|Manufacturer||Norton Motorcycle Company|
Contributor: Alan Chanter
ww2dbaseThe Norton 16H could trace its heritage back to the 1911 Isle of Man TT when the firms founder, James Norton, entered the first ever Senior race on a 490cc side valve machine listed as the "3 1/2". Although Norton failed to achieve a place in this first outing, in the following year he won the Brooklands TT (including breaking three world records) with a similar machine. In 1913 Norton had several Machines on sale to the public including the Brooklands Special (BS) and the Brooklands Road Special (BRS) which, with their single speed belt drive transmission, could claim an ability to lap the Brooklands circuit at 70mph and 65mph respectively. Indeed some Nortons were well able of exceeding 80mph in competition events.
ww2dbaseThe First World War disrupted production and it was not until 1919 that the 490cc Norton was offered for sale once again. The new model now came with a chain-drive and a three-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox. In 1920 Norton moved production to a new factory at Bracebridge Street in Birmingham and at that year's TT races more than half the finishers were riding Norton machines (although the Senior trophy was taken by Tommy de la Hay on a Sunbeam ahead of Norton's Douggie Brown).
ww2dbaseIn 1931 Norton launched a new model, called the Colonial, to take advantage of a growing market in less developed areas of the British Empire. This had a higher ground clearance than the standard machine which itself was given a new designation – The 16H ("H" for Home). In that year's TT competition, Norton motorcycles were not placed higher than sixth although they were still, by far, the most popular mount of contenders.
ww2dbaseBy the mid 1920s the side-valve engine was no longer competitive in motor sport, but the dependable and rugged 16H would find itself a new role as popular family transport. With improved styling and detail refinements (such as switching to a saddle fuel tank), its considerable charm and popularity would ensure that the Norton would remain in production throughout the next decade. The engine was reworked in 1931 and in 1936, after extensive trials by the Army; a War Office order was placed for a military version with suitable modifications for off-road work.
ww2dbaseThe Norton 16H was purchased in very large numbers for use by the British Army just prior to the commencement of the Second World War. The Royal Air Force also took it and these were usually fitted with a single-seater sidecar. The sidecars were less frequently used by the Army, however, who preferred a solo machine for despatch riding and convoy marshalling duties.
ww2dbaseOver 80,000 were delivered through the war years gaining a unique reputation for "unstopability" as well as being a joy to ride on the road. A large number were supplied to Canada to be used by the Canadian Army for despatch riding. The Canadians who were accustomed to big US-built twins like the Indian and Harley-Davidson at first treated the lighter machine with contempt, but very soon began to respect the rugged British thoroughbred for its good handling and ability to keep going even when magnetos and gearboxes had been almost wrenched free by over-enthusiastic handling. It was not long before the Norton would acquire the reputation as the "Bike that not even the Canadians could break".
ww2dbaseAfter the war some machines remained in military service until the late 1950s, whilst many others survived with civilian owners for upwards of another two decades.
Andrew Kemp and Mirco De Cet, Classic British Bikes (Colour Library Direct, 1997)
Ian V Hogg & John Weeks, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles (Hamlyn 1980)
John Reed, Motorcycles in WWII (Article in War Monthly, October 1981)
Last Major Revision: Dec 2012
|Machinery||One 490cc Single-cylinder air-cooled side-valve four stroke engine rated at 12bhp @ 4,500rpm|
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937