Tuesday, December 04, 2012


In common with other extinct motorcycle brand names, the Matchless marque has changed hands again, moving down the Mediterranean from Greece to Italy, and the house of Malinotti.  That name might ring a bell, as the Malinotti family purchased Belstaff in 2005, and revived the brand name by cladding supermodels and movie stars with their shorter, tighter versions of Belstaff's archival designs.  After opening a dozen Belstaff stores in Europe, the brand ran into financial trouble, and the Malinottis sold Belstaff last year, as the company's debts were reportedly in the region of 40M euros.  Luckily for the Malinottis, the Belstaff brand had gained considerable industry 'juice', and  the Labelux group purchased Belstaff for a reported 110M euros (this after the Malinottis paid a pittance to acquire the name in 2005; quite a profit).  Labelux has hired candle-maker Harry Slatkin as CEO of Belstaff, for a re-revamping of the brand.

The Matchless name, sold by Bonhams in 2006 for £45,000, was purchased by a mini-consortium of four Greek motorcycle enthusiasts; Panagiotis Mariolopoulos (an architect, and secretary of the motorcycle commission of FIVA), Dr. Nikolaos Stoumbos (medical doctor and motorcycle enthusiast), Ms Ilayali(Yla) Galani (owner of a classic bike shop), and Panagiotis Zarifopoulos (also a classic bike shop owner racer).  These four intended to design a new range of modern bikes and begin production of the marque, as stated at the time of purchase.  But motorcycling is an unforgiving industry, requiring vast amounts of cash; given the weak financial situation in Greece, loans for the immense startup costs for manufacturing were no doubt impossible.
Franco Malenotti with a BSA Gold Star

Franco Malenotti, paterfamilias of the motorcycling and clothing family (son Michele was CEO of Belstaff), secured the deal for Matchless, and hopes to revive the brand as he did with Belstaff.  According to Omnimoto.it, they plan to build a series of 'limited production' motorcycles, inspired by the Matchless G80, Silver Hawk, and Silver Arrow models.
The company HQ is slated for London (Plumstead Road, anyone?).  To quote Omnimoto: "Of course, a part of the new Matchless business plan centers on having an extensive apparel and accessories line to accompany the motorcycles, making the new company very much an exercise in vintage motorcycle lifestyle branding, which should please the Concours crowds immensely."  I don't know what the 'Concours crowd' will think of Matchless clothing, but an ad campaign along the lines of Belstaff's shots with Kate Moss et al (see below) will certainly catch the eyes of High Street fashionistas.
The Malenottis brought huge media attention to Belstaff with Kate Moss fashion shoots, and product placement in prominent films.
Harley Davidson has long made more money selling apparel than motorcycles, and is sometimes described as a 'T shirt company which makes bikes'.  At least the new Matchless company is clear about its most likely source of revenue.

Note: the last time a Matchless-badged motorcycle was produced was 1990, the end of Les Harris' run of Rotax-engined machines.  See the story here.


Tom in San Francisco said...

Help, Vintagent, with your extraordinary knowledge of things motorcycling-past: recently I spotted the big M on red field on a gas tank but couldn't make a U-turn fast enough to chat with owner. It was a modern-looking single, complete with disc brake and turn signals and the like--definitely not a vintage Matchless. Who and when made?

On a related note, something you probably are aware of: in the middle and late 1960s, when I was a teenager, our family business in Wisconsin was a motorcycle dealership, and we sold Matchless among other brands. Certain twin-cylinder models came over from the UK with two plastic bags in the crate, so that the dealer could attach badges and so on to make the bike either a Matchless or a Norton!

The Vintagent said...

Les Harris, who licensed the Triumph name from John Bloor in '84 (and built some tasty Triumph specials), also built a 'Matchless G80', using a Rotax 500cc ohc engine, which was a very nice, modern motorcycle. Built from 1987 to 1990; not a great success, but a decent bike.

Regarding the Matchless/Nortons; when AMC owned both factories, some genetic spillage occured; the N15 was a Norton Atlas motor in a Matchless G12 chassis, while the Matchless G15 originally used a 750cc Matchless G12 engine (a hand grenade, very rare now), then a Norton Atlas motor. G15/N15 were then identical. Early models used Matchless forks and hubs, later models used Roadholders forks and Norton hubs. All used AMC gearboxes.

They had their good points, but the Norton P11 was best, being a Matchless G85 chassis with Norton Atlas motor...super collectible now, as the resultant mix was a simply gorgeous 'desert sled'.

The Vintagent said...

Read the Les Harris obituary here: http://thevintagent.blogspot.com/2009/02/les-harris.html

Sideburn Magazine said...

Paul, I haven't visited for a while, what an idiot. The blog is better than ever and it was already fantastic. The Matchless post is a great example. I won't leave it so long next time.
Love and respect, Gary

Eugene D. said...


It seems to me that brands like matchless are often brought back to life and the new products lack the soul (for lack of a better description) or design qualities/principles of the original product.. For me it is those redeeming qualities that lead me to love the brand to start with....

I am sure lots of people will disagree and some will agree. It is just my point if view.... Let Matchless Rest in Peace and lets not allow such a wonderful marque to become tee-shirt fodder.


occhiolungo said...

Tom, that was probably George Shoblo that you saw riding the modern Matchless. He and Saatchi had it on the 49 Mile Ride last month too.

Sideburn Magazine said...

Hi Paul
I'm doubtful that the new Matcheles brand has any intention to make motorcycles - surely that would be industrial suicide? These days the cart pushes the horse. I think it's just a wishful ruse to give their clothes more credibility.