “… the rider forgets that he is astride a heavyweight machine.” The X could reach 70 mph in the standing quarter-mile and had a top speed of about 80. Which brings to mind the fact that George Brough used a modified Matchless engine in his SS80 Brough-Superior. Brough sold his machines for 90 pounds, whereas the Matchless version was less than 70 quid.

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist

However, the Triumph Speed Twin and BSA Gold Star single both appeared in the late 1930s, 500cc OHV bikes that weighed 100 pounds less than the X, put out roughly the same power, and consequently could dance around this flathead 990cc.

World War II began in 1939, and the factory turned to making 350 singles for the military. Leftover parts saw a few X models being built in early 1940, and the model was not resurrected after the war. 

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist

1937-1940 Matchless Model X Sports Tourist Photo Gallery:

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