Monday 10 May 2010

NVT machines history. (The end of the British industry)

This piece on the story of how Norton Villiers and Triumph began the downhill slope to collapse. Taken from the On Two Wheels Motorcycle vol 5 by Orbis London.

The basic troubles seemed to have stared back in 1956, when Norton was bought by Associated Motorcycles Ltd which itself went into liquidation in 1966. The Manganese Bronze Company, headed by Dennis Poore, came to the rescue, and bought the Norton name with other assets and developed the resultant Norton Villiers Ltd company into a going concern.
The financial problems of the BSA/Triumph group in 1971/2 caused quite a stir, however in the autumn of 1972, Mr Poore, Chairman of Norton Villiers Ltd, was called the the industrial development unit of the department of trade and industry, which had been recently formed to administer the new industry Act, and was told some disturbing news. He was told that the department had been advised by Lord Shawcross, Chairman of BSA, that BSA would shortly be unable to meet its obligations, and unless assistance was forthcoming from the government department, Barclay's Bank would be asked to appoint a receiver.
Mr Poore was asked weather Norton Villiers would consider a merger to save the important motorcycle export potential of BSA/Triumph, then running at an estimated £40m annually.
So where was the money to come from? Govenrnment officials explained that public funds could be made available under the industry act; and so, reluctantly the new Norton Villiers Triumph company was born.
Shortly afterwards in 1973, NVT tried to rationalise its production by closing the Triumph factory at Meriden, resulting in the now famous sit-in, which lasted 18 months.
the factory was kept going by the determination of the workers who showed great resiliance, and while the sit in was in progress, they democratically decided to draw the same wages for all staff each week. Luck was on their side, however, and the continuing demand for the Triumph Bonneville, built at Meriden, helped them with their cash flow problems. The sit-in finally ended in march 1975 when the Government announced the formation of a sponsored Meriden co-operative.
Dennis Poore, said, shortly after the formation of NVT, 'The real problem is that in the period ending July 1973, the BSA/Triumph company had losses totalling some £16m, and the first task is to bring the industry back into a profitable position. The present loss is aproximately £4m each year and £3m of this can be saved by putting operatons into one factory instead of, as now, in three factories. The only factory where we can do this is Small Heath in Birmingham.'
At the time of the formation of NVT, BSA manufactured Triumph motor cycles at two factories, one at Meriden near Coventry, the other at Small Heath.
BSA motorcycles had also been made at Small Heath but in 1971, because of financial problems, some 3000 of the 4500 strong workforce were made redundant, the manufacture of BSA machines was fased out and the factory concentrated on the manufacture of the three cylinder engines for the Triumph Trident, then assembled at Meriden, and also certain components for all Triumph Models.
So where were NVT now? in the absence of full Government support of a 3 factory set-up, NVT closed the Norton factory at Marston Road, Wolverhampton, and wound up the NVT Manufacturing company at Small Heath in 1975. Now there was NVT Engineering Ltd, to maintain stocks of spare parts for the machines, and NVT Motorcycles to be responsible for the marketing of the products and to look into future markets.
NVT still distributed Triumph Bonevilles which were made by the workers' co-operative until the co-operative recieved official support enabling them to buy the triumph name from NVT and set themselves up as a motorcycle manufacturer.
The machines NVT marketed were the Norton commando, a hairy-chested 750 and later 850cc 'superbike' with tremendous power, roadholding and value for money. Then there was the Triumph Bonneville, which had a ready made market in the United States due to many US servicemen spending their tour of duty in Britain, and becoming fond of the rugged parallel twins.
The Meriden co-operative meanwhile, was going form strength to strength, with the news, in 1977, of a £2m order from the united stated for 2000 Bonnevilles and Tiger 750's spread amongst 500 enthusiastic dealers.
NVT, too were having their fair share of success, with news late in 1977 of an order from America for 1000 Easy Rider mopeds each month. The firm also announced atthe same time, an order from West Africa, which could eventually lead to an assembly plant being set up in Guinea.
1977, however, also saw the last Norton commando roll off the assembly line in early August. By this time, the only machine to carry the Norton name was the Easy Rider moped.
It was left to Norton to come up with new engineering ideas, however, and the announcement that they were to come up with a 'world beater', based on a formula one Cosworth engine caused great excitement. The cosworth engine was, of course, the most successful Gramd Prix engine in racing history, was well proven, and the figures showed that it would be practical to slice oe quarter of the v8 engine and still achieve 116bhp at 10,500rpm!
The machine, to be known as the Challenge, was fuel injected, water cooled, and would incorperate contra-rotating counter-balance shafts for smoothness. Reports at the time suggested that the machine would have a central spine frame, with a cantilever rear fork, controlled by a long gas sprung and oil dampened suspension unit, allowing for a very low riding position.
With its monocoque design, air supply to the fuel injectors was going to be a problem, and a suggestion was an air scoop mounted above the riders seat similar to Formula One car practice. However, events caught up with the project, and the machine never had the oportunity to show itself to its fullest extent.
The Wankel project also caused a stir when it was first announced. In 1969, Norton Triumph International got hold of a German Fichel and Sachs rotary unit (siilar to that used in the Hercules) and fitted it into a BSA frame.
Based at the NTI centre, Kitts Green in Birmingham, senior development manager David Garsude set about incorporating two of his own ideas into the F&S unit. Firstly, he wanted to use direct air cooling for the rotor housing, and, secondly, he developed an ingenious variation on the Yamaha and F&S system of charge cooling the rotor. This twin-rotor unit was planned to offer outstanding performance and simplicity at a reasomable price, with the added benefit of turbine like smoothness. A prototype was made available to the press in 1974, and produced 65bhp at 8000rpm and impressive performance figures. The acceleration was described as shattering, the handling impeccable, but, as is often the case with rotary engines, fuel consumption was high. 32mpg was recorded overall, and at a constant 50mph the figure was 42mpg. Top speed recorded was 124mph.
Ironically, it was the Japanese who, in 1977, co-operated with NVT in producing a 750cc three-cylinder police machine based on a Yamaha, and it was Yamaha who again, in late 1977, alowed their engines to be used in an arrangement where Bengt Aberg replica motocross machines were built by NVT.

No comments:

Post a Comment