History at 100 MPH: 1951 Norton Manx

Norton Manx

The Norton Manx (or Manx Norton) is one of the most successful British racing motorcycle in history. Developed to win the Isle of Man TT, the “Manx Gran Prix” model was originally a special racing version of the Norton International single overhead cam roadster featuring telescopic forks, plunger rear suspension, magnesium cases and cambox, and no lights.

Norton Manx

The Norton Manx would become one of the longest-running production racing motorcycles in history, gaining its name in 1936 with the Manx Grand Prix model, shortened after WWII simply to “Manx,” and produced until 1962.

Norton Manx

In the postwar period, the Manx was available for sale directly from the Norton’s original Bracebridge Street factory — but only to select customers. In 1951, Norton factory race team manager Joe Craig and crew fitted the Manx with the McCandless brothers’ now famous Featherbed frame, which gave the bike the handling necessary to conquer the fastest circuits of the era.

“From 1951 on, the chief factor in Norton wins was its innovative Featherbed chassis, which was designed for Norton by the McCandless brothers. With this chassis Norton could outrace any motorcycle of equal power, especially on difficult tracks.” —MCS

Norton Manx

The bike you see here is a 350cc 1951 Norton Manx that will be sold on a bill of sale at the Monterey 2021 Mecum Auction on August 12-14. The bike has an Amal GP carburetor, G9 gearbox, Featherbed frame, double-sided four-shoe Japanese front brake, and Smiths Chronometric tachometer.

“This compelling 1951 Norton 350cc Manx racer is built for racing with a terrific mix of a hot racing motor, an excellent racing frame and superior brakes, all tied together in an aesthetically pleasing package. It’s a classic featherbed-framed Norton racer with a long-stroke DOHC Manx 40M 350cc motor fed by a downdraft Amal GP racing carb and Lucas racing magneto.” —Mecum

The big four-shoe front drum gives the bike serious stopping power (for the era). The listing says it’s a Suzuki four leading-shoe drum up front, but multiple sources of our own have confirmed that it’s a Yamaha TZ 4LS (four leading shoe) brake. The bike also boasts a period-correct Norton “lay down” gearbox, all-welded Norton Wideline featherbed frame, classic Manx aluminum racing tank, and adjustable clip-on handlebars to suit the rider’s style and preferences.

Norton Manx

These engines in these bikes were based on the redesigned 1929 OHC motor that Arthur Carroll developed as a close copy of the Velocette K series. The 350cc DOHC air-cooled single in this Manx was known to produce around 35 horsepower, good for a top speed of 115 mph.

Norton Manx

Over a 24-year production run, the Manx established itself as one of the finest racing motorcycles in history. Fortunately, many racing series here in the States and abroad help keep these bikes on the track where they belong:

“This 1951 Norton 350cc Manx is built to go, and it’s a perfect basis for an entry into the vintage racing scene. Its 350cc overhead-cam engine (Engine No. F10M2 27280) tucked into the featherbed frame is legendary, with a Smith’s Chronometric tachometer allowing its rider to keep an eye on all that power being pushed out to the pavement via the G9 gearbox. With excellent spare parts availability and decades of tuning knowledge available, the Manx is perhaps the easiest vintage racer of them all to campaign.”

If you’re interested in owning this piece of motorcycling history — or, even better, running it on the track where it belongs — you can learn more and sign up to bid at Mecum.com.

 

9 Comments

  1. Lawrence of Suburbia

    The orange drums? Seems sacrilegious on this pillar of racing history.

    • I believe it’s Norton’s “Signal Orange,” though it does appear a bit dark for that. Possibly a tribute in this case to the famed “Orange Army” of marshals at the Isle of Man TT?

      • Lawrence of Suburbia

        One wonders? I have been around vintage racing circles here in the States for many years and seen many Manxs’ both in person and in the specialist magazines. I don’t recall ever seeing brakes/hubs in orange. Normally the entire brake assemblies at both ends are finished in black. I’m no Norton expert however, so the significance may have gone straight over my head. Perhaps it makes their rider easier to spot while out on the track!

  2. Bill Proto

    That’s not a Manx frame.

    • Could you elaborate? They went to a featherbed frame in 1951, yes?

      • Bill Proto

        That is a mild steel arc welded frame from a road bike, not a Sifbronze welded Reynolds 531 Manx racer frame.

        You can tell that much by the presence of a trouser plate gusset under the steering head and the small radius bend in the main frame tubes under the saddle nose.

        A 1951 frame would also have the rear subframe bolted on, not welded like that one.

  3. Mervyn Outhwaite

    Why is the engine tilted back? Usually sit upright, that just looks wrong.

  4. The feather bed frame was no available to the public until 1952 and then you had to be someone special. Pre 1952 all featherbed frames were Works Nortons only. The bike you show is a bitsa or someones special. The only thing Manx Norton here is the engine and may be the gearbox. The engine is also a longstroke yet someone has fitted a short stroke pipe thus well out of tune with the engine. The front brake looks to be a Yamaha

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