Norton Motorcycles began in Birmingham in 1898 with James Lansdowne Norton producing chains for motorcycles and bicycles. 4 years later they were manufacturing motorcycles built around other manufacturers’ engines. Then, in 1908, they started manufacturing their own complete motorcycles, engine and all. Starting off with single cylinder models they won their first Isle of Man Senior TT race in 1907 with a twin cylinder model ridden by Rem Fowler.
They then went from strength to strength and their famous ‘Commando’ was probably the best known of all their bikes. Between 1931 and 1939 Norton was at its height winning seven of the nine Isle of Man TTs.
During WWII Norton provided a quarter of all British military motorbikes. Then after the war they reverted to civilian production and the Norton Dominator twin cylinder bike came out in 1949. This was followed by the Manx Norton raced by such legendary figures as Geoff Duke and John Surtees.
But with competition from the Italians and AJS at home they got into financial difficulty and were bought out by Associated Motorcycles (AMC).
Then came the Norton Manxman and the Norton Atlas. But soon after came the stiffest competition of all, Japanese motorcycles. To counter this Norton came up with the powerful Commando with the ‘icolastic frame’ to shield the rider from the engine vibrations normally associated with British Bikes.
But the decline had started and despite a short period with Wankel engines and even another TT win in 1992 the firm eventually petered out having ended up in US hands.
Now, a UK business man Stuart Garner has brought the marquee home to the UK and set up in Donington Park to build the bike again. Although still a twin cylinder motorcycle that owes something to its pedigree, this unit looks the business. It will start as the 916SE with a 200 limited edition at a cost of about Â£15,000. But there will be cheaper Commando (cafe racer and standard) models to follow. They are also developing an improved and increased capacity rotary engine racer to take to the TT in 2010 (their last foray saw the destruction of the current engine in 2009).
Having seen the pics of the new bike and seen the review in Motorcycle News (MCN) I want one! Good luck to Stuart Garner, the Norton team and their racing project. Let’s get this British icon back on to the roads and back at the front of the Isle of Man TT!