It was the quintessential British road-racer in the ’30s. But it didn’t conquer America until 1949.
That’s the year famed Norton factory tuner Francis Beart showed up at Daytona for the 200-mile beach race with three secret weapons: all Manx Nortons.
Manxes—the breathed-on Norton Internationals that were built and tuned for the grueling Isle of Man TT—had a reputation for speed and handling that was unmatched in Europe. But outside of a dedicated cadre of Brit-bike junkies, the company and its machines were not well-known here in the late ’40s.
Beart was charged with changing that. So he arranged to put this Manx and two others into the hands of three very capable racers—Dick Klamfoth, Billy Matthews and Tex Luse—for America’s most celebrated race.
Engine: Single-cylinder overhead camshaft
Owner: Mark Schmalbach - McCordsville, Ind.
Klamfoth, who had raced Nortons the previous year, remembers the bike well.
“It was kind of an obsolete motorcycle when we rode it,” Klamfoth says. “But it was still better than the (Harley-Davidson) WR. It had won a lot of world titles.”
The Manxes featured a well-fettled 495cc single-cylinder overhead camshaft engine that was designed for longevity-the TT was, after all, a 264-mile race. It was light, even a bit skittish on the long beach straight, Klamfoth remembers, but he could really make up time on the other long straight, down the pavement of Florida Route A1A.
Still, no one knew how the Manxes would handle the competition from the bigger side-valve Harleys and Indians. That is, until the race began. Then the trio of Nortons went to the front and stayed there. They finished 1-2-3, with Klamfoth getting the win, followed by Matthews and Luse.
It was after the race that the pedigree of this particular Manx got clouded. According to the bike’s serial number, it was one of the three that raced, all of which were packed up immediately afterward and returned to England. But since no one made note of which rider rode which bike, the only thing we can say for sure about this Manx is that it finished on the podium in the 1949 Daytona 200. And it has a one in three chance of being the race winner.
The bike bounced from owner to owner until Mike Schmalbach, of McCordsville, Indiana, acquired it. In addition to a bike with an impressive racing pedigree, Schmalbach got another historic bonus.
“I was going through it, and the tach wasn’t working,” he says. “So I took it apart to see what was wrong. It was full of beach sand.”