Alan Cathcart rides the latest creation from Peter Williams, engineer of the original John Player Norton Monocoque.
John Player Norton Monocoque Replica Racer
John Player Norton Monocoque Replica
Engine: 746cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 73mm x 89mm bore and stroke, 10.5:1 compression ratio, 76hp @ 7,400rpm (at crank)
Top speed: 160mph
Carburetion: Two 33mm Amal Concentric
Transmission: 5-speed Hemmings close-ratio
Electrics: 12v, Lucas Rita electronic ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Stainless steel monocoque/56in (1,420mm)
Suspension: Leading-axle JPN telescopic forks front, dual Ikon shocks w/adjustable preload rear
Fuel capacity: 4gal (15ltr)
Price: £74,000 ($106,275 at press time)
Not many people have turned down the chance to race for the works Suzuki GP team, forfeited a ride with the Honda factory squad and declined an offer to work as a designer for Yamaha — but Peter Williams did all of those.
Son of legendary designer Jack Williams, creator of the G50 Matchless during his time as chief engineer at AMC, Peter is the most illustrious rider/engineer of the modern era, equally expert at both skills after first training as a draftsman, then working for Ford. On the race track, Peter became the eternal runner-up to Agostini’s works MV Agusta triple aboard Tom Arter’s much slower but fine-handling AJS and Matchless singles. These were equipped with the modern-style mag-alloy wheels Peter designed in 1967. He finished second in the Isle of Man TT no fewer than seven times on his slower 350/500cc singles against the multi-cylinder might of MV Agusta and Honda, and was runner-up in Grand Prix races at Assen, Monza, Hockenheim and Dundrod, where he scored his only GP victory, in the 1971 350cc Ulster GP on a 300cc MZ. His admirer Mike Hailwood had lined Peter up to race for Honda as his teammate in 1968, before the Japanese factory pulled out of racing, leaving Williams instead to join the Norton factory’s new race shop at Thruxton early in 1970.
Williams not only forged out a new career as a successful rider, winning the Thruxton 500-miler on the new Commando as well as many production races, but in 1971 he built a one-off 750 prototype that convinced Norton owner Dennis Poore of the potential of racing as a promotional instrument. That led to the formation of the John Player Norton team, and to the creation of first the 1972 pannier-tank JPN, then a year later the Norton Monocoque — both designed by Williams, as well as ridden by him. Winning the 1973 Isle of Man F750 TT on the JPN Monocoque, Williams demonstrated the worth of his unique combination of talents at the drawing board and on the race track, expressed at the controls of a truly avant-garde motorcycle.
Forty years on, after stints at Cosworth and Lotus, and in between consultant work for major automotive players, Williams, 70, is back in the bike world — and he’s delving into the past to move present day motorcycle chassis design into the future. “I like to do new things,” Willilams says, “and that means I’m never satisfied with how motorcycles are right now, I’m focused more on envisaging how they might be. Right from when I was at college 50 years ago, I’ve wanted to make a monocoque motorcycle — back then Colin Chapman had designed the monocoque Formula 1 Lotus, and I thought that concept would be perfect for a motorcycle. We did build the Norton Monocoque in 1973 and raced that successfully … then I had my accident, Norton folded, and it all came to an end. But I don’t want to leave it at that.” In 1974, Williams had an accident when the one-piece seat/tank unit came loose on the space frame version of the F750 John Player Norton during a race, causing severe injuries that prevented him from riding a motorcycle again.
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