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The Yakmobile

... or the almost pointless restoration of a 1953 Norman Model C Autocycle, which somehow survived the C2C 2006

by Rod Hodder

This bizarre foray into the world of whimsical, outdated and frankly inadequate motorised transport stems from a visit to my brother's workshop in London.  The date is now firmly imprinted on my diary: 21 September 2005.  To get to some other stuff, he wheeled this contraption outdoors.  "What the hell is that?" I say.  "Dunno" replies brother, eloquent as ever.  "One of my neighbours butchered a beautiful tree in my garden that had branches overhanging his side of the fence.  We had a proper row about it.  A couple of years later we've sort of made up; he's moving out so he hands me this, in the form of three boxes of bits.  On reflection, I think he still had it in for me".

"Tell me more" says I.  "Well, I had no manual or anything and it was completely in bits, then I figured it's basically a bicycle with a Villiers engine in it.  So I found all the bits to make a bicycle; wheels, handlebars, etc, and screwed together a bike.  This gave a bike with an engine-shaped hole, so I filled this hole with the engine et voilà , the pinnacle of engineering detective work you see before you" says Brother Nick.  "Oh, right" says I.  He says "Trouble is, I can't get it to run.  The mag's a bit ropey, it produces a spark but not a very good one.  I jury-rigged a total-loss system using a battery and an MZ coil, but still no joy.  I'm fed up with it, so can you take some photos and put it on eBay for me?"

"Yes, but, I have 'An Idea'" say I foolishly.

Norman Nodel C autocycle

"So, next time you're coming up to mine, sling it in the back of the van and we'll have a go at getting it going... by the way, what is it?" I ask.  "A Norman."  "How d'you know?"  "Gotta badge."  "What does it say?"  "Norman."  "Right you are.  Any idea what model?"  "Doesn't say.  Norman Nippy?  I've heard of them, no idea what they look like though".

I went on my way with a few photos that just might be destined for eBay.  Once home I looked again at the pictures, surfed the net and found my way to the Norman Owners Club and the NACC sites.  It was obvious this was no Norman Nippy but something much older, and I learned that autocycles were at their most popular in the impoverished post-war years and that they were very 'generic' in their design and the components used.  I found that the Villiers 2F engine was a ubiquitous 98cc engine in autocycles between the late 1940s and mid-1950s, and has no gears - just one speed and a clutch!

Norman Nodel C autocycle

So it came to pass that one day my brother came up to visit me and hauled 'the contraption', as it became known, from out the back of his van.  Being the adult sensible people we are, the business of the day was soon forgotten as we scratched around for various knick-knacks that just might "get this baby in the air.  It's a long shot but we have to try".  There was nothing for it, we had to venture into the pit of insanity and sundry junk that is... The Cellar (Dum-Dum-De-Durr).

What we dug up was: a 12V car battery of compromised abilities, a ballasted car ignition coil for a Jaguar c1973, a condenser from a c1966 Ford Corsair, jump leads, bits of filleted 3-core mains wire and sundry alligator clips.  All wired up in short order to make 'an ignition system'.  We broke into a vintage tin of Castrol 'R' from 'The Kart Racing Days' and mixed up a mean potion of 20:1 petroil.

We placed 'the contraption' with its front wheel against the garage wall and on its (dodgy) centre stand.  Brother pointed out that one pedal was not a pedal at all but a length of studding bolted into the crank that had a stripped thread.  We took it in turns to 'mount the beast' and soon established a technique for spinning the engine over: stand hard on the left pedal, not too hard on the studding on the right lest it should bend, and don't even think about sitting on the saddle 'cos its loose and can't be tightened and will hurt when it swivels.  Then, once you've got some momentum, drop the decompressor and away she goes...  So much for theory.  We pedalled but no start.  We pedalled more - no go.  We sweated.  No Joy.

Defiantly I declared "Deploy the Multimeter".  Having secured the device that is Kryptonite to Joe Lucas's Prince of Darkness, we whipped off the flywheel and did some continuity testing while operating the points manually.  And Lo, it transpired the Points were Most Filthy and Sore in Need of Cleansing.  In fact they were only good for the bin, but they were all we'd got.  What they got was a damn good filing that left them flat, clean and jolly thin.  Back on with the flywheel, careful with the timing.  Juggle with jump leads, alligator clips and wiring all over the garage floor and, as one of us holds the electrics together, the other pedals like hell and mind the seat.  Finally, coughs, splutters and a barely-perceptible increase in the rate of rotation that heralds... MOTIVE POWER!

Clouds of smoke, a puttering sound that clears to a shriek like that of an unattended lawnmower gone AWOL down a steep slope, and we have success.  What sort of success this is is lost on us as I 'power down' the beast and we both fall about the place laughing.  Is it the heady smell of success, or have we forgotten to provide adequate ventilation and gone plain barmy?  We'll never know because we soon calmed down and went to have a nice cup of tea.

First published, April 2007

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