Thursday, July 05, 2007

REM FOWLER'S 1907 TT NORTON

At the Brooklands Centenary meeting three weeks ago, I ran across George Cohen, he of the single-minded pursuit of all things Norton flat-tank. George is a great character, being formerly a psychiatric doctor in Somerset, England, and working on vintage Nortons in his spare time (his website is  'Norton Singles'). Well, apparently spare time got the better of him, and I believe he's given up his medical practice to pursue restoration of his beloved Nortons full-time; a move no doubt reinforced by a commission from the National Motorcycle Museum to restore a replica of one of the most famous motorcycles extant, the winner of the first Isle of Man TT race in 1907 (multi-cylinder division - the single cylinder class was won by Charlie Collier on his Matchless), ridden by Rem Fowler.
Like most 100 year old machines, this one has had it's share of mechanical changes over its life, but something of the heart of that original Fowler machine remains. The replica of Fowler's Norton was assembled from a very rare pile of bits, back in 1957 by Percy Webb, and passed through several hands and two museums (Stanford Hall and the National Motorcycle Museum) over the decades.  Sadly, a few photos with Rem Fowler himself on the machine, plus press stories which failed to mention the replica status of the machine, gave rise to the notion that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, it had become 'Real' over time (see the full story here).  To compound the confusion, The NMM had a disastrous and controversial fire a few years ago, and this Norton (along with over 300 other irreplaceable motorcycles) was badly damaged, with some parts beyond repair. George Cohen was given the task of bringing the machine back to life, and he did a beautiful job. He had just returned in fact from the Isle of Man, where he rode this bike around the TT course for the Centenary celebrations there, and had a trouble-free run, no doubt thrashing this ancient racing moped around the course, as is his wont - George believes in using old Nortons as the maker intended. Having ridden with him on the track at Montlhery, and in his sidecar near his home, I can confirm that he likes to push his machines to their limit. The third pic is an evocative portrait of the man in question, no doubt reaching for matches in the pocket of his Brooklands-style double-button racing jacket over leather jodhpurs, and obligatory reversed flat cap and goggles. He looks the part!

I've included several more detail shots of this remarkable motorcycle, including one at the bottom which I couldn't resist!

Mechanically, it's a fairly simple example of a Pioneer machine, with a bought-in Peugeot v-twin engine, using an 'F' head valve layout (side exhaust valve, overhead inlet valve, with the inlet opened by suction from the piston as it moves down the bore). The oil pump is visible on the side of the gas tank; give the big knob a push every few miles to squeeze a measure of oil into the crankcase, where it would be thrown around by the flywheels, and hopefully splash enough lubricant to the few rubbing parts inside the engine. Ignition timing was controlled by the lever on the other side of the gas tank. These would be attended to while bouncing over the rutted farm track which passed for the TT course in 1907, at 50mph on the gravel.

The chassis uses bicycle-type stirrup brakes, which work on bicycles but not on motorcycles, and a single-speed belt-drive direct from the engine, with no gearbox or clutch. Once you got the motor started by pedalling, you were moving! This machine was capable of around 60mph.

You'll note some amber 'staining' of the new silver tank - this is a clever ruse! George didn't want the machine to look too new, so anticipated some aging from spilled petrol by clever manipulation of the spray gun.




Here are two videos of George starting the bike at Brooklands.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

she,s a bueaty mate, and you get 100 points for the soke in you hand as well, authentic like it was then, 85% of every picture i have from arround 1900 to 1960 in bike related shots the guys have a Bunger in their mouth, well done mate !!!!!