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Bike Profile - Posted Friday 16th March 2012

1948 Norton 500T
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Norton's off-road fortunes were transformed by the introduction of the 500T, which is considered to be one of the world's best rigid trials bikes. Would you like to buy one?

The first post-war Norton off-roaders of 1946 and 1947 were disappointing, to put it mildly. Even Roy Bacon, who rarely has a bad word for most motorcycles, described these machines as 'totally unsuitable.' A modded version of the roadgoing Model 18 proved to be too heavy, too long, and slow steering. The competition, riding machines based around the Matchless military G3L, literally left the Nortons stuck in the mud.

So the creation of the 500T by the McCandless brothers, Rex and Cromie, in 1948 was a pivotal moment - one which would lead to an ISDT Gold Medal in 1950. A pre-production prototype of the 500T will be auctioned by Bonhams at the Stafford Classic Motorcycle Show in April 2012, one of 30 machines being sold from the Harry Lindsay collection.

Nothing there that doesn't need to be... 1948 Norton 500T

Rex McCandless is more famous for creating the Featherbed frame and the Manx Norton 'Kneeler'. However the 500T came first. Initially the brothers loyally attempted to use the Norton factory's official machinery off-road. They couldn't put up with the ghastly Model 18 for very long and soon disposed of the unwieldy frame, replacing it with the shorter and lighter wartime 16H frame.

It was a tight squeeze with barely enough room for the gearbox to be wedged in between the seat tube and the rear wheel, but the 16H frame was a crucial move. The brothers then designed a skinny, two-gallon petrol tank which slimmed down the bike's profile. The tank was fitted to two rubber-mounted prongs at the front and secured at one point at the rear, making it quick and easy to remove.

Wheelbase and ground clearance issues were fixed by adjusting the bottom fork yoke, cutting and shutting the joint so that the yoke bowed towards the engine instead of away from it. This modification lopped three inches off the wheelbase and increased ground clearance. The McCandless machine was given a thorough shakedown in trials throughout the year and then the brothers, taking pity on their old friend Joe Craig at the factory, offered the design to the works team.

Wonder what the other side looks like... 1948 Norton 500T

It was an immediate success. The factory riders were given the new bikes for 1948 and a fully developed version was produced for the public for the following year. Most of the 500T's components came straight out of the standard spares store; the only purpose-built items were the slimline petrol tank with its matt-chrome finish, the cunning McCandless fork yoke, and a modified seven-inch front brake which was supplied with a water-resistant, strengthened aluminium brake plate.

The result was a 53-inch wheelbase machine with over seven inches of ground clearance, with 100-degrees of steering lock and which weighed just 320lb, even with its initial all-iron engine. Don Morley cut his scrambling teeth on just such a bike which 'plonked superbly, yet despite such apparent docility at tickover still offered instant power and acceleration. It never failed to impress with its ability to find and keep a grip in muddy conditions. The elasticity of its turbine-smooth power delivery was ideal for a novice…

'The 500T would do most things better than any of its rigid contemporaries,' explains Morley, 'certainly appreciably better than the AMC 350s or 500s. The Bracebridge Street machine handled better than all but the BSA and would climb a house side whilst its over-engineered state ensured it was truly unbreakable, an important point in the days when we were all stony broke.'

Maybe the other side is painted brigh pink?... 1948 Norton 500T
Pre-65 on Right Now......

A 500T prototype will join many other rare machines at auction in April 2012 when Harry Lindsay's collection goes under the hammer. In 1926 Harry's grandfather and father set up premises in Dublin, the same premises from which Harry acted as Ireland's major importer of Bultaco motorcycles and Honda spares. Harry was also the Republic of Ireland's Vincent agent and a good friend of Philip Vincent, and can lay claim to being one of only a handful of riders fortunate enough to ride Reg Dearden's supercharged Vincent Black Lightning. Now aged 86, Harry would like new owners to enjoy the machines which have meant so much to him.

'After all my enjoyments, disappointments, interests and satisfactions the time arrived to make a decision,' explains Lindsay. 'I did make that decision and that was to let the bikes go to be enjoyed by others of equal interest and lesser years.'

You'll have to go to Bonhams to find out... 1948 Norton 500T

The collection includes an ex-Stanley Woods/Bert Perrigo 1939 BSA 350cc B25; an 'as new' McIntosh Norton 500cc Model 30 Manx together with matching McIntosh Norton 350cc Model 40 Manx; a 1912 Rudge Whitworth 499cc; several Norton 500Ts including the 1948 Rex McCandless-designed pre-production model supplied by Norton to Chick Gibson, which is expected to sell for around £10,000.

Don Morley reckoned that 'the Norton 500T was unquestionably the finest rigid trials machine to be produced by any factory.' So now's your chance to own one of the very first…

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Bonhams, Rowena Hoseason

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The Harry Lindsay collection forms part of an auction of important pioneer, vintage and collector's motorcycles at the Stafford Classic Motorcycle Show on April 29th 2012. For more information call 08700 273 616 or see www.bonhams.com

The full story of the Norton 500T is told in RealClassic magazine, issue 48. You may also enjoy reading about Les Archer and his Manx scrambler which appeared in RealClassic magazine, issue 35

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