Monday, December 26, 2022

1950 Works Norton

This is the only surviving 1950 "Works" Norton, owned by Mr Peter Bloore and restored in New Zealand by Ken McIntosh and McIntosh Racing.

The "Featherbed" Norton and Geoff Duke were made for each other. Geoff Duke's new style of "always tucked in" riding became practical, because of the new standard of motorcycle roadholding set by the Rex McCandless designed frame. The 1950 Featherbed was described by Geoff Duke in his book as the "best handling motorcycle he ever rode".

The name "Featherbed" was coined by 1949 Senior TT winner Harold Daniel who is reported to have said "It was so comfortable it is like riding on a Featherbed". The Featherbed Norton changed motorcycle racing from a horsepower contest to a roadholding contest. The entire chassis and suspension was designed and built "hands on" by Rex McCandless and his small team from Belfast.

Artie Bell, winner of the 1948 Senior TT on a “Garden-gate” Works Norton, was Rex McCandless' business partner and was responsible for most of the testing and development of the prototype "Featherbed". The new frame and a small increase in power gave Norton a clean sweep in 1950, with the Junior/Senior "Double" and first, second, and third places, plus Lap and Race Records in both classes.

Norton works Team 1950. From left; IoM Governor, Norton team riders Jonny Lockett, Harold Daniel,  Artie Bell, Geoff Duke and Norton boss Gilbert Smith.

Geoff Duke graduated from being a new and junior member of the Norton Works team, to being the leading rider in a week, after gaining second place in the Junior TT behind team-mate Artie Bell, and then dominating the Senior TT including smashing the lap record, set by Harold Daniel’s Works Norton in 1938.

The Norton Featherbed became a production motorcycle using Rex McCandless' design and patents, for which in the early years the McCandless and Bell partnership were paid a £1 royalty for each machine sold.

Rex McCandless and his welder, Oliver Nelson, came over from Belfast and set up in a disused cart dock at Bracebridge Street. With their own jig, they built the first 10 frames for the Works Team, when Norton could not get anyone else to take on the job.

Possibly the only photo of a naked 1950 Works frame. Some of the repairs can be seen. It had suffered a head on crash before Peter Bloore found it at the Beaulie Autojumble. Luckily it was easy to straighten and the brackets that had been cut off left traces of bronze, so they could be refitted in the exact position. I think it is safe to say that without this lucky find, there would be no 1950 Works Nortons left in existence.

The 1950 "Works" Nortons used the only Featherbed frames that were ever made in the Norton Factory at Bracebridge St, Birmingham. All the other thousands of Featherbed Manx, Inter and road frames were made by Reynolds Tubing Ltd under contract until the final ones in 1970. The Featherbed frame continued to be the standard by which all other road and racing motorcycles were judged until well into the 1970s.

The rear shock absorbers were made by Rex McCandless, and have a reservoir built in to stop the oil overheating and cavitating. Rex McCandless held a patent for the design, but Norton used other shock absorber manufacturers the following year. Geoff Duke later wrote the McCandless units were the best shock absorbers he had used.

McCandless and Bell were responsible for establishing the front fork geometries, angles and off-sets. McCandless fabricated the fork yokes by welding, and also modified the fork legs from the 1948 Works "Gardengate". This geometry was never changed during the production life of the Featherbed.

Bruce Anstey's 108.1 lap in last 2014 Classic TT was achieved using a completely standard design and original spec Manx Featherbed frame (built by McIntosh Racing) which is essentially the production version of the 1950 McCandless design.

The only surviving 1950 Works Norton was rebuilt by McIntosh Racing in New Zealand using the only known original 1950 Works frame which was found at Beaulie Autojumble in the 1980's. The owner, Mr Peter Bloore, then embarked on a 30-year search for the missing parts.

Many of the original 1950 parts had seen further service in the later Works bikes, and were very difficult to acquire.

The 8 1950 Works Nortons were all dismantled at the end of 1950, as the parts were used to build the updated 1951 team bikes. The only survivor, in modified form, was Eric Oliver's 1951 World Championship winning Sidecar outfit which was based on a 1950 Works 500. Eric used the experimental leading axle forks first seen on some of the Works Gardengate models in 1949, and then in shortened form on the McCandless built prototype Featherbed in late 1949. The 1950 Works bikes used centre-axle forks derived from the 1948 Works type.

This bike took over 2000 hours labour to restore, as every part is special. Almost no Manx Norton parts are the same as the 1950 Works, although nearly every part forms the prototype for the production Manx Norton 30M and 40M models.

Peter Duke with the 1950 Works Norton and Senior TT Trophy at the Isle of Man Classic TT in 2015

Kiwi Bruce Anstey leading the Geoff Duke “Lap of Honour” on the Isle of Man in 2015.

Australian Cameron Donald, twice TT Winner and now TV commentator lead the TT Lap of Honour away in 2017, giving Peter Bloore’s Works Norton a good fast run on its natural playground. He stands behind the wonderful picture of Geoff Duke taken in 1950 at Hillberry. Davida Helmets provided both Cameron and Bruce Anstey with the correctly painted and stickered 1950 Geoff Duke “pudding basin” helmets.

Cameron Donald 2017

TV presenter Henry Cole and the late Dr Geo Cohen, IoM classic TT 2015

Long time tester of McIntosh built bikes, and now officially a “MotoGP Legend” Hugh Anderson. Although his World Championship titles were on 2 stroke Suzuki models in the 1960s, he has done more miles on Manx Nortons,  G50s and 7Rs than most other riders anywhere, and has always offered great help and encouragement to McIntosh Racing since the very beginning almost 50 years ago.

TT Legend John McGuiness tries the ’50 Works for fit at the 2015 Classic TT. He knew a lot about the history of this bike and the impact it had in TT history.

The late, great John Surtees, the only GP Champion on 2 and 4 wheels in serious discussion with Moto GP legend Kevin Schwantz at Goodwood in 2014 when Kevin and New Zealander Rodney O’Connor raced it in the Barry Sheen Trophy Race. A practice incident involving Kevin’s first ever attempted use of a left side brake pedal resulted in a spill and upset qualifying, but the second race did produce the fastest lap of the meeting for Kevin indicating “what might have been”.

John Surtees has restored a number of Works Nortons himself, but thought the 1950 was an “impossible dream”. He was totally supportive and supplied item such as the correct Works BTH magneto and patterns for the aluminium megaphone.

I was extremely proud to have his endorsement of the finished product.

No, not Joe and Geoff.  Ken and Kevin with Rodney O’Connor listening.  Goodwood Revival 2014