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    Latest News:     Last Updated : 09/10/09            

Please note: I originally wrote this update in late July, but have only now had the opportunity to finish and publish it.

It seems almost traditional now to give my annual update from my holiday location, as being the only real time I seem to get these days to sit back for a while and take stock of what has been happening. This year is no exception, and I find myself giving this update from a very pleasant private villa in Cala En Blanes, on the east side of the mediteranean island of Minorca.
It is also very nice to be sat here, chilled out and having a chance to forget about the normal trials and tribulations and get away from the daily grind.

With Kids

Holiday Shot 1

My wife Sandy and daughters Stef and Abi with Rose (on left), who works in one of the nicest bars in Minorca. Rose is also originally from Leicester and this is the 2nd year we have met her there - hi Rose!

  Idealic Villa in Minorca was very relaxing and nicely private - a big advantage if you are as anti-social as I am. As can be seen in the second photo, we still had to wait for my wife Sandy to get ready before we could go out!  
Looking back since I did my last yearly update in August 2008, this has been one of the toughest years I can remember, wtih both family issues and work pressures meaning that the mail order business has been a struggle just to keep going and certainly my own bike restoration work has been curtailed, to the point that the Big Plunger Manx - that should have been completed a year ago, is still not quite finished (Oct 09: although it does at least now look very close). If there have been times when I have been slow to answer emails or answer customer enquiries, then please accept my apologies but bear with me, it has not been for the lack of trying!
First of all, on a personal front, my father was diagnosed with cancer in October last year, and as I report elsewhere, despite an operation in December and a dignified battle, my father passed away in June. Apart from everthing else, this has meant I have had less time available at the weekends, as I tried to spend more time with my parents and be there when I could, along with my two sisters. I took the opportunity to publish an obituary on the homepage for a period of time (one of the nice things about having my own web site), and although I have now removed the link, if you would like to see and some of the old family photos (including a couple of bikes), then here is the link to the page:
Les Norman Obituary

October 2009: As a footnote to my father passing away, it is now mid October and I had a few days off work this week to try and get some jobs at home done. As well as this, my mother had asled me if I could start the task of clearing my fathers 'hobby room'. For the last 10 years of my fathers life he had spent most of his free time in this upstairs room, which had a small workshop, repairing anything that had taken his fancy at the local council tip! He was definitely some one from the old school - he did not believe in throwing anything away if it could be made workable again. His favourite passtime (judging from the contents of the room) seems to have been repairing old 1970's Hi-Fi systems and I kid you not when I say that I ended up having to clear two full transit van loads of old stereo equipment and early computer systems, just to get to the current position of being able to open the wardrobe doors!
What made the task particularly upsetting was that in all reality I don't think I could realistically have sold this equipment and despite my attempts to ask the local recycling site to take them so someone else could get some use from them, in the end I had to put them all in the local council tip - I couldent help but feel that my dad was looking down on me swearing in constanation. I did not feel good that day.

Titch at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival

Titch and myself at Mallory 1000 Bike Festival in July. Titch fell ill the folowing week.
Notice the dude with sunglasses in the background - Foggy himself!

Founder Allen and Other Stuff

Shortly after my father passed away, a close friend (well known to many of you) - Titch Allen, became ill and was admitted to hospital in July. I have been visiting him every week since, ironically in the ward just next to where my father spent much of his illness - they must think I am a member of staff by now! I am pleased to report that Titch is looking as well as can be expected now and hopefully will shortly be leaving hospital, which is good news.
Titch is 94 now and obviously very frail, but he is clearly a tough old bird, from a generation that was used to adversity. I cant help but think though that it will not be easy at first re-adjusting to being back living on his own and independent, after such a long period of being looked after - if nothing else he has said he will miss the hospital food!
It has not been an easy year from the 'day job' perspective as well. I work as an IT Program Manager for a large retailer. The current program of work I am on started last summer and has meant a fair bit of stress and working long hours, much of it working away in London for a large percentage of the week. This has resulted in most weekends being are a case of playing 'catchup' as far as the Norton parts business is concerned.
I don't mind admitting there have been a number of times in the last year where I have given serious thought about a change of lifestyle! Some weeks I have been working up to 70 hours doing my day job, then have come home and worked another 15 hours over the weekend doing parts orders or working on new parts. I am beginning to wonder if I should just pick one job or the other!
Unfortunately, much as I like working on the Norton parts and have enjoyed meeting the people who order parts (or at least talking to them through email!), I suspect it would be extremely diffcult to make this profession pay my mortgage. I am a realist though and know that in todays economic climate, once my current project is finsihed, I might have the decision made for me(!), so having a backup plan may not be a bad idea.

Projects and Bikes Update:

1938 SOHC Manx (Big Plunger) Norton
Ahh well, to happier things. This year has not been a total loss as far a the bike restoration is concerned, in fact far from it, My 1938 Big Plunger Manx is actually looking quite good now, it is just that it has taken far longer than I was expecting it to take, it should have been finished a year ago!

Oldham Couplings

My 1938 500cc SOHC 'Big Plunger' Manx
Just detail parts left to complete now

Manx 500 Engine

View of SOHC Manx magnesium engine and Francis Beart oil tank

When stripping the bike down for restoration (in its previous guise, it had been Titch Allens 'Posing Outfit' fitted with a 600cc pushrod engine), I had been able to check out the chassis number and found that it was the first of a batch of 7 bikes built by the Works for the 1938 ISDT, which that year was held in the UK.
I found this very suprising considering the chassis is a full 'Manx' racing type frame. Although very interesting (and I would like to find out if this bike, being the first of the batch, might be one of the UK Vase team) I had already decided I was going to rebuild it to full GP specification, and had already built a full magnesium 500cc engine, to this end.
It does have a couple of bits on it that although not strictly speaking original for the year, I think are very interesting - the oil tank is actually a Beart item, identical to that fitted to Cromie McCandless's post war Gardengate, which was effectively the Beart 'Works' bike. Although less obvious, the front wheel currently fitted , although employing a genuine pre-war Norton magnesium brake plate, is also a Beart alloy item, although it is very similar to the late '40's Norton item.
I hope to have the bike running shortly (it is fully rebuilt inside) and it may be the topic of future website articles

Donington with Les Archer

I was very proud that the Norton Owners Club had asked me if I could bring some of my bikes to the 50th NOC anniversay at Donington. Even more so when the great Les Archer came over to chat and have his picture taken. This engine is a bit later than the rest of the bike and is shown on the Norton records as being supplied directly to Les in 1948 by the factory


Big Plunger Drive Side

Drive side of the Manx, showing the distinctive neck of the Beart oil tank with its quick release filler. Notice no drive chain at this stage


Big Plunger and Inter

Interesting comparison between Manx Bolthru tanks and Racing Inter tank

Manx 600cc Gardengate (future sidecar outfit)
As some of you may remember, about 3 yars ago I was lucky enough to acquire a very rare 600cc Gardengate Manx chassis from Australia. One of only 17 600cc Manx outfits made post war, this chassis was the first delivered into Australia (a common home for the 600cc bikes).
Well anyway, I am not quite ready to start rebuilding this bike yet, I am still at the stage of accumulating the right parts, but thanks to a customer putting me in touch with someone, I was very fortunate to acquire two of the parts I have been most desperate to find - a 600cc Manx square barrel and 600cc Manx crankshaft, wahhay!
I have now got 90% of the parts I need to start building. Unfortunately the 10% I am missing is a set of magnesium crankcases, which is arguably a quite major part(!) but I am not actually as disheartened about this as you may think. You see, I have every intention of being able to have some fun with this sidecar outfit, which means being able to give it a bit of welly!, so to do this I dont really want to be relying on fragile, irreplacable original SOHC magnesium crankcases. Therefore, this is very much my biggest incentive to have patterns made for SOHC M30 (and late M40) style crankcases.

600 crankshaft

Proverbial Hens Teeth - 600cc Manx crank!
Note the slight gap between the cutaway on the mainshaft and corresponding round cutaway on the flywheel for the BigEnd Nut - on a 500 there would be no gap, signifying the extra stroke of the 600.
Note also the extremely long length of the vertical shaft, I also have a 596 Inter shaft but this Manx version is even longer


600 Barrel

Ultra tall (and rare!) 600cc barrel on left. It has a larger base flange than the 500cc version and an additional fin (although the 500cc version on the right is actually a repro, with an extra fin!)


600 frame

600 chassis and parts. Petrol tank is an original 49-50 Bolthru, as I will be building it to this spec, including the conical rear hub, only fitted for last year of the Gardengate. Engine and oil tank are from another bike at this stage


Wraparound oil tank

This is the wraparound oil tank I will be using. As per the the petrol tank, for the last year of the Gardengate they were in alloy. Lovely and original, the large dent on the carb side should come out with annealing and persuasion . . .


The On-Line SOHC Parts Catalog
One of the main developments in the last year has been a subtle move to try and develop further the catalog of parts I am able to offer on-line, mainly for the Norton SOHC engine, and slowly to expand out from this as well, although I will try and keep the emphasis on competition parts for historic motorcycles.
Although still relatively small in volume, I have tried to keep this in line with what I know I can deliver, as I am aware how infuriating it can be to place an order then have to wait for parts. I am already finding a couple of parts that are proving hard to replenish (and apologies to those of you waiting for copper bevel nut washers), but overall it has been a very positive year and I would very much like to thank all those of you that have trusted enough to place orders with me, I have valued your custom and hope you have not been disappointed.


Magnesium Cambox Cover Patterns

Patterns for SOHC Manx covers - currently being cast in magnesium


For me, I cannot be sure what direction this part time endeavour will take in the long-term, but I started it as a more economic method of providing parts for my own rebuilds and being able to share these parts with others, and paramount has always been to ensure that quality of product overrides all other considerations. While I am still enjoying the challenges of providing these parts, and am able to maintain the quality and service I would expect myself, I will continue with it, and with luck will continue to expand it further.
If you would like to know more about the new products I am able to offer, or those in the pipeline, I have introduced a new webpage, accessible directly from my RacingVincent Homepage (the animated banner with the yellow background) or by pressing the link here:
Latest Product Review

By the way, one thing I would like to say about the direction the website is taking; I never set out to make the website a commercial site, to sell product or advertise. That said, as I am now selling some parts, inevitably there is a medium to be found where I can advertise this merchandise, but hopefully not lose the more ‘human’ viewpoint I try to aim for in the articles. I welcome your views, but up to now the most gratifying feedback I have received is that this still seems to be the case. I will try to keep site of that in the coming year.


New Articles and WebPages
Although I have tried hard (no really!), I’ve failed miserably in the last six months to publish any more articles, either for the Norton’s or Vincent restoration. However, I hope to rectify this in the next two months. In the last year i did finish an article on assembling the Norton cambox, which I published a few months ago, but other than that and a few product updates I have not been able to do much. You might have noticed that in the last 6 months I have been able to switch over to a 'Shopping Trolley' style (transactional website for any teccy's out there) catalog and the preperation for this has taken pretty much all the spare time I have had in the last year. But now it is published and up and running I have found that maintaining it as a much easier process and I can keep adding new products with much less fuss. I hope also that for customers (other than the process of initially logging your details) it will turn out to be much more efficient - as you can select the products you want and the order is automatically generated - rather than me getting it wrong!
So now I have this in place it will give me a bit more time over the coming (dark winter months) to catchup with some of the long overdue pieces that I am intending to write. In the following months I am hoping to write at least some of the following articles:

  • A series of articles on SOHC Manx engines, and the differences between these and International engines
  • A short series of Restoration articles - i.e. restoring and painting Norton petrol tanks
  • A newsletter for those accessing my online catalog - to keep customers abreast of latest additions
  • Some new downloads and screensavers

Vincent Engine

The Vincent as it currentlysits - with clutch assembly semi built (as I left it when I last worked on it some 6 years ago). The petrol tank is trial fitted to allow for me to measure up the special Black Lightning cutaway, to fit the downdraught 32mm TT carbs


And Finally - Vincent Black Lightning Replica: Hard to believe but I am actually thinking about finishing the Vincent off, as my next project.
I have decided it is about time I joined all the large lumps together and got it running - well, 20 years is enough for any restoration project!
However, just before anyone starts asking me how this is going I must point out that I have promised myself that I will try and assemble the Morini engine first, so I can sell it as an assembled bike, as well as giving the Big Plunger Norton its final detail touches - which given the current 'garage time' on my own bikes probably means there is another 3 years before this will get wheeled out, hey ho.

Incidentally, if anyone has any Black Lightning\Grey Flash rearset footrest assembly parts they would consider selling, then I would be very interested.

For anyone considering a similar project I might soon be having a small batch of Black Lightning petrol tank (bigger cutaway underneath to clear TT\GP carb) made. The tank in the photo opposite is an original tank I have, but the ones I am commisioning will look identical but with a larger cutaway underneath (taken from photos of an original Black Lightning tank). I should also be able to obtain standard Vincent tanks. Email me at the normal email address if you are interested and want more details


Anyway, that about brings me up to date on where I am at the moment. As always I have a few more things going on, as well as the relentless search for those elusive parts for future projects. But that is the fun of this hobby is'ent it - dreaming about what the next bike is going to look like, and the excitement of finding that part that brings you another step closer to being able to put it together.

Best Wishes,
October 11th 2009.


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