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Above: Mostly all smiles despite that most of the PI urn stead workers here were to be out of a job. "Hi is is the ver)- last motorcycle to be manufacturai at the AMC Woolwich works before production was shifted to Wolverhampton.
Mike Jackson is well known and respected on the classic scene for, amongst many other things, having been instrumental in establishing several motorcycle auction systems and up market concours gatherings. He was at the sharp end during the turbulent years when the British motorcycle industry was undergoing great changes, both home and abroad.
gfk CAN YOU START NEXT WEEK?
This was the question whispered by Norton's John McDermott as I walked towards Greeves' stand, my current employer, at the Brighton Show, in April 1969. Considering there'd been just one interview some four months previously and I'd heard nothing since, the thought of such an imminent job change was quite a surprise. Despite Norton's lack of communication I clearly needed to respond more rapidly to them than they to me, but a busy Show was not the place to give notice to Derry Preston-Cobb who had been a huge inspiration over the past six years. The least I owed him was a one-to-one meeting on a suitable day at the factory. John understood.
Like most manufacturers' reps I made monthly trips to HQ but for the next one I needed to ensure Cobby was there. Fixing a convenient time consumed a frustrating 14 days and Norton were getting impatient, yet I dare not tell any Greeves dealers I was departing until after Thundersley had been advised. When I eventually met Cobby, and gave my resignation, it went down like a lead balloon, prompting an angry reaction. This was understandable, perhaps, given I was moving to Greeves' main rival in the UK motocross market; ie AJS. Mr Greeves wasn't on site that day but, in saddened mode, I bade adieu to my excellent colleagues in the Parts, Service, and Comp Departments.
On reaching my Southampton home that evening Cobby was on the 'phone. Since we'd spoken, six hours ago, he'd undergone a change of tune. Requesting I re-thought my decision he turned on the charm, offering several attractive inducements, including a promotion, to stay. It was flattering of course but I'd long nursed doubts about Greeves' future and had already given my word to Norton; it was important, though, that we parted amicably. In fact after settling in at Norton, and after we dropped the AJS brand in 1974, I enjoyed a splendid relationship with my former boss.
Our last ever meeting was at a late 70s Earls Court Show. In company with Colin Seeley, an old chum and rival scrambler from way back, we invited Derry out to lunch "...in the new year, when it's warmer". Our invitation appeared to cheer him enormously but sadly he died just a couple of months later. Cobby's untimely loss helped to instil a Do-lt-Now philosophy!
Before I could metaphorically cross Norton's threshold yet another delay arose. While travelling for Greeves I was a regular listener to the BBC Light Programme; a favourite show was Macdonald Hobley's: Does The Team Think? Listeners sent in questions that, if suitable, saw them invited on the programme, putting said question personally to a panel consisting of Jimmy Edwards, Tommy Trinder, and Ted Ray. Months earlier I'd written, suggesting two light-hearted questions: i) Does the Government think, and ii), what's the funniest thing that happened [to panel members] on their way to the theatre?
In their wisdom the BBC chose the latter, and sent a glossy invitation to participate at Lower Regent Street Studio. Oops, but it was the same date I'd agreed to start at Norton Villiers. Grasping the nettle I asked Peter Inchley, my new boss, if I could be 24 hours late, which he accepted. It turned out an agreeable if different sort of day in London, apart from a 'run in' with Jimmy Edwards who, when the broadcast conduded, proclaimed over a large glass of sherry how he "detested motorbikes!" On the plus side the Beeb paid £3-17s-6d in expenses, handsomely exceeding the cost of the trip.
^ THE FACTORY SCENE
I began at the new Andover plant in May 1969, at which point Norton Villiers [confusingly, it said "Norton Matchless" on the service van] had yet to depart from the old AMC factory at Plumstead, where Commando production had started in late 1968. It is interesting today, that several discerning Norton owners claim how early Plumstead-produced Commandos - mainly 750 Fastbacks -were made to a higher standard than the first two-year run of Nortons ex-Wolverhampton.
The difference in quality was largely due to the 'familiarity' factor. The what? Well, Plumstead had been making Nortons for nearly 10 years. Their clapped-out pre-war machine tools should have been replaced many years ago, but an experienced and loyal workforce somehow had sufficient patience and skills to still produce a reasonable motorcycle. After those ancient machine tools were moved to Wolverhampton, Norton's quality dropped like a stone. It took a couple of years
Above: New Stormcr under construction, a fairly steady process.
Top: Dave Rawlins and his 'hoc' sub 12s 750cc Commando, with John Baker behind.
before it matched the London-built bikes. The despatch; operations that sound rather tedious but plunge in quality wasn't helped by the fact that only without which motorcycle factories cannot function, the production manager and a couple of design There were around 1200 personnel in the Midlands, staff were prepared to move from Plumstead to the and just over 100 at Andover; the same building
Black Country. housed the service, sales, and spares departments.
In practical terms the folk at Villiers were no less Dennis Poore justifiably subscribed to a view that capable than their London counterparts, but spares departments-we are talking British factories because their background was producing relatively here - should be located many miles away from dull proprietary two-stroke engines it was bound to production, resulting from what he'd witnessed at take time for a motorcycle culture to evolve. AMC after the Norton Villiers re-start in 1966. One
Effective proof of the latent talent at Marston has to understand that machine production is Road was the 750 Commando Sprinter ridden by crucial; It Is the lifeblood of any factory. Too often, road-tester Dave Rawlins [later at Dunlop] that he discovered, long-established dealers were began cutting sub-12s quarters In the early 70s. This arriving at the spares dept. urgently In need of vital bike was virtually a private project, whose rocket parts. An inducement or two would be offered to ship engine was prepared by the Experimental the right people, who'd then obtain the requisite
Dept's John Baker in his spare time; the pair did items direct off the production line, irrespective that wonders for the reputation of the 'new' 750 these parts were already in permanent short supply.
Commando engine which, in reality, was no more Later that day production would grind to halt, than a revamped Atlas engine, now sloped forwards starved of the very items allocated earlier to spares, in the Commando frame, and fitted with a OK, you say, why not simply produce more of diaphragm clutch. the relevant parts? Aha, more often than not this
The main factory transfer was completed in was impossible for, all too frequently, the wheezy l*ft: Malcolm Davis gets big October 1970, by when Wolvo' was wholly old machine tools producing these components air with his 250« Stormer at concerned with manufacturing the Commando had a limited output and - as so often with British Tilton scramble. June 1970.
engine, plus transmission and various chassis items. manufacturers - there was never the will, Or the Note all black engine.
Andover, meanwhile, was responsible for final funds, to acquire more modern tooling. It was assembly, test and rectification, plus packing and ever thus!
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