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Bike Tale - Posted 30th March 2015
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Norton 19S

Traditional British long-stroke singles are an acquired taste. Back in the 1970s, Matt Swindlehurst acquired the taste for the Norton type. Not a Panther sloper. No, definitely not a Panther...

In about 1978 / 79 I decided I had to have a Norton 19S. This was the 600cc ohv single with a pedigree stretching back to the 1920s. With a longer stroke than the famous Panther (of which more later) they were big, bad and surprisingly fast. The length of the stroke created an engine height which prevented this motor fitting easily into the iconic Featherbed frame. This ruled them out for many Norton enthusiasts and so prices remained modest.

Norton 19S

A good running example was soon enticed out of the surrounding countryside (well Rugeley actually) and was a runner for £60. It was quickly powder-coated by Big Rob and stuck back together over half a dozen weekends. The only thing letting it down was an alloy guard on the front. It needed an original item.

Norton 19S
Short-Stroke Nortons on Now...

Back then, THE place for secondhand spares was a breaker in Burslem. Standing alone on what looked like a bomb site, Searles Motors shone like a beacon to all of us enthusiasts. I pinched the Old Man’s Matchless and headed down there. Les, the proprietor was out the back, Dave his willing helper was manning the desk.

‘Front mudguard for a 19S? No problem.’

The article was handed over and money, £4.50, exchanged hands. Back home and excitement mounted. The offending alloy thing was ripped off and consigned to the bin. The new purchase offered up. Completely wrong. Nothing lined up. Back to Searles.

‘Dave, I think this is wrong, I don’t think it’s off a Norton.’
Dave peered at me.
‘It isn’t, it’s off a Panther.’
‘Oh, right. Did you think it would fit?’
‘No, they are completely different.’
I paused for a minute and collected my thoughts.
‘So you haven’t got one for a 19S?’
‘Oh yes I can sort you one out now if you like.’
More pause.
‘Er, Dave, why did you sell me one off a Panther?’

Dave took his glasses off and polished them whilst thinking.
‘Well, there’s not much call for the Panther guards and we’ve got to sell them somehow.’
In the background Les struggled to keep a straight face.

I rode home perplexed and bolted in the replacement guard in about ten minutes. It fitted perfectly.

Norton 19S

The first decent trip on the Norton was up to Horton in Ribblesdale, in the Yorkshire Dales, for the Ariel Club’s Easter Rally. Rock steady at 70 with a full load of camping gear. We arrived and pitched up. As we all know, one in ten men is an idiot and one in ten idiots is a dangerous idiot. Unfortunately one of them decided to attend the rally. I think he was from Bradford.

He arrived on a Panther. The 650cc single. Now I have nothing against Panthers. Indeed they ooze charm and character from every pore, as well as oil from every gasket. But they are not for me. We were invited to join in with Bradford man in declaring that Panthers were the best motorcycles ever made. He offered physical harm to any dissenter. He was big and ugly. Suddenly we all loved Panthers.

Panther Model 100

He listed the reasons for the Panther’s claim to fame. Amongst these was the boast that they had the longest stroke of any motorcycle engine. Foolishly I demurred. Luckily there are many hiding places in Horton in Ribblesdale.

By the following morning he had calmed down. Cautiously I showed him the numbers cast on our respective cylinder bases. 120 on the Panther. 126 on the Norton.

Whoever said size isn’t everything probably rode a two-stroke…

Images from the RC archive and Andy Tiernan:

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