I just picked up this fine looking machine which had been in a shed for the past thirty years. From the late thirties to the late seventies it was raced as a solo and with a sidecar. It won a lot of championships, Sand Races, Hill Climbs. Note the all alloy engine, large petrol and oil tanks, unusual spoke pattern on the front wheel. I plan to sort out all the engineering, but KEEP the tatty finish. What this space for regular updates.
The next 4 pictures show: the rolling chassis finished with fully rebuilt CR Manx gearbox, reconditioned forks, new bum pad and new patina red lining to the tanks.
At the 2012 Goodwood Revival meeting, hosted by The Earl of March in impeccable style, I raced my 1952 Daytona Manx Norton with Maria Costello as my celebrity riding partner. We fulfilled our aim to finish both races. The weekend started badly with miserable rainy weather and a spark plug that fouled up after just 100 yards of our 30 minute practice and qualifying session. Hence no practice for me to check if the bike was running properly and even more significant was the fact that Maria never got to ride the bike before the race!Maria is a top class rider of modern machines and she has made the podium in the Isle of Man TT races on two occasions. Her excellence for the sport has been recognized by an MBE, no less. A ‘Garden Gate’ Norton is a quite a different machine from a modern Japanese race bike; the gear change is on the other side, the brakes are almost useless, the power is about one quarter and the handling is terrible, all in comparison to a machine 60 years younger. But as far as old Norton race bikes, go, I was confident that we had a solid mount for the event and I was equally sure that my partner would quickly adapt to an old ‘plonker’. With no lap time we ‘qualified’ last, 30th position; it could only get better!
A new NGK was fitted and all our problems were solved and the engine was again sounded strong with a loud rasp from the megaphone.
The event involves two riders and two races, Maria to start on the Saturday race and hand over to me half way through the 25 minutes and vis a versa on the Sunday. There is a Le Mans type start with the rider running across the track to the running bike, being held ready by our faithful pit attendant, Clint Alexander. For both races our bike was in neutral, with Clint holding the throttle, and both Maria and I failed to engage first gear and we both mucked up the starts, leaving us trailing the field. In retrospect the bike should have been in first gear and the clutch held in, I think many of our competitors were using this tactic to get a super fast getaway.
From last on the grid the bike was as fast on the first lap as on our 28th and last and we finished both races to come in an overall 15th which was very pleasing. Despite the tendency to wobble in fast bends, a few missed gear changes, and a fair amount of vibration, the whole package held together, where as many other bikes dropped by the way side with either serious or minor ailments. The only spanner I used all weekend was the one to change the spark plug!
We were up against an MV Augusta, super quick BMWs, Rudges, Nortons (both original and newly made replicas), Velocettes, Vincents, Triumphs, BSA, Matchless and pilots with significant World Championship, Superbike and Isle of Man experience. I was undoubtedly the least experienced (and possibly the worst ) rider in the field.
“Give me Goodwood on a sunny day and you can forget the rest”
Norton International-Manx Special
Every part is brand new, bar the engine.
Frame is chrome-moly (T45) tube to Manx specification.
New Short Roadholder forks, Works Racing billet yokes.
New ally Manx type hubs and new wheels.
New 5 speed, Hemmings gearbox with kickstart.
New bespoke aluminium tanks, front cowling, seat
New leather seat.
New ally clip ons, levers and controls.
Titanium exhaust system
New Bob Newby belt drive and clutch
Engine is a SOHC International with Manx type head and barrel (large fins).
It was completely rebuilt by me (all new bearings, pistons, valves etc) and has been carefully run in, by me for about 300 miles in another rolling chassis. It performs very well indeed. I have ridden the machine on various runs and trips to the pub this past summer.
It is an absolute hit every where!
Much easier and better for the road than a DOHC short stroke.
Click here for a picture of a couple of great BikerChicks_0.jpg
Lying in a Farm shed in Somerset for about 80 years, a unique racing Norton motorcycle has been found. Thought to be ‘Nickel-Knob’, this old Flat Tank Norton was once raced at Brooklands by Baroness Lil Bacey in the late twenties and early thirties.
The all silver machine glistens with aluminium, and nickel plate and subtle touches of black, brass and copper. The 500 cc OHV engine has special flywheels, a later type conrod, hot cams, lumpy piston and tuned top end. A later 4 speed gearbox and minimal weight give a top speed of over 100mph.
As with all stories about pioneer vehicles and despite the evidence that this machine is an old historic racer, there is a rumour that this motorcycle was built in 2008. From a collection of NOS (New Old Stock) Vintage Norton parts, newly fabricated bits and bobs and a lot of hours in the shed, this machine could have been built at Brooklands, but in fact was built by me in Somerset!
Unfortunately it pissed down all day (slicks on the 2007 bike and ‘sweet fanny adams’ on t’other mount) and when the sun finally came out at tea time, not had the medical services buggered off but so had the famous motorcycle riders who were present to test them!
On the 28th May 2007, exactly one hundred years after Rem Fowler sat astride the V twin Norton, waiting to start the first ever TT race, I was doing the same. Many of the large crowd and the officials at St.John’s were dressed in Edwardian attire and the atmosphere was electric. Everyone was excited and I was just a little apprehensive. I had rebuilt the National Motorcycle Museum machine a few years previously and had practiced around the narrow and very bumpy lanes of Somerset over the previous six weeks. I knew the engine was strong and the brakes useless, the handling a tad wobbly and the throttle response unpredictable, but I was ready for the ‘Race’.
Next to me on the start line was Mr. Chris Read with his 1907 Vindec, the very machine which came second to Fowler in the original race and which was piloted by the American, Billy Wells; he was 30 minutes adrift in 1907! The Vindec used the same engine as the Norton; a 684cc Peugeot 45 degrees V-twin. Chris had fitted a later two-speed hub and a clutch mechanism, and this meant he was able to line up with a running motor. My direct drive mount was to be pushed into life by Dave Roper (the only American to have ever won a TT race). Behind us, were 98 other machines, spanning a period from 1908 to 1938; the last away was to be Manxman, Milky Quale, a multiple TT winner, aboard his George Fornby ‘Shuttleworth Snap’. Pairs were sent off at 30 second intervals. My only criticism of the whole event was that there were not more Edwardian machines in keeping with the period of the original TT course (the mountain circuit was first used in 1911).
Geoff Duke dropped the starting flag and we were away! The Vindec sped off in front of me and I followed well behind. As the engine chimed in and I adjusted the twin handlebar levers to give the carburettor its optimum setting, I slowly caught the Vindec by Ballacraine corner, a 90 degree left on this course. I was in front and round the sweeping bends of Laurel Bank and Glen Helen, the long wheel base of the Norton provided me with a surprisingly stable ride. I soon realised that the smooth road surface compared with my local Somerset lanes was extremely significant and my initial apprehension was replaced by a growing confidence. I approached the sweeping uphill left hander at the bottom of Creg Whilys Hill with the thought that many of the pioneer riders had to resort to ‘LPA’, Light Pedal Assistance or dismount here and run along side their machines to climb the steep gradient. Apparently Fowler had climbed the hill easily, but this motorcycle was 100 years old. I need not have worried, because I roared up past Sarah’s Cottage and onto the long Cronky Voddy straight , where I had time to play with the twin levers to give me maximum performance. Approaching the end of the straight, I looked over my shoulder to establish where the others were; not a soul in sight!
Now was the time to give the engine some oil; about 60 cc delivered by a petrol tank mounted ‘syringe’ which needed to be slowly pushed in by the right hand. Along the bumpy lanes of my practising in Somerset, I had either stopped or performed this operation with my foot. Taking a hand off the handlebar was certainly not an option because of the tendency for the machine to either violently wobble or ‘tank slap’. I tried removing my right hand away from the handlebar grip by an inch, then two and finally well away and enough to give the spectators a wave. I could ride this one handed! So there was plenty of time to plunge the plunger and give the engine its ‘life blood’. I also recollected the story of how James Lansdowne Norton, himself, had shown a board to Fowler at the end of the first lap with the word’ OIL’ scribbled on it. This is the first report of the ubiquitous ‘pit signal.
Through Handley’s Bend, the top of Barregow and down the fast hill to the bottom……. Would I make it without throttling back and pulling on the valve lifter? My mind was in perfect harmony with Rem, the machine running like a thoroughbred and we sped through like a true racer. Tearing into Kirkmichael at well above the 30 mph speed limit, I throttled back and pulled in the valve lifter for the very sharp downhill left-hander. As I zoomed around the corner, I caught glimpses of the crowd waving as we sped out of the village. Along the next straight I was passed by a speeding Triumph Speed Twin; “who was that”, I thought. With the rich blue sea to my right and the grassy banks to my left, I tore along the narrow coast road towards the ‘Devils Elbow’, a sharp left-right-left bend, akin to the numerous chicanes on modern race circuits. With a reduced throttle, the left peddle in the ‘UP’ position, I negotiated the first left hander, forgetting to rotate the pedals by 180 degrees, meant that the right pedal grounded the tarmac as I made the right but I was sailing again for the next left! Phew!
The adrenaline was coming on strong now, my confidence in the machine and my riding technique growing, and the sheer thrill of what was happening was close to nirvana. Into Peel, I came down the hill to the acute left hander at the chip shop. The crowds were waving manically and I caught the moment with a period foot down and banked slide to round the corner in just the style they used to do it! Another right, then out of the village and back towards the end of the lap and as I rounded the next corner I could see a Marshal frantically waving a Red Flag. Fortunately I had ample time to close the throttle, lift the valve decompressor and slide to a halt with two large leather boots on the tarmac. Next to me was waiting, Guy Martin (later to lap in the proper races at a 129mph average speed!); I had no idea why we were being stopped.
With 100 riders leaving in pairs at 30 second intervals, this meant that it took 25 minutes to start the event and Guy and I were only a mile from the finish of the 16 mile course. For what seemed like an eternity, and with a couple of other riders arriving at the stoppage point, I was eventually allowed to proceed. With a slight uphill gradient, I demanded the assistance of a push from a bewildered Marshall and I was away at full pace.
I swept into St.John’s and with the huge crowd waving enthusiastically and the V-twin engine spinning like a turbine, I crossed the line. First away and first home, what a thrill, what a race…………… I was ready for the second lap, but to my horror another red flag! With 50 mph on the go, no brakes and this crazy Marshall waving his flag at me I gesticulated for them to get out of the way. I eventually stopped some yards past them to learn that our second circuit had been cancelled due to a technicality relating to the closed roads permit.
P.S. Fowlers fastest lap in 1907 was 21 minutes; average speed of almost 43 mph. I was about the same. In 1907 the roads were terrible, loose stones, horse shoe nails everywhere and even acid sprayed on them to curb the dust!
Roy Richards, the museum owner, gave me three of the Flat tank Nortons to repair, they were in a sorry state. A c1927 Model 21, a c1921 Brooklands side valve racer and Rem Fowler's 1907 TT winning machine Click on thumb nails to see the mess!
My first impression, when seeing these burnt wrecks was of sadness and despair; it looked as if nothing could be saved. A few months down the road and my initial attitude has dramatically changed. With the help of a few friends who are experts with welding torches, hammers and dollies, wire brushes, polishing mops, and magic wands, we have managed to salvage parts which looked as if they were only fit for the scrap yard. All three frames are now straight and I reckon the Fowler frame now has more straight tubes and perpendicular alignments than it ever had!
When the motorcycles arrived, they were covered in ash and the tool I used most frequently in the first few days was the vacuum cleaner! Everything was dismantled and methodically put into dozens of labelled boxes. So far I have taken over 100 photographs, which has proved invaluable now that I have started to re-assemble, and I have also made a research of the relevant literature at the Beaulieu Museum Library.
One of the most remarkable findings was related to the nickel plated parts. It appears that the shiny nickel had ‘reflected’ the heat away and both the underlying metal and the plate are preserved, although it has taken a lot of ‘elbow grease’ to return them to their former glory. I tried various methods of cleaning; vapour blasting, with and without different types of ‘grit’, different solvents, different cleaners, different polishing mops and their complimentary ‘pastes’. Eventually the best result achieved was using a combination of well used ‘scotch bright’, a small amount of ‘Solvol Autosol’ and a considerable amount of the afore mentioned elbow grease. Components such as girder fork links which looked like barbecued ribs have not only come up like new, but the old nickel has retained a beautiful patina of age; they look superb.
The Fowler machine, as most of you surely must know is powered by a Peugeot V twin engine and is, fortunately, not too badly damaged. There are a couple of cracks on the D/S flywheel and the T/S crank case half is also cracked. These faults are not as a consequence of the fire, but are as a consequence of hard use in the past. Rem gave this machine a jolly good thrashing, both in the 1907 TT race and other competitive events in 1907 and 1908. The flywheels are very heavy, the main shafts tiny in diameter (running in main bearings which are just bronze bushes) and the crankcase walls are unbelievably thin. Remember this is very early automotive engineering and they were yet to comprehend the forces involved in anything rotating faster than a stationery engine! Apparently Rem was revving this engine to 4,000 rpm! No wonder it is cracked. I hope to repair both the cases and the flywheels, but if any ones knows of a spare set then please let me or Roy know.
Some parts on the Model 21 and Brooklands racer are well beyond repair, Best and Lloyd oil pumps have melted away, alloy gearbox casings disappeared, and petrol tanks vanished! I have been able to find some replacements at autojumbles, but I am looking for some real ‘rocking horse manure’ in the form of dry sump crank cases, gearbox shells and petrol tanks.
Update at on August 8th FINISHED!! Made up some new parts for the Brown & Barlow Carb and fitted it to the machine. To my utter amazement not only did it fire up first pedal with this old carb on but it ran more sweetly than with the Amal and even had a tick over!
Update at July 27th The video clip, shows the engine running. There are air leaks on the rear pot inlet manifold which means she alternates between a single and a twin! I have now repaired these and the bike runs superbly. Very fast and with no brakes it is quite a challenge! To be returned to the museum on August 10th.
Primed the crank cases with Castrol ‘R’ and with a help of a couple of friends to spin the rear wheel………..dropped the valve lifter and the engine fired up immediately and on both cylinders. Despite fitting a much larger crankcase breather the pressure in the cases builds up and oil was spurting from everywhere! I need to make a few adjustments. I took her for a small jaunt down the lane but the engine was missing on the rear pot.
Update at 8th April: the hardest part, the engine is almost finished and with a bit of luck should be running by the Stafford show. There was very little fire damage, but the engine was in bad shape and John Griffiths never got it to run. If he had it would have gone with a big bang! Both flywheels were cracked where the main shafts located and on one side the big end pin location was also cracked. Consequently the main shafts were well out of true. This meant that the crankcases were subjected to, when it last ran, to massive stresses and were seriously cracked.
Although, my overall philosophy was to retain as much of the components as possible, in accordance with ‘conservative repair’ ideal and the concept of originality, I decided that I wanted to make the machine a runner. Hopefully, if I can persuade a few bods, I will demonstrate the machine at the Post TT Mallory Park meeting at the beginning of June.
New cases have been cast, using the originals as patterns and machine by the Wizard of the Bridgeport mill, Denny Able, who has also made new flywheels from En 8 billet and shafts from En24. We have replaced the phos’ bronze main bearings with new ball bearing races, made new big end bushes while retaining the original pin, which was round, true and hard!a few other bits have been machined to fit perfectly. The con-rods, pistons and barrels have not been replaced.
I have learnt a considerable amount about Edwardian Nortons in the last six months and I am now beginning to piece the story together. This machine (with two other veterans) was discovered in Burwash, Sussex by the late Dereck Hilton of Maidstone (as yet year unknown) and purchased in a very sorry state by Percy Webb, also of Maidstone in the mid-fifties. Webb restored the machine (see The Classic Motorcycle, Aug. 1985) and sold it John Griffiths on the 30th April 1957 for just £45. Griffiths had a few components nickel plated at Barrel and Clerkenwell Plating, Finsbury, and on the 5th May 1957 he re-assembled the machine with the help of his neighbour, John Edmunds. John telephoned me in late July 2004 and told me that he had kept a diary all his life and on that day he had written: “helped John rebuild Rem’s motorcycle…..” The following Sunday, John took the machine to Rem’s home in Shirley, Birmingham and the story of that meeting is told in Griffith’s article in the MotorCycling, 16th May 1957
Rem’s 1907 TT machine is not entirely the motorcycle in my work shop, but what racing machine retains its components? From 1907 to the current day, racing motorcycles get crashed, thrashed and bashed. Engines blow up and are replaced by updated units, frames break and are also replaced, leaky petrol tanks get replaced by new ones and so on. Rem, himself , told John Griffiths in 1957 (reference: Motor Cycling 16.5.57) that the frames used to break on the 1907 models at the steering head, and were often replaced by the stronger 1908 types which had extra bracing around the steering head. Rem recognised the engine as being from his 1907 mount and both Griffiths and myself have spotted the “07” on the fork crown lug.
I have recently spoken with Titch Allen about the machine and he agrees with me that there are very many stories about this famous machine: “it was run over by a bus”, “it was sold to Australia”, “it was run over and then burnt”, “it was a fake by Bill Fruin”, “it was broken up at the factory”, “it was a replica……..”. Rem is no longer with us, but he told Titch and he has told me!
Fired up the Brooklands machine three times now and all appears to be well; staccato, staccato, staccato……blat-blat-blat…..and a good waft of Castrol ‘R’!!! Need to do some carburettor/float tuning and then a test run this weekend. I have returned the OHV machine and the Brooklands to the Museum.
Testing the carb, float, tap and piping for leaks prior to final fitting on the Brooklands bike. The carb is a TT Amac and is entirely the one rescued from the fire. The solder had melted from the float bowl, which was consequently in two pieces and the body of the carb was bent, bashed and distorted. Inevitably the slide was well stuck and the top ring threads on the piss! I have managed to repair it and the photo shows the final test. I like to use ‘Old Virginia’ rather than petrol for this operation. More often than not the system usually dribbles from somewhere and instead of getting smelly petrol all over your hands, you can just lick those fingers and slurp down the spills! In this case, I only needed to ‘lap in’ (using solvol autosol) the bottom of the float bowl union to ‘carb jet holder bolt’.
All six wheels have now been completed and this has been one of the hardest jobs. The rim supplier, a chap to drill the holes in the correct place, to the nickel platers, to the paintman for striping, to the wheelbuilder, to the tool maker, to the tyre man and back to me! I have retained the original rim, belt rim and spokes from Rem’s rear and even retained the spindle, cup and cones. Just some new balls, a splash of paint and a true up! The other five have new rims, spokes, spindles and a update on the bearings.
The Brooklands machine will be the first finished. All the parts for the engine have been done and it looks like new inside! A new big end from EN36, has been machined, then sent for carburising, then thread cutting, then heat treatment, then grinding………..all work is perfect (the heat treatment done thru’ the ‘back door’ by the chaps who do Formular One cam shaft heat treatment!!!!)..........only the best! Also a new small end, pin and piston. This engine is to total Dan O’Donovan specification! and I will assemble it soon. Next main job is to make/buy/borrow/steal all the various nuts, bolts, washers, fasteners, do-das and little bits which I have been unable to retain from the machines and send them off for nickel plating.
I have made it my philosophy to retain as much as I can and have only replaced parts which were either worn out from previous use or too badly fire damaged. I hope to have this machine running at the Stafford Bike show in October.
The Model 21 has become a Model 18, because I was unable to find a replacement for the dry sump cases. This was by far the most fire damaged machine of the three and is consequently proving to be the most difficult.
Just some of the Cammy engines currently in my workshop. CJ. Model 30s and 40s. a 40M and a 30M. Every time I rebuild an engine I learn something new. It is amazing how many variations appear on the common theme, a consequence of both factory specifications changes and years of abuse from mechanics who know how to bodge things!
Motorcycling has lost one of the all time great British sporting heroes, with the passing of Barry Sheene MBE, on the 10th of March 2003, following a 12 month illness of cancer of the stomach. Although, associated with Suzukis during his all conquering years, Barry rode Manx Norton’s for the past four seasons and he rode them very fast and with great style. As a very young motorcyclist, Sheene was my hero and I used to read about his early racing successes every Wednesday in the motorcycling papers. I watched him during the seventies, when he had his epic battles with Kenny Roberts in the world championship races and when he won most of the transatlantic match races. As a track side Medical Officer, I would see him flash by, just a few feet a way, and I recall our horror when he had his big Silverstone crash in 1982. Barry was a frequent visitor to the orthopaedic (bone-man) departments, at hospitals all over the world. He must have been close to death on at least two occasions. Barry told me, last September, that his body was so full of metal bits that that the diagnosis of cancer, should be changed to ‘rust’!
About five years ago, Barry returned to his ‘nadir’ and started competing in a few Classic races on a Manx Norton, a type of machine he had never ridden before; four stroke and one pot, vis a vis, two stroke and a lots of pots! Watching him lean a Manx over on the approach to Woodcote, at Goodwood last year, was breath taking. Barry won his last race on a Norton, just six months ago, at the famous Sussex circuit. I knew he was ill and I guess Barry did as well, but nobody would have guessed he was so close to death. He was laughing, joking, the very personification of the ‘cheeky Cockney’, and signing autographs by the thousand. Barry was the BIG attraction at a meeting which was swarming with famous motor racing stars. Most famous people are distant; success and all its trappings move them onto a different wave length from ‘Joe Public’. Barry remained on the same ‘channel’ from his first motorcycling days to his last; he entertained the crowds on the track and in the paddock.
Four photographs of 1926 model 44, which was the OHV, 588cc, four speed mount used to pull a chair; in this case a Norton Sports Special. The outfit is built as a Tourist Trophy Replica and the action shots are taken during the VMCC closed roads run at the Manx Grand Prix in 1994