Cutting up a brand new Norton to make a 1970s dirt track replica takes some guts. Thankfully Jamie Ireson's courage is genuinely stunning.
"I'd never heard of Ron Wood Norton but the moment I saw a picture of the bike, I fell in love"
Norton 1970 direct track replica
Brighton / England
Cutting up a brand new Norton to make a 1970s dirt track replica takes some guts. Thankfully the result of Jamie Ireson’s courage is genuinely stunning This modern Norton twin is a tribute to the Ron Wood Nortons built for American dirt track racing. It’s the work of Jamie Ireson’s 72 Motorcycles in collaboration with Norton themselves, and is the first of a planned production run of 12.
The inspiration comes from the 1970s, when Norton’s Stateside racing glory came from dirt tracks – partly thanks to a guy called Ron Wood, a lampshade manufacturer turned race team owner who had a series of trick Nortons built with the help of a legendary tuner CR Axtell.
On the sticky clay-bound surface of Ascot Park in the LA suburbs, Nortons excelled against the Harley-Davidson XR750s and Triumph and BSA twins in the regular Friday non-championship races. So much so that Norton’s US distributors paid for a huge hoarding on the back straight with an ad slogan that read ‘Lotta Torque About Norton’.
The Ron Wood bikes won three Ascot Park track titles with Rob Morrison in 1974 (which earned him a factory Norton ride the following year) and Alex Jorgenson in 1975 and ’76. But it was the AMA Nationals that counted and British bike fans celebrated when Jorgenson won the 1978 Ascot Park Half Mile National. It turned out to be the last hurrah – the final Norton dirt track national race victory.
Jamie’s Norton project kicked off when his partner Merry Michaud was taking pictures for Norton’s 2014 brochure. “Merry told Stuart [Garner, Norton boss] that I built custom bikes in my spare time and he suggested we come up with some ideas for a Norton,” says Jamie. “We did some research – I’d never heard of the Ron Wood Norton but the moment I saw a picture of the bike, I fell in love. In November last year we met up and laid our cards on the table. When we showed him the pic of the Ron Wood bike we liked, he pulled out exactly the same image and said, ‘get on with it.’”
Norton gave Jamie some CAD [computer aided design] models to work from which allowed him to model his ideas. “We needed to lower the bike and working in CAD allowed me to see what effect the changes had,” says Jamie. Stuart finally gave Jamie the green light, with one stipulation; the bike had to be completed and shown on the Norton stand at the 2015 Motorcycle Live show at the NEC.
“That gave me just five months to build it,” says Jamie. “I can remember Simon Skinner [Norton’s Head of Design] telling me I could do it. So since June, all I’ve focussed on is CAD, research, suppliers and finally building this bike. Norton sent me a rolling chassis so I could start work.
“I always knew I had to do a run of them so in my head anything I did had to be repeatable – a run of 12 is manageable. But I also have a proper job as a freelance design engineer. I’ve worked in the automotive industry [hence his vast experience of CAD] but at the moment I’m back at a local engineering company where I did my apprenticeship. I work four days a week there so I’ve had Fridays as well as evening and weekends to work on the Norton.”
The modern Norton is physically bigger than the original Commando engine in the Ron Wood bike but Jamie wanted to keep the same lines of the tank as the original – with the right proportions.
“I had to make a mould for the tank. I used some foam called Celotex – it’s an insulation board used in the building trade. I glued some together and shaped it with a file. What a mess that made. I took the mould to Simon at Parker Fabrication in Bournemouth. I thought he’d laugh at me and I recall being really embarrassed having to take it out of the car but when he saw it he said it was a really good first effort. He took the necessary fibreglass splashes [moulds] to make the tooling and them made the alloy tank.”
The iconic, red and white livery of the Ron Wood bike was central to Jamie’s original inspiration. “Image Design did all the paint and graphics,” he says. “At one stage we talked about giving it a modern twist but they said it was such a good design we should leave it. The only change is the current Norton logo, which is obviously slightly different to the original one.”
Jamie’s Norton frame is a modified standard Commando frame – not that you’d suspect it, given the look of the frame’s backbone oil reservoir. “The oil tank is really long on the standard Norton,” he says, “so I cut off the original tank, made up some bends on a CNC machine, and got them welded to follow the Ron Wood style. The sub-frame also has a new profile for the seat.”
Luckily, the Norton geometry is bang in the middle of what is considered ideal. “The only thing I wanted but couldn’t have was 19in wheels,” he says. “The geometry wouldn’t let me do it, so we stuck with standard Norton 17in wheels which works really well. The bike has a stocky, aggressive look.”
Forks are Ducati Panigale Ohlins. “They’re 58mm diameter but shorter than the standard Norton Ohlins, which meant we could drop the ride height to get the right look.” Danny at Fastec Racing in Suffolk made a new set of yokes from Jamie’s CAD drawing. “In ten days he had them done. A great turnaround. He’s done some other bits of machining for me and turned the velocity stacks.” The swing arm is stock with added bracing.
Where possible, Jamie used suppliers and services local to him on the south coast. “A local fabrication company called Lasertech Engineering did the front number board from my CAD modelling, and all my frame tube welding.”
The Moto Gadget speedo is on top of the number board and there’s also a Moto Gadget transponder. Brake levers are ISR. Bars are Red Max.
The standard oil cooler is covered with a bash plate – the MM on the lower bash plate stands for Merry Michaud as she was the one who initiated the project with Norton in the first place.
Under the seat are side panels made by Lasertech, they hide the relays and fuse box. On top of the swing-arm is an alloy cage that holds the battery. The sub-frame loop has a frenched-in LED strip which includes the rear light, brake light and indicators. The ECU is under the seat with the leather pad made by Craig at CW Trimming.
The engine and transmission is all standard but “because we’ve taken the airbox and velocity stacks off, Skinner reckons we might pick up anything between five and 10bhp,” says Jamie.
The exhaust follows the same lines as the Ron Wood bike. It’s all custom made and hand-rolled by Tom at the Foundry. “Funny thing was that Tom’s regular exhaust guy was ill so he took on the project himself and came up with the goods at his first attempt.” The pipes have been given a super hard-wearing ceramic-coated black by Wes at Hi-Spec Coatings in West Sussex.
If you want one of these flat track customs it’s going to cost you £30,000. “All 12 will be identical except for the race number,” says Jamie.