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Ron Harris's 1931 Manx Grand Prix 490cc OHC Works Norton

1938 Norton 500cc International

Built as a spare machine for the 1931 TT, but not used, it was sold to successful 'rider agent' Ron Harris of Maidenhead, Berkshire to ride in the Senior Manx Grand Prix of the same year. Harris was a small dealer specialising in racing machines, and advertised his machines on 'adjustable drip feed terms'!It was dispatched on the 20th August 1931 (direct to the Isle of Man), and the entry in the despatch book reads 'special for Manx Grand Prix'. First practice was on Monday the 31st August, and in perfect conditions, Harris was 6th fastest senior at 64.9mph (a lap time of 34minutes 53 seconds) with Norton's' filling five of the top six places on the practice leader board (a lone Rudge in 4th place). All machines had to be fitted with regulation 'fishtail' silencers for practice; so more pace was expected on race day, when they could run unsilenced.Harris was part of the three man Sidcup Club team, his colleagues being Harold Daniell (Norton) and Jock West (Ariel). Out of 55 entrants for the senior, 18 were Norton mounted, but only three were on the new (Carroll designed) engine, Harris being one.

Harold Daniell was fastest in practice, and Jock West fell at the Craig, but was not injured.Senior race day Thursday the 10th of September dawned to pouring rain, but the race was started at 10am as per the programme. Harold Daniell was first of the Sidcup team away at number 15, with Harris next to go at number 34, and West away at number 44; but by the end of lap 1 only Harris was still going and lying in fifth place. By the end of lap 5, Harris was really flying, turning in a 68.15mph lap (33 minutes 14 seconds) and second place, but an unknown misfortune slowed his sixth lap to 50 minutes exactly (45.29mph).This put him in tenth place overall at the end of the race at an average speed of 61.8mph for the 225 mile event. His six laps took a total of three hours, thirty-nine minutes 35 seconds on mainly un-surfaced roads; they were real men!After the Manx, Harris returned to Maidenhead and registered the bike for road use on the 21st November 1931 and later raced the bike at Brooklands, where he was a local specialist (even the top men rode to most events, hence the registration).The machines' history from the mid thirties to the early sixties is unclear, but it is highly likely that Harris sold it from his shop when the next seasons model came out.

The bike turned up in rural Leicestershire in the early 1950's and passed through a number of owners until bought in a dilapidated state by ex continental circus rider Phil Heath in the early 1960's. Phil made the bike famous for the second time with a series of articles in 'Motor Cycle Sport' called "Instant Racer", where he detailed the trials and tribulations of preparing a 30 year old race bike for vintage racing. Later, it became part of the "Instant Sidecar Racer" story, being used to provide an outfit for Mick Broom. In this guise, it was ridden by ex World Sidecar Champion Eric Oliver; a one off ride that persuaded him into a second racing career with the V.M.C.C! By the early 1980's, Phil had sold the bike to lifelong friend and Vintage club founder 'Titch' Allen, who returned it to its' original 1931 specification. It was then exhibited at the Brooklands museum, with occasional use up the test hill!I bought the bike from 'Titch' in 1998, with the intention of parading it in the 1999 TT lap of honour-its' first return to the island since 1931.After a full mechanical and cosmetic 'refreshment' it was finished just in time to catch the Steam Packet ferry! It has enjoyed (?) its' first ever M.O.T test, and was taxed in June 1999, its' first tax disc since December 1956!Norton experts will notice the unusual specification of the bike, which is exactly as dispatched.

 

  • TT Webb forks
  • 8" Enfield rear brake and Cush hub
  • Two stay frame with cross over rear brake rod
  • Sturmey Archer 4 speed gearbox
  • Needleless carburetor
  • TT BTH magneto
  • This bike was essentially a 'cross over' from the old Walter Moore bikes, and has one of the earliest Carroll engines ever made. Still capable of an honest 100mph (once only out of respect!), it's a delight to ride. After the disastrous fire at the Birmingham National Motorcycle Museum, Titch and I decided that the best place for the Norton was at the museum, so a deal was struck with owner Roy Richards, and it's now on view for all to enjoy.

    This story was kindly provided by Steve Lacey, former owner.