Monday, December 27, 2010


Reader Mick King, owner of Superformance Motorcycles in Vancouver (one of the first performance/custom bike shops in Western Canada) built an interesting special in the late 1960s, using a Norton Featherbed frame and a salvaged NSU car engine. This was around the same time Friedl Münch was building his first specials along the same lines; the Norton/NSU makes an interesting comparison to the Mammüt (see my road test here) and another contemporary special using an NSU engine; the Bison.  Mick's Norton/NSU special now lives in the Trev Deeley Museum in Vancouver, Canada.

'In the 1960s, there were no NSU dealers in Vancouver, and the car owners couldn't get them repaired... I had a motorcycle shop, and would fix a few NSU cars because I had managed an NSU dealership in the UK.  They were so simple to work on, it was a good revenue source and sideline to my motorcycle business, which was one of the first on BCs west coast.  I took in a trade an NSU 1200 TT car for two hundred bucks; due to rat infestation and rust the car was gutted and the wheels and sundry items sold off. I kept looking at the engine thinking it might look good in one of my Norton Featherbed frames, which owed me nothing... I had a couple gathering dust in the attic!

As winter started in, the bike work stopped; I had just brought over an apprentice from the UK, and a new 9-1/2" South Bend lathe for our custom bike division, and decided to see if we could fit the NSU motor into the Norton frame. This gave the new arrival some valuable turning experience.  We wanted the engine to fit the existing Norton engine mounts, as I did not want to mess up the frame for the sake of the NSU engine; I had no input or feedback as to how it may perform.  When the Münch showed up in Cycle Canada magazine I thought, "Great timing! Maybe I can find some encouragement from the article!"  But there was no data -no speed or bhp- as I recollect, the mag people were not allowed to ride it?  So we plodded on, and after a few weeks the engine was roughed-in, and we took it for a ride.  I could see why there was no data available - it was a gutless wonder, despite major engine work! I considered buying a twin-cam Japanese car engine but they were all snapped up for mini flat track race cars, as they are today!
Note: four Amal Concentric carbs, and reversed Norton gearbox.  Top photo shows four Norton Commando 'Peashooter' exhausts!

So I worked on the camshaft, flowed the cylinder head, calibrated the exhausts, put one large-bore carb onto each each inlet port, used premium fuel, etc, and finally managed to get 125mph out of it, which in the late sixties was not too shabby.  We painted it up black white + chrome, it looked kinda menacing! It was entered in bike shows from Vancouver to Seattle, and it won a lot of 1st place trophies. The whole project cost around fifteen hundred bucks.

Trying to draw a comparison with the Münch would be a waste of time in my opinion, considering the amount of money he invested, plus his engineering facilities and so on.  Nevertheless I think from the get-go the Münch Mammut was doomed, mainly because D.O.H.C. motorcycle engines [such as Kawasaki Z-1] were already making their debut, and strapping an antiquated and gutless S.O.H.C NSU car engine into such an enormous and costly project baffled me and my mechanics from the get go.  Then there was the price... ridiculous!'

Mick notes, "All of the information above is alleged! and relegated to my memory at the time."
Take a look at Mick's 'How To' photos on this later post.


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

Thanks so much for putting my Norton Nsu in/on your site!

Very nicely prepped out indeed.

I was quite surprised to see it staring at me when i opened your link!

When one is using in particular a four cyl transverse car engine, this is where things get quite complicated! the fact that the car trans has to be tossed! and then figure out a pan/pump combo, that will sit low enough in the frame is a headache, worst of all is figuring out how one is going to-
accommodate the five or six inch wider engine offset > bringing it inline to the motor cycle trans main shaft etc.

The ignition is another headache! but after a few months passed by, the Kawasaki Z1 900 hit the streets, me being a kaw dealer, i soon located a wreck or three- and decided to adapt the Z1 distributor which normally was fitted on the rh side of the engine-i fitted it to the left side of the NSU crankshaft! which meant that i had to reverse the auto advance weights direction of travel, also i had to re profile the points cam, six months later CDI upgrade kits became available DUH! and so on and so on!!

Thanks again for such a speedy publication paul

Mick King


PS-no one of your background and flair for motorcycling> should miss out visiting Trev Deeleys huge museum.
see link---Trev Deeley Vancouver, Motorcycle Museum, Motorcycle Vintage

ChristopherAntiques said...

What an great collection of vintage motorcycles. A topic close to heart.
Keep churning those interesting articles out.
Have you ever thought of writing some articles about even earlier model cycles?

HAW YEAH said...

amazing site!

Anonymous said...

Paul, I much enjoy your site, incredible pics and stories. ......alvin

Anonymous said...

There's another NSU home built in Denmark. This one has the engine positioned in line with bike, and the owner/builder fabbed his own oil pan to resemble an Indian 4, which the bike is based on.
So far, I am the only one to ride it besides the owner/builder. It's like riding a Triumph Bonneville, with a small block Chevy in it!
This guys current project is under wraps; top secret. The Alma 4 rides on in the meantime though.
Good on ya, RF.

The Vintagent said...

I have a friend in England, a Brough Superior collector, who used a Renault engine as the basis for a faux-Indian 4. Almost convincing!

Anonymous said...

PLEASE TAKE NOTE! Those of you whom are planning a trip out to Trev Deeleys Museum in bc canada should rethink the idea! as some clowns out there! have now tossed out! allegedly all of the classic english an european bikes including the NORTON~NSU 1000.
and have opted to display ONLY!! north american bikes in the show area!

Ken said...

To Whom it may concern. My name is Ken Trimble. I am one lucky guy. Mr Mike King is a good friend and mentor to me. I was fortunate to have had Mike and his son Nick as my mechanics for years. Congrats Mr. King for your vision and hard work which will always be admired. You have taught me so much and I will never forget the wisdom and great humor you shared. ( P.S. Thanks for your great daughter, 6 months together and still happy )

Anonymous said...

Great to see Mick King's hard work and ideas published for everyone to see. i have worked with Mick and he truly is a genius. Look forward to seeing more of his work. Keep up the good job Mick and everyone who helps publish this information

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article. I remember Mike's Superformance Cycles in North Vancouver having his shop tune my 500 Triumph in the early 70s. Also remember seeing the NSU/Norton at Mike's shop as well as his Nortons racing at the much lamented Westwood track in Coquitlam.

Anonymous said...

Hi There anonymous- please post your email if possible! i would like to know who you are! We did very few 500 cc triumphs as i recollect! very nice of you to put up a great comment!
re: superformance motor cycles n/van bc

Anonymous said...

Mike, you likely don't remember me but my name is Brian Milthorp. I was a friend of Rob Nichols and we used to frequent your shop quite often. I still have a 1971 Norton brochure from your shop with your stamp on the back cover. Have recently given the 500 Triumph to my son and have just bought a 1965 Atlas to keep me busy.

Best regards