The push-but­ton Nor­ton

A short-lived Nor­ton model and a ded­i­cated Nor­ton man make for an in­ter­est­ing af­ter­noon in Adelaide.

Old Bike Australasia - - NORTON ELECTRA - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Sue Scaysbrook, Bob Toombs.

Dean Hog­a­rth is a com­mit­ted Nor­ton man – he has owned and re­stored more than 30 over the years. He is also a vet­eran mo­tor­cy­cle racer and more lately a gun speed­way com­peti­tor. His mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing ca­reer came to an end fol­low­ing the Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Phillip Is­land in 1957, but prior to that he had en­joyed a suc­cess­ful ca­reer on so­los and as a pas­sen­ger to noted South Aus­tralian side­car rac­ers Gor­don Benny and Lau­rie Wil­son. Benny’s mount was a Vin­cent Black Light­ning that he pur­chased from Sin­ga­pore and Hog­a­rth oc­ca­sion­ally rode it in solo form. Dean lists the high­light of his mo­tor­cy­cling ca­reer as fin­ish­ing third to World Cham­pion Ge­off Duke at Gawler Air­field in 1955. On that oc­ca­sion he was aboard his self-tuned and highly mod­i­fied Nor­ton In­ter­na­tional. Switch­ing to speed­cars, Dean be­came a lead­ing light at Adelaide’s fondly re­mem­bered Row­ley Park, where he raced a variety of cars in­clud­ing his well known ‘Old Smokey’ and held lap and race records on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. His speed­way ca­reer came to an end when he was banned from hold­ing a li­cence af­ter a heated ex­change with a some­what zeal­ous track of­fi­cial.

To­day, at 86 years of age, Dean is scal­ing back his col­lec­tion which now num­bers around ten ma­chines. How­ever his shed, which is a favourite call­ing point for mo­tor­cy­cle groups pass­ing through Mur­ray Bridge, south of Adelaide, still con­tains some gems, in­clud­ing a beau­ti­ful pre-war Manx Nor­ton raced very suc­cess­fully by pre-war South Aus­tralian star Clem Fos­ter, a Nor­ton Big 4 with Dust­ing side­car, a Model 7 Nor­ton twin, and a re­ally rare one, a 1963 Nor­ton Elec­tra.

“Elec­tra”, I hear you ask? Yes in­deed, a 400cc par­al­lel twin that was pro­duced from 1963 to 1966. The Elec­tra had its ori­gins in the 250cc Ju­bilee, in­tro­duced in 1958, so let’s start there. Nor­ton felt that its 60th an­niver­sary of mo­tor­cy­cle pro­duc­tion was a mile­stone worth cel­e­brat­ing, and the Ju­bilee was the re­sult; a de­sign that had in­put from Bert Hop­wood, Doug Hele and chief de­signer William Pitcher. The new 250 dif­fered markedly from any pre­vi­ous Nor­ton twin, be­ing of unit con­struc­tion, but with a con­ven­tional one-piece nodu­lar iron 360-de­gree crank­shaft and a very over­square bore and stroke of 60mm x 44mm. The crankcases were ver­ti­cally split with sep­a­rate bar­rels and heads. Orig­i­nally, the Ju­bilee was to have a sin­gle die-cast­ing for each head and bar­rel as a sin­gle unit, elim­i­nat­ing the al­ways touchy head gas­ket. How­ever in the fi­nal wash-up, this was de­creed an un­war­ranted ex­pense and the heads and bar­rels were cast sep­a­rately. With such a wide bore, the valves could sit at a fairly nar­row an­gle of 42º, giv­ing a mod­ern com­bus­tion cham­ber de­sign, with a sin­gle car­bu­ret­tor feed­ing the cylin­ders via a forked man­i­fold. The twin camshafts, lo­cated fore and aft of the cylin­ders were gear-driven by spur gears via an in­ter­me­di­ate gear con­nect­ing with a pin­ion on the right hand end of the crank­shaft.

Com­pres­sion ra­tio was a healthy 8.75:1 and the ex­haust ports were splayed out, as on the big­ger Dom­i­na­tor en­gines. Ig­ni­tion was twin coils and bat­tery, with twin con­tact break­ers mounted on a back­ing plate un­der a cover on the tim­ing chest. The fa­mil­iar Nor­ton oil pump op­er­ated in sim­i­lar fash­ion to the big­ger twins. A du­plex pri­mary chain con­nected the en­gine to the gear­box, run­ning in a left-side cas­ing that also con­tained the al­ter­na­tor which was fixed out­side the en­gine sprocket with an ad­justable block chain ten­sioner.

Chas­sis-wise, the nav­i­ga­tor broke with es­tab­lished Nor­ton prac­tice by us­ing a frame made up of sev­eral sec­tions. The frame it­self was based on a Fran­cis Bar­nett de­sign (Fran­cis Bar­nett be­ing by that stage part of the AMC group which also owned AJS, Match­less and James, as well as Nor­ton. A pressed steel sec­tion formed the front down tube, with the steer­ing head welded to it. A sep­a­rate tubu­lar steel cra­dle bolted to the steer­ing head and ran over the top of the en­gine, down the rear and un­der the crankcases to con­nect to the bot­tom of the front down tube. In place of a con­ven­tional seat tube, a steel press­ing pro­vided at­tach­ment points for the rear en­gine mounts, with ex­tra tubes to brace the pivot for the swing­ing arm. Most of this was in­vis­i­ble, be­ing en­closed by a pressed metal shroud. In­stead of the famed Road­holder forks, the front sus­pen­sion was sourced from the James/Fran­cis Bar­nett range, as were the 6-inch hubs which car­ried 18-inch rims. The new Nav­i­ga­tor was hur­ridly com­pleted in time to make its pub­lic bow at the 1958 Earl’s Court Show, where it graced the Nor­ton stand along side its big road burn­ing broth­ers. The re­ac­tion to the new model, with its prissy two-toned colour scheme, was rather sub­dued to say the least. Soon af­ter the show, the first road test re­ports be­gan to flow in, and testers were sim­i­larly unim­pressed with many as­pects of the ‘lit­tle twin’. For a start, it tipped the scales at 330 pounds (150 kg) which was hardly svelte. Most reck­oned the ex­tra weight taxed the frame, which had thus forth only had to cope with small (and lighter) two stroke pow­er­plants. The en­gine was also a bit on the asth­matic side, need­ing a de­cent hand­ful of revs to coax it into its com­fort zone. How­ever the all-im­por­tant fuel econ­omy re­ceived a uni­ver­sal thumbs up, with a fig­ure of 85 miles per gal­lon be­ing quoted. The Ju­bilee plod­ded along with slight changes ‚

un­til the end of 1960, when it was joined by a 350cc ver­sion called the nav­i­ga­tor. This used a com­pletely re­vised bore and stroke of 63mm x 56mm (349cc) but was oth­er­wise iden­ti­cal to the 250. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the 350 had a re­vised frame with a beefier front down tube, and up front sat the sig­na­ture Road­holder forks which car­ried a 19 inch front wheel. Road tests of the nav­i­ga­tor ac­knowl­edged the in­crease in top speed (89mph as op­posed to 75 mph for the 250). Both mod­els sol­diered on through 1961 and 1962, and as Bri­tain strug­gled through the win­ter of 1962/63, re­ports be­gan to fil­ter out of yet another vari­a­tion of the ‘lit­tle twins’. And so, at the end of Jan­uary 1963, the Elec­tra was born at the AMC plant at Wool­wich in Lon­don and not at the Nor­ton fac­tory in Brace­bridge Street, Birm­ing­ham, from whence had come the Ju­bilee and Nav­i­ga­tor. What soon be­came known was that the new model, of 397cc, would be for the Amer­i­can mar­ket only, which had so far failed to em­brace ei­ther the 250 or the 350. Ini­tially, the Elec­tra was listed as hav­ing a bore and stroke of 66mm x 58mm (397cc), but by the time pro­duc­tion be­gan, the stroke had been re­vised to 56mm, the same as the 350, giv­ing a ca­pac­ity of 383cc. The im­pe­tus for the Elec­tra had come, not sur­pris­ingly, from US im­porter Joe Ber­liner, who had wit­nessed first hand the re­mark­able sales of Honda’s 305cc CB77 which had quickly hit the top of the charts. When the Elec­tra did hit the US mar­ket, the price was $789.00. The fam­ily re­sem­blance was there, but the Elec­tra was in fact quite a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal to the Ju­bilee and Nav­i­ga­tor. The big­ger bore size re­quired mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the crank­case to take the larger spig­ots, and heav­ier pis­tons meant re­bal­anc­ing the crank­shaft. The trans­mis­sion was also beefed up, in com­bi­na­tion with a new drum-type se­lec­tor mech­a­nism. The chas­sis was sim­i­lar to the Nav­i­ga­tor but used the 8-inch front brake and 7-inch rear brake sourced from the Dom­i­na­tor mod­els, with the Road­holder front fork, and chrome plated mud­guards. The Elec­tra also dis­pensed with the midriff pan­els used on the small bikes and looked far more part of the Dom­i­na­tor fam­ily with its sin­gle-tone dé­cor in a very Nor­ton-like Sil­ver/grey. The area that re­ceived the most at­ten­tion on the Elec­tra was the elec­tri­cal sys­tem, with a high-out­put al­ter­na­tor on the end of the crank­shaft and twin six­volt bat­ter­ies (the ex­tra one sited un­der the seat and wired in se­ries with the other in the left-side tool­box) pro­vid­ing 12 volts for the sys­tem. And there was an elec­tric, push-but­ton starter, some­thing that was still a nov­elty on Bri­tish prod­ucts of the era, and the first Nor­ton to fea­ture such a re­fine­ment. This was a Lucas M3 unit (de­vel­oped for the tri­umph Ti­gress scooter and later used on the Commandos and BSA/Tri­umph triples), flange-mounted to the rear of the pri­mary chain­case sit­ting be­tween the top of the gear­box and the car­bu­ret­tor. A so­le­noid con­trolled the cur­rent sup­ply, ac­ti­vated by a rub­beren­cased but­ton on the left side of the han­dle­bars. Also rather novel was the Hella turn in­di­ca­tors, which were set into the ends of the han­dle­bars and op­er­ated by a switch on the right side. There was quite a clam­our for the Elec­tra to be re­leased on the home mar­ket, and this hap­pened in mid-1963 (as the ES400), with a price of £291/5/al­though both the in­di­ca­tors and the chrome plated mud­guards were listed as op­tional ex­tras in Bri­tain. This made the Elec­tra more ex­pen­sive than the 500cc Tri­umph twin – a ma­jor im­post for the priv­i­lege of hav­ing an elec­tric starter. Within months, the UK price was slashed by £40 – and the ‘ex­tras’ be­came stan­dard fit­ment at the new price. De­spite the ex­tra ca­pac­ity, top speed for the Elec­tra was found to be vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal to the Nav­i­ga­tor, and the elec­tric starter was also seen to strug­gle when the en­gine was cold and the oil thick. One as­pect that re­ceived uni­ver­sal praise was the han­dling, which was mar­ginal on the smaller mod­els. To cope with the ex­tra power and weight of the Elec­tra, the frame was strength­ened by ad­ding two lengths of mild steel plate above and be­low the steer­ing head, clamped in­side the top frame rails and run­ning back to the cen­tre sec­tion. This truly was a chas­sis that had evolved in fits and starts, and

with each mod­i­fi­ca­tion it be­came more dif­fi­cult to re­move or re­fit the en­gine unit to the chas­sis.

By 1965, the range of ’lit­tle twins’ had been trimmed to just one model of each ca­pac­ity (pre­vi­ously of­fered in stan­dard and de lux ver­sions of each). The two-tone decor on the 250 and 350 also van­ished in favour of sin­gle colours, but by mid-1965 the 350 dis­ap­peared com­pletely. Then in 1966 came the news that the Elec­tra was also to be scrapped, leav­ing just the Ju­bilee, as it had been eight years pre­vi­ously. By the stage the Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, and As­so­ci­ated Mo­tor Cy­cles in par­tic­u­larly, was in a state of se­ri­ous ill health, and in July 1966, with AMC in its death throes, pro­duc­tion of the Ju­bilee ceased as well. All of which makes the Elec­tra an ex­tremely rare piece of kit, with a pro­duc­tion span of just 32 months. That’s why, when the ex­is­tence of Dean Hog­a­rth’s Elec­tra in Adelaide be­came known, I just had to hot foot it over there and see it for my­self. I even got to ride it, al­beit briefly, but this was enough to as­cer­tain that Nor­ton’s leg­endary road hold­ing did not trans­late di­rectly to the Elec­tra. This is a fairly com­pact lit­tle bike, and it feels more like a beefed up 250 (sur­prise) than a di­rect de­scen­dent of the feath­erbed line. To be fair, the Elec­tra was never go­ing to chal­lenge the CB77 (or the later CB350) for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing the price. It’s heavy, and at low speeds it feels it. It does have quite a dis­tinc­tive ex­haust note, al­though this is some­what drowned out by the gnash­ing and rat­tling emit­ting from the en­gine it­self – all the ‘lit­tle twins’ were no­to­ri­ous for valve gear noise, but it’s noth­ing to worry about. Own­ers’ re­ports in the ‘six­ties com­plained of oil leaks, rapid camshaft fol­lower wear, elec­tri­cal prob­lems and lengthy waits for re­place­ment parts from deal­ers, but th­ese days, with care­ful at­ten­tion dur­ing re­builds, most of the in­her­ent prob­lems can be cured. Dean’s Elec­tra was pur­chased in 1976 while he was on one of his fre­quent trips to USA. “It was in a shock­ing state,” he re­calls. “It had weeds grow­ing out of the seat and the tank badges were badly cor­roded. I used the orig­i­nal badges as pat­terns and cast new ones in pewter. I com­pletely re­built the en­gine in­clud­ing grind­ing the crank, with 40 thou over­size pis­tons from USA.” The Hella han­dle­bar turn in­di­ca­tors have gone miss­ing from Dean’s bike, al­though th­ese should be procur­able as they were iden­ti­cal to those used on some BMWs and NSUs. Now, with Dean’s de­ci­sion to dis­pose of the re­main­ing bikes in his col­lec­tion, the Elec­tra is for sale. So if you fancy some­thing dif­fer­ent – a ma­chine that will re­ally stand out from the Commandos and Dom­i­na­tors at any Nor­ton gath­er­ing – this could be the bike for you. Dean can be con­tacted on (08) 8531 1005.

The Elec­tra en­gine re­vealed. Dean Hog­a­rth with his ex-Clem Fos­ter Manx Nor­ton.

Left side of the en­gine is dom­i­nated by the case for starter mo­tor chain. The Elec­tra en­gine grew from the 250cc Ju­bilee and the 350cc Nav­i­ga­tor.

Joe Moore Ju­nior, from NSW Nor­ton agents Hazell & Moore, goes for a hel­met­less spin in Syd­ney on an Elec­tra in 1965.

ABOVE Speed­way star: Dean Hog­a­rth at the wheel.

Head­lamp and speedo are stan­dard Nor­ton fare.

Just push the rub­ber but­ton and the en­gine fires up. Wheels came from the Dom­i­na­tor range: three-stud 7-inch rear and sin­gle lead­ing shoe 8-inch front.

RIGHT Dean re­made the tank badges us­ing the orig­i­nals as pat­terns. BE­LOW RIGHTLu­cas starter mo­tor sits above the gear­box. BOT­TOM RIGHT Just so you know what gear you’re in!

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