military 16H was a very close descendant of the civilian 1936 bike. It
differed only in small details.
It is therefore very easy to have a civilian bike presented as a military
bike and/or a military bike presented as a pre-war civilian one. Most
present 16H's on the market are ex-military by origin, basically caused
by the huge amount built.
Detailed differences found between civil and military bikes are given on
the civil versus military pages, see
Some time ago, a 16H was marketed on e-bay as a 1947, military 16H,
sporting a 1947 engine (traceable by engine number prefix) with enclosed
valves (as introduced in 1938 on civilian machines).
Such an advertisement is either a fraud or an extremely careless
description caused by ignorance and lack of effort to find the real valid
Why was this incorrect?
a) The British Army did not buy any 16H (or BIG4) Nortons after cancellation
of part of the last big contract (S5161) in 1944. the RAF ordered some more
(around 350) machines. The Army started demobbing large
amounts of bikes "surplus to the requirements" shortly after the
According to a pre August 1945 Norton advertisement, Norton ended work on
Government contracts at the end of
It is very unlikely that the military would want to buy 16H
motorcycles with the enclosed valves after the war as they decided not to
so before the war because of the burden of additional spares parts logistics. With the abundance
of spare part stocks for the 1937 specification engine, it is totally
d) With the start of building civilian motorcycles in late 1945, Norton
introduced the cradle frame on all models.
When reading sales advertisements, be suspicious about what is
offered, assuming that you want to buy a genuine bike! Newer
frames with older engines or the other way around do however not mean it
is not genuine, as long as the engines and frames are according to the
1937 specification or the variations there off. The only thing not
physically altered between the early and late 16H model engines was the
application of a dust cover only over the valve stems/springs. The cover changed
from aluminium to pressed steel and the screw changed from round knob to a
winged knob, but
the cylinder remained basically the same apart from thicker mounting
flanges on the later engines. Oil tight enclosed valves were not used.
make the situation slightly more confusing, there have been prewar
1938/1939 military Nortons with enclosed valves. These were however not
for the British army, but for the Indian Army.
Frame parts and accessories did change considerably. Many variations and
combinations thereof can be seen in contemporary pictures. It helps to
have proper contemporary parts mounted to a bike when you buy it as it relieves the search
Buying a bike may be a bit difficult, even when you see it yourself.
Especially the Indian machines which are now coming to Europe are very
tricky things. I have seen a number of those, but the price asked far
outweighed the actual value (my personal opinion). I would say that they are
collections of loose parts travelling in the same direction (if you are
lucky). These machines have been kept alive under the
most difficult circumstances leading to machines with most unlikely, non
contemporary, combinations of parts. One of the most dangerous ones I have
seen had front fork spindles
about twice the original diameter. Imagine how much of the original metal
is left of the steering head brackets. This would therefore require a
complete new front fork, which are very expensive and difficult to find.
I would also be very curious when opening the engine or gearbox. There can
be surprises. I have seen engines with completely new, unused flywheels
and conrod, as well as total wrecks. Main gearbox bearings with lead
soldered onto the outer race to make it fitting its housing again.
If you are really looking for a genuine, prewar, civilian 16H, the most
important give away is the saddle spring mounting. Starting with model
year 1936, all civilian bikes had side
mounted saddle springs. So whatever "1937" or later motorcycles being
offered as civilian, but sporting the vertical saddle spring studs is an
ex- military bike by definition.
you buy, be observant, don't let the seller make your decision. It is a
gamble even when you know the previous owner (which is not necessarily the
previous "owner") . Remember that military/WD 16H's
were made between 1936 and 1945. Anything before 1936 is impossible as the
Army did not order them yet (excluding the single items bought/used by the
Army for evaluation purposes). Anything after 1945 is extremely unlikely
as it is totally out of scope of post war military thinking and illogical
in view of the surplus of transports available at the time.
helpful but very basic articles were written in the past by Chris Orchard
and published in the Classic Motor Cycle Magazine in 1986/87 in the
"Basic First-time Buyers Guide" series. Part 4 and part 8 of the
series describe the 16H and BIG4 respectively.