Brit George Cohen is globally recognized as the ultimate authority on Norton singles, and although a qualified doctor before taking early retirement to concentrate full time on restoring Nortons and racing them, he’s been a hands-on engineer since a very early age. Put it this way: By the age of 11 he had his own lathe.
Cohen has worked down the years on an unrivalled roster of iconic Nortons, including reconstructing Rem Fowler’s 1907 winner of the very first Isle of Man TT race after it was destroyed in the 2003 National Motorcycle Museum (NMM) fire, then riding it in the Centenary TT parade held in 2007 over the original St. Johns Course. He’s at pains to point out he was first away of the 90-odd Veteran bikes taking part, and was never headed over the entire 15-mile lap!
As part of the Cohen collection of historic Norton racers, he has tracked down an array of genuine works Daytona Nortons, proved as such by their matching engine and frame numbers – the entire Manx Norton production records have fortunately been saved for posterity. He now owns a pair of them, one from 1948 and another from 1952 – but, how come?
“It was very fortuitous,” says Cohen with a satisfied smile at the happy hand that fate has dealt him. “I found a 1949 Daytona Norton for sale on the internet, back when the late Roy Richards [the NMM’s founder] was still alive. I’d been restoring bikes for him after the tragic fire there, so although I didn’t have the money to buy this bike, Roy did, and it turned out to be [Dick] Klamfoth’s race winner that year, which is now on display at the museum. Then about nine months later, in 2006, the same chap in Florida I’d bought that bike from for Roy came up with four other Daytona Nortons – yes, four of them! One was [Billy] Mathews’ 1948 bike he finished second on - or should have won on, depending on who you believe - there was another 1949 bike, a 1950 with a works engine in a road frame, and this 1952 bike you’ve just ridden, which it turned out from having the matching numbers G11M42792, is Klamfoth’s last Daytona 200 winner! I ended up going over to Florida and buying all four of them when the dollar exchange rate was very attractive. I subsequently sold the ’49 bike to a friend, and kept the 1950 engine. But I’ve now restored the other two bikes to authentic race-worthy condition, rather than exhibition standard, which would mean you’d be reluctant to use them in anything approaching anger.”
Which Cohen indeed does do, especially the 1952 Klamfoth bike, which he’s most notably ridden in the three prestigious Goodwood Revival races held so far for pre-’53 bikes.
I had the chance to help Cohen shake down the Norton at Mallory Park prior to its return to Goodwood, and in doing so enjoyed a personal ride down memory lane. For I myself raced an almost identical Daytona Manx many years ago. One of the reasons I parted with it was that I found the vibration of that first-series long-stroke (79 x 100 mm) 499cc double-knocker engine too overwhelming to be enjoyable. But the engine on that bike sported a deeply finned Alfin barrel, indicating it had probably been used for Formula 3 car racing and then rebuilt for reinstallation in the original Norton frame by a less skilled hand than Cohen’s.