With the Mustang body well on its way to being straight and true, it was time for me to turn my attention to the heart of the beast, a 289 cubic inch Windsor V8. The Windsor story is a fascinating one so grab a cup of tea and we’ll talk a tale of two cities.
In 1904, in what could be the first ever case of badge-engineering, Ford opened a manufacturing plant in Windsor, Canada – across the river from the US Detroit parent company. The idea was to assist the company to gain a foothold into Canada and elsewhere in the British Empire.
Evidently the experiment was successful. The plant later incorporated an engine casting facility and, in 1962, introduced the Windsor V8 engine to an automotive world hungry for power and speed. The modern, new Windsor engine was a marked departure from the previous design and it was an instant hit.
In this ‘everything old is new again’ world, the old Y block V8 is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance amongst hard-core enthusiasts but I’m sure, back in the day, they were quickly shoved aside in favour of the sportier new-comer.
Such was the success of the Windsor V8, production extended long after its replacement when the Cleveland was introduced. In fact, the Windsor was used for another 18 years beyond the short, 13 year span of the Cleveland that ceased production in 1982. The Cleveland engine, as the name suggests, was produced in Cleveland, Ohio. It was intended to be a more robust and versatile engine than its predecessor. The Cleveland lived up to expectations and proved very successful in racing, particularly in Australia where it was a game-changer in the Falcon GT. The Falcon GT was a dream-car to many a teenager growing up in Australia, including me. The advent of the Cleveland, for us kids, signalled the end of the Windsor. Everyone knew, if you wanted to be in the race a Cleveland was the only way to go, notwithstanding both engines came in 351 cubic inch displacement. Like the Y block before them, Windsors were shunted aside and ended up in cars driven by the slightly more wealthy members of my cohort.
But then a strange thing happened, the Windsor refused to leave the stage.
Having pinned their future muscle-car ambitions on the Cleveland, Ford planned to phase out the Windsor in the late seventies, but the perennial heart-beat from across the river had other ideas and Detroit were forced to keep sending it out into the world. It stayed on in 302 cubic inch format up until 1982 when it was re-badged the 5.0 (litre) and remained in production up until 2000 when the last of the fuel injected, roller cam engines were put out to pasture. It was one of those, the last incarnation of the Ford Windsor V8, that I had my eye on for the Mustang.
The tired, duty, oil-leaky 289 Windsor V8 had to go. Note the dedicated gas set-up the previous owner had installed (no doubt at great expense).
My car was from the sixties and it was produced with a Windsor V8 which meant this was the only option. A bonus here is the direct connection to the seventies when those afore-mentioned, financially capable friends of mine were running around garnering my envy in their Windsor-powered cars. Four decades later, I’m set to revisit those days, the days before the fuel injected, refined, perfectly timed and smooth V8s we’ve become accustom to.
Out with the old.
To be fair, there’s no shortage of roller-cam V8 engines looking for cars to inhabit with a lot of people being put off by all the fuel injection hardware that sits atop the engine, they are a natural turn-off. Fuel injecting a Windsor is the automotive equivalent breast augmentation, it looks great but it comes with high maintenance and takes skills far beyond my fumbling fingers to master so losing the fuel injection unit was a must. When I lift the bonnet on my 66 Mustang I want to see a bright blue Ford Windsor V8 at home in there with a 4-barrel Holley breathing through a classic Ford air-filter.
I had read on the internet it was quite a simple task to throw out the fuel injection and return the engine to the less socially acceptable form of fuel delivery from the last century – the carburettor. To achieve this I would mainly need two things, an engine and a carburettor. As it turned out, I would need many things but these two items seemed like a good start (the 289 engine I removed from the car had been gas-powered so there was no carburettor with that).
The 5.0 roller cam Windsor I settled on was a used American imported item falsely described as ‘refurbished.’ I would later learn refurbished is semantics for paint and gaskets, which probably explains why the engine was so cheap, however, there was a bonus: I could take my pick from a nearby pile of carbies. In a nod to the environment, I selected a 480 cfm unit. Sure, it’s got four barrels but it’s in the smaller range of the 4-barrel Holley family and at the end of the day, my car is intended to be a cruiser anyway.
The last hurrah for the Windsor V8 engine. This fuel injected engine was reportedly ‘refurbished.’ In truth, it had a few gaskets replaced. Note all the fuel injection hardware at the top of the engine that had to be removed.
Feeling pretty chuffed with myself, I took the engine and went off to get a Windsor expert to run his eye over it and help return the unit to carburettor fed. Having been with us since 1962, these things are quite rudimentary but, as it turns out, there was a fair bit more required to return a carburettor to the Windsor than I had anticipated. The list included a new inlet manifold, camshaft, distributor, coil, water pump and fuel pump. I wanted someone I could trust to turn me out a good engine at a reasonable price and, to that end, I chose Paul Poller of SpanaWorx Mechanical Services. Paul’s easy-going nature and sensible approach to engine builds was ideally suiting to adapting the 302 for service in my ’66 Mustang.
My bargain engine basically needed a full rebuild. Here, Paul is treating it to a new oil pump – adding to my peace of mind.
There was a prosperous time about 10 years ago when the Australian dollar was on parity with the US greenback and we enjoyed the bountiful US performance market with relatively little trauma to the hip-pocket. Importing used engines from the US was a thing and some of the more creative exporters turned, shall we say Dickensian, in using elaborate terms to sell scrap metal. I accept I jumped into the unknown but I wasn’t expecting someone to have drained the pool.
In she goes. Well almost. The sump got hung up on the cross member and the engine would not seat properly. A simple fix was to swap it with the sump from the 289.
By the time I took delivery of my sparkling blue Windsor V8 it had new rings, bearings, camshaft, alloy heads and host of external parts to add beauty and practicality. The old 289 was no slouch but I’m expecting my new, improved heads and lumpy camshaft will add a few horsepower to the already spritely 302.
Getting close now and relying on Google for some last minute tune-up tips.
My carby was sent off to Xtreme Fuel Systems in NSW where it was transformed to better than new. This is the third carby Xtreme have reconditioned for me and I highly recommend them. I took the carb out of the box and simply bolted it onto the engine. The carb is yet to be dialled in, but the engine burst into life after a few short bursts on the starter motor with a deep rumble that has been absent from my life for too long. It is immensely satisfying to hear that car running again.
Hear it here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rrb51yf_2W0
The rebuilt Holley carb is a thing of beauty. Xtreme Carburettor Rebuilding in Cambelltown, NSW are highly recommended.
When I lift the bonnet on my 66 Ford Mustang I want to see a clean and tidy Windsor V8 engine breathing through a classic Ford air-cleaner – in this case a Shelby replica.
Progress on the Norton has been a little slow of late due mainly to a few unforeseen events that, in the interests of doing a proper job, has resulted in items previously sent for repair having been retrieved. Confused? Don’t be, restorations typically have unforeseen and unknown challenges that test the mettle of the most ardent restorers.
It seems with the Norton I may have over-estimated the skills or our chosen spray painter because, as it turns out, the rear mudguard was simply too far gone. Arrangements were made to have the wonky, rusty and bent piece of 63 year old tin brought back to the shed for re-evaluation and I must say, I had to agree with Simon at Motorcycle Panel and Paint, she was in a poorly state. Fortunately, help was not far away.
Like the mudguard itself, the removable tail-piece was rusty, bent and buckled beyond repair.
Australia’s only manufacturer of motorcycle mudguards and fenders is located in Donnybrook, in the South West of Western Australia, not far from where we hail. Vintage Steel have a great website which is well worth a visit and, for international readers, they send product all over the world. Having collected the dodgy guard I wandered off to Vintage Steel and had a sit-down with Andrew and Michael. These guys love motorcycles and given the opportunity will yarn about bikes for hours. Surrounded by shiny, new, raw steel guards, some impressive metal-working machinery and a few crusty veteran motorcycles one quickly loses sense of time. A new guard was hatched in our collective musings and left with Andrew and Michael to turn into reality. The finished guard materialised within a few days and it’s a beauty.
The old, unrepairable rear mudguard in situ. Note the new item ready to be installed.
With the donor guard being so out of shape, Vintage Steel were unable to drill the mounting holes as the chances of them lining up with the frame would be remote. This required the frame having to be returned and mated to the guard. At this point, it should be pointed out, the craftsmen trusted with specialist paint and powder coat are some 250 kilometres away so logistics can be a bit of an ordeal, although not with the Norton. Whenever the word goes out to family and friends of the Busby Norton the items needing transport are delivered in a matter of hours. These people are well into the project.
The new mudguard is fitted into the frame and mounting holes drilled through the precious metal with deft precision
By the time it became apparent we needed the frame, work was well underway at S & S so there was a bit of a wait for the frame and 38 other pieces to be stripped, blasted, under-coated, top-coat applied and finished off with a clear coat. The result is sublime. Recall in Norton Part II how the frame was a mere representation of lugs and tubes, well dear readers, take a look at it now. My instruction to S & S Powder Coaters was, “finish it in glossy gloss black.” S & S have stepped up to the mark because it gleams. One can almost see one’s face in the shiny black tubes.
Measure twice, cut once.
With the frame back in the shed, it was time to begin drilling the mudguard. That’s right, drilling holes in the new, hand-crafted, rolled-metal mudguard. Many years ago, when my father was building his first aircraft, he had to be registered with the then Department of Civil Aviation who would come down and inspect the project has it progressed. They even inspected Dad’s shed before he commenced construction. In a nod to the DCA examiners, and to remind himself, Dad had a large banner along one wall of the shed that said “measure twice, cut once.” Sage advice that’s stayed with me for the past 40 or more years.
I measured, re-measured and measured once again before drilling tiny little holes in the Vintage guard. I mock-fitted the guard with little bolts and once I was satisfied everything was in the right place, I launched into drilling full-size holes through the mudguard mounting points. I’m happy to report measuring a bunch of times has meant the cuts are roughly in the right place and the guard will soon be sent back to Perth to be reunited with its sibling for panel and paint. Thanks to Vintage Steel there will be negligible panel and the guys at Motorcycle Panel and Paint can launch into coating the guard in glossy, gloss black paint.
Before we go, in our next discussion will visit the heart of the Norton – the engine. The engine has been pulled down and found to be in remarkably good condition. It seems, all that is required is a piston, rings and gasket set. An order has been put in with Feked Motorcycle Parts in the UK and, at the time of writing, I’m happy to report two parcels of Norton parts have just left Heathrow. The parcels include gaskets, wheel rims, spokes, rear shock absorbers, exhaust pipe and other assorted odds and ends. These are all new parts and generally of good quality, in most cases better than the original.
Finally, the head and rocker box have been vapour blasted by Rusty’s in Capel and they’ve come up beautiful and clean. We’ll talk about the engine in more detail soon, in the meantime, here’s a sneak preview.
Newly cleaned head and rocker box by Rusty’s in Capel.
There has been some major progress on the Norton this week. The frame has been repaired, likewise the oil tank and the whole lot has been bundled off to Perth for powder and paint.
For a time, during the formative years of the motorcycle, the gearbox and engine were two separate units within the frame of the machine. They were cast out of great lumps of alloy and filled with pieces of hardened steel that were stressed into a rotating mass that was a bee’s dick away from self-destructing. Most of the time. Sometimes that little bee’s dick wasn’t enough and the engine would fly apart, not this little M50 however, she’s a survivor.
The engine and gearbox were cobbled together by a chain that was referred to as the ‘primary-drive.’ The primary-drive chain spins the clutch housing which transfers power into the gearbox, through the various cogs then to the rear-drive sprocket and secondary-drive chain, to the rear wheel and finally, the road. Squeezing this complicated power-train into the frame, whilst maintaining functionality, required dedicated engineering and creativity. Norton was no exception, they were actually very successful in meeting their objectives of producing a motorcycle that was functional, nimble and reliable. The evidence of this can be found in the little 350 single that, some 63 years later, is still with us. Having said all this, the Norton is no less or no more complicated than its contemporaries from Triumph, BSA and a host of other manufactures that were meeting the demand for reliable, exciting and affordable motorcycles. I’m a little biased so I’m going to say Norton was more successful here than its rivals.
The engine from the M50, note the primary-drive sprocket at the side of the crank-case.
Combine hardware and tinwear prior to being sent off for paint and powder.
For the past couple of weeks I have been delving into the Pandora’s box of M50 parts, identifying what we have that will connect the engine and gearbox, what we will need, what needs to be repaired and what will go back into the machine as is. Working on this conglomeration of M50 hardware I have to consistently remind myself it is a 350 cc motorcycle. It is constructed in much the same way as my Triumph 650 twins. It’s hefty, solid and looks unbreakable. Sadly it’s not, but I digress.
Eventually, around the early sixties, someone thought to join the engine and gearbox in one unit and, in so doing, greatly simplified the design. The term ‘unit-construction’ was applied to this new form of motorcycle engineering and the bikes that went before were retrospectively called ‘pre-unit.’ Coming out of the factory in 1956 the Norton is well and truly in the pre-unit category of motorcycles. The bikes still had two drive chains, but the design enabled the bikes to be shorter, lighter and easier to manufacture.
Arranging an engine and gearbox in mid twentieth century motorcycle design required substantial hardware to keep everything in place. Admittedly, the bike develops less than 20 horsepower so one doesn’t expect the engine would exactly be bursting out of the frame, yet there are no less than six metal plates and eight bolts holding the engine and gearbox in place. For comparison purposes, my late-model Norton Commando has 90 horsepower and the engine is secured by four bolts. This perhaps suggests the little 350 might be a tad over-engineered but we have found a flaw.
One of the tubes on the side of the frame has a tiny crack in the paint. The frame is a substantial piece of kit so it’s hard to imagine it cracking, nevertheless, on grinding the paint away, the crack was proven to be more than a paint chip. It went down, well into the metal of the frame and required someone with better skills than I possess to repair it. Enter Rob Teale of Teale Custom https://www.facebook.com/tealecustom/ . To know Rob is to marvel at his skills in working metal, the man could build a Rolls Royce from a jam tin.
Metal has been ground away from the cracked frame in readiness for re-welding.
Like a dentist grinding away layers of tooth enamel, Rob was able to dig below the decay to clean metal and has repaired the frame with fresh welding. Likewise, the oil tank had to undergo a bit of the Teale magic and now both are as good as new, albeit a bright, shiny new that is exposed to the elements, inviting oxides to latch onto it like sugar to a tooth. To protect this raw metal, and all the other pieces that have been in a slow, elemental rot for some years, the whole lot has been packed off for a gleaming finish in glossy, gloss black (my terminology). Along with the frame, there’s an awful lot of pieces that make up this simple, small motorcycle that will be given a coat of powder and paint.
Rob has filled the broken frame tube with a fresh new weld.
Welded, ground back and ready for a new coat of glossy black powder.
Powder-coat has its limitations. It’s great for hardware and robust pieces that are likely to take bangs and knocks but it’s not all that suitable for tinware. Tinware includes the fuel tank, mudguards and any other items that are constructed from sheet metal that will be on show when the bike is back together. Tinware really needs to be painted, particularly when it’s been dented and requires filler. Powder over dents looks hideous and nothing grabs the eye more than a shiny dent. So, new maxim: hardware powder, tinware paint.
The oil tank cap was a bit rough and needed repairing.
Oil tank is done and ready for painting.
We love our Nortons at the Motor Shed. Here’s a picture of Dan at the Norton factory in 2018.
Read more about our visit to the Norton factory at the Bike Shed Times.
Read more about our modern Norton Commando here
Read more about our Triton here.
A new project arrived in the shed this week in the form of a lovely little 1956 Norton 350 single. To be honest, the bike’s not so lovely – but she will be again soon.
This machine is a valuable heirloom that belongs to a local family who have been beset by health challenges in recent months. It was Chris’s intention to restore the motorcycle himself for his son but in recent times he has lost some dexterity which precludes tasks like motorcycle restoration so I am honoured to be charged with the responsibility for bringing this classic British single back to life.
Long before Nortons were tagged with such famous names as ‘Manx’ and ‘Commando,’ the company simply identified their motorcycles with a model designation. The 350 single is designated Model 50, of M50 for short. The M50 was introduced in 1933 and remained in production up until WWII when the factory moved away from civilian machines to concentrate on the war effort. Production resumed in 1956 which means this motorcycle belongs to first run of post-war M50 motorcycles.
Many folk, including me, think of Norton mainly in terms of competition motorcycles but the little M50 is more gentleman’s commuter than a racing bike. It’s smart, business-like and will be quite comfortable with gentle-on-the-back ergonomics. For decades Norton singles dominated motorcycle road racing in the UK and Europe so the M50 has a good pedigree. Motorcycle racing was James Lansdowne Norton’s passion. Affectionately known as “Pa” Norton, James was a talented and dedicated engineer who was at the forefront of engine design. Decades before Taglioni released his famous desmodromic valve system, Norton experimented with continual valve actuation which he named desmodromique. Before we go too far down this rabbit hole, it is mentioned here to demonstrate Norton were ahead of the game in the early days of motorcycle engineering, which, we hope, benefited the M50.
Tall for a 350 cc engine, the 1956 M50 is close to the end of the run for Norton singles which enjoyed many decades of success in racing and on the road.
The bike is finished in traditional Norton silver paintwork with chrome highlights and contrasting black frame. It is the archetypical British single but it’s got “Norton” written on the tank and that alone adds kudos. Manx silver lifts it to another level for this colour has been synonymous with Norton since the time they stamped their seal on the Isle of Man circuit in 1907. Silver, on black, on chrome and polished alloy, this motorcycle is going to look very smart indeed.
Having established the M50 looks sharp, comes with good manners and has a racing heritage, it’s perhaps time to take a step back and look at what we’ve got. Most people would see only a pile of dirty, rusty metal, faded alloy and perished rubber but we see a sound base from which to reconstruct a motorcycle. These days, Metal can be painted, polished or plated to a standard that is equal to, or better than, the original. And that’s just what is going to happen here.
Stepping back to look at what we’ve got, it appears we have everything needed to reconstruct a motorcycle.
In typical Motor Shed fashion, the motorcycle arrived in several large pieces (and lots of smaller ones). I don’t mind this, the machine will be dismantled to the last nut and bolt but basket cases inevitably have parts missing so it is somewhat of a lucky dip as to what’s there and what’s not. The package includes a spare engine that is partially dismantled and the original engine that matches the frame number.
The value of a good inspection. Having removed some paint this crack in the frame was revealed and will need to be repaired. This could have been dangerous once out on the road had it not been discovered.
The engine is a tall, substantial piece of alloy and steel. It’s hard to believe it’s only 350 cc but I have measured the bore and stroke and found it to be accurate. With some good vapour blasting and replating of all the fasteners, the engine is going to be an impressive sight, either on the bench or nestled into the contrasting black frame.
It must have been immensely satisfying to produce a motorcycle with your name on it. James Lansdowne Norton was justifiably proud to put his name to this motor and we will honour his work with fresh chrome plating on this valve cover to make it look as good as new.
The fuel tank was originally finished in a combination of paint and chrome. It would have been a time-consuming, and therefore expensive process, that helped Norton stand out from the crowd.
Speaking of the frame, it is a sturdy, solid piece of kit but has undergone a few repairs in its sixty-odd years of service. There are at least two welds that aren’t factory and soon there will be one more because I’ve discovered a large crack in one of the tubes. It’s an easy fix but will need someone with better welding skills than me. After that she will go in for a coat of lush black powder – which is sure to set a cat amongst the pigeons with the perennial argument of powder verses paint being ignited. I always err on the side of powder. It looks better, hides imperfections, is longer lasting and provides a better level of protections than paint. Sure, it’s not original but if a motorcycle is going to be ridden then powder is the best choice. If it’s going to be a museum piece then the more traditional coating of paint would be okay.
I’m sure Pa Norton would approve.
Saturday April 13 and the second annual York Vintage Motorcycle Hill Climb is upon us. Unloading my bike and pushing it towards the pits, I’m feeling a nervous energy to be back at one of my favourite events on the Western Australia classic motorcycle calendar.
The event is staged on a public road that winds up Mount Brown, a short distance from the Wheatbelt town of York, Western Australia. The Mount Brown hillside is peppered with an assortment of beautiful classic motorcycles and not so beautiful old friends. Our bike banter is interrupted when someone fires up a British single, bellowing through a custom-made megaphone and, before long, the sweet fragrance of Castrol R descends on the mountain and I’m in heaven.
At the rider’s briefing the organisers reminded us several times this is not a race, it’s a regularity event – tell that to my right hand whilst I’m sitting on the starting line, blipping the throttle on my Triton, one eye on the flag, one on the opposition (aka fellow regularity event competitor).
The flag drops and I feed my newly installed BNR clutch to 750 cc of Triumph twin bellowing to be unleashed. We’re away, my front wheel comes up and I list to the right briefly before straightening up and finding second gear. The bike is pegged to the stop again and I’m immediately aware how sweet the Triton is running. I have an extra 100 cc this year, courtesy of a Morgo big-bore kit, and a Mikuni pumper carburettor. Last year my bike started to misfire about half way up the hill, this year she just keeps pulling and pulling.
The first bend, a right-hander, is upon me and third gear still has a way to run, back off ever so slightly, line the corner up and nail it. The Norton frame sits rock steady on narrow tyres and rockets out of the bend. It’s about 200 metres to the next braking point and I hold her flat to the skyline. Wait, wait, brakes. Tip her into the last right hander and, as soon as we can see the road ahead, open her up again for one final, brief blast before the finish line.
In terms of regularity, over five runs I am within .2 of a second within my nominated time. It’s not enough to even come close to the eventual winner however, for that I would have to be within .02 of a second!
Rolling back down the hill after my last go at the hill, the Triton and I are still running, the day has been a huge success. The organisers are to be congratulated on another fabulous event, here’s the day in pictures.
Outwards, cool as a cucumber, inside nerves are churning.
Described by the photographer, Russell Platts, “Off to a flying start. That’s an angry face if ever you saw one.”
Joachim Keese’ lovely Norton Dominator performed well, earning him second place. Photograph by Tony Wong.
Lambretta rider Tony Wong was up against Sid Barton. Sid had the last laugh when he placed second against Tony’s third.
We’re big fans of the Ariel marque here at the Motor Shed. https://motorshedcafe.com.au/rebuilding-the-ariel-part-ii/
Nortons where in abundance.
Former WA Speedway solo champion Bob O’Leary still knows how to ride the wheels of a motorcycle. In this case a JAP single in a Norton Featherbed frame. A beautiful machine.
Another Ariel, this time with room for two.
It’s a real “run what you brung” day.
Start line. Note the chocks that are used to stop the motorcycles rolling backwards whilst waiting for the flag to drop.
Bike and rider still running. That’s a successful day.