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Bike Review - Posted 2nd September 2013
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Norton Singles Snapshot

You can spend anything from £3000 to over £8k on a postwar Norton single, depending on whether you choose a sidevalve or an OHV engine, slotted into a rigid, plunger or featherbed frame. The choice is all yours...

Such is the kudos of the Norton name that a sidevalve built in Bracebridge Street can cost twice as much as one which started life in Small Heath. But hey, you get all that vintage competition heritage for your cash. And a snazzy silver paintjob - unless you nab an ex-WD machine still wearing its olive green uniform. The 490cc 16H can trace its roots back to 1921 and proved to be perfect for military service in WW2 as it was solidly built and simple to maintain, with decent ground clearance. Over 100,000 military examples of the 16H saw military service so these throwbacks to the 1930s, still wearing girder forks, are still commonly available for under £5000. Bonhams auctioneers sold a running and restored 1944 16H in June 2013 for £3910.

Norton 16H sold by Bonhams... Norton 16H

Later tele/rigid versions make for better riding motorcycles on modern roads and cost much the same but are few and far between. The famous Roadholder front end appeared in 1947 together with an alloy cylinder head, while the Big 4 evolved from being a prewar gentleman's tourer to a 596cc post-war sidecar hauler. It gained an improved brake and bigger fuel tank in 1951, then a dual seat as seen here in 1953, and finally an 8-inch brake just before both it and the 16H were discontinued in 1954.

Both sidevalve singles can be considered sturdy rather than swift (what do you expect for 12bhp?); charming in their simplicity and only occasionally impossible to start. If your tastes turn towards a single with a little more pep, then consider instead one of Norton's overhead valve models. That extra performance comes at a price, however…

Norton Model 18... Norton Model 18

Norton's sporting roadster single, the ES2, returned to civilian life in 1947 with a plunger frame while the Model 18, which shared the same 490cc pushrod engine and Roadholder forks, made do with a rigid rear end. You will find a few postwar Model 18s still equipped with girder forks, and these command a price premium compared to their tele-forked counterparts. Venture Classics offered a 1946 rigid-girders Model 18 for sale last month at £7250. It was an older restoration in good running order: 'still more than presentable but with some corrosion under the paint.'

1947 Norton ES2... 1947 Norton ES2

Andy Tiernan had a smashing example of a plunger 1947 ES2 in stock in summer 2013: priced at £6000 it was described as being 'in fine condition as it was well looked after and ridden' by its previous owner. Andy noted that - as you'll often find - the primary chaincase was dribbling somewhat but the rest of the engine was oil tight. The ES2 'ran and went very well' on its road test with all four gears engaging cleanly, although the gear lever return spring has seen better days.

If your budget doesn't run quite that high, then Andy also has a couple of later ES2s at lower prices. Over the following two decades the ES2's chassis was revised at least thrice; with swinging arm suspension in 1957, then alternator electrics and the featherbed frame in 1959, which went slimline for 1961. The two extremes suit this single the best; either neat and nimble as the rigid Model 18, or in slimline guise for bursts of high-spirited bend-swinging.

The final incarnation of the ES2, built from 1964 to '66, was really a short-stroke AMC single with Norton's front end and is barely considered a Norton by the owners' club…

Even with a pushrod Norton single, don't expect supersports performance as standard - think endearing rather than invigorating - although there's scope for serious engine development by the home tuner. Norton's plunger and early swinging arm frames are no better than their peers and just as prone to going wobbly with wear and tear. In featherbed form the ES2 is as physically big as a Norton twin (it's the same bicycle) but has to make do with half the horsepower.

Norton 500T... Norton 500T
500cc Norton on

Tread carefully around brutal 500T trials replicas which are delicious on the eye and hard on just about every other aspect of human anatomy. Keep an eye open for the 596cc 19R(igid) and S(prung) models which appeared mid-50s to service the sidecar crowd. They are well-proven, worthy enough and wear the right badges, but don't offer too much earth-shattering excitement and do not use the featherbed frame. Model 19s make Panthers look like rev-crazed maniacs but come 30% cheaper than 18s and ES2s. A classic car specialist offered a 1955 Model 19S for sale in the summer of 2013 for the optimistic price of £7500. It's probably still available. At that price, it'll take quite a while to sell…

Norton Model 19S... Norton Model 19S

Featherbeds carry their usual price premium so a smart wideline ES2 can certainly cost £7k and more. You'll still find scruffy plunger ES2s for four grand, but shiny ones sell for £6k or more.

And if you're totally confused by Norton's numbering system and model designations, here's something to help you sleep at night:

Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Andy Tiernan, Venture Classics, Bonhams, archive


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