…and chick­ens and bricks. Ex­pect the un­ex­pected when Odgie tracks down a tale of a vin­tage Norton sin­gle

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Cob­webs and coal­sheds and chick­ens and bricks. Ex­pect the un­ex­pected when Odgie tracks down a tale of a vin­tage Norton sin­gle

‘If mem­ory serves me right, says my mate Brian, ‘it was around Fe­bru­ary or March in 1956 when I first learned of a mo­tor­cy­cle tucked away in a shed about half a mile from my home in Aughton. Armed with this info, me and my pal Cyril de­cided to try and track it down and set off un­der cover of dark­ness. When we ar­rived at the place we were con­fronted with about 12 or 14 chicken sheds in a small pad­dock away be­hind the house.

‘We crept past and en­tered the first one – no torch as we didn’t want to be dis­cov­ered. Af­ter much stum­bling around in the dark­ness what we found were end­less heavy cob­webs, lots of dust, and an­gry cock­erels de­fend­ing their harems. We searched every shed and all to no avail apart from get­ting filthy.

‘The next time I saw our milk­man (it was him that had told me about the sup­posed bike), I said “You’ve been hav­ing us on, we searched all those sheds and there was no blink­ing bike.” He laughed his head off. “It’s not in the hen sheds, it’s in the coal shed.”

‘The next night me and Cyril re­turned to check out the coal shed, only to find it full of coke for the green­house boiler. We weren’t go­ing to be put off, so over the next three to four weeks we kept go­ing back to check on the re­duc­tion of the coke as it was used up. At last, on what must have been about our tenth visit, I could see a han­dle­bar and throt­tle stick­ing up above the coal. With Cyril keep­ing ‘nicks’ in case the owner came out to re­fuel the boiler, I climbed in and scrat­ted some of the coke away to re­veal an ohv Norton Model 18 flat-tanker.

‘I waited a cou­ple more weeks for more of the Norton to emerge, and then l plucked up my courage and went and knocked on the door of the house. The old man opened it.

“I’ve heard you’ve got a Norton, it wouldn’t be for sale would it by any chance please?” I asked.

“There’s no Norton here,” he said and slammed the door shut.

‘I went away, but now I didn’t know what to do. I knew it was there, I’d seen it, but I couldn’t say so, and it’s a funny thing to go back when you’ve been turned away once al­ready. But you know what it’s like when you’re young and the adren­a­line is flow­ing. I thought I’ve just got to have it, and if I don’t get it some­one else will. Af­ter a few days of pon­der­ing on this I plucked up my courage again, brought about by the sheer des­per­a­tion to own the bike. I put on my best bib and tucker and went back and knocked on the door again. This time I was in luck, the daugh­ter an­swered it.

“I hear you’ve got a Norton in your coal shed. Do you think it would be pos­si­ble for me to buy it please?”

“It be­longs to my brother,” she said. “He’s down in Lon­don, but I’m writ­ing to him this week­end, I’ll ask him for you.” This was mu­sic to my ears but also news to me, as the story lo­cally was that the brother had been killed while play­ing silly bug­gers in an aero­plane in Egypt. It turned out he was alive and well and had stayed down south af­ter the war and be­come a civil­ian air­line pi­lot.

‘Any­way, I had to wait for her to get a re­ply, so it was a very ner­vous time, but when I went back I was told, yes, I could buy the bike. I crossed her palm with the re­quired sil­ver and me and Cyril dug it out from un­der the last of the coke and started push­ing it home. The cot­tage we’d bought it from was on top of a steep hill, so I dropped the bike into gear and it turned over freely with good com­pres­sion. Even the mag worked, the HT lead rub­ber had per­ished and you could see it spark­ing against the bar­rel. Eeh, I thought, it’s a good ’un is this.

‘Over the next cou­ple of weeks I took the en­gine out and stripped it down for ready for re­build­ing on my re­turn from Na­tional Ser­vice. But my friend Frank Far­ring­ton (RADCO) had heard I had the bike, and he’d ended up with the same “must have it” feel­ings about it as my­self. He gave me no peace of mind pes­ter­ing and pes­ter­ing me for it, and what with hav­ing my call-up pa­pers and ev­ery­thing, in the end I gave in and sold it to him. I’ve al­ways re­gret­ted it, although he did give it a good home. Frank re­built the Norton and fit­ted a TT Hughes side­car and took it to the Golden Ju­bilee TT the fol­low­ing year in 1957. The last I heard of it was it was go­ing back to the Cen­te­nary TT in 2007.’

So far it’s a crack­ing tale by Brian, but the bike in ques­tion isn’t the bike here, as you may have gath­ered. But this one does come with its own tale, so bear with us please and read on...

‘I’d known about this Model 18 for some 50 years. It be­longed to Joby Grimshaw who farmed the land along­side Burscough Air­field, an old dis­used WW2 air base. I’d seen it out and about around there when I was teach­ing my wife Ch­eryl to drive in my Stan­dard Van­guard. Back then Burscough was a great place to do that, lots of wide open tar­mac, and plenty of guys used to take their race bikes down there to try them out as well.

‘Pre­sum­ably Joby got sick of all the noise and has­sle, as one day we went down and he had the trac­tor set on tick­over and just trundling along by it­self, with a big four wheeled trailer be­hind full of bricks and rub­ble. They were in the trailer throw­ing these bricks and half bricks all over the place, scat­ter­ing them the length of the run­ways. That put paid to any­one else us­ing it for any­thing.

‘Any­way, the bike was well known, I’d never tried to buy it as I’d heard it was never for sale so I just left it well alone. Then I got a call from a mate of mine, Bill Bay­butt. He’d been speak­ing to Joby who’d men­tioned he had an old Norton, so Bill’s ears pricked up and he asked if it was for sale. “Well, it could be…” Joby said.

‘Bill knew all about the coal shed bike from all those years ago, so he rang me. “Do you want to buy an old Model 18?” he said. I knew which one it had to be around here, so I jumped at it. Bill bought it for me and I bought it off him. OK, it’s not the ex­act same bike and there’s a year or two’s dif­fer­ence be­tween this one and coal-shed one, but af­ter all this time it’s close enough for me. My plan is to strip this one and check it over. Then I’m look­ing for­ward to wind­ing the clock back 60 years and fi­nally get­ting to ride my Model 18!’


The Model 18 is per­haps Norton’s long­est serv­ing des­ig­na­tion, span­ning over 30 years. It rep­re­sented Norton’s first OHV model, a de­sign overseen by JL ‘Pa’ Norton him­self in 1922 and in­tro­duced into the range in 1923. Pa Norton only lived to be 56, dy­ing in 1925, but not be­fore he’d seen his Model 18s win the Se­nior and Side­car TTs in 1924. Model 18s also had a very strong rep­u­ta­tion for both speed and re­li­a­bil­ity, and won the pres­ti­gious Maudes Tro­phy for sev­eral years. It must have taken both great en­durance and a cer­tain fear­less­ness (fool­har­di­ness?) to ride Lands End to John O’Groats (and back!) on a spindly framed and barely sprung mo­tor­cy­cle over the rough roads of the era.

Although the Model 18 had a long ca­reer, it was over­shad­owed quite quickly in the per­for­mance stakes by the new OHC en­gines which ap­peared in the rac­ers in 1927 and in the road bikes the fol­low­ing year.

Over the years the Model 18 grew many im­prove­ments, the en­gine re­ceived en­closed valve gear and pushrods and an in­board mag­neto, and the en­gine also spawned the larger Model 19 and was used in the higher spec­i­fi­ca­tion ES2. The cy­cle parts evolved to in­clude tele­scopic forks and plunger rear sus­pen­sion post-war, and the well-loved and thought of Model 18 was only fi­nally dropped from the Norton range in 1954.


Ever won­dered what it might be like at the sharp end of a flat-tanker like this big sin­gle? Who bet­ter to take you for a test ride than one of the found­ing fathers of the vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle move­ment, Titch Allen him­self. Allen shared his ex­pe­ri­ences on a 1928 Model 18 in the first Vin­tage Road­test Jour­nal, and here are the high­lights…

‘Lean and hun­gry look­ing, al­most gaunt but with an ar­ro­gant air. That’s the flat-tank Model 18 Norton. Along­side the plump, well-fed look­ing sad­dle-tank bikes of 1928 this 490 looked a tri­fle old-fash­ioned, was old-fash­ioned, but it car­ried its years well. The flat-tank 18 was no more re­ally than an over­head ver­sion of Pa Norton’s im­mor­tal side­valve, and his fi­nal dream come true. At the end of 1927, Bert Den­ley made his­tory on one by cov­er­ing over 100 miles in the hour.

‘Yet there could not be an en­gine more sim­ple and straight­for­ward than the pushrod Norton. The se­cret must have been in the very hon­esty of the de­sign, the gen­er­ous di­men­sions of the ports, the sub­stan­tial build of cylin­der and head, the bold finning. The road­go­ing Norton was a sports-tourer of mod­er­ate per­for­mance and ex­cep­tion econ­omy… in stan­dard trim it will eas­ily top 100mpg. Speed­wise the Norton’s per­for­mance was in line with other 500 ohv mod­els of the day, the out­put be­ing strictly lim­ited by the low-grade fuels of the time. With stan­dard petrol, 75mph was the nor­mal max­i­mum. Those 100mph Nor­tons were run­ning on al­co­hol.

‘Start­ing is easy, merely a mat­ter of get­ting big fly­wheels spin­ning. A long steady stroke

on the kick­start with the ex­haust valve lifted to get up speed, drop the valve any old where and the en­gine starts. The mo­ment it fires you get the feel­ing of a mech­a­nism turn­ing over like oiled silk. In si­lence, too. The ex­haust is a mere low-toned thump-thump. All one can hear me­chan­i­cally is a soft click-click from the valve gear. The pushrods are like stair rods and be­cause of their weight have sep­a­rate re­turn springs.

‘ Though the en­gine does not vi­brate in the or­di­nary way, it pulses. Every fir­ing thrust comes through to the rider. As soon as the throt­tle is opened and the mix­ture starts to flow, you feel the fir­ing im­pulses. I think it is the re­sult of plac­ing a pow­er­ful en­gine in a rather light and sim­ple frame. There’s not enough frame to ab­sorb the pis­ton re­sponse. It’s not un­pleas­ant, just a pe­cu­liar­ity, and it helps to em­pha­sise the feel­ing of power.

‘ The gear­box is Sturmey-Archer, with the lever set low for foot op­er­a­tion. Although it only has a click-click ac­tion, there be­ing no pos­i­tive stop, I soon ac­quired the cor­rect touch of the toe to snick into the right slot. Travel is so short the lever can be worked en­tirely by foot.

‘ The brakes are very good, the front be­ing su­perb. The Webb fork, with its long travel and soft spring­ing checked by fric­tion dampers, trans­formed many vin­tage ma­chines when it re­placed more un­yield­ing forks. This is true of the Norton. You had to be brave to cope with the ear­lier forks on pushrod Nor­tons but with Webb one can re­lax while the sus­pen­sion gently rises and falls. Very com­fort­able. Not ex­cep­tional han­dling – not un­usu­ally pos­i­tive, heavy or light – just rather neu­tral steer­ing which leaves only mem­o­ries of safety.

‘I’ve rid­den many ohv Nor­tons, some more po­tent be­cause some­one is sure to have tuned them. But as stan­dard it is as soft and gen­tle as a side­valve, but with the ohv’s ex­tra feel­ing that it will go higher up the scale.’

Pho­tos by Odgie Him­self

The sweep­ing ex­haust pipe sit­u­ated on the off­side of the en­gine was a key fea­ture of Norton’s ohv flat-tankers from this time

Sim­ply de­light­ful! The 3-speed gear­box car­ries its shift mech­a­nism ex­ter­nally to the box it­self, with a long lever han­dling the changes. S-A were keen to ex­plain where the oil went in…

Few vin­tage Nor­tons sur­vive with their orig­i­nal ex­haust pipes which could have been fit­ted with an un­usual, dou­ble­bar­rel spi­ral-tube si­lencer

Opin­ions vary re­gard­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of the front brake, How­ever, it does work, although whether the star­tling scoop im­proves things is a mat­ter for an­other de­bate

Webb’s TT forks were con­sid­ered a huge im­prove­ment over the more ba­sic de­vices they re­placed, with the big cen­tral spring ab­sorb­ing at least some of the sting from bumps in the road

Sparks are pro­vided by a mag­neto parked dar­ingly be­tween the en­gine and the front wheel, which must be fun in heavy rain. At least the points cover is easy to reach

Norton’s fa­mous ‘pie-crust’ fuel tank is of course a thing of won­der. Rather less fa­mous but maybe equally hand­some is this oil tank; hand­some in­deed

Ab­so­lutely typ­i­cally for a bike of its time, Norton’s 18 car­ries ab­so­lutely noth­ing un­nec­es­sary

The pri­mary drive is pro­tected by this im­pres­sive al­loy chain­case. Ac­cess to the clutch takes pri­or­ity over lu­bri­ca­tion, plainly

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