For 50 plus years Francis Beart, who died in 1983, was one of the great men of British motorcycle racing.
Though a noted Brooklands tuner, his reputation was founded post-WWII with Manx Nortons, latterly instantly identifiable in Ford’s Ludlow Green livery. He collected an unsurpassed total of 11 Manx GP wins plus ten 2nds and three 3rds, sufficient to mark Beart as a Master of Mann. He preferred longer, public roads events like Isle of Man, where reliability and speed both counted.
Genuine Beart Nortons are very rare. Francis looked after many engines, but his attention to detail made his own bikes special. No customer could pay for the countless hours spent perfecting the cycle parts. Bolts were hollowed, steel was replaced with aluminum and drilled like Swiss cheese. Unsprung weight reduction was his passion – and no plump riders!
Beart’s engines were rebuilt with infinite precision, each setting being logged for posterity. Less friction, more speed was his mantra. Wheel bearing replacement every race and mounting shocks upside down, were but two tricks. He used the narrowest rim and tire to save weight and reduce the contact patch!
The finest monument to his work is this machine. Beart made his last 350cc Manx race-ready in 1974 for the Stanford Hall museum’s founder, the late John Griffith, knowing it should be the last, giving away his tools once finished. In 1982, the collection was sold, and this machine was acquired by journalist Alan Cathcart for the seller.
From the details contained in Beart’s logbook which accompanies the machine, it was one of the last Manx Nortons built, a 1961 model, supplied new to a Beart customer, a Mr. Craze of Bournemouth who sold the bike to Beart during the winter of 1962-63. Francis then rebuilt it for the Junior Manx GP, fitting a Jakeman 2-piece fairing with the rev-counter mounted in the nose. Ernie Wakefield produced custom, thin-gauge aluminum oil and fuel tanks, the latter with a chin recess permitting the rider to tuck under the screen and thus the bike was nicknamed “Sabrina” after a curvaceous blonde British film starlet. An ex-Bob McIntyre Gilera twin-leading-shoe front brake was fitted. The 350 debuted in the 1963 Manx GP ridden by Jimmy Guthrie, who finished 20th after the specially made front-brake adjusters kept slackening.
Sabrina was out again for the 1964 Manx crashing at Rhencullen. The bike was rebuilt that winter, Beart logging a new frame, swinging-arm, rear wheel, oil and fuel tanks, one front fork slider, and a fairing. Guthrie made amends in the 1965 Manx with 6th at 89.11mph after Joe Dunphy had made 9th in the Junior TT at 91.69mph. A comprehensive rebuild for the 1966 season was undertaken, re-numbering it FB 66/1 in the process. From a Brands test session, “JD says it is perfect. 7500 in top, 8000 in gears, clean all the way. Brake very good.”
Over the next winter it was again rebuilt, now with a Bosch magneto and a single coil. Welshman Malcolm Uphill lapped the Mountain in under 24 minutes (94.32mph) but retired on lap three with a broken ignition wire while lying 11th. Uphill told Beart that it had been impossible to stay with a gaggle of Aermacchis so Francis bought one from his friend British importer Syd Lawton. A month later when it arrived Beart realized “I’d been wasting my time trying to keep the Norton competitive for so long”, and the 350 was sold to north of England dealer Harry Dugdale, and eventually to John Griffith’s.
Cathcart entrusted ace race engineer Ron Lewis to re-commission the 350 before Snetterton. Beart’s 1974 log included a new Mahle piston, big and little ends and many other components; Lewis checked all, replaced the perished oil and fuel lines, and cleaned off the magnesium cases’ corrosion. As a result Cathcart enjoyed two 2nds and two 3rds in four races. After Snetterton, the 350 left for the USA, where it has remained exactly as ridden in 1984, as the last motorcycle built by Francis Beart to have been raced. The machine shows flecks of blue paint on many nuts, bolts and other components identifying it as a 350cc (a 500 had yellow daubs). And the dull nickel finish, each clutch spring and its cup painted a different color for exact reassembly, the engine-turned alloy engine plates: all this echoeing another Beart maxim, “If it looks right, chances are it’ll go right.”
Though the fairies conspired against it ever winning the race it deserved at the Manx GP, its history proved that the 350 Beart Manx Norton certainly went as well as it looked.
Report by bonhams.com