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1750928, Gunner George William Bisset
 of 73rd Lt. A.A. Regt. RA (1912-1993)
sitting on C4391955 in 1942
(Picture courtesy his son Jim Bisset, 2010)


A perfect restoration object, Haarlem 1979,
Frame nr W31929, engine nr 93803, then and now (2008). The owner will restore further to the original spec. knowing now what it initially looked like (2010).

A good restoration starts with two things: A bike and historic research.
While finding a bike used to be relatively easy, finding the historic info has not been for a long time. This improved in the 90'ties when a most useful book was published:  "British Forces motorcycles 1925 - 45" written by Chris Orchard en Steve Madden. (See compulsory reading page for details). The information in it was not published ever before in such detail.  I think it is very valuable for anybody who wants to restore a British military motorcycle, regardless which marque.
The above bike was actually made in 1941 under contract number C7353, and engine and frame number were originally identical/matching. The engine presently in the bike number is however a 1939 number, and not originally fitted to this bike. From the 6" aperture headlamp and the addition of pannier carrier/bags to a 1941 frame, it is most likely that this machine is an official "rebuilt". The motorcycle was newly delivered according to the spare parts list with e.g. an 8 inch headlamp, and without the pannier bags,  with the civil type luggage carrier and the left and right hand "pannier" toolboxes fixed to the upper rear mudguard stays. See also the detail variation page.
At the top, a wartime picture which shows W31929 (assuming the consequetive numbering of census number and framenumber!) in its original guise in 1942. Finding a wartime picture which could be traced to a specific bike that is stil around is rather unique.
The bike was obtained in the second half of the 70' ties by the present owner, when a number of them were purchased in Greece and brought over to Holland. Most bikes of that shipment were restored. Exact amount is not known. This bike was my first encounter with a quite "original", unrestored bike. I used it as an example to find parts which I knew I was missing, but had never seen in real life.

From various wartime publications and biographies which are still being published, it is evident that there was a constant vigil to keep the motorcycles on the road. Cannibalizing was officially forbidden by the  "Army Rules and Regulations", but was practiced in the field  by the responsible section fitters which tried to keep "their" machines on the road.
 Furthermore, dilapidated machines were completely dismantled, and "rebuilt" with whatever parts available in special workshops. These motorcycles were given a new identity (census number). 

Cothen 1979

Cothen 1979





Donor bike used for restoration of my bike, also from
the Greek shipment in the 70'ties. (Contract plate S5161)

Identification plate on the rear mudguard (below tail light) indicates contract number S5161. Frame number showed to be made on contract C12426, delivered from august 1942.

Anybody who has restored a military Norton (or any other model military motorcycle for that matter) is usually right about it.

What I do feel strong about however, is that when a motorcycle is restored to immaculate condition, it should be according to the most likely factory specification. A "rebuilt" looking better than new is just not original. In the same way that a military bike without mud is out of context/unnatural.   
Do not take me wrong here. The work put into such a bike is absolutely marvellous. I do admire people who have been laboring onto the smallest part and have done a wonderful technical job. My personal opinion is that a military bike was a bike with a practical purpose, not made to be a showroom piece. 

KLICK TO ENLARGE multicoloured engine (P)

With respect to paint, a lot is possible. One engine I acquired a number of years ago was covered  by two shades of brown under two shades of green. This indicates at least four military paint jobs after delivery as the engines were without paint on delivery. For further info on colours, see colours page. In a number of cases, a red/brown type of iron oxide primer has been found on original parts. On prewar parts however, there is no red oxide primer found.
One place to look for the originally applied factory colour is the front lower frame to engine mounting bracket. The inside thereoff seems to be a place often missed during the early restorations which most likely were done using sandpaper and muscle power instead of the "all removing" bead blast techniques used nowadays.  

Now, a goldmine, then a motorcycle scrapyard showing a.o. discarded Canadian Nortons (GF)

                    Discarded, abused and forgotten then. Would be a restorers candy box now!

After the war, many military Norton's were painted black with a silver petrol tank (Many others were left to rot, as shown above). If you feel more comfortable the civilian way, you are pretty original with such a colour scheme for a post war period civilianized 16H.

For reasons I can only guess, many "civilian" bikes are marketed as prewar. With the details given on the civil versus military bikes you can easily ascertain what bike you are looking at.

It actually took me 4 years to find a genuine prewar example. Original civil 16H (and Big 4) are quite rare. Side valves being the "poor man's" Norton, the type has suffered from a continues lack of interest.

If you are curious about your bikes history and the unlikelyness that you will ever find it, read the Individual motorcycle history page.