Joe Seifert’s Talk at the Surrey Branch 9 November 2016

Joe Seifert’s Talk at the Surrey Branch’s 9 November 2016

 

The Surrey branch’s invited Joe Seifert to one of our club nights and to give us a talk about his experiences with Norton’s. This was on the 9 November 2016 and it was our AGM, but Joe informed me that he would be in England in November so that he could come along and give us this talk.

 

The usual suspects were re-elected to the committee but our chairman Steven Eccleshall stepped down as this was due to his work commitments, so we are still looking for another chairman. We have since had some expressions of interest from our sections members. We had 28 guest and members turn up for the AGM and event and may be the huge buffet that was laid on by the committee helped swell the numbers for our AGM.

 

Joe did not come from a motorcycle family. When he was 15 years old he and some friends bought a 1950’s 200cc DKW and this was how his motorcycling began. He took a class mate on the pillion on the way to driving school and he was stopped by the Police for not having the correct stamps on the bikes number plate. After some community work he got a moped license and then had a Victoria SM52 Avanti Duo.

 

When he finished his schooling he went into the army. He did two years, and he rose to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1976 he went to the Elephant Rally and there was a Commando Mark 3 on display by the then Norton Importers to Germany. He fell in love with this Silver Interstate on display. In 1976 he came over to England with his then girlfriend, now wife and he bought a Norton 16H at a VMCC rally that he accidently came across. All his children- and he himself- would eventually start vintage racing on that Norton 16H. Joe bought his first Commando in April 1977. In 1977 Dennis Poore bought of the receiver all the Norton and Triumph parts left over in NVT and founded Andover Norton. Joe explained that all the tooling considered unnecessary for parts production in the next three years was subsequently thrown away as it was thought that Andover Norton would last for only three years. How wrong could they all have been back then? Andover Norton has since had to re-manufacture tooling for the engine and other parts that they now sell world wide. It recently cost over £7000 just to get the tooling made for each one of the Norton twin Rocker arms- there are four different ones in each twin engine!.

 

Joe also raced his first Commando. After getting off he had to get home to Hamburg which was over 150 miles away after his first race day. He went back to the track the next day and he was up in the air again as he was hit from behind by a rider on a BMW as he emergency braked for a rider who had fallen off in front of him.

 

The German importer for Germany only bought spares for Germany once a year when he drove over to England in his van and a huge amount of cash. So if any one wanted any thing that was not in stock that would have to wait till the then importer went back to England to re-stock his parts from England. Joe started his own spares business in 1977 due to this lack of spares as he saw an opportunity in the market due to this lack of Norton parts for the owners of Norton’s in Germany.

 

Nick Hopkins who came along with Joe for this talk was at Andover Norton from 1977 or Day one, when they had the spares stock of BSA, Triumph and Norton.

 

Joe went to university in Southampton in 1979/80 and while there owned three bikes. He had a 1956 ES2, a JPN, and a Vincent twin. When he went back to Germany, to Hamburg he opened his first own shop He called it Rockerbox, and assumed that this was an original name for his shop. He later then found out that there was another shop of the same name in the South of England.

In 1981 Mike Jackson bought Andover Norton. The Norton parts went back to Norton Motors (1978) Ltd in Shenstone. Andover Norton became importers and sellers of many other parts back then- Goodridge Tires, ND Spark Plugs etc.

 

In 1981 Joe opened his second shop and this was a much more professional operation that the first one. He then started his teacher training course so had to get an assistant to help him in the shop. In 1985 he and partners bought an established BMW motorcycle agency, thinking the British bike side was going to peter out. In 1988 he got involved with the Norton Rotary, and he said that with out Dennis Poore Norton would not have survived. He later owned two rotary prototypes, both of which he rebuilt, one from parts acquired from half a dozen sources.

 

In 1988 Joe formed a 50/50 joint venture company with Norton GB called Norton Motors (Deutschland) GmbH which started commercial operations on 1st January 1989. It is still going but due to the second shareholder’s, Norton’s; bankruptcy in 1993 Joe is now the sole owner. This is in fact the only company left over from the historical Norton Empire that died with the demise of the Norton Group PLC of the Le Roux era in 1993.

 

Dennis Poore got the idea to become involved in motorcycle manufacture from Edward Turner on a boat trip on the Atlantic. In 1987 Dennis Poore was winding up the company when Philip Le Roux bought Norton.  Le Roux sold shares in the company and invested the shareholder’s money in some shady deals. He put it all in to some crazy reverse takeover investment deals so there was no money left to invest in Norton manufacture.

 

The Rotary had three engine applications, aero, stationary and motorcycles. Joe explained to make Norton work as a small motorcycle manufacturer there needed to be a niche market that they could exploit, which the rotary had. The Rotary died due to the above bad investments, not due to lack of commercial success, the chance of which it was never offered.

 

Joe went on to explain the Norton name had never been registered as a trade mark, in all of its history, so he registered Norton and BSA in Germany, and also for the rest of Europe according to Norton Motors (Shenstone) wishes and at their cost. He moved to Bavaria in 1981, from Hamburg and he sold the last F1 Sport in Bavaria.

In 1991 the Norton spares where then sold back to Andover Norton and there was a press released issued about this.

 

Richard Negus at Norton Motors Ltd in Rugeley, the company jointly owned with Joe, built six Isle of Man Rotary 588 replicas based on the I.O.M winner.

 

The Norton story now becomes very convoluted after this and he met Nelson Scalbania who invested in a lot of different things. He bought Norton, unseen, for £380,000 in cash. He had been loaned the money by the Aquilinis to buy the Norton Company. They then moved in on this because it was their money. In 1994 Joe had talks with Nelson Scalbania in Munich. In February 1993 the last Norton Commander was produced in Shenstone.

In 1994 the Regal group acquired Andover Norton/BSA and they then moved it down to Southampton. In 1996 Joe had a telephone conversation with Al Melling who was behind the V8 Nemeses project. This was two four cylinder Kawasaki top halves on a V8 crankcase. The only engine that actually ran was the four cylinders one, and the V8 bike itself never ran.

 

In 1998 Joe was so fed up with it all that was going on so he built his own Norton motorcycle using a BMW single cylinder engine. The new Norton was designed around the BMW F650 engine and this became the Norton C652 “International”. The C652 International had 50 BHP but it was very safe and fast. His two daughters have one each. Katrin built hers from spares, post-production. In 1999 he was asked by “Norton Motorcycles International, Inc.” to come up with a more modern version of the 652SM and this was very well received by all that saw it. The prototype was conceived and finished in 120 days. The petrol tank did not hold that much petrol and it cost the Americans 100,000 Marks to have this later prototype version of the 652M built.

 

In 2002 Kenny Dreer took the Aquilinis to court and acquired Norton’s non-Seifert owned trademarks. Kenny then came to Germany and did a deal with Joe on the European Norton trademarks.

The Kenny Dreer’s bike was never a modern bike now in production as the “Norton 961”. In fact, it was a “modernized” Commando. A bit of a joke considering Joe was at a petrol station in Hamburg in the 1970s on his Commando and an old boy came over and congratulated him on the fine restoration of his only a year old motorcycle, quite rightly seeing it as a vintage construction!

When the content of the Norton factory in Shenstone was sold off in 2003, Richard Negus and Joe acquired the Rotary stock,

Joe was offered Andover Norton on a Friday afternoon in 2007. His family has owned the company for nearly 10 years and Joe’s children now own it and he is a director now. At first Phil Albutt and Nick Hopkins were not sure that Andover Norton would survive so they first rented old farm buildings in Hungerford. A year later Andover Norton also bought the J.R Publication business to produce the parts books as well as other books.

 

All his children race bikes. Andover Norton has now been taken out of obscurity and he is almost at the stage where he can now build a complete Norton Commando from spare parts.

 

Paul Gibbons and Juge organized the raffle and this raised £112 for the Henry Surtees Foundation charity. Our annual dinner on the 28 January 2017 will also be razing funds for the HSF charity. Our honoured guest and speaker will be John Surtees at the Coulsdon Court Hotel in January 2017.

 

We shall also be having a stand at the South of England Classic Show on Sunday 2nd April 2017. This will be at the well known venue the South of England Showground at Ardingly West Sussex. The Surrey section also has many more speakers and other events planed for the coming New Year. Joe hopefully will also be able to come along again when he is next in England to give us a talk about the Rotary Norton’s.

 

Can I personally thank Joe for many of the corrections above and also many additions to the above narrative? He has also kindly supplied many of the pictures to illustrate much of the above’s narrative. Any mistakes that may have crept in are mine alone. I personally could have sat for many hours and listened to his talk in a very candid and honest way about the trials and tribulation in the later years of Norton’s history. Those of the Surrey branch that could not make this event you missed a really interesting night’s talk, so may be next time if and when Joe can be persuaded to come again it will be an event not to be missed.

 

Joe you rocked it totally.

 

Anthony Curzon Press Officer for the Surrey section

 

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