The Matchless Collectable Norton N15CS
The main conundrum faced by Matchless and Norton buyers between 1963 and 1969 was, “When is a Matchless not a Norton and a Norton not a Matchless?” It was a reasonable question as, with sales slumping, parent company AMC raided the parts bins of both companies to create a range of hybrid motorcycles, the most significant being the Norton N15CS and its Matchless G15CS brother.
Based in Plumstead, London, Associated Motor Cycles grew from the AJS and Matchless motorcycle companies and added Norton to its stable in 1952. As profits turned to losses in the early 1960s, AMC management decided to rationalise their production facilities and, to the chagrin of Norton enthusiasts, decided to transfer production of the entire Norton range from Birmingham’s Bracebridge Street to the larger Woolwich home of AJS and Matchless.
Within the AMC group, Norton was associated with road racing and high-performance street bikes while AJS and Matchless offered a slate of dirt-friendly competition machines, including the AJS 18CS and 31CS, and similar Matchless G80S and G12CS. But the AJS/Matchless singles were generally considered underpowered and, as the AJS/Matchless twins were limited to 650cc, development stalled.
With strong demand in the US for off-road bikes, primarily for desert racing on the West Coast, AMC decided it made sense to create a hybrid, mating the more powerful 750cc Norton Atlas engine with a Matchless frame. Designed primarily for export, this was released in August, 1963 as the Norton Atlas Scrambler, the next year becoming the Norton N15CS “N” (CS for Competition Spring frame and N for New to distinguish it from an earlier Norton Scrambler), or the identical G15CS “M” Matchless in the US.
POWER TO THE PEOPLE
As the Norton Atlas was one of the most powerful motorcycles around in 1963, the scrambler version raised a few eyebrows when it was released. The long-stroke (73x89mm) parallel twin gained a lumpy camshaft and a pair of larger 28mm Amal carburettors to produce around 60 horsepower at 6500rpm.
A modified AMC alloy primary chaincase and Matchless/AJS gearbox allowed this engine to be slotted into a Matchless/AJS 650 frame, with Norton fork, brakes and wheels. To provide more ground clearance, the fork was 50mm longer than on the Atlas.
Despite the knobby tyres, its underslung exhaust system and low front mudguard ensured the Atlas Scrambler was not a true off-roader. And, at 185kg dry, it was a real handful in the dirt.
With the more exotic P11 assuming the desert racer role in 1967, a restyled Atlas Scrambler, renamed the N15CS, filled the street scrambler slot. The venerable Atlas engine gained a pair of Amal Concentric carbs, a stronger cylinder head steady, coil ignition with twin contact breakers instead of the magneto, and a pair of standard Norton mufflers.
The Norton fork was a new generation Roadholder with rubber gaiters and improved action while the styling was updated to include a revised slimline steel fuel tank and dual seat along with slimmer mudguards.
Setting the attractive tank apart was new round Norton badges but unchanged was the 19- and 18-inch wheels, single-leading-shoe brakes, and bolt-on rear section G12 Matchless frame.
Norton diehards may have bemoaned the loss of the traditional ‘Featherbed’ frame but Americans were seduced by the N15CS’s stunning looks.
IT’S THE VIBES, MAN
Of course the N15CS (and the related G15CS) was not without problems. As it was relatively heavy and not particularly suited to off-road use, most ended up on the road where, exacerbated by the low off-road gearing, they vibrated excessively and simply fell apart.
The Atlas engine was known as the king of vibrators and electrical systems failed while oil tanks and seats split. But the lean, handsome styling of these Norton/Matchless hybrids proved popular, even if the miserable 9.0-litre fuel tank limited the range somewhat.
Now more appreciated than in the past, the relatively rare hybrid twins are becoming increasingly collectible. The N15/G15CS is also a practical, useable classic, particularly suited to meandering along slower-speed roads. The riding position is much as you would expect for any tall trail bike, the low down power immediate, and the handling light once on the move.
Because they are not really Nortons, the hybrid twins can’t be considered mainstream machines but they enjoy a strong following with passionate adherents.
1. By 1966 AMC was in deep trouble and US distributor Berliner, after an unsuccessful bid to bail out the company, offered a mix-and-match suggestion to use up surplus stock. This involved shoehorning a Norton Atlas 750cc parallel-twin engine into the light, Reynolds 531 steel-tubed frame from the Matchless single-cylinder G85CS.
2. The impetus for the Norton/Matchless hybrid came from the Californian Berliner distributor Bob Blair, of ZDS (Zündapp, Ducati, Sachs) Motors. Blair and his mechanic Steve Zabaro blended components to create the prototype for the 1967 Norton P11.
3. As the engine/frame marriage was difficult, the Norton factory never felt comfortable about producing the P11 but, as they were light and fast, they proved extremely popular in the United States. The P11 immediately ruled the roost in desert racing, with Mike Patrick taking the “No. 1” plate in 1967 and 1968.
4. The single-seat P11 desert racer evolved into the P11A Ranger (with low-level exhaust) for 1968 and the P11A Ranger 750 for 1969, this final dual-purpose version marking the end of the 750cc Atlas engine.
5. Around 2500 N15CSs were manufactured all-up; some as the G15CS, and just over 500 as the Norton P11 desert racers.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
New (1967) $1400
Mint $15,000 (P11 $25,000)
Read about the Norton P11 here:
This is an interesting personal recollection:
Plenty of good technical articles on Nortons here: