Part #               Model                                                                             Year                                Type of windshield

90100          Manx                                                                             1961                                                      Original

90100          Dominator racer                                                            1954                                                      Original

Norton Motorcycle History

Norton was a British motorcycle marque from Birmingham, founded in 1898 as a manufacturer of cycle chains.

By 1902 they had begun manufacturing motorcycles with bought-in engines. In 1908 a Norton built engine was added to the range. This began a long series of production of single cylinder motorcycles. They were one of the great names of the British motorcycle industry, producing machines which for decades dominated racing with highly tuned single cylinder engines under the Race Shop supremo Joe Craig.

Postwar a 500 cc twin cylinder model called the Dominator or Model 7 was added to the range for 1949, and this evolved into the 1970s through 500 cc, to 600 cc, to 650 cc, to 750 cc and to 850 cc models with the Dominator, 650, Atlas and Commando, all highly regarded road motorcycles of their time.


The original company was formed by James Norton (Known as Pa) in Birmingham in 1898. In 1902 Norton began building motorcycles with French and Swiss engines. In 1907 a Norton ridden by Rem Fowler won the twin-cylinder class in the first Isle of Man TT race, beginning a sporting tradition that went on until the 1960s &ndas; The Isle of Man Senior TT, the most prestigious of events, was won by Nortons ten times between the wars and then every year from 1947 to 1954. The first Norton engines were made in 1908, beginning a line of side-valve single cylinder engines which continued with few changes until the late 1950s.

In 1913 the business declined, R.T. Shelley & Co., the main creditors, intervened and saved it. Norton Motors Ltd was formed shortly afterwards under joint directorship of James Norton and Bob Shelley. J.L. Norton died in 1925 aged only 56, but he saw his motorcycles win the Senior and sidecar TTs in 1924.

Designed by Walter Moore, the CamShaft One (CS1) engine appeared in 1927, based closely on the ES2 (pushrod) engine and using many of its parts. On his departure to NSU in 1930, an entirely new ohc engine was designed by Arthur Carroll, which was the basis for all later ohc and dohc Norton singles. (Moore's move to NSU prompted staff to claim that NSU stood for "Norton Spares Used") That decade spawned the Norton racing legend. Of the nine Isle of Man Senior TTs (500 cc) between 1931 and 1939 Norton won seven.
Up to 1934, Norton bought the excellent Sturmey Archer gearboxes and clutches. When Sturmey decided to discontinue production, Norton bought the design rights, and had them made by Burman, a manufacturer of proprietary gearboxes.

Nortons also appealed to ordinary motorcyclists who enjoyed the reliability and performance offered by single-cylinder engines with separate gearboxes. The marque withdrew their teams from racing in 1938, but between 1937 and 1945 nearly one quarter (Over 100,000) of all British military motorcycles were Nortons, basically the WD 16H (solo) and WD Big Four outfit (with driven sidecar wheel).

Post war

After the War, Norton reverted to civilian motorcycle production, gradually increasing the range. A major addition in 1949 was the Dominator, also known as the Model 7, a pushrod 500 cc twin cylinder machine designed by Bert Hopwood. Its chassis was derived from the ES2 single, with telescopic front and plunger rear suspension, and an updated version of the gearbox known as the 'horizontal' box.

Post war, Norton struggled to reclaim its pre-WWII racing dominance, since the single cylinder machine was facing fierce competition from the multi-cylinder Italians, and AJS at home. In the 1949 Grand Prix motorcycle racing season, the first year of the world championship, Norton only made fifth place, and AJS won. That was before the Norton Featherbed frame appeared, developed for Norton by the McCandless brothers of Belfast in January, 1950, used in the legendary Manx Norton, and raced by riders including Geoff Duke, John Surtees and Derek Minter. Overnight the featherbed frame was the benchmark by which all other frames were judged. Nortons were winners again.

In 1951 the Norton Dominator became available in export markets as the Model 88 with the Featherbed frame. Later, as production of this frame increased, it became a regular production model, and was made in variants for other models, including the ohv single cylinder machines.

The racing successes were transferred to the street through Cafe racers, some of whom would use the feather bed frame with an engine from another manufacturer to make a hybrid machine with the best of both worlds. The most famous of these were Tritons - Triumph twin engines in a Norton feather-bed frame.


Despite, or perhaps because of the racing successes, Norton was in financial difficulty. Reynolds could not make many of the highly desired featherbed frames, and customers lost interest in buying machines with the older frames. In 1953, Norton was sold to Associated Motorcycles (AMC), who also owned the brands AJS, Matchless, Francis-Barnett and James. The Birmingham factory was closed in 1962 and production was moved to AMC's Woolwich factory in Southeast London.

Under AMC ownership, a much improved version of the Norton gearbox was developed, to be used on all the larger models within the corporation under the AJS, Matchless and Norton banners. Again, the major changes were for improved gear selection.

The 1946-1953 Long Stroke Manx Norton was 79.6 mm x 100 mm, initially sohc, the dohc engine becoming available to favoured racers in 1949. The Short Stroke model (1953-1962) had bore and stroke of 86 mm x 85.6 mm. It used a dry sump 499 cc single cylinder motor, with two valves operated by bevel drive, shaft driven twin overhead camshafts.

Compression ratio was 11:1. It had an Amal GP carburettor, and a Lucas racing magneto. The 1962 500 cc Manx Nortons produced 47 bhp (35 kW) at 6500 rpm, weighed 142 kg (313 lb), and had a top speed of 209 km/h (130 mph).[5] The new price was 440 pounds.
Manx Nortons also played a significant role in the development of post war car racing. At the end of 1950, the English national 500 cc regulations were adopted as the new Formula 3. The JAP Speedway engine had dominated the category initially but the Manx was capable of producing significantly more power and became the engine of choice. Many complete motorcycles were bought in order to strip the engine for 500 cc car racing, as Nortons would not sell separate engines.

Manx rolling chassis were frequently resold, and equipped with Triumph engines. These motorcycles were known as Tritons.

In 1960, a new version of the featherbed frame was developed, with the upper frame rails bent inwards to reduce the width between the rider's knees for greater comfort. The move was also to accommodate the shorter rider, as the wide frame made it difficult to reach the ground. This frame was made in-house by AMC, and is known as the 'slimline' frame - the earlier frames then became known as the 'wideline'.

The last Manx Nortons were sold in 1963. Even though Norton had pulled out of racing in 1954, the Manx had become the backbone of privateer racing, and even today are quite sought after.

In January 1961 a new Norton Manxman 650c was launched for the American market only and one year later a Norton 650SS appeared,for the UK market along with the Norton Atlas 750 in 1962, for the American market as they wanted more power, still using featherbed frames, but the increases to the vertical twins engine capacity had caused a vibration problem at 4500 rpm, A 500 cc vertical twin is smoother than a single cylinder, but if you enlarge the vertical twin's capacity, vibration increases. The 750 Norton Atlas proved too expensive, and costs were not able to be reduced. Financial problems gathered.

There was an export bike primarily for use as a desert racer, sold up until 1969 as a Norton P11,[7] AJS Model 33, and as a Matchless G15, which used the Norton Atlas engine in a modified Matchless G85CS scrambler frame, with Norton wheels and front forks. This bike was reputed to vibrate less than the featherbed frame model. AMC singles were also sold with Norton badging in this era.


By the late 1960s competition from Japan and a rapidly declining home market had driven the whole British motorcycle industry into a precipitous decline. In 1966 AMC collapsed and was reformed as Norton-Villiers part of Manganese Bronze.
The 750 Norton Atlas, was noted for its vibration. Rather than change engines, Norton decided to change the frame, and the isolastic-framed Norton Commando 750 was the result.

In 1969 the Commando was introduced; its styling, innovative isolastic frame, and powerful engine made it an appealing package. Despite different variations and respectable sales, the company declined and would go into liquidation in 1975.

The "isolastic frame" used rubber bushings to keep the engine and swingarm from direct contact with the frame duplex, forks, and rider, thus damping contact between the rider and engine vibration. This worked as long as the bushings were kept set to tolerances, and were replaced before becoming hard or damaged. If kept maintained, the system worked.
The 'Combat' engine was released in January 1972, with a twin roller bearing crank, 10:1 compression and making 65 bhp (48.5 kW) at 6,500 rpm. Reliability immediately proved a problem. (Older engines had used one ball bearing main, and one roller bearing main.) This fragility did not show up well, especially when compared to the reliability of the Japanese bikes.


In 1972, the former giant of British motorcycle manufacturing BSA was also in trouble. It was given government help on the condition that it merged with Norton-Villiers, and in 1973 the new Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) was formed. The Triumph Motorcycles name came from BSA's Triumph subsidiary.

In April 1973 an 8.5:1 compression 828 cc "850" engine was released with German SuperBlend bearings, which made 51 bhp (38 kW) at 6,250 rpm however the stated power does not give a true picture of the engine performance because increased torque seemed to make up for the lower horsepower.

In 1974, the outgoing government withdrew the subsidies, although the incoming government restored them after the election. Rationalisation of the factory sites to Wolverhampton and Birmingham (BSA's Small Heath site) only caused industrial disputes at Triumph's Coventry site; Triumph would go on as a workers cooperative alone.

Despite mounting losses, 1974 saw the release of the '828 Roadster', 'Mark 2 Hi Rider', 'JPN Replica' (John Player Norton) and 'Mk.2a Interstate'. In 1975 this was down to just two models, the 'Mark 3 Interstate' and the 'Roadster', but then the Government asked for a repayment of its loan and refused export credits, further damaging the company's ability to sell abroad. Production of the two lone models still made was ended and supplies dwindled.

Wankel engine

In the 1980s, the company went through several incarnations - mainly because, both the name was popular, and now owned by several parties: in liquidation from NVT, the global rights were split between (at least) Norton UK, Germany, America and Rest of the World.
The name was relaunched on an ambitious scale in Lichfield in 1988. The new models have succeeded on the race track - winning the Senior TT in 1992 - but they have moved rather more slowly in the commercial market. The British company had some success making the Wankel-engined Interpol 2 motorcycle for civilian and military police forces and the RAC.
This led to a civilian model in 1987 called the Classic. Subsequent Norton Wankels were water-cooled. The Commander was launched in 1988 and was followed by the Spondon-framed F1. This model was a replica of Norton's RCW588 factory racing machines which won many races including the 1992 Isle of Man TT. The F1 was succeeded by the restyled and slightly less expensive F1 Sport.

At this point the Department of Trade and Industry stepped in to investigate improprieties in the investment web of financier Philippe LeRoux and his associates.] LeRoux resigned his position as Chief Executive.

Norton is now a small entity dealing with the approximately 1000 Norton Rotary motorcycles, and from their website comes the results of the end of Norton's debt plagued early 1990s "asset stripping" and the production run of the F1 Sport:

The end result was a motorcycle that sold on a subscription basis, every single one being snapped up immediately, and the last one (No.66) actually being built in Germany from new parts, as the factory in Shenstone had run out. The F1 Sports or "TT" is now considered to be the best and most desirable model of all Rotary Nortons, if not off all rotary engined motorcycles. The frustrating thing was, that these motorcycles were only built as an exercise to use up unshiftable parts originally bought in for F1 production- thus making Midlands Bank some more money, but never with the seroius [sic] intention to make any more after the original stash of parts was used up. This was not aparent [sic] to the directors of Norton Motors Ltd, nor to their trade customers, until it was too late, i.e. after the last bike had been produced. In order to explain the inexplicably low retail price at the time- in fact a price that was not only far too low, but also uncalled for as all bikes sold instantly-, rumours were placed with the press that as parts dried up from the original left-over high-price parts (PVM wheels, Brembo Brakes, White Power supension [sic] components), these were to be replaced by cheaper Yamaha-sourced items. Whilst this was then faithfully repeated, and still is in all publications about Norton ever since ("The F1 Sports was built with cheaper parts" etc), this was, in fact, never done, the only bikes using these FZR1000-sourced "cheap" components being the non-functional F2 prototypes.

Replica revival

During the 1990's, Kenny Dreer of Oregon evolved from restoring and upgrading Commandos to producing whole machines. He modernised the design and in the early 2000s went into series production, but then suspended operations in April 2006.
In the UK a number of firms such as the remnant of the Shenstone Norton factory, Norvil, Unity Equipe and Norman White [12] (a former team racer and mechanic) supply parts for various generations of Norton motorcycles.


The origins of the Norton Commando can be traced back to the late 1940s when the 497cc Norton Model 7 Twin, designed by Bert Hopwood and initially an export only model. The twin cylinder design evolved into the 650cc Norton Dominator and 750cc Norton Atlas before being launched as the 750cc Commando in 1967.

Isolastic system

The revolutionary part of the Commando compared to earlier Norton models was the frame developed by former Rolls Royce engineer Dr. Stefan Bauer. Bauer believed the classic Norton Featherbed frame design went against all engineering principles, so designed his frame around a single 2.25" top tube. To try to free the Commando from classic twin vibration problems, which had severely increased as the capacity of the basic design expanded from 500cc of Edward Turner's 1938 Triumph Speed Twin. Bauer, with Norton Villiers Chief Engineer Bernard Hooper and assistant Bob Trigg, decided that the engine, gearbox and swing-arm assembly were to be bolted together and isolated from the frame by special rubber mountings. This eliminated the extreme vibration problems that were apparent in other models in the range, as it effectively separated the driver from the engine. Named the Isolastic anti-vibration system, with Hooper listed as the lead inventor on the system's patent document. Although the Isolastic system did reduce vibration, maintaining the required free play in the engine mountings at the correct level was crucial to its success. Too little play brought the vibration back; too much, and the result was "interesting" handling.


The police were showing a lot of interest in the Commando and so Neale Shilton was recruited from Triumph to produce a Commando to police specifications. The end result was the 'Interpol' machine, which sold well to police forces, both at home and abroad. The machine was powered by a 750 cc. O.H.V. engine and included panniers, top box, fairing, and had fittings for a radio and auxiliary equipment.


Right from the beginning the Commando took part in racing events. After successes in 1969 by dealer entered machines like Paul Smart's second and Mick Andrew's 4th places in the Isle of Man TT Production class and a win in the Hutchinson 100 Production Class by Mick Andrew on the Gus Kuhn entered Commando and 4th by Peter Williams' Arter Bros machine, the company decided to produce a racing model - hence the developed S and "Yellow Peril" models.

In partnership with John Player Special cigarettes from the early 1970s, Norton went factory racing[6]. Early entries were based on the Commando, and in 1973 Peter Williams won the 1973 Formula 750 Isle of Man TT, with Mick Grant second.

Racing continued until the collapse of Norton Villiers into BSA Triumph in 1973, and did not return until the Rotary Nortons of the 1980s.

Commando Revival

In light of its "last of the classic British twins" tag, and the fact that many of the trade marks were disputed and patents expired, a number of new Norton companies began to emerge. These were based on production of new parts sourced from various manufacturers, and the legal battle over the Norton name between Germany (whose Norton was based on the Rotax 650cc engine that powers the smaller BMW motorcycles), Canada and North America. Many used the Commando name for their lead model, or included the prospect of a Commando twin at a later date.

However, the most interesting development for original Commando fans was the development of re-manufactured original motorcycles. These mainly came from Norvil in the UK and two companies in the United States, Colorado Norton Works and Kenny Dreer's Vintage Rebuilds based in Portland, Oregon. From 1995 onwards Vintage Rebuilt began restoring vintage British and Italian motorcycles, with Dreer showing a "new" Commando based Norton VR880 Sprint Special in 1999 with newly cast and manufactured parts, but using a bored out 880cc twin engine with some modern developments.

Dreer's company has since continued production of the 880, but also got caught up in the Norton trade mark dispute following a dream to develop a new Commando, scheduled for release after the $10 million for production is acquired.

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