1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003
Lot 158
1975 Norton Challenge P86

Frame no. 003
Sold for US$ 44,850 inc. premium

Lot Details
1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003 1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003 1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003 1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003 1975 Norton Challenge P86 Frame no. 003
1975 Norton Challenge P86

Frame no. 003

On its race debut in 1975, the Norton Challenge P86 was viewed as the last great white hope for British racing on the international stage. It represented the longed-for marriage of Great Britain's supremacy on four wheels with the aspirations for a return to the halcyon days on two. It was foreseen as the bike that in production form would signal the rebirth of the British motorcycle industry, but in the event presided symbolically only over its demise.

The Challenge's liquid-cooled dohc 747cc eight-valve parallel-twin motor was designed by Keith Duckworth, head of Cosworth Engineering and its chief designer, at the behest of ex-car racer Dennis Poore, chairman of Norton owners NVT. It effectively represents one-quarter of Cosworth's multi-F1 World Championship winning three-litre DFV Formula 1 design. NVT intended the engine to provide the basis of a new-generation road bike to replace its venerable air-cooled Commando motor, which would put Norton back in contention with its Japanese rivals in global markets. Parts for 25 motors were built, the minimum figure to homologate the bike for Formula 750 racing. Two prototypes were constructed, bearing chassis no. 001 and 002.

The truly avantgarde Challenge design's most striking feature is the use of the engine as a fully-stressed member, so that the motor is not so much installed in the frame, as the chassis parts hung on to the engine. A tubular sub-frame bolts on top of the cambox to locate the front suspension, while the rear swingarm pivots in the gearbox casing – features which are now commonplace on MotoGP machines and some sportbikes, but which were pioneered on the Norton Challenge. Cosworth quoted 95bhp at 9,750rpm for the racing engine using 40mm Amal carburettors, and over 100bhp at 10,500rpm on fuel injection. The carburetted engine in the sale bike gave 90bhp in dyno tests, and has only been ridden twice since then.

The Norton Challenge debuted in the end-of-season Brands Hatch International in October 1975 ridden by Dave Croxford, but was involved in a 10-bike pile up at the very first corner of a Saturday heat race. Croxford was injured, and so the bike was ridden the following day by stand-in Alex George, but the cooling system had been damaged in the accident, and retirement ensued. In 1976 an equally unsuccessful return to the track saw Croxford perform dismally on the under-developed bike in the first Transatlantic Trophy round at Brands, leading to its withdrawal from the other two rounds of the series. A final outing in the Isle of Man TT saw Croxford retire on the opening lap of the Classic TT race. Shortly after, NVT went into liquidation, and the project ended. However, more than a decade later Cosworth director Bob Graves proved the efficacy of the original design by constructing the Quantel-Cosworth using a spare Challenge engine, with which Roger Marshall defeated the new Ducati 851 Superbikes win the 1988 Daytona and Spa-Francorchamps Battle of the Twins races.

Before that, in 1982 Ian Sutherland, a Scottish Norton enthusiast and proprietor of a stable of racing Nortons of all eras, had commissioned ex-Norton factory race mechanic Norman While to assemble a Challenge from factory parts, with the engine built up by ex-Cosworth engineer Bob Osborne at Racing Systems Ltd. in Northampton, a stone's throw from where the motors were developed and manufactured in Cosworth's HQ. The complete bike, bearing chassis no.003, was run in on the public highway along the country roads in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands near Ian's home, before being taken to a Donington Park race meeting where well-known Scottish racer Jock Findlay and racing journalist Alan Cathcart rode the Norton Challenge in two 20-minute demonstration events, in both of which it ran faultlessly. Sutherland then decided to employ the second of the two engines he had acquired to build an all-new Battle of the Twins racer using a Harris chassis, setting the original Challenge P86 to one side in his private Norton collection. In 1985, it was acquired by the vendor, and although it has never been ridden again since then, it is in exactly the same condition as when Cathcart and Findlay last rode it in public.

Footnotes

  • Offered on a Bill of Sale.
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