Road Test: Production 1932 Norton 500cc ‘International’ – the Motor Cycle

Whilst most familiar with tests and reviews of the ISDT works erotica motorcycles which were the hi-lights for the International Six Days Trial. It goes without saying the support for the event in its formative years was heavily driven by a marketing drive to sell more models of bike with all manufacturers leaving no space vacant in the drive to win.

The foremost success of the six days was to produce a replica model which users would readily identify with the successes in the event and in ‘the Motor Cycle’ of 18th August 1932 published a review based on a test of the latest production model of the Norton 500cc based on its ‘International’ configuration.

The test is reproduced below.

1932 Models on the Road – the 490c.c “International” Norton.

image - Norton 500cc "International" 1932 - a machine of Superlative qualities. (speedtracktales archive)

image – Norton 500cc “International” 1932 – a machine of Superlative qualities. (speedtracktales archive)

The 490 c.c. “International” Norton is a machine of superlative qualities; it is not only its high maximum speed that appeals; it is its air of supreme confidence in all that it does. Horsemen will tell you that there is an affinity between their mounts and themselves, a genuine sympathy, one with the other. The rider of this Norton receives the same satisfying impression.

To all intents and purposes the “International” is a T.T. model with such modifications as different gear ratios, complete chain guards, a large silencer, and (on the model tested) a dynamo lighting set and a kick-starter. It would be wrong to regard the “International” Norton as purely a racing machine. On the other hand, it cannot accurately be described as an ordinary sports mount; but it is an admirable combination of the two.

It sometimes happens that an engine of this type is difficult to start, due to the difficulty of spinning it over compression. There was no such difficulty with the Norton; it liked a rich mixture and a partially retarded spark and with these arrangements it was always a willing starter, requiring no more than three kicks of no very great vigour. When the engine was quite cold it was found easier to start up with the machine on the stand. In this position a more vigorous kick can be administered than when standing astride the machine, as the kickstarter is rather far back. With the engine in motion the rider gets a foretaste of what is to follow. The note is crisp and curt, speaking of tune. The machine tested did not idle particularly well, but, on the other hand, there was no need to race the engine to prevent the plug from oiling. Some idea of its behaviour in this respect may be gained from the fact that the rider could wait under the nose of a point-duty policeman without attracting his attention. 

Actually the machine was distinctly quite-far more quiet than many that have nothing like so spectacular a performance. Though the silencer did its work splendidly, it cannot have detracted very greatly from the performance. Mechanically, too, there was a fine degree of silence – no annoying hammering of valve gear. no gear whine, no chain whirr. and only the most fleeting indications of piston slap before the engine warmed up. When it had warmed up this machine was a sheer delight to ride and control. Quite one of the most fascinating features was its phenomenal acceleration. To make a get-away from the rest through bottom gear and up to full throttle on second was to experience exhilaration in its highest form. Just a neat dab on the foot-change lever when moving well in bottom. and then a flick to the twist·grip. and the modeI shot forward like a rocket, though as steadily as if guided by rails.

1932 models on the road…

image - the 'International' Norton is an ideal machine for high speed touring. (speedtracktales archive)

image – the ‘International’ Norton is an ideal machine for high speed touring. (speedtracktales archive)

On second gear the Norton would pass the majority of things on the road, for its maximum on this gear, according to a speedometer which was checked and found to be not more than 4 per cent out, was almost 80 m.p.h. Against a stop-watch. and riding one-handed. it was found possible to accelerate on a level road from 20 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. on bottom gear in 4⅗ s., this being the mean time of two runs taken in opposite directions. On second gear from 30 to 50 m.p.h. took 3⅖ s., and from 20 m.p.h. to 50 m.p.h. 6⅕ s. The above performances were accomplished minus electrical equipment.

Maximum speed in top gear was found by timing the machine over a quarter of a mile. In one direction the distance was covered in 10s. and in the other the machine did it in 11s. – a mean speed of 85 m.p.h. This was with a silencer and a dynamo lighting set; remove these items and it will be seen that the 100 m.p.h. mark is not very far distant. Actually, the makers state that a dynamo makes a difference of about 7 m.p.h.

image - Controls of 1932 Norton 500cc International (speedtracktales archive)

image – Controls of 1932 Norton 500cc International (speedtracktales archive)

The Gear ratios

The standard bottom gear ratio in a box with a kickstarter is 10.3 to 1, and this ratio is needed in any sort of heavy traffic. On this gear the machine will travel easily and smoothly without clutch manipulation at about 7 or 8 m.p.h. Second gear 5.86 to 1, likes 20 m.p.h. or over, while third and top are only to be brought into use on a clear road – not necessarily an empty road, but one that permits of about 35 to 40 m.p.h. In the ordinary run of things, the rider would change to second at 35 m.p.h. to third at anything over 50, and then into top as soon as he felt like it.

One thing that had to be borne in mind was that, on this machine, the speed of travel was generally a great deal higher than it felt. This, of course, is a tribute to the remarkable steadiness of the model. The rider automatically tours on this Norton at about 10 m.p.h. faster than his normal habit to travel, -and it is only the evidence of the speedometer that gives any indication that this is being done – this and the pressure of air on the body.

The foot gear-change is delightfully simple, though the T.T. lever. which is a short one. would, perhaps, be better to operate than the standard long lever. When bringing the lever up into bottom the rider has to flex the knee rather too much. It is, however, next door to impossible to miss a gear, and any ratio can be selected with precision. Steering and road-holding were above reproach. Even when all-out there was never any need to use the steering damper; the forks could be damped by the hand adjuster to suit all conditions, and “hands off” at seventy spelt nothing in the nature of a thrill. Cornering was wonderful – a statement that needs no qualification.

the ‘International’ Norton is an ideal machine for high speed touring.

A quote from 1932 that could well be off the cover of the most recent brochure from BMW, KTM or Triumph extolling the virtues of their big bore dual sport offerings.

In Five Hundred Miles

Brakes? Beautiful! ‘ No judder, no vicious snatch at the wheels. no snaking of the machine. Fuel consumption was definitely good for a machine having such a performance as this one. A gallon of fifty – fifty Benzole mixture was sufficient for nearly eighty miles of main roads. The engine kept very clean externally, little or no oil exuding on to the outside. No trouble whatever was experienced over nearly 500 miles, except that the gear lever securing nuts slacked off once.

image - scanned specs 1932 500cc 'International' Norton (speedtracktales archive)

image – scanned specs 1932 500cc ‘International’ Norton (speedtracktales archive)

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