History of the P11 Prototype article.

jerrykap

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Hi all, I was asked by sideburn magazine, an internet publication that comes out quarterly, to do a short piece on the creation of the P11 prototype. Here's what I came up with. Please feel free to add your comments or additional knowledge. Thanks for looking.


How And Why The Norton P11 Prototype Was Created
By Jerry Kaplan, Davis, CA

As an owner of a Norton P11A that I purchased brand new in May of 1968, I've long had a special regard for these unique Norton hybrids. I find almost every detail surrounding these often misunderstood machines fascinating. Because of that, I've been fortunate enough to have amassed a fair amount of early history of the development of these terrifically potent “Street Scramblers”. They were born out of necessity to win races in the off road environments of the North American continent. However, the tale of the prototype creation begins in the deserts of southern California.

The United States of America was quite a different place 45 years ago. Gone were the conformist days of the 50's, giving way to a sense of unbridled possibilities. The space race was on and a sense of fun and adventure seized the U.S. One of the ways that new spirit manifested itself was in the dramatic increase in motorbike sales. Many new riders, both young and mature, relished the freedom and exhilaration. A large numbers of riders became passionate off road riders. particularly in the wide open West where the arid conditions created vast desert areas that were open to all. Many clubs and social groups formed in order to promote sanctioned competitions, such as hare and hound scrambles, that helped bring more and more participants into the fold. Fields of many hundreds of riders at the starting line were not uncommon. Those were heady times for motorbike dealers and riders alike.

Innovation played a huge role in successful off road racing. There was no preordained formula worked out, other than more power, lighter weight, stronger frames & wheels and suspension that really worked. In terms of development the rule books were very accommodating. Rider fitness and skill level also had to be considered at the highest levels as these were demanding events lasting several hours, requiring stamina, endurance and skill.

As cream rises to the top, by the early to mid-1960's the favored rides of the winning competitors were mostly on British bikes. The Triumph 650 and 500cc twins were often the bike to beat as they bulked up the starting grids in large numbers. The other British Marques were represented as well, AJS, Matchless, BSA, Grieves, Cotton, Royal Enfield, Velocette, Norton, etc, but in far smaller numbers. There was also a new influx of imported machines from Japan, Sweden and Eastern Europe that were to make a lasting impression and eventually eclipse all that had come before.

This is the fertile ground that the P11 Prototype was born into: ZDS Motors was the West Coast distributor for Berliner Motor Corporation. ZDS stood for Zundap, Ducati and Sachs. All these marques were being imported by Berliner Motors along with Norton, Matchless & AJS machines. Bob Blair was the proprietor of ZDS and his right hand man and ace fabricator was a genial, charming fellow by the name of Steve Zabaro. They realized that the technically proficient but underpowered Matchless G85CS and the powerful but too heavy Atlas Scrambler and N15's, might combine well together and lead to greater success in off road events along with a beneficial increase in sales. How right they were!

Bob B. and Steve Z. set about creating just this sort of desert sled. They utilized Steve's then nearly new G85CS and a brand new N15 as donor bikes and set about combining the best features of both into what was to become the Norton P11. Keeping the Reynolds 531's high strength, low weight frame (called chrome molly in the U.S.) the magnesium rear hub along with forks, wheels, seat, handlebars and most of the cycle parts from the G85CS, they managed to fabricate alloy adapter plates that would accommodate the Mighty 750cc twin with the AMC gearbox, taken out of the N15CS, into their new hybrid. No easy feat, as maintaining proper chain alignment for the final drive was essential. An intricate system of frame spacers (distance pieces in Brit speak) were utilized to this end. In addition a custom alloy oil tank and high level exhaust pipes were fabricated

The resulting prototype machine proved to be exactly what they were hoping to create: a lighter, faster more controllable desert racing thoroughbred. That, as a factory recreated production model in the hands of San Gabriel Valley Motor Cycle club's Mike Patrick, went on to become heavyweight class champion in the incredibly hot cauldron of American Motorcycle Association District 37 off-road championship. Hotly contested by many of the legendary greats of that era such as Bud and Dave Eakins, J.N. Roberts, Steve Hurd, Malcolm Smith and Harvey Mushman (actually the late great “King of Cool” Steve McQueen, who was forbidden by his studio contracts to race motor bikes, hence his alter ego).

Here's what Mike had to say about his prototype experience: “Then along came the prototype of the P11. Tom (Tiny) Maxwell and I took the prototype out to the desert for a week of bashing and the bike worked perfectly. I was nursing a shoulder from a crash and Tom and I took a week off from racing and went to the desert to run the crap out of it. They (ZDS) were in a hurry to send it back to England. I tried to race it that Sunday, but the difference in racing and what we call cow trailing is not even in the same world. I made it to the smoke bomb and had to stop, my shoulder was killing me. So I put the prototype in the truck and took it back to ZDS and told Bob Blair not to change anything. Guess what? They did, but it was OK, the big P11 was an ass kicker and I won lots and lots of races on it. “

In November 1966, Bob Blair, Bob Budschat (the Seattle area distributor for ZDS) and Mike Berliner (younger brother of Joe Berliner, the US importers of Norton and other European motorcycles) went to London to display the prototype at the annual Earls Court trade show where it was seen by Dennis Poore, the new owner of Norton Villiers.

It did indeed go into production as a 1967 model with a great number of changes from the simplicity of the concept bike. One of the first factory assembled models (121013) delivered to Berliner Motors was rushed out to ZDS where it was given to Mike Patrick to modify into what became his championship bike. I'm proud to say I am now the current custodian of this fire breathing dessert sled and dinosaur as these big heavyweight twins have been surpassed by technology long ago.

What finally became of the original prototype is well known but the details are largely unknown by me. I'm hoping interest in this article will bring forward new material to complete this history.

Somehow the prototype returned to the US after Norton Villiers had a chance to study it with an eye towards production. It became the property of Domi Racer, a Cincinnati, OH based motorcycle parts business, where it was again purchased by an English fellow who is now keeping it to himself somewhere around London. The production models spanned a period from March of 1967 through November 1968 in 3 distinct variants. About 2,500 units were produced alltogether with the vast majority going to North America and some to Australia and Sweden. But there can be only one original prototype.

Thanks to all my P11 mates who have contributed to this accumulation of specialized knowledge: In particular Anthony Curzon in Croydon, UK, Dean Nissen in Seattle, WA, Steve Blair in CA, Steve Zabaro in Bigfork MT, and Mike Patrick in Sumner, IL

Oct. 2, 2015
 

p400

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jerrykap said:
How And Why The Norton P11 Prototype Was Created
By Jerry Kaplan, Davis, CA

Here's what Mike had to say about his prototype experience: “Then along came the prototype of the P11. Tom (Tiny) Maxwell and I took the prototype out to the desert for a week of bashing and the bike worked perfectly. I was nursing a shoulder from a crash and Tom and I took a week off from racing and went to the desert to run the crap out of it. They (ZDS) were in a hurry to send it back to England. I tried to race it that Sunday, but the difference in racing and what we call cow trailing is not even in the same world. I made it to the smoke bomb and had to stop, my shoulder was killing me. So I put the prototype in the truck and took it back to ZDS and told Bob Blair not to change anything. Guess what? They did, but it was OK, the big P11 was an ass kicker and I won lots and lots of races on it. “
It did indeed go into production as a 1967 model with a great number of changes from the simplicity of the concept bike. One of the first factory assembled models (121013) delivered to Berliner Motors was rushed out to ZDS where it was given to Mike Patrick to modify into what became his championship bike. I'm proud to say I am now the current custodian of this fire breathing dessert sled and dinosaur as these big heavyweight twins have been surpassed by technology long ago.
, where it was again purchased by an English fellow who is now keeping it to himself somewhere around London. Thanks to all my P11 mates who have contributed to this accumulation of specialized knowledge: In particular Anthony Curzon in Croydon, UK, Dean Nissen in Seattle, WA, Steve Blair in CA, Steve Zabaro in Bigfork MT, and Mike Patrick in Sumner, IL Oct. 2, 2015
Great article Jerry, Thank you for posting.
It would be educational and valuable to know the details of the prototype Teledraulics....as the rest of the early P11 is well understood by me.
Prototype used Teledraulics?
The early P11 (prior to P11A) used Teledraulics modified to what exact components?
What magnesium rear hub was used? A hub that can be found today?

0096.jpg
 

jerrykap

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Thanks for your comments P400.

I have found out a little more about the prototype already: Apparently it returned from England and was among the assets purchased by Domi Racer when Berliner Motors went out of business. Domi Racer then sold it to the English fellow (his name is pretty well known among the P11 faithful, but I have a feeling he prefers to remain anonymous?).

Don't know much about the internals of the teledraulics but you are correct in that they are different For one thing, Anthony Curzon says they have 1 I/8" stanchions instead of 1 1/4".

The conical magnesium hub came from the Matchless G50 road racer. Scarce but sometimes available and very expensive reproductions are available.

quote="p400"]
jerrykap said:
How And Why The Norton P11 Prototype Was Created

C-ya,

Jerry



Here's what Mike had to say about his prototype experience: “Then along came the prototype of the P11. Tom (Tiny) Maxwell and I took the prototype out to the desert for a week of bashing and the bike worked perfectly. I was nursing a shoulder from a crash and Tom and I took a week off from racing and went to the desert to run the crap out of it. They (ZDS) were in a hurry to send it back to England. I tried to race it that Sunday, but the difference in racing and what we call cow trailing is not even in the same world. I made it to the smoke bomb and had to stop, my shoulder was killing me. So I put the prototype in the truck and took it back to ZDS and told Bob Blair not to change anything. Guess what? They did, but it was OK, the big P11 was an ass kicker and I won lots and lots of races on it. “
It did indeed go into production as a 1967 model with a great number of changes from the simplicity of the concept bike. One of the first factory assembled models (121013) delivered to Berliner Motors was rushed out to ZDS where it was given to Mike Patrick to modify into what became his championship bike. I'm proud to say I am now the current custodian of this fire breathing dessert sled and dinosaur as these big heavyweight twins have been surpassed by technology long ago.
, where it was again purchased by an English fellow who is now keeping it to himself somewhere around London. Thanks to all my P11 mates who have contributed to this accumulation of specialized knowledge: In particular Anthony Curzon in Croydon, UK, Dean Nissen in Seattle, WA, Steve Blair in CA, Steve Zabaro in Bigfork MT, and Mike Patrick in Sumner, IL Oct. 2, 2015
Great article Jerry, Thank you for posting.
It would be educational and valuable to know the details of the prototype Teledraulics....as the rest of the early P11 is well understood by me.
Prototype used Teledraulics?
The early P11 (prior to P11A) used Teledraulics modified to what exact components?
What magnesium rear hub was used? A hub that can be found today?

0096.jpg
[/quote]
 
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The rear conical hub was also used on the AJS 7R 'Boy Racer' and the G85s, as well as the G50 - yeah it's a lot rarer than the AMC road hub.

Even the skimmed hub used on P11s and P11As is fairly rare, but 2,000 bikes were made, and probably several hundred spare hubs.
 
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I was a development/test engineer at Norton Villiers in 1966-68. A P-11 showed up for evaluation (in late 1967, I think) which , we were told, was the prototype. Nobody at N-V had any idea the bike existed. After reading the previous posts in this thread, I'm a bit dubious that it really was the prototype, as it only had 20 miles on the odometer.

I got to do the early "break-in" miles and found it to be an unpleasant ride. It had a directional instability that caused it to "weave" . It became noticeable at about 30 mph and got bigger as speed increased. At 70 mph it took up most of the width of a lane on the freeway. The scary thing was that you couldn't control it. My colleague who took over later, when I was working on the AJS Stormer program, said that it smoothed out once you got past 85 mph! The general consensus was that some form of frame or maybe rear suspension bending was the cause of the problem, but we hadn't figured it out by the time I left the company.

It also suffered badly from vibration which caused bits to fall off regularly. In my first few trips, the tail-light assembly came off four times, left hanging by its wiring.

At the time I left N-V to go work for Boeing (Easter of 1968), the bike was still in the experimental shop at N-V's Wolverhampton facility. It was certainly not one of my favorite machines, but I never rode it off pavement.
 

jerrykap

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Thanks frankdamp,

Probably was a production model that you tested. I don't believe the prototype was ever fitted with a tail light and instruments.

I'll never forget riding out a violent tank slapper on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive back in the day. I was accelerating through 60 mph on my way to 80 when a series of bumps, ripples and seams upset the front end. I slowly rolled off the throttle and rode the shimmying bike down to around 45 mph when it became stable again. That was the one and only time it did that. Shedding bits was another story. Regular tightening became the norm, today Loctite is your best friend. The amplitude of the vibrations increases dramatically over 70 mph, below that it was tolerable. in the 90 to 100 range it was ferocious and very destructive. As an off roader these issues didn't matter much as a road bike the Commando proved far better, although most Commandos would develop a high speed weave as well. But they were snooth!
C-ya, Jer

frankdamp said:
I was a development/test engineer at Norton Villiers in 1966-68. A P-11 showed up for evaluation (in late 1967, I think) which , we were told, was the prototype. Nobody at N-V had any idea the bike existed. After reading the previous posts in this thread, I'm a bit dubious that it really was the prototype, as it only had 20 miles on the odometer.

I got to do the early "break-in" miles and found it to be an unpleasant ride. It had a directional instability that caused it to "weave" . It became noticeable at about 30 mph and got bigger as speed increased. At 70 mph it took up most of the width of a lane on the freeway. The scary thing was that you couldn't control it. My colleague who took over later, when I was working on the AJS Stormer program, said that it smoothed out once you got past 85 mph! The general consensus was that some form of frame or maybe rear suspension bending was the cause of the problem, but we hadn't figured it out by the time I left the company.

It also suffered badly from vibration which caused bits to fall off regularly. In my first few trips, the tail-light assembly came off four times, left hanging by its wiring.

At the time I left N-V to go work for Boeing (Easter of 1968), the bike was still in the experimental shop at N-V's Wolverhampton facility. It was certainly not one of my favorite machines, but I never rode it off pavement.
 

p400

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frankdamp said:
I was a development/test engineer at Norton Villiers in 1966-68. A P-11 showed up for evaluation (in late 1967, I think) which , we were told, was the prototype. Nobody at N-V had any idea the bike existed. After reading the previous posts in this thread, I'm a bit dubious that it really was the prototype, as it only had 20 miles on the odometer. I got to do the early "break-in" miles and found it to be an unpleasant ride. It had a directional instability that caused it to "weave" . It became noticeable at about 30 mph and got bigger as speed increased. At 70 mph it took up most of the width of a lane on the freeway. The scary thing was that you couldn't control it. My colleague who took over later, when I was working on the AJS Stormer program, said that it smoothed out once you got past 85 mph! The general consensus was that some form of frame or maybe rear suspension bending was the cause of the problem, but we hadn't figured it out by the time I left the company. It also suffered badly from vibration which caused bits to fall off regularly. In my first few trips, the tail-light assembly came off four times, left hanging by its wiring. At the time I left N-V to go work for Boeing (Easter of 1968), the bike was still in the experimental shop at N-V's Wolverhampton facility. It was certainly not one of my favorite machines, but I never rode it off pavement.

Frank, You have repeated this story several, if not a dozen times, I am guessing to establish some sort of credibility as a 1967-68 Norton employee.
After sharing the taillight came off four times, I began to form an opinion on the mechanical aptitude of NV testing.
I chuckle when I think of the Stormer program as well.
Why would you have this story as your Norton tales of testing for the P11 forum?
It doesn't make any sense that multiple machines, at the time, were not tested.
It doesn't make any sense that no one else found and reported this, at the time.
It doesn't make any sense that even now, after hundreds of thousands of miles, no one has reported this finding.
I have ignored this posting the past as "some old guy mumbling about his involvement 50 years ago", kinda a senior selfie.
Do you have anything, of a positive nature, to bring away from a very short career as a young Norton employee, in regards to Norton products?
Did you solve the taillight problem?
 
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If it was ever solved, it would have been after I left the company in June 1968. The bike was still at Marston Road at that time. The frantic interest was generated because (I was told) Norton was being sued in the US for a death involving the P-11. I understood that the bike we were testing had been shipped in from the US and had been modified only to make it street legal in the UK.
 
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That's an interesting story about early P11s.
For what it's worth I can back up Franks tale. I was at NV just after Frank, Sept 69 to Nov70. In late 69, as Plumstead was being emptied and closed, we had a missive from the Sales dept, saying that employees could buy some "old/new" stock for a good price, basically to clear the decks. The two motorcycles that I can remember being on the list were Mercurys and P11. I wish I could remember the prices!! Anyway, one of the guys bought a new P11. I had a ride on it, and can fairly honestly say that it was the worst new bike I had ever ridden. It went like s**t off of a shiny shovel up to about 65/70 mph. Then the weave started, the vibration started to become REALLY bad, as against just uncomfortable. At about 70 mph the handlebar ends were describing a circle about 2" diameter. I don't remember the weave being as bad as Frank described, but it certainly didn't inspire rapid riding on a bendy road, or even riding slowly on a bendy road. For road use the brakes were about as much use as a chocolate tea pot.
I am always amazed that these bikes are so popular in the US.
Sorry to burst any bubbles..
cheers
wakeup
 

p400

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wakeup , I understand the concept of helping friends.
I spent hundreds of miles in June 1967 on a new P11 and now thousands of miles in 2015 on an old P11 and while there are lots of things that vintage bikes wont do that a modern bike will do, I cant make sense of your stories. My experience, after only 5000 miles on a P11, these stories are not true.

But I do understand helping a friend, good job.

I will keep a close eye on my taillight.
 
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P400:

You can choose to believe or not. At the time I was involved, I was told it was "the only one in England" and I certainly don't recall the model being on the UK market by the time I emigrated (July 1968). Where the street-legal mods were done, I don't know.

If you have good experience with the P-11, there must have been a lot of development work done to solve the issues evident in that first one. I still think it was one of the worst "big" bikes of the era. The vibration problem was much worse than the 650SS or the Atlas. I was surprised to discover, following the posts on this forum, that it made it into production. I'm assuming it was made at Plumstead Road before it closed, but I'm astonished that it survived into the Andover era.
 
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p400, I'm not and never have been a friend of Frank, never met him and wouldn't know him if I bumped into him in the street. That's not to say that we couldn't be friends, as I'm sure we could. "Supporting a friend" was not my intent, I was simply telling it as it was. Of course you may choose to believe or disbelieve anything you like, but it doesn't alter the facts that the P11 doesn't get everyone's plaudits.
Because my reporting, as factually as I can, my disappointing ride on a P11, doesn't agree with yours, doesn't mean that my account is untrue. What it does mean is that our experiences differ.
If I had a thinner skin your assessment of my account as being "not true", would be quite upsetting. As it is, I have a fairly thick skin, have been insulted by experts with no effect, and in all honesty couldn't really care less.
The main thing is that you appear to enjoy your P11, I'm not sure why, but there we are.
cheers
wakeup
 
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So, if I get this right from the Norton guys that were there at the time, the Matchless G85 was transformed into a weaving nightmare by putting a Norton twin into it. Was this a hastily made bike built to assess liability? Did they forget to set up the suspension up for the extra weight/geometry?
Could it be at all possible that the bike that was assessed by these two was the accidented bike referred to?

Come to think of it, my stock MkIII shook off it's rear light in its stock form too. :lol:
 
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I've no idea which particular bin (before anyone jumps down my throat, that's PARTS bin) they found the frame in, the bike that I rode was a production bike, sold in 1969 as new/old or remaining stock. The bike ridden by Frank seems to have been something cobbled together in the US and shipped to the UK as an example.
The bike I rode certainly did weave, not as much as Frank describes, but enough to be unsettling. The weave certainly stopped me from enjoying a bendy road. Yes the tyre pressures were ok (I remember checking them). I vaguely remember taking my hands off at about 50 mph, and it not making any difference, thus ruling out the affect of the moto x type handlebars, with which I wasn't familiar, at least on a road bike. It did provide momentary relief from the vibration though.............
cheers
wakeup
 
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Wakeup - running into each other on the street is unlikely, as I live in NW Washington State in the US (100 miles north of Seattle). It sounds like our experiences with the P-11 were similar. I was told that the bike I tested had been shipped in from California and I assumed they'd put the street legal stuff on it. Since it only had 12 miles on the odometer, it probably had only just been ridden round the local streets after being built. I didn't think P-11s were built at Plumstead until late 1968/early 69, but other posts in the P-11 string say as early as 67. Why we got the input in late 67 that Plumstead "knew nothing about the P-11", I can't imagine.

At Wolverhampton, we did have very serious communications issues with the people at Plumstead, so who really knows where the thing came from. I doubt there's anyone around except the two of us with experience in that 66-70 time frame. That particular bike was still in the experimental shop at Marston Road when I left at Easter 68. It was recognisable by a busted tachometer, where I accidentally hit it with a mallet when we were changing some of the front fork bits. Our involvement with it ended abruptly when the CA lawsuit was dropped (again "as we were told").
 
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