Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I think I used up all of my luck on this one- I was digging through a seller's spot at a local car swap meet that had mostly Model A parts, when a few magnesium Norton motor parts caught my eye. Did a bit more digging and ended up with a nice little pile of Norton Manx parts as well as a few 1930's girder forks, early racing tires, and misc Indian, Triumph, and Ariel parts that I could already see padding my Paypal account nicely. The parts were cheap too. Really cheap. After talking to the gentleman who was selling the parts, I found that he had inherited a few 'old Norton singles' from his grandfather, but had no idea what the parts were that I was about to purchase. Without much though, I handed over the Norton Manx parts and told him to hide them from the swapmeet vultures- those parts would literally be impossible to replace. He quickly hid the parts and gave me a great deal on the girder forks and other goodies I found. I gave him my phone number 'just in case' he ever wanted to unload those Nortons but he assured me I wasn't the only one that was interested in them. I walked away happy with the deal I got, and that I helped keep the rare parts with a rare bike. A few months go by and I get a phone call from the guy with the Nortons. He told me that he'd decided to sell them to focus on his Indian Scout, and he would return the nice gesture by giving me first right of refusal on the bikes since I had helped him pick all of the Norton parts out of the 40+ crates of parts. He told me there was a 1950 Manx, a '51 ES2, and a '52 International. When he told me how much he wanted, I was shocked at what a good deal it was. Then I asked how much for all 3, and he scoffed, "That is the price for all three!" I promptly left work, procured the funds, and went to check the bikes out. Turns out they were about 10 minutes from my house. Sure enough- all matching numbers 1950's Nortons, and one did in fact appear to be a gardengate Manx, but had a kickstart- why would a Manx racebike need a kick starter? Without wasting anymore time, I handed over the cash and loaded the 3 bikes along with all the parts that I dug out at the swap meet into my truck. After about a week of researching Manx race bikes and speaking with Norton experts from Pasadena to London (special thanks to Bib Bibbiani for helping me figure out what I found- RIP) I was starting to think that this Manx with its kickstarter, special fork setup, double overhead cam motor, and beach-sand like mud all over it, might be a "Daytona Manx", which was a special effort between Indian Motorcycles and Norton to beat Harley Davidson at the Daytona 200 mile race. Francis Beart was the legendary factory tuner that was sent over to Daytona to dial these bike in and they dominated the Daytona 200 until Harley managed to convince the AMA to ban the DOHC Nortons. A fellow enthusiast was kind enough to send a copy of Norton's factory dispatch sheets listing frame and motor numbers that confirmed what I was hoping: the crusty old Manx I found was one of three special Works racers sent by the factory in Birmingham England, to Daytona Florida, and futhermore, is the bike that Billy Mathews rode to first place that year. The bike crossed the finish line 1.5 minutes ahead of the next Norton and is well documented in many official records, magazines, and books. There's some really cool history with this bike including the AMA Hall of famer, Billy Mathews, not racing it after the 1950 win due to being accused of Communist ties and being blacklisted. There's also a pretty good size dent in the side of the tank with blood on it. One of the Norton books references Billy Mathews crashing #98 after taking the checkered flag. I've seen pics of #98 racing at Daytona as late as 1953- easily identified by it's 21" front wheel used for 1950, among the lineup of other Manx Nortons with 19" front wheels. This bike has some stories to tell. Here's a few pics of #98.