Many motorcycle manufacturers have come to the table with things they thought were great ideas. However, timing matters. How many times have you talked about a bike that’s now a cult classic, but that seemingly languished in showrooms when it was new? All the right elements have to come together to make a motorcycle model a success—otherwise, you just end up with a curiosity in the annals of moto history.
Arguably one of the greatest curiosities in our little niche is about to come up for auction at the 2021 Bonhams Summer Sale, which runs from July 2 through 4, 2021 at the Staffordshire County Showground in England. It’s a 1940s-era AJS E90 Porcupine Grand Prix racer, and it’s never before crossed an auction block. Only four E90 Porcupines and four E95 Porcupines (which came later) are known to have ever been built by AJS. So far, only two other E95 Porcupines have ever been offered for public sale, according to Bonhams. This marks the first-ever E90 to do so.
The short version of the bike’s remarkable history is this: An E90 won the very first 500cc FIM Road Racing World Championship, back in 1949. AJS Works racers Les Graham and Ted Frend—the latter of whom owned the bike up for auction until his death in 2006—rode hard, but faced both rider and mechanical challenges throughout the season. Graham went on to win that inaugural 500cc GP World Championship by a single point, on a 497cc, twin-cylinder E90 Porcupine. Was it this one? No one knows for certain, as AJS racing records were destroyed sometime afterward.
Gallery: AJS E90 Porcupine
The tale of the AJS Porcupine’s development, in general, may be even more fascinating. Dreamed up during World War II, the original plan was for the E90 to be supercharged. It was called the Porcupine in the first place because of the spikiness of the finning between the engine’s two cam covers, as you’ll see in the photos. Even though that design later changed, and had more conventional fins on the E95s, the name stuck—unlike the idea of supercharging it.
Post-war rules changed everything, and even though British GP teams still went racing, they did so with more restrictions than they’d initially planned for. Cycle World has an excellent deep dive into how the Porcupine had been entirely designed with supercharging in mind, which is part of why it didn’t function as well as the team hoped once they scrapped the supercharger part of the equation. It also adds in the crucial racing history tidbit that shortly after AJS won its first and only GP championship title, Norton went on to introduce the Featherbed frame that would cement the brand’s racing prowess. Timing truly is everything in racing—and perhaps even more than you may realize until years later.
In any case, this particular AJS E90 Porcupine belonged to Ted Frend, and was in pieces as part of his estate upon his death in 2006. Frend’s friend and neighbor Ken Senior obtained all the parts, as well as Frend’s other motorcycle-related possessions. This includes Frend’s TT trophies, which are also part of this Bonhams sale. He presided over the complete rebuild of this Porcupine, including commissioning custom parts to replace any that were missing.
This one-of-a-kind, and possibly once-in-a-lifetime piece of British racing history is expected to fetch anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 pounds, or around $350,000 to $410,000. The Bonhams Summer Sale runs from July 2 through 6, 2021.