The Final Featherbed: 1967 Norton Atlas

Norton Guru Colin Kelly revives and restores a 1967 Norton Atlas to show-winning perfection.

| November/December 2017

1967 Norton Atlas
Claimed power: 49hp @ 6,800rpm
Top speed: 110mph
Engine: 745cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 73mm x 89mm bore and stroke, 7.6:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 395lb (180kg)
Fuel capacity: 3.2gal (12ltr)
Price then/now: $1,050(est.)/$4,000-$12,000

Not many production motorcycles are notable for the frames they use.

Apart from Norton’s famous double-cradle frame from 1950, I can think of only Lino Tonti’s long-running design for Moto Guzzi and Miguel Angel Galluzzi’s trellis frame for the Ducati Monster as defining each model. (Though Philip Vincent’s Series B, which had no frame at all, certainly warrants a mention!) But perhaps only the Featherbed has achieved legendary status.

The Featherbed

It’s a well-known story, but it bears repeating. During World War II, Cromie McCandless and his brother Rex owned an engineering company in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Rex was also one of the best known and most successful motorcycle racers in Ireland, but was dissatisfied with the lack of suspension in the rigid-rear frames fitted to most motorcycles at the time. Thinking that motorcycle frame design had been left behind by the increases in engine power, McCandless designed a rear subframe that incorporated a swingarm and spring/damper units from a Citroen car. He fitted it to his race bike, and it worked. Before long, competitors started inquiring about his rear frame. After partnering with fellow racer Artie Bell, McCandless began offering conversion kits and modifying frames for other riders.

In the early postwar years, reports of the McCandless conversion and its racing successes reached the mainland, eventually attracting the attention of Norton’s managing director, Bill Mansell. Working under contract to Norton, McCandless was able to devote his time to developing a new frame for the Norton Manx to replace the unstable and crack-prone “Garden Gate” plunger frame. What McCandless came up with was an elegant dual-cradle, steel tube frame in which two continuous loops encircled the engine with ample triangulation at the head stock. It was light, rigid and strong, and with McCandless’ rear suspension and Norton’s own Roadholder fork fitted, it provided outstanding handling.

Successful testing was carried out at the Montlhery circuit in France and at the Motor Industry Research Association’s test track in England. It was at the Silverstone track in 1950 that works racer Harold Daniell made the now famous comment that the new McCandless Manx was like riding on a “feather-bed.” The name stuck. 

David Fruhling
12/7/2017 1:25:11 PM

Back about 1991 I traded my 1966 International pickup for a 1967 N15 Atlas. Mine was missing the tank emblems and had non-original seat I replaced with a bates-type seat. I gouged the baffles out with a torch. (sorry) Didn't run when I got it from sitting. Ended up trading back for the truck. Should have kept the Norton. After I cleaned the carbs and gas tank, it always started first kick and hauled butt! Hopefully, it's still in or around Fresno, California. David

12/7/2017 10:29:37 AM

I owned one. It was very powerful but piston seized on a trip. Had it re bored and new pistons fitted. Turns out the carbs were improperly jetted from the factory. Also owned a Triumph Bonneville from the same era. Clutch pressure plate screws loosened and clutch begin to slip. This was on a trip through Europe and going up the Alps (Edison Dye tour). Workmanship on that era of British bikes left something to be desired. .

12/7/2017 8:09:25 AM

In 1972 I took my 1972 Norton Combat Commando from New Jersey through New England, then down and west to California, to Florida, and back to NJ. Will not do it again. Not on a motorcycle anyway. Lol George Hoover AL.

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