BORN AGAIN BIKES'
CUSTOM MONOSHOCK NORTON
880 CAFE RACER PROJECT
Ever since the first time I spotted a pre-production Photoshopped picture of the proposed
"New Norton" in 2001, I KNEW I had to have one. Kenny Dreer was in the process of acquiring
the worldwide rights to the Norton name; he came up with the new design for a roller-cam
engine, started building a couple of test mules, and started taking deposits for the first 100
"signature" edition bikes. My goal was to have one!
I called to talk about sending in a deposit, but also talked to the chief engineer and told him I'd
be interested in buying an 880 (that they were already making from existing 850s), then buy a
new 952 engine as soon as they were available and drop it in the 880 chassis; he informed me
that it wouldn't be that easy as the 952 chassis were based on a totally different design with
right-side drive. At the time, they were going to be monoshock; the final prototypes reverted
to dual shock.
Well, some dreams were never meant to happen; Kenny and his partners came up about $10
million short to actually produce the bikes. In a less-than-perfect partnership liquidation and
sale of all Norton assets to a British buyer, Kenny threw in the towel on the entire vintage
Norton scene and began to liquidate all his remaining parts inventory. I stayed in touch with
him for the last few years, and we chatted often about his new venture, top fuel drag racing on
a '79 KZ1000! He said his doctor told him he needed to work on lowering his blood pressure.
Rounding up the "Bits & Bobs"
Around July 2007, with some play money in my bank account, I started fishing for info on
what stuff Kenny might still have laying around the shop and in the attic, and he offered me a
set of beefed up VR880 cases, freshly bored 850 cylinders and a new set of J&E dish-topped
pistons and rings; that would form the core of my 880 engine.
I already had a freshly powdercoated late-spec Norton frame, a nice set of wheels, several
sets of forks, various tanks, seats and pipes, plus spare 750 and 850 lumps in various
baskets and on several shelves all around my garage and shop. With that, I figured I'd start
the "Born Again Bikes 880 project".
What I envisioned was as near the latest VR880 tech as I could get in the engine department,
and mount it in a mostly stock late model frame with a complete dual disc front end from a
modern bike, and a beefed up VR880 swingarm and rear disc from '75, maybe converted to
monoshock. Probably standard tank & sidecovers, with a Corbin Gunfighter seat (re-padded
with softer foam), some sort of very sharp-looking quarter fairing, clubman or clip-on bars, and
hidden lighting. To top it off, I wanted to have a set of pipes fabricated to look like the ones on
the New Norton 952 prototype mockups; very nice TT style tuck-ins that flare out and up at the
back, into a pair of peashooter style reverse-cone megaphone mufflers.
After a few e-mails back and forth in July 2008, I talked Kenny into making me a deal on a really
nice flowed & ported Basiley 880 head with oversize valves. I also won a very clean 750 crank
on e-bay for just over $100.00. (The 750 crank is a better balanced set-up with the J&E
pistons). Some years back, I had traded several Triumph 650 heads for several complete belt
drive primary kits including one for a Norton Commando; that got added to the 880 project
shelf along with the first bits that had arrived from Kenny's shop. By that point, it was basically
down to the need to source a cam, dual disc front end, disc brake rear wheel, fabricate the
pipes, and I'd be able to mock the sucker up!
In October '08, I went to have a look at a set of modern forks with dual front discs and it turned
out the seller had a complete Ninja 636 rolling chassis; so I thought "what the heck" and
rounded up enough engine bits to check feasibility. Not too bad of a fit, but there was no
provision for the front isolastic engine mount, and once the engine was shoved up inside the
perimeter frame, there was no way to get to the exhaust valve adjusters. Unwilling to sell the
forks separately, the seller and I agreed on a price for the entire rolling chassis, and I loaded it
up on the truck.
Since I was pretty much set on retaining the look of wire spoke wheels, and the Kawasaki
monoshock rear end could not possibly be grafted to the Norton frame, I basically needed only
the Upside-Down forks; I resolved to sell the remaining bits on e-bay. It didn't take long to
figure out what I needed to do to mate the inverted forks to the Norton chassis; all that was
required was to turn down the Kawasaki yoke stem in a lathe to fit the I.D. of a set of OEM
After another couple of e-mails and phone calls to Kenny in November '08, I persuaded him to
sell me the one-off monoshock swingarm with big bearing conversion from bushings, and
provision for mounting the Spyke electric starter as used on his VR880s; I just had to wait for
him to reverse-engineer the swingarm for his records, as he released all of the original
engineering data with the sale of the Norton assets. Besides the swingarm from the original
prototype bike, he also agreed to sell me the Blue bodywork and tuck-in headers from the
original prototype bike, and one of 3 sets of carbon fiber primary cases he had built for the 952
test mules. So, this project was looking more and more like it was going to be a very unique
one-of-a-kind bike after all!
It didn't take much to modify the frame to accept the monoshock rear end, just two tabs
welded on either side underneath the main backbone, against the mid frame webbing. I pre-fit
everything, tack welded the tabs in place, drilled them to accept the Yamaha monoshock I had
sourced at a local shop, and tested the position and range of motion with a spare Norton rear
wheel installed. Everything looked great, so I welded up the tabs and touch-up painted the
areas where the powdercoat had been burnt from welding; I also welded up a tab for the rear
brake caliper mount lug and touched that up.
Winding up 2008, Kenny convinced me to go with a set of specially prepared Kehin FCR 35mm
flat-slide carbs, pre-jetted for the 880 engine, with accelerator pump and velocity stacks, ready
to "plug and play". We also made a deal on a Spyke electric starter, a set of Smith Bros.
pushrods, Ferrea lash caps, and a vernier cam sprocket.
I was totally swamped with work over the winter, so I was unable to do much with the project
until March '09, at which time I decided to have Kenny send one of his last remaining VR880
dual disc hubs to Buchanan's to be laced onto an Excel rim; he also sent me a pair of Brembo
298mm brake rotors with spacers to fit the hub and wire spoke wheel setup. With that, his
entire remaining vintage Norton inventory was gone, most of it sold to another gentleman who
specializes in servicing the VR880s and building custom Nortons. "The end of an era"; the
Dreer 880s are well known machines.
Born Again Bikes