Old's Cool: My Classic Bike Awakening - norton dominator
Updated: Mar 7, 2019
I have spent my life being fascinated by classic vehicles from the roar of an engine to the smell of ‘Castrol R’. When I inherited a Norton wideline frame from my Uncle my passion for the world of classic motorcycles deepened even further. Researching the history of the frame led to further of investigation into Norton Dominators and inspired me to build my own.
I tracked down a lead in the Norton Owners Club, which led me to the living room of a true enthusiast on the south coast. His house was an Aladdin’s cave of interesting classic bike memorabilia, shelves lined with scrap parts and trophies bearing years of patina. The most tantalising treasure, partially hidden by a worn dust cover behind piles of classic bike magazines, was a Norton based sprint bike. Looking back, I think this may have been where the seed to build a sprint bike was planted.
After regaling me with stories of the glory days of sprinting he led me from the house to an outbuilding at the bottom of the garden where the less loved bikes were kept. The Dominator 88 that I was viewing was somewhat rough around the edges and years of neglect had left its mark. However, my mind was racing with the possibilities. The bike was more or less complete which was ideal for my first real classic bike project. Pretty quickly my poker face let me down and it was obvious I was leaving with a new project.
My plan was to build the bike to be sympathetic to the style of 1960s café racers. I wasn’t looking to complete a full concours nut and bolt restoration but I didn’t want anything to be visible on the bike that wouldn’t have been seen in period.
The first job was to see if I could get the engine running, so with fresh fuel and oil I began kicking the bike over. To my disappointment there were no signs of life from the engine. Further investigation found that the magneto was only producing a very weak spark so I sent it off to Dave Lindsley for an overhaul.
While waiting for the magneto to come back I stripped the Roadholder forks and the Amal monobloc carburettor down and re-assembled them using off the shelf rebuild kits.
Once the magneto was back it was time to re-attach it to the bike and set the timing using the tried and tested method of a cigarette paper in the points. It felt like I had covered miles repeatedly walking back and forth from the timing side to the points side while trying to finesse the exact timing of the points opening. Luckily I still had enough energy to put my hard work to the test, so it was time to see if I could coax the bike into life. This time it fired up easily and after a while it was happily ticking over.
A quick ride up and down the road showed the clutch and gearbox to be working as they should be. They say pride always comes before a fall and it was at this point, during my state of excitement caused by the bike working, I backed the bike into a wall smashing the rear light lens while manoeuvring the bike back into the workshop.
Then came the process of turning the rolling project into the bike that I wanted it to be. I sourced a period set of rearsets, ‘John Tickle’ headlight brackets, clip on handlebars and a fibreglass seat unit from an assortment of autojumbles.
I re-covered the seat, fitted the other parts and was very happy with the outcome. I had a bike that was a nod to the café racer era but wasn’t overly modified. I used the bike over the summer, but by the time autumn had arrived I was wondering what I should do with the bike. I came to the conclusion that I enjoyed the “doing” a lot more than the ownership and once the project was finished I had a desire to move on and start something else. I had gone from the honeymoon period to the seven year itch within a single summer.
My head was turned and I had a brief sabbatical away from classic motorcycles into the world of car projects. I had an MG Midget project for a year or so. The lack of rear axle location and ~70hp made it a fun car to drive but the chassis and engine would have needed a serious amount of modification to make it the car I wanted it to be. I was then was lucky enough to own my dream car as a child: a 1.9l 205 GTi. The problem with this was that while it is a small hatchback by modern standards it is still really difficult to work on in a single garage. I could get both of the halfshafts out of the midget If I parked perfectly central, but I struggled to get both doors open on the 205.
It was the pains of working on cars in the single garage that I generously call my ‘workshop’ that led me to migrate back towards projects with only two wheels.