Nortons built on featherbed frames are a hard find, because most are hiding under another name - Tritons. Tritons united the best of Norton and Triumph motorcycles. To make one, a unit-construction Triumph twin-cylinder engine was eased into the Norton's featherbed frame, popular due to its ability to withstand heavy pounding from deplorable riding conditions and the torque generated by massive multi-cylinder engines. This transplant was required because Norton's vertical twins were prone to great vibration at higher RPMs. Vincent Vitwin engines were also united to Norton's featherbed frames, resulting in the Norvin.
But Tritons are mainly responsible for Norton's dwindling numbers. In the 1960s and 1970s, Triton conversions reached epidemic proportions. Motorcycle dealers pandered to their customers' craze for Tritons by proffering services that made conversion easy. A few paraded fully-assembled Tritons. These machines were an indispensable ally of bikers patronising cafes on fast motorways. These hang-outs specialised in a form of rock that drew heavily upon country music. Triton bikers tried to outdo one another by making a dash back to the club - after reaching a pre-determined point - before a song ended. Café racing became such a popular sub-culture that it got enshrined in films and music. Even today, some classic bike collectors in the West warm up to the idea of turning Nortons into Tritons.
Therefore, it is something of a wonder that Abraham Samuel's 350cc, single-cylinder Norton Model 50 has remained a Norton. Abraham (see pic) used to study in England and now works in America and is clued into motorcycle trends prevailing on either side of the Atlantic. And, most importantly, he enjoys bikes powered by big multi-cylinder engines. An 850cc twin Norton Commando, a 1100cc twin-cylinder BMW Boxer and a 750cc triple-cylinder Triumph Trident parked at his house in the United States are evidence of this fascination.
This early-1960s Norton (likely to have come from the last batch of Model 50s) was a gift Abraham received from his father in 1991. “Back then, I had little money. After spotting this bike near Royapettah Clock Tower, I made a good job of convincing my dad to buy it for me. I used to go on long inter-city rides on this Norton,” recalls Abraham.
“Abby had bought it from Jaganathan, who lived in Madras before settling down in Bangalore. Jaganathan was attracted to Norton bikes as iron fillings to magnet. He collected many of them and there was no Norton bike in the city that he was not aware of,” says C. Suri, who maintains the Model 50 for Abraham.
On visits to Chennai, Abraham rides the Model 50. As he uses the bike extensively, he employs a Micarb as alternative to the Amal carburettor. He is unsparring in efforts to procure the best parts for the bike. Sometime back, he brought a piston, which he had sourced from JP in Australia, makers of pistons for vintage and classic motorcycles. Abraham may love big bikes, but he knows few classic motorcycles are more suited than the Model 50 for motoring conditions in his home town.