|Description||Manx Norton 30M 500cc|
|Engine size||498 cc|
The 'Manx' moniker was first applied to Norton's highly successful
350cc and 500cc works racing machines in 1938. A decade later and their
ruthless dominance, not only at the Isle of Man circuit but throughout
Europe, was under threat. However, in 1950, just as it seemed that the
Gilera and MV multi-cylinder 'fire engines' would get the upper hand,
Norton launched the famous 'featherbed' frame. Engineered by Rex
McCandless and fabricated from Reynolds 531 tubing, it was to prove
stronger, lighter and more comfortable than the 'garden gate' design it
The 1953 introduction of Joe Craig's short stroke 498.7cc thumper boosted performance still further allowing riders Ray Amm and Jack Brett to finish first and second in that year's TT. En route to victory, Amm set a new Manx lap record of 23 minutes, 15 seconds at an average speed of 97.41 mph (beating Geoff Duke's 1952 record by over 3mph!).
During an extensive lifespan the 500cc Manx was deemed more competitive than its 350cc sibling, which was often overshadowed by AMC's slightly more efficient '7R' ? reflected by the fact Norton produced about twice as many 500s as 350s. Manx production ceased in 1961 but some machines were built from spares in 1962 and a few the following year after the works had moved from their hallowed Bracebridge Street to the AMC works in Plumstead following an amalgamation. The total quantity made is believed to number around 2000 ? a figure much increased today thanks to various engineering firms providing a comprehensive range of parts for the hugely popular replica market that has arisen.
According to the Norton factory records, the bike you see here is a 1958 Model 30M 498cc Manx Norton. The engine and frame numbers were 11M78794 and the gearbox, an AMC type, was number 1049. It was tested by Mr Meades before being despatched to one of Birmingham's biggest car and bike distributors, Colmore Depot, on 2nd May 1958 ? just in time for the TT races which take place in the last week of May and the first week of June.
The original engine and gearbox are still on the bike but there is no frame number in the usual place on the reinforcing gusset above the left-hand footpeg. There is, however, what appears to be a Norton factory mark on the triangular web plate on top of the headstock which reads 8 57. It seems probable that the original frame was damaged early in the bike's career and it was fitted with a replacement works frame from a batch made in August 1957. The frame appears to be a genuine Norton featherbed item made from the correct gauge Reynolds 531 chrome molybdenum tubing.
The supply of Manx Nortons was strictly limited and, for obvious reasons, the Norton factory tried to ensure that they were only sold to talented riders. It was not unusual for the name of the rider that the bike was destined for to be recorded on the factory despatch sheet.
Our bike has the name of Peter Brookes attached to it but we have been unable to identify a rider of that name at this time. It therefore seems probable that Brookes was either a sponsor of a competitive rider or merely the Colmore Depot employee to whom the bike was booked. Either way, it is clear that more research is needed to identify who actually rode the bike in its early years.
What we have established is that the bike was acquired by Peter M Sheppard in 1964 from well-known Manx tuner Syd Mularney of Leighton Buzzard. Prior to that the bike had been owned by John Jacques, a wealthy amateur who campaigned the bike at many circuits including rides to 18th place in the Senior Manx Grand Prix of 1962 and to 10th place in the same race of 1963.
Sheppard, in his turn, also rode the bike in the Senior Manx Grand Prix, finishing 37th in 1965. In 1968 he rode it in the Senior TT itself but did not finish the race due to problems with the magneto. Like Jacques, he too rode the bike at many other circuits, both here and abroad, and spent most summers hacking around the continental GP circuits in his Ford Thames van. At one stage he led the rain-lashed Brno Grand Prix in Czechoslovakia, only to come a cropper on some wet cobbles.
An engineer by trade, Sheppard was a competent mechanic but he also enlisted the help of his friend and fellow racer, Brian Fletcher, to work on the bike with him. Fletcher confirms that the bike was always exceptionally quick and featured a twin plug head and twin spark magneto (still fitted today). He also recalls stripping the engine one time to find that the underside of the piston was drilled and lightened and that the con rod was a solid one piece design with no eye in it and no sleeve - performance modifications which he believes were the work of another renowned Manx tuner, Bill Lacey.
Sheppard's second wife, Jeanette, also recalls that he was a friend and one-time team-mate of Mike Hailwood who also rode the bike on at least one occasion. Sheppard retired from racing in 1969 and from then until his death in 2003 the bike had only occasional outings at vintage events, either in his hands or those of a younger friend, Ian Bryant.
Still in full running order but now in need of some sympathetic recommissioning, 11M78794 remains a highly original bike that has a long and continuous racing history. It is offered for sale complete with a period fibreglass fairing, a spare piston and some spare valves, plus a spare piston and valves for a 350cc Manx Norton. Still with many years of life ahead of it, either on the track as part of the booming classic race scene or merely as a static exhibit, it is sure to make a fantastic addition to any collection.