The Matchless G3/L was a motorcycle
developed for use by the British Army during
the Second World War, when Matchless manufactured
80,000 G3 and G3/L models. The G3/L became one
of the most popular motorcycles used in World
War 2, as it was the first to replace the unforgiving
'girder' forks with a new technology, 'teledrualic'
suspension. The Ministry of Defence continued
to use the bikes into the 1960s.
In 1940 the British War Office
requisitioned every available motorcycle to
replace those lost at Dunkirk. Developed from
the pre-war G3, the 'L' in the G3/L stood for
'lightweight' in response to the War Office
requirement for a motorcycle more suited to
off-road use, as the designers managed to reduce
the dry weight of the prototype by 56 pounds
(25 kg) (although the later models were not
so lightweight due to the additional army equipment
that needed to be added). The real innovation
of the G3/L was the 'teledraulic' forks, which
were the first telescopic design with oil damping
- an idea that was to become the standard for
almost all future motorcycles.
After exhaustive military testing
the G3/L lost the War Office competition for
a single standard machine to Triumph's 350cc
side-valve vertical twin, the 3TW, which had
a top speed of over 70 mph and weighed 240 pounds
(110 kg). Triumph's Priory Street works in Coventry
were completely destroyed by German bombers
in November 1940 All Triumph's technical records,
drawings and designs were lost and Matchless
won the contract.
Production of the G3/L began
in late 1941 and a series of modifications and
improvements were introduced as it began military
service. From 1942 the entire output of the
Matchless factory was dedicated to the G3/L.
In 1940 110 Matchless G3/L's were
ordered from England by the South African army
as the preferred machine for use by dispatch
As well as general army transport
G3L's were widely used for delivering messages
that were too important to be sent by radio
or by telephone.
They were also used for convoy
escort, having to read maps and act as an 'advance
party' into occupied territory. Dispatch riders
were an easy target for snipers, had to use
dimmed headlights and coped with poor road conditions.
In a WW2 study Sir Hugh Cairns identified head
injuries as a major cause of loss of life among
dispatch riders and recommended crash helmets
instead of the standard 'tin helmet' or forage
caps that were often worn. Sir Hugh' eventually
led to compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists
- but not for 32 years.
Post war G3/Ls were the military
version finished in black instead of green or
khaki. Despite its age, the Matchless was so
well proven and reliable it was able to stay
in use by the Ministry of Defence for another
fifteen years after the end of the war until
replaced in 1960 by the BSA W-B40.
The Matchless G3/L a popular choice
for UK trials riders and after the war there
were plenty of bikes and spares to enable champions
such as Artie Ratcliffe and Ted Usher to win
numerous national events for Matchless.
The Royal Artillery Motor Cycle
Display Team gave their first performance at
the St Asaph Tattoo in July 1949 and used the
G3/L for displays until they were replaced with
The end was in sight, however,
as the G3 was gaining weight without any corresponding
increase in power. Suspension was upgraded to
a swinging arm from 1949 and an aluminium cylinder
head fitted from 1951. In 1955 the engine was
uprated with stronger main bearings and an 'auto-advance'
fitted to the rotating magnet magneto, (now
front mounted for access). Front forks were
also upgraded to improve handling and in 1958
an alternator was fitted and optional chrome
tank panels, steering damper, brake light system
and air filter were offered.
The wartime G3/L today has an
enthusiastic following on the classic bike scene
and can cost up to £3,000 in original
condition with the correct WD equipment.