1966 Norton P11 Prototype Replica

It was 1966 when Bob Blair and his mechanic/parts manager Steve Zabaro worked together to blend components from two motorcycles to create the prototype of the 1967 Norton P11.

| September/October 2010

norton p11 1

Norton P11 prototype replica (with a stock 1967 P11, far left) is a dead ringer for the original. It should be; it was built by Steve Zabaro, who helped conceive and build the 1966 prototype.

Photo by Gary Phelps

1966 Norton P11 Prototype Replica
Engine: 745cc air-cooled OHV vertical twin, 73mm x 89mm bore and stroke, 7.5:1 compression ratio, 52hp @ 6,200rpm
Top speed: 113mph (period test)
Carburetion: Two 1-1/8-inch Amal Monoblocs
Transmission: AMC 4-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: Lucas K2F magneto
Frame/Wheelbase: Dual-downtube steel cradle fabricated of Reynolds 531 tubing/57in (1,448mm)
Suspension: Teledraulic forks front, dual Girling shocks with adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 7in (178mm) SLS drum (fins removed from hub) Akront WM2-19 rim front, 8in (203mm) SLS G50 magnesium hub with WM3-18in chrome steel rim rear
Tires: 3.5 x 9in front, 4 x 18in rear
Weight (dry): 345lb (157kg)
Seat height: 32.75in (825.5mm)
Fuel capacity: 2.7gal (10.2ltr)

History is a subjective experience. Stories of the past are told and passed along, but details get lost with the passage of time. It’s not often that the record can be set straight by talking to the people directly involved — the history makers themselves. But this is exactly one of those cases.

It was 1966 when Bob Blair and his mechanic/parts manager Steve Zabaro worked together to blend components from two motorcycles to create the prototype of what would become one of the most legendary classic Norton motorcycles - the 1967 Norton P11.

New Jersey-based Mike Berliner, sales manager for Berliner Motor Corp., acted as an intermediary between the creators of the American prototype and the engineers at Norton. While Blair died in 1996, both Zabaro and Berliner are alive and well, and they remember the story of the Norton P11.

In the beginning

Bob Blair was the proprietor of ZDS Motors in Glendale, Calif., and was the West Coast distributor for the now legendary Berliner Motor Corp., which imported all manner of exotic foreign motorcycles to the U.S. ZDS stood for Zundapp, Ducati and Sachs — all brands imported by New Jersey-based Berliner. When Berliner took over Norton for the North American market in the mid-1960s, Blair agreed to distribute the English-made brand for them on the West Coast.

Offroad desert racing was hugely popular in the western states at the time. The machines used in competition needed to be powerful, light and fast. American enthusiasts built their own “desert sleds,” and there were also factory-built offroad bikes competing in desert races, such as BSA’s Spitfire Hornet and Triumph’s TR6. Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) had an entire slate of dirt-friendly competition machines, including the AJS 18CS and 31CS, the Matchless G12CS and G80CS, and, in 1964, the Matchless G15CS and the Norton N15CS (CS for Competition Spring frame).

9/22/2015 3:30:57 PM

In 1980 I was a bike assembler and 4 stroke service mechanic at Mike Patrick's Yamaha of Corona, CA. His son Donnie wanted to get the P11 running so the chief mechanic and myself cleaned the tank, carbs and points. I rode that bike down the street and through a large field 1 block behind the dealership. It plowed through everything, like riding a deep V hull boat. Couldn't imagine a 400 mile scramble, much less a get off. Those men were tough.

daniel wineinger
4/16/2013 7:15:59 AM

I tried the 500 Matchless and an AJS 500. Way too much scooter for me to handle to I was one that went to the light 2 strokes. I bought the scooters from Paul Simon in So Cal. Later I went to a "New" AJS 2 stroke, DKW, Bultaco, and lastly 74 CZ. I am currently in the planning stages of build/restoring a 1968 Norton P-11. Most of the mods on the "Prototype" had been done on this machine, including the Lucas Magneto, twin remote float Amal carbs, and I am sure a number of other items I have not discovered as yet. I hope to use it as a kind of "Classic Dual Sport", mostly on road. I am too beat up to ride the desert any longer.

ed crowell
8/16/2011 10:45:33 PM

Hi, my Dad, Paul Crowell, mentioned as the alloy aluminum oil tank fabricator on the original Norton P11 Desert Racer prototype featured on the cover of the September/October 2010 magazine is still alive and fabricating to this day "Pauls Welding" located in Willmington Ca. The cracked mounting tab on the oil tank, mentioned in the article, was caused by improper tightening of the rubber gromet shock absorbing system, pointed out by Paul on his recall inspection. Thus the reason that the factory used the original design.

bike on highway

Classic Motorcycle Touring and Events.

The latest classic motorcycle events and tours.