A.J. Lewis, an inductee to the TrailBlazers Hall of Fame, died Sunday at the age of 92. Known for his large collection of Ariel motorcycles and parts, Lewis was also a well regarded engine builder in Southern California.
“A.J. Lewis was a friend of many in the racing field in the ’50s and early ’60s,” says industry analyst Don Brown. “He was a specialist in Triumph and Ariel motorcycle tuning and a builder of special components. He will be missed especially by racers and record-seekers.”
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9, at Rose Hills Mortuary in Whittier, Calif.
According to Lewis’ Web site, he received his first motorcycle at age 6. His father owned a machine shop and auto garage in Illinois. Lewis learned to use a lathe and mill before he was even old enough to attend school.
The family relocated to the Los Angeles area in 1930. While attending high school, Lewis worked nights and weekends rebuilding truck engines for a garage. Soon he opened his own garage.
Then Lewis spent a few years in the aircraft industry. In 1938 he was one of Lockheed’s first 20 employees. According to his biography, he helped install and test the first tricycle landing gear used on airplanes.
Lewis continued to ride motorcycles during this time, and during World War II, he and friend bought a Triumph 500cc Tiger 90, which his friend (and later Bruce “Boo Boo” Pierson) raced.
After the war, Lewis found himself working for Johnson Motors, the West Coast distributor of Triumph and Ariel motorcycles. During these years, he built — at his home — the record-breaking “Lake” motorcycle for Sam Parriot.
In the late ’40s, Lewis helped build engines for Indianapolis race cars. He also opened his first dealership: A.J. Lewis Motorcycle Speed Center in Maywood, Calif. The shop specialized in selling speed equipment and building race motors. Its bikes were sent to many race sites, including Daytona’s “old beach” track.
Lewis’ next business ventures included a shop in El Cajon and one in Long Beach before he bought A.J. Lewis Triumph/Yamaha in East Los Angeles. He operated this shop for several years, offering sales, service and parts. He continued to build motors to race at TTs, drags, flat track and road races. He also worked as an official at local tracks.
By this time, Ariel motorcycles had been discontinued, but Lewis noticed an interest in the brand, so he imported from England more than 100 used machines and hundreds of spares. He also snatched up parts from Southern California dealers and Johnson Motors. Soon he had the world’s largest supply of Ariel bikes and related items, including factory literature and parts books.
In 1996, at the age of 80, Lewis was inducted into the TrailBlazers Hall of Fame. At the time he was still actively rebuilding engines and gearboxes.