Sunday 4 October 2020

Vintage OHV Nortons

Halfway through making the patterns for the AJS V-Twin crankcases I became aware of a very early Norton Model 18 for sale. In spite of the fact that I had already restored and was riding 2 vintage Model 18s I could not resist acquiring another one. They are lovely bikes and, compared to many other bikes of the same era, they have a relatively long wheelbase which suits me as a tall rider.

I believe that every bike that I have ever bought, except one, has been a “project” and, more usually, a project requiring complete restoration.

The first OHV Norton that I bought was at a Bonhams auction in 2011. A complete description can be found here but the picture below shows the state of the bike “as bought”. These bikes make good money ….and for good reason.

This was the first Norton I have ever owned. In the 1960s, while my mates were riding around on Triumph and Norton twins, I always had AJS and Matchless twins …which proved to be pretty fragile if you ride them hard as I seemed to be constantly rebuilding engines.

Anyway, these vintage singles are extremely simple and after a year of restoration the bike looked like this.

This bike has been an absolute joy to ride. It has been to the IoM for the Manx GP on many occasions, it has done the VMCCs Banbury run and I’ve ridden hundreds of miles around mainland Italy and Sardinia. I run it on “R”, it goes like stink (literally!) and announces its arrival in no uncertain way with a booming exhaust note from the open pipe. I have enjoyed riding this bike for many years but have decided to part with it as I need space in the garage for other restorations. It now For Sale at Verralls.

Shortly after I had restored this bike, another Model 18 Norton turned up on the website of a Dutch dealer. It was a 1929 Model and was in a sorry state.

I made some enquiries and ended up swapping a little “first paint” post-vintage 350 AJS for this second Model 18 project.

There were a few important bits missing, such as the inlet rocker (how can somebody lose ONE rocker!), but I was able to make a casting in Ni-Al Bronze by copying one from my 1928 M18.

Apart from the saddle tank and the correspondingly different top tube on the frame and the alloy primary chaincase, the 1929 model is essentially the same as the 1928 model and it too turned out pretty well after restoration.

This 1929 M18 proved to be just as much fun to ride as the 1928 bike and after riding a couple of thousand miles on this one I sold it ….because another one turned up.

I had never intended to restore 3 vintage Norton Model 18s but I just couldn’t let the chance of a very early Model 18 pass. Again, it was another project and was the last bike to be disposed of from a deceased’s estate. It is a 1923 Model and was sent to a Norton dealer in Edinburgh in February 1923, just a couple of months after the model was first sold to the public.

A lot of the expensive work had already been done; the wheels and magneto had been rebuilt and the tank had been painted but there was still a lot of detailed work that was required. The rockers had also been lost! Why is it that previous owners take out the rockers and then lose them? This time, both the inlet and exhaust rockers were missing so more castings were made from the 1928 M18 and machined. The later rockers are actually a better design than the earlier so-called “straight” rockers and so although a bit or originality was lost it made for a better engine.

Unfortunately all the paperwork had been lost at some stage. There were no receipts for all the outsourced work that had been done and no registration documents and so the bike ended up with an age-related registration.

None of these Model 18s can be described as heavy bikes but the early model is really light – smaller petrol tank with integral oil tank, thinner mudguards etc but the engine is the same as the later engines so it really does go well. But stopping is another matter; with a tiny front brake and a dummy belt rim with a block of rubber for the rear brake it is best to avoid any situation that requires emergency braking. Nevertheless, it is great fun to ride even if it does need more engagement than the 1928 bike.   

Unfortunately it turned up halfway through making the AJS V-Twin crankcase patterns and a consequence of this was that the patterns went on hold for about a year while this bike was restored.

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