Ariel-Norton Hybrid Motorcycle
Four in a featherbed
Jerry Romano's "Square Norton" - an Ariel-Norton hybrid.
Photo by Robert Smith
If you wanted to find Jerry Romano’s Square Norton special at the October 2009 Barber Vintage Festival, all you had to do was follow the crowds. Every time Jerry parked his beautiful Ariel-Norton special, just about everyone would stop what they were doing and gather round — it really is that special.
You see, many have tried to fit Edward Turner’s famed double-twin, the 997cc Ariel Square Four, into a Norton Featherbed frame, and most have abandoned the attempt. A small number have been successful, but usually by performing a “cut and shut” on the iconic frame’s tubing, spoiling its integrity and compromising its strength and rigidity. That makes Jerry Romano’s Square Norton all the more special, because Jerry was able to fit the big lump without chopping the frame apart.
And his bike’s special nature doesn’t stop there: The engine came from legendary Ariel four tuner and one-time Egli Square Four manufacturer Tim Healey, and it’s received a number of improvements for performance and reliability. So how did Jerry Romano’s Square Norton come about?
Dime a dozen?
Jerry describes himself as a “retired wrencher from General Motors, just an old shop rat,” and makes his home in Clarkston, Mich. He has a number of restoration projects under his belt, including various BSA Gold Stars, Spitfires and a Rocket Gold Star, as well as Vincents, Triumph twins and a 1929 “cammy” Velocette KN. Among all of the parts he and a buddy had accumulated were a couple of Norton Featherbed frames and an Ariel Square Four MkII engine. “We had the Norton frames, and we were going to make a Triton, but they’re a dime a dozen,” he says.
He also considered building a Norvin but couldn’t find anyone to part with an engine. “So I thought: What about putting the Square Four engine in the Norton frame? My buddy thought it wouldn’t fit,” says Jerry. He even consulted a knowledgeable motorcycle journalist who told him it couldn’t be done without cutting the frame.
“I measured it and it looked like there was enough room,” Jerry says, “so I assembled a set of empty cases and got them into place without any trouble. I put the engine as far forward as possible and moved the swingarm mounts. I used the stock Ariel primary case and found it was an inch bigger than it needed to be, so I took half an inch out of it.” Jerry suspects the same primary case was used for Ariel’s twins and big singles, which may well have used a larger clutch sprocket.
And while it’s true he didn’t have to drastically cut into the frame to fit the Ariel lump, he did have to modify the frame a bit to make it all work, adding extra engine mounts, trimming the transmission plates and “easing” the frame tubes to allow the engine to be shoehorned into place.
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