Before Japanese bikes... there were British greats
- 16 May 2017
Motorcycle racing today is dominated by the Japanese market. Guy Martin rides a Honda, Phil Read famously signed with Yamaha. So dominant are Japanese bikes you hardly see a British motorcycle anywhere on the race track these days! But before Japan changed the racing game forever, Britain produced impressive bikes themselves.
In this issue of our blog ‘The Ignition’, Transport World will be taking you through some of the greatest British racing machines that we have in our collection. Getting close and personal with the history of the brands, the impression it left on its riders and the stories our bikes can tell us.
In this post we are exploring the ever-popular Norton racing series Manx. Classic Motorcycle Mecca has great examples of all these models, from an early production 1947 Norton Manx 350cc to the last year of production 1962 Norton Manx 30M and more in between.
Norton’s Racing History
Norton’s racing history began with the first round of Britain’s famous Isle of Man TT race. Here Rem Fowler rode a twin-cylinder Norton to victory in 1907. After World War II Norton introduced the single-cylinder Norton Manx model, which was closely based on pre-war road racing bikes. It came in two capacities: 350cc and 500cc.
Rem Fowler on the 1907 Norton TT
Early Production Norton Manx
We have two pre-Featherbed frame Norton Manx bikes from the 1940s. Our early production 1947 Norton Manx 350cc was ridden by New Zealander Jim Swarbrick. It unfortunately did not have a great start to life. When Jim first entered this bike in the Manx GP he crashed in practice and never even started the race! Luckily it was reparable and went on to finish many races in New Zealand until it was finally retired in the 1990s.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca's 1947 Norton Manx 350cc
The 1949 Norton Manx clearly shows the cradle type frame. It was raced around the South Island with a swing arm frame before the owner returned the original cradle type frame you see in the bike above. If he had had a Featherbed frame model, he might not have switched it out!
Classic Motorcycle Mecca's 1949 Norton Manx 350cc
The Legendary Featherbed Frame
Why are we talking about this Featherbed frame? In 1950 the legendary Featherbed frame appeared in the Norton Manx models and catapulted the make to fame. It was made of all-welded steel tubing instead of heavy cast iron brazed lugs. It was named by Norton rider Harold Daniell who likened it to lying on a feather bed in terms of comfort. Apparently he said after a test ride: ‘It’s like riding a b….. featherbed.’
Featherbed Frame, invented by Rex McCandless
Original Norton Manx Engine
The engine on our 1952 Norton Manx 30M bike is original and has an interesting history. It had been in a Cooper Formula 3 race car and it was built up by Ken McIntosh and John Simpson using a McIntosh replica Norton Manx frame and running gear with motor parts supplied by Bill Clarke. It runs on methanol and was raced in New Zealand vintage events by four-time World Champion, Hugh Anderson.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca's 1952 Norton Manx 30M
We have a replica 1961 Norton Manx 40M 350cc. It was constructed in 1998 in New Zealand by Steve Pallant using... wait for it... a McIntosh Manx replica frame, forks, oil tank and fasteners along with a Lyta fuel tank, with new crankcases and piston supplied by Summerfield Engineering of Derbyshire, UK, an Amal GP Race Carburettor, a PAL magneto, Newby clutch and belt drive, a Norton Manx gearbox with a Quaife five-speed conversion and Hunt brakes. It is a thing of beauty. Pallant raced it in New Zealand and Australia before selling it to four-time World Champion, Hugh Anderson, who sold it on in 2002 via a US auction to US collector, Jim Paqua. It was raced in the US by Matt Dawson and then stored for several years prior to a mechanical restoration by Willi Opplinger, a former Formula One mechanic and machinist.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca's 1962 Norton Manx 30M
Final Form Replica Norton Manx
Last but not least, we also have a replica Norton Manx showing its final form, a 1962 Manx 30M. This bikes features a frame, Roadholder fork assembly and clutch manufactured by Ken McIntosh in New Zealand in 2010, an engine manufactured by Summerfield Engineering of Derbyshire, UK, a Norton Manx gearbox with a Quaife five-speed conversion from 1992 and brakes manufactured by Molnar in 2005. It runs on methanol fed by a 1962-specification Amal GP carburettor manufactured in 2009 and a 1953 Lucas SR1 magneto.
We are pleased to show you the full development of Norton Manx bikes here at Classic Motorcycle Mecca. They tell even more stories when you can see them in person!