by Shawn Downey
Sweltering in the concrete jungle, I watch as the alkaloids (author’s note: alkaloids are physiologically active, nitrogen-containing bases derived from plants, i.e. caffeine) ooze from my pores. Jittery and rapidly approaching irritable, I scan the immediate perimeter outside the coffee house for relief from the 90 degree heat and humidity. Unable to spy refuge, I glance back towards the door hoping to see my frolicking cohorts bounding down the steps. Ever try to get a group of riders to actually leave the initial meeting place to pursue a group ride?
Searching in vain for relief from the heat, I rest my eyes on a motorcycle that glistens like a beacon in the night. By far, it is the most affable machine parked among the stable of motorcycles lining the street. But most importantly, it is my motorcycle. Smiling intently, momentary relief from the heat allows me to regain my composure and take notice of a mature gentleman examining each motorcycle in succession. He proceeds towards my pride and joy at a connoisseur’s pace grunting, winking, and shaking his head from side to side. Anticipating the highest accolades available, I smile knowingly at him as he finishes the examination of my Roulette Lime Green machine.
“This yours?” he asks.
“Oh yeah,” I beam.
“Looks like Kermit the Frog threw up,” he states.
Bearing down on the old fellow, my beaming euphoria rapidly morphs into the accelerated rate of irritability that I had squelched just moments ago. “What?” I interrogate sternly.
“It’s green,” he says.
“And?” I say, offering him the opportunity to redeem himself.
“And…I bet it hides in the grass real nicely. Hides from those bike munching CBR900RR Hondas.”
“Oh, okay tough guy. And I suppose you have one.”
“Yep. Sold my Norvin and bought a CBR, a BMW, and a Trans Alp.”
A Norvin, for those of you not so adept at playing the word game, is a Vincent Black Shadow engine married to a Norton Featherbed frame. Just like the Triton, a Triumph motor married with a Norton featherbed frame, the Norvin represented the street-faired-go-fast-guy’s attempt to reap the optimum combination of handling and horsepower. Shoe horning the venerable 1000 cc motor into the Norton double-looped frame required the go-fast-guys to file down one of the Featherbed’s frame lugs and fabricate one-off engine plates. To the chagrin of present day Vincent enthusiasts, the amputations did not stop there. Hacking off the swingarm pivot plugs was done under the guise of facilitating repeated engine installation and removal, which makes perfect sense after consulting a period maintenance schedule. Under the 500 Mile Recommended Service Tips column, you will often find the following: Check oil, adjust drive chain tension, remove engine, check tire pressure…
If you have ever wielded a Sawz-All, you know it is a sacrilege to return the saw to it’s resting place after one solitary cut. Wild-eyed cafe boys understood this, so they removed the gearbox, monoshock, and triangulated swingarm amid a shower of sparks and Neanderthal grunts. Most of these Dr. Frankenstein’s opted to replace the gearbox with that of the Norton since they probably had one lying in the corner after bastardizing the Featherbed. Fitting a standard swingarm with two shocks was thought to be a substantial improvement over the forward thinking design by Vincent, because “everybody else is using two shocks and a non-triangulated design.”
This particular modification disturbed Vincent the most, because he knew that it was being done for no other purpose than following the lowest common denominator. His monoshock design was far superior to any other manufacturer’s design for a span of twenty years and was validated in the mid-1970s when mainstream motorcycle manufacturers introduced their own version of the monoshock. In theory, these modifications would produce a stump pulling motorcycle that had the agility of Ann Margaret. In reality, the modifications produced a motorcycle that, like Ann Margaret, had a high center of gravity. Norvin owners claimed an increase in power due to the shedding of 60 some pounds, but then again, who is going to admit to creating a grave irrevocable error?
Many feel that if the marriage was truly optimum, the Viscount adventure of the early 1960s would have been a success. Viscount was an enterprise that ignored the heeding of Vincent himself and attempted to build mass production versions of the backyard Norvins. Albeit some of the models highlight the overwhelming engine by overfilling the frame tubes, I would still have to subscribe to the Shakespearean proverb, “That which we call a work of art maliciously subjected to a cutting torch by any other name would smell like a work of art maliciously subjected to a cutting torch.”
And as for the mature gentleman who once owned a Norvin and questioned the dignity of my motorcycle? I pummeled him.