THE NORTON INHERITANCE
...AND ANOTHER ACTIVE MOTORCYCLIST
It is a creed of today's property owning parents that they must give their offspring a leg up by passing on the fruitful inheritance of a home sale and possibly other material benefits, once they have 'shuffled off their mortal coil', as Shakespeare's Hamlet poetically put it.
Tom Lonsdale's father left him a legacy that might be considered priceless: a foundation and desire to be an active motorcyclist. He also bequeathed him two precious bikes, a Manx Norton and a Norton International that Tom clearly remembers from his early years, watching his dad fettle the bikes in their yard.
He fondly recalls the excitement of waving goodbye as his dad set off on his daily ride of 20 miles to work. His beret would be topped by his goggles, and after about seventy metres down the road he'd habitually let go of the bars and pull the goggles into place. Almost heroic for a small lad.
I met Tom through a mutual contact. We live near to each other and I grabbed the opportunity to meet another active motorcyclist little knowing that there would be an absorbing story, best told over a few pints in a village pub near his home.
Dad was a complete enthusiast. A Model 18 Norton sidecar outfit was the family conveyance before cars became more commonplace transport and then went on to rule almost every aspect of our lives. It handled three kids and two adults. Then the other Nortons came along, and as was common practice in the days before the categorisation of motorcycling, they covered every type of riding purpose from club races, to work journeys, to touring, and the Manx was taken to the Isle of Man with Tom's mum on the pillion seat. It wasn't comfortable, and the Manx's lack of practical road use led eventually to the International engine being transferred to the Manx rolling chassis.
Tom describes his relationship with motorcycling as 'utter compulsion'. The first bike that he called his own was a 197cc James ridden in a four acre field adjacent to his home, and on a local moto cross (scramble) circuit...he was fourteen. The James line continued with a 250cc equipped with the same Villiers engine that powered the Ariel Arrow – he rode with his mate Bob who had an identical machine.
Around this time dad told him; 'You're ready for something bigger'.
The Inter rolling chassis was hanging around, and at the time everyone wanted to build Tritons. Tom got hold of a 650 Triumph unit through a friend who had a motorcycle shop, fashioned the engine plates, slotted it into the Featherbed frame and called it a 'Nitrot'. An attention grabber for sure painted in Canary Yellow...with flames.
Tom says that this was his 'reckless phase'. He ran a T500 Suzuki two stroke twin alongside the Triton, and completed several seasons riding moto cross on a Sprite with 360cc Husqvarna two stroke engine slotted in. Sprite Developments built a number of trials and scrambles bikes between 1965 and 1971, using various engines including the Villiers Starmaker, Triumph and Maico as well as the Husky units, as part of the kit. Tom was not flattering about the ability of this bike.
He went round Europe on the 'Nitrot' and this developed into a great love of touring other parts of the world on thirteen BMW's down the years, in addition to owning a Bantam; a Yamaha 200; two T500 Suzuki's; three MZ 250's; a Honda 750F2 and a Montessa trials bike.
When his dad was ageing, Tom asked him about the Norton inheritance, the only thing he wanted. He was granted his wish. His younger brother inherited a Norton Commando and a BMW from dad, and it was accepted by the family, including two sisters who were riders, that Tom would be the custodian of the family.s motorcycle history through the Nortons.
The Manx/Inter required some basic sorting, and Tom found a mechanic who helped him get it back into road trim, and he rode it for a while before parking it up with the intention of carrying out full restoration work.
Restoring a single classic bike is a time consuming project. Two is arguably a full-time job, and Tom was already fully engaged with his work as a specialist consultant in design for architecture and the built environment. The bikes stayed garaged for a couple of years, and if they were to be re-built as a memorial to dad and the family's motorcycling antecedents, another solution would have to be found.
Barry is a school crossing patrol man, and looks after the children's road safety at the primary school where Tom's motorcycling sister is the school secretary. Knowing they had a mutual interest, Barry, a retired engineer now in his seventies, had shown her pictures of the BSA's he has restored. Would he be interested in taking on some of the Norton work?
'I'd love to do a Manx' was his reply. And so Tom and Barry arranged to meet.
The two bikes, and all the available parts were delivered to Barry's workshop in May 2014. He was also given temporary custody of the extensive paper work, and discovered, while sorting through that the Manx engine, a 1951 350cc long stroke, had been rebuilt at one stage at the old Norton works in Bracebridge Street, Birmingham.
Initially Barry made good progress in assembling the Manx to its former glory, but the sourcing of now rare parts slowed the build: for example a primary chain guard was found in New Zealand! But on Wednesday 18th February 2015 Tom was able to hear the restored Manx rumble and thunder into life. Albeit with a carburettor borrowed from the Inter 500cc engine, which means it's over jetted and floods at the moment; and the temporary magneto will need replacing.
Starting rollers were used to fire the bike, and the occasion can be viewed on You Tube
Where to now for this valuable piece of family motorcyling history? The first stop will be this year's first Stafford Classic Show in April, where Barry will display his restoration expertise to the crowds that gather. But part of Tom's motorcyling philosophy decrees that bikes are for riding, and not just display pieces, valuable commodities or auction fodder. He will explore riding options for the Manx through parades, track days, and other classic friendly events.
Meanwhile there's still the International to consider. While this machine doesn't have the same cache as the Manx, it's a prized asset in its own right. Decisions have yet to be made as to whether another full restoration will be embarked upon; whether it should be re-assembled into 'acceptable' road trim and taken to the highway, or even whether the Inter parts should be sold to cover the Manx costs...after consulting the family of course.
Wemoto will be at the Stafford show and we'll bring you an update on the Norton inheritance when we talk to a - no doubt smiling - Barry and Tom as admiring classic enthusiasts cluster round their bike.
Tom Lonsdale gives presentations about his fifty years of motorcycling exploits entitled 'Well Travelled Biker': adventures, tours, competitive dabblings and all round passion for bikes and riding is illustrated with lovely photography from places such as the Himalayas, Spain, the Moroccan Sahara and the Isle of Man TT. He can extend this to the Norton Inheritance too. If your club or group might be interested contact him at email@example.com or 07968 107270
John Newman for Wemoto News
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