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                   Original parts with significant historical information


Additional to the most original WD16H found it seems a useful idea to add original parts to the website that may reveal interesting historical information.
An extremely exciting find (summer 2009 in Belgium) was of a mangled/dented petrol tank which has not been touched for years, apart from the tank rubbers being removed apparently not to long ago.


This petrol tank reveals a number of issues that have been under debate for some time and are not well described in any book.

First item of interest is the golden Norton logo. Discussions have questioned both colour and size of the actual logo. From this tank is is clear that they were golden (instead of white) and that the actual size was 4 5/16" x 1 1/4" (109,5 x 31,75 mm) overall width and height.
The position on the tank may have varied a bit as can be seen in the frontal view where the one on the lefthand side of the tank seems to lean backwards a little.

Second item is the place and size of the black square with white boundary containing the census number as found on pictures of pre and very early war MC/s. This tank reveals both size and lettertype for the hand painted census numbers. Its also noted that the census number is only applied on the left hand side of the petrol tank. Photographic evidence of pre war pictures seem to show that the majority of MC's had the census number only on the left hand side. This contradicts the general view that it should be applied to both sides. 

The black square measures up to 6" wide 4 3/4" height including the white line which is is approx 5/16" wide.
The census numbers are 1 inch high and 1/4" wide brush has been used. Nominal width of the wider numbers is 13/16" - 3/4" but it varies a bit as can be expected of hand painted work.

Rather unexpected is the use of the yellow gas paint on top of the petrol tank (6" wide x 4 1/2" high). According to official contemporary documents this was to be applied in line of sight of the rider and is mostly applied on headlamp top or front mudguard. One reason not to apply it to the tank top is said to have been that spilled petrol might mess up the gas detection working of the paint. This later statement is however not yet corroborated through official information.

Finally, the petrol tank shows the divisional sign of 1st Infantry Division (triangle is 4 1/4" across base x 3 1/2" high), indicating this tank most likely is a genuine BEF MC petrol tank, left on the continent after the Dunkirk retreat.

The fact that is dented so badly may have been the saving of the original paint. Not much original paintwork is still around through the restoration projects over the years. Some "disbelievers" even want to take the dent out off this one!!!!


Another nice find was of an early rear number plate in spring of 2009 in England. It revealed some nice details after careful sanding down of the paint applied in several layers.


It was found in half rusted condition, covered in green paint and still with the contract plate (C9681) fitted in its original position. By looking obliquely along the plate it was clear there were other markings underneath the green paint so I decided to sand it down carefully. This led to a series of discoveries giving a fairly certain clue to the actual motorcycle to which this plate was attached initially.  Pictures above  show where it started and below what the end result was.


The first clue coming to light were blue lined white semicircles in the upper left and lower right hand corner, and some blue and white paint in the middle of the plate but without any distinct shape. This may have been indications for a Royal Signals use of the bike at that moment.
In the middle, at the right hand side there were also some numbers ending with 3(?)184 in the typical style as seen on many pre war bikes after the introduction of the census number to replace the prewar civilian number. As shown in period pictures these number were handpainted after the initial gloss black number plates were painted over.
Matching the known census serial numbers for contract C9681 as shown on the contract plate, this could only have been C383184 indicating to a machine being given its census number in 1938 and thus being late in the contract (91st before the end counting the total census numbers) of which the first bikes were manufactured in May 1937 and the last on May 15th 1938. Going back for 91 bikes from the latest bike built, the production of the bike connected with this numberplate will have been around beginning of March 1938. (The hand written marker information was therefore very close!). Unfortunately, matching prewar census numbers to prewar frames is basically impossible. Norton machines were then not manufactured in an orderly consecutive numbering fashion when looking at frame numbers.  Added to that is that it is unknown what the military exactly did when applying the census numbers. The bikes were most likely given a number in batches as they left the factory/received by the military and its expected that the miltary did not wait until they had the next consequetive frame number.

Sanding further, the final clue came through. First a clear P, then an 8 and further the remains of what have been an M and a 2 when guestimating using a clear example from a Pathé still supplied by Richard Payne. When finally finished, I am rather certain that the number has actually been HMP 328 !  being in the same Middlesex registration range as shown in the Pathé still!!!

The 3 on the numberplate is the least certain number, but looking at the plate obliquely again from various angles there is an indication in the "rust" pattern which makes it rather likely a 3. 

There is not much doubt that these paintings are still the original from the pre war period. The rear number plates were basically discarded after 1940 and nobody had interest in using it anymore.  Its also different from the 1938 numberplate as that has a 2 bolt top fixing to the rear mudguard portion where this one only has one bolt top fixing and would therefore not have fitted on any bike made after this contact was finished.

Finds like these are very valuable to reconstruct the history of the Military 16H/Big4 machines. Together with the petrol tank found in near original state it gives a good indication of the application of census numbers in the prewar period.


Together with the numberplate I acquired a rear mudguard portion fitting to this single top bolt numberplate. Its the one with just a little piece of rib on the top part of it. This was only applied onto MC's until model year 1938.

It appears to be a non used item and it is peculiar in the sense that it appears to have khaki no 3 on it which was not the standard British Army colour in early 1938. One explanation could be that it was actually made for the Government of India.
The Indian Government of that era bought its own military equipment and they received 1937 and 1938 specification WD16H MC/s.

According to the Norton assembly books, these India Office MC/s were painted khaki as from late January 1937 while the British MC's were still  (service) green until june 1939.
Also missing from the piece is a Norton Logo !!  Was that "normal" or is this an anomaly?

A second petrol tank with original markings surfaced in early 2010 in Germany.
It still needs to be "excavated" properly but it looks promising in finding the original Census number under the rebuilt number.


On the left there are clear indications for the original Census number. Assuming consequetive numbering between census and frame number the original bike may be retraced. The rather greenish paint is peculiar. Maybe related to the Caunter scheme?? (see colours page).

Some indications for a previous unit may be found in the text on the petrol tank. Most peculiar is the rebuilt census number being scratched into the paint!

The faint Norton logo 


RAF petrol tank obtained by Keith Chandler in 1974 from Greville Mead from Cheltenham. His workshop used to be an auxilliary workshop for military motorcycles during WW2.

According Mr Mead, this petrol tank was leaking and swapped in the workshop and then left lying in the attick until discovered by Keith.
It nicely shows a local paint job using dark earth and dark RAF blue/grey disruptor. The RAF roundel is nicely blended in.
The crackelé paint structure indicates a very thick layer of paint applied by an enthustiastic mechanic.

The colour of the knee pad is unusual. Not clear if this is the result of paint, some form of chemical attack or the "natural"colour of the rubber used. 
The lighter colour in the cracks does suggest/indicate the latter. It is not seen or reported before.

Fitting to the same RAF machine was a 7/8th rubber mounted handlebar. Reason for replacement is clear but the application of this handlebar to a military machine is not. 7/8th rubber mounted was civilian use starting with model year 1937. Military machines retained the 1" non adjustable handlebars (or rubber mounted 1" on WD Big4). None of the RAF spares lists refer to this type of handlebar. The only explanation can therefore be that this machine was built in a hurry using civilian parts, off the shelf, late 1939 or early 1940. There appears to be no chrome on it so it must have been painted by Norton itself. I doubt chrome parts of civil stock (or an impressed bike) would be dechromed prior to paint application.