Words Jeff Dickson Photos Rob Collins
The silver, black, and red livery of the Manx Norton gas tank is instantly recognizable, and evokes nostalgic memories of the victorious racing of the machines that they adorned. The example pictured here carries a deeper, forgotten significance to the history of the Norton marque. In 1952, Rex McCandless, a young Irishman, campaigned a Manx Norton with this very unique tank. Only one photo of the mounted tank is known to exist, taken as Rex warmed up his Norton in preparation for the Northwest 200. After the race, the tank all but disappeared.
I have an irrational love for Manx Nortons and have always been captivated with that original photo, which was featured in Mick Walker’s book, “The Manx Norton." Then one day, visiting Team Obsolete in New York, I stumbled upon the tank, resting quietly in the shop's collection. The entire place suddenly became a blur, and I couldn't focus on anything but this amazing alloy creation, sitting two stories up in the rafters.
The tank's story begins in the 1940’s, when McCandless was converting rigid-frame motorcycles to pivot from a rear swinging arm, using shock absorbers adapted from Citroën automobiles. After having success locally, and at the behest of Works rider, Artie Bell, McCandless gained the attention of Norton race chief, Joe Craig, and began development of a duplex cradle frame to be used with his swingarm. That chassis became affectionately known as the “featherbed” frame, after Herald Daniel tested the machine and coined the term. The development quite literally changed the industry and raised the bar on what handling could be gained from a racing machine. Using the already successful OHC Manx engine, and in the hands of skilled riders like Geoff Duke, the new machine dominated Grand Prix racing and the Isle of Man TT for many years to come.
When the Bracebridge Street Norton Works racing department closed in 1962, this tank reemerged and spent some time in Reg Dearden’s shop before being acquired by Team Obsolete. It came with the purchase of a 350cc Works prototype Manx that ran an external flywheel, but wasn’t original to that machine. The correct tank was later fitted to that bike before it was sold on, and this tank, by default, became part of the illustrious Team Obsolete collection.
Through aged and heavily faded paint, you can see every detail of its construction, with each panel being cut, hand formed, and welded into position, creating a functional work of art. It has heavily relieved top panels and was originally fitted with foam padding so the rider could comfortably tuck down out of the wind. It’s equipped with twin taps that feed fuel, and is in genuine “as raced” condition, with some shallow dents, scratches, and all the patina that it earned in its heyday.
A special thanks to Rob Iannucci and the Team Obsolete crew for the access and permission to feature this amazing piece of history, and for preserving and racing all these historically significant machines.