The Norton brand is one that has been blessed with over 100 years of motorcycling heritage. From James Landsdowne Norton's first production motorcycle in 1904 through the years of dominance on the racing circuits of the Isle of Man to the commercial success of the Commando, the Norton brand holds a special place in the hearts of all motorcycling enthusiasts.
Performance has always been synonymous with the Norton brand to the degree that, in some years, only race ready motorcycles were produced. That reputation for performance was enhanced by the commercial success of the Commando series in the late 60's and early 70's when coupled with the famous “Norton Girls” campaign.
After the decline of the British motorcycle industry there were many stops, starts and restarts. Some restarts were heralded as the return to greatness, while others were bemoaned as misrepresentations of a legend. Today Norton Moto rsports, Inc., has the consensus support of both the industry and the Norton faithful.
The new company is committed to restoring the luster to the brand and carrying the Norton torch as if the original Norton Moto rcycles were still in business today.
1902: The first Norton motorcycle was produced. It consisted of a bicycle with a Belgian Clement engine on the front down tube.
1908: The long lived 633cc side valve Big 4 with all chain drive is introduced. It will continue as a mainstay of the five model range from after WWI until after WW2.
1909: Available at Harrods (the agent in the early days in London ) eight models were offered for sale, two with bought in engines, six with Norton engines.
1916: The famous curly Norton logo appears. They also move to a larger location.
1916: The famous curly Norton logo appears. They also move to a larger location
1922: Norton produced their first OHV machine, the Model 18. The OHV made little impact at the 1922 TT but before the year was out it had firmly established itself as one of the quickest forces around.
1924: Alec Bennett won the Senior TT with an OHV Norton , averaging over 60mph for the first time.
1926: Four speed gearboxes and internal expanding brakes were standard equipment on several Norton models along with automatic primary drive chain lubrication.
1926: Stanley Woods wins the 1926 Senior TT on a Norton .
1926-1927: Walter Moore designed an overhead camshaft engine that retained the classic Norton dimensions of 79 by 100mm but that was the only similarity. The drive from the crankshaft was taken through a set of bevels, and then by an enclosed vertical shaft to the cambox via another bevel set. The cambox was bolted to the cylinder head and the valves returned by coil springs. A new frame was also introduced, a cradle type with single top and front down tubes. The exhaust pipe was to the left of the machine, which was the standard Norton practice at the time.
1927: Bennett won the 1927 Senior TT on the OHC machine
1929: Norton gets Arthur Carroll to redesign the OHC engine. He produced what became one of the most dominant racing engines of all time with a racing dominance that lasted for the next twenty-five years.
1932: Bill Lacey raised the one hour record to 110mph at Montlhery.
1936: Plunger rear suspension appears on the works racers
August, 1937: Jimmy Guthrie (famed racer of Norton s) is killed at Chemnitz in Germany from crashing when trying to snatch victory from a supercharged BMW. A statue was erected to his memory in his home town of Hawick and even in Nazi Germany, a memorial was placed at the spot where he crashed.
1938: The Manx Grand Prix racer was offered for sale. This model was basically an Inter with all the latest go-go faster goodies except the DOHC engine. It had the plunger frame, conical hubs, and a big finned head. The plunger frame was an option on the Inter models and a most hideous silencer was put onto the OHV machines for just the one year.
1940-1946: Over 100,000 Norton s are manufactured for military use during the war. These consisted of the two side valve machines, the 16H to 1937 specification with open valve gear and an air cleaner for overseas use; and the Big 4 for sidecar duty, this having a disengageable drive to the sidecar wheel.
1948: Norton starts taking an interest in the U.S. export market. Will enter a successful works team under Steve Lancefield then Francis Beart in the Daytona 200 race using American riders until OHC engines were banned in 1952, most likely in order to help along the chances of a particular manufacturer who was devoted to sidevalves.
1949: Norton dominates racing. Geoff Duke wins the Senior Manx Grand Prix on a Norton . The team of Duke, Oliver, and Artie Bell went to the Montlhery track in France and together took twenty-one world records in the 350cc and 500cc classes.
1950: The Featherbed frame, designed in Belfast by the McCandless brothers, is used on the works racers. Innovative and ahead of its time, it rendered all else obsolete and became the standard of comparison for all other frames for many years to come. The construction material was lightweight yet strong and durable Reynolds 531. The original version of this frame had the rear sub-frame bolted on.
1950: New frame is a success at the 1950 TT, taking its rider Duke to a record breaking Senior win and Bell to victory in the Junior. In both the Senior and Junior races, Norton bikes finished 1st, second, and third.
1952: Norton wins both Senior (Ulsterman Reg Armstrong riding - beating out a 4 cylinder Augusta) and Junior TT races. Norton once again won both Senior and Junior TT races.
1952: Norton rider Geoff Duke is world champion in both the 350cc and 500cc classes and is awarded the OBE for his services to motorcycling.
1953: Ray Amm, a very hard and fearless rider from Rhodesia, is left standing as the number one Norton rider, and goes to TT double in that year. He is also the rider of the experimental 'flying fish' kneeler in the North West 200 but retired after just three laps. (He would later ride this machine to a one hour record of 133.71mph; this would also mark the last time it was to be held by a British machine.)
1960: Norton s still are tops in racing. The leading riders on British short circuits are Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and Derek Minter, and they all are on Norton s.
1964: All models now have wider roadholder forks to allow for fitting of a wider tire on machines destined for the U.S. market.
1966: Development of the Commando begins! Norton Villiers decides that they needed to spruce things up and they'd start by replacing the ageing Featherbed framed machines. The 800cc OHC P10 prototype is reassessed for suitability but due to its vibration and poor performance potential it is rejected. The chain drive to the camshafts is almost as long as a final drive chain.
1967: The Commando is BORN! With just three months left before the Earls Court Show, the decision is made to go with Bernard Hooper's idea to hang a rubber mounted Atlas engine in a completely new frame with a massive single top tube. Hooper and Bob Trigg finish the design and produce a machine in time for the Show. The experimental P10 800cc twin with overhead camshaft has not shown much promise so the Atlas engine will be in use for a few more years yet. However, the Commando has so many changes from the Featherbed twins that it marks the beginning of a new era for Norton just as the twin engine marked a new era back in the 1940's. To remove vibration a whole new frame is devised with the engine and rear wheel as one unit separated from the rest of the machine and the rider by a rubber mounting system. The Commando debuts at Earls Court to a warm reception by the public. Its radical design with its engine, gearbox, swinging arm and rear wheel being mounted on a rubber bush arrangement that was patented as 'Isolastic'is truly a thing of beauty. The beauty pales however, when it is realized that although this system insulates the rider from vibration, the mounting rubbers must regularly be shimmed up in order for the machine's handling to be kept up to standard. A vernier adjustment system (an expensive yet convenient little thing) while also patented, will not be incorporated until the final years of Commando production. The Commando's triplex primary chain is now properly housed in an alloy casing rather than the pressed tin doo-dad that Norton has so long held dear. Its fuel tank and matching tail piece are made of fibreglass and the orange seat has forward projecting wings that overlap on to the fuel tank. A twin leading shoe front brake is standard on the Commando.
1969: The "S" Type version (the first variant) Commando debuts in March. It sports a high level left side exhaust system, a small 2½ gallon fuel tank and naked front forks without gaiters or shrouds. It has both exhaust pipes at a high level on the left side and despite its good performance is far too radical for Great Britain for its time. It doesn't sell very well. The extra performance of the 'S' Type may come from the slightly lower back pressure exhaust system. The only internal change of significance was the moving of the points from behind the engine to the end of the camshaft which meant a new timing cover to fit it in, with the rev counter drive moving inboard to come off a skew gear on the camshaft. Reverse cone silencers are also used for the first time, though the Fastback continues with the old Dominator cigar shaped silencers.
1971: The Street Scrambler and Hi Rider debut. The Street Scrambler had a rather short lifespan (about 5 months) with a small fuel tank and a very American style to it. The Hi Rider fared a little better with its ape hanger bars and a chopper seat mainly the U.S. market.
1971: The John Player sponsored racing team starts under the management of Frank Perris, once a racer for the Suzuki team. Peter Williams is the mainstay of the JP N racing effort and is partnered by various other well known riders over the next few years.
1976: The last Commando rolls off the production line in Britain . Despite having great commercial success with the model, Norton cannot survive the combination of the British recession, and the huge influx of new Japanese bikes into the market.
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