ROB NORTH: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN TORCH
Few men have become so closely identified with the work they did for an established manufacturer as Robin North, best known as Rob and creator of the frames for the BSA/ Triumph F750 racing triples which 45 years ago were the last hurrah of Britain’s dying motorcycle industry. Today, 77-year old Rob lives in California, and still works every day in his RN Fabrications workshop in National City, just 15 miles from the Mexican border. Visiting him there uncovered the real story behind the creation of the frame design which allowed the Union Flag to be waved one final time atop the winner’s rostrum at Daytona in 1971, with Dick Mann victorious in that year’s 200-miler on a Rob North-framed BSA 3. 17-year old Rob began working for Doug Beasley, builder of special frames for 250cc Velocettes, and it was there that he met Triumph factory tester Percy Tait, who was riding a Beasley Velo in the Lightweight class, for which Triumph didn’t have a bike. The two became friends, and after North
set up his own fabrication business in 1967 he worked on the Reynolds-framed 650 Triumph which Tait was racing, to correct the more unpredictable handling that came with increased power from the factory tuned engine. Tait reckoned North’s alterations improved the handling considerably. Rob said: “In 1968 I had a shop in Bedworth, about 10 miles north of the Triumph factory at Meriden, and I was working for myself making frames for speedway bikes and sidecars. I’d known Percy Tait for about 10 years, and had done some work on his 650 Triumph twin to get it to handle with the increased power they were getting. “So then Percy wanted me to build a complete frame for a factory tuned 500cc engine, so I built two very similar to the later triples, and they seemed to go okay in Percy’s hands. I always focused on getting th e steering head good and stiff to stop it flexing – that’s why my frames were always so stable. . “Anyway, the triple had now come out, so Percy asked me if I wanted to build a frame for it for him to ride – nothing to do with the factory at that stage, just him and me. I obviously said yes, so he brought me a crankcase and a diamond part of a frame that he’d found in the cellar underneath the Experimental Department at Triumph, and I made up a jig for it, using this upper frame diamond which included the steering head. Percy advised where he wanted the engine to be – we moved it one and a half inches further forward compared with the streetbike to put more weight on the front wheel, and the same amount up for extra ground clearance with the wider engine. “I made the jig with all the dimensions that he asked for using scrap angle iron, because it was supposed to be just a one-off exercise between me and Percy.