norton model 50 motorcycle

Norton Motorcycle History


A classic English based brand which in recent years has moved to Portland, Oregon. Norton always had a huge racing history with models like the B4, Manx, Atlas & Commander. Throughout its history Norton has battled against liquidity issues and (on occasion) been through the whole bankruptcy process, only to later start again guided by strong believers in the brand. Norton keeps on rolling today.

Company History

A brand started by James Lansdowne Norton back in 1902, Norton was known for making fast street racers and had a long series of wins to prove it. James Norton wasn’t the best businessman, and in 1913 Norton filed for bankruptcy. However, a few years later James decided to star over, this time with a partner named Bob Shelley. Together they established Norton Motors Ltd.

Dan O’Donovan (who was the brother-in-law of Shelley) developed the BS 490 cc bike, which became the first production race bike.

In 1925 James Norton died, however Norton motorcycle design and production did not stop. In 1927 Norton produced the CS1 – a very successful line in the the years that followed. It was also released as a super sports roadster.

Norton had great success in the 1930 and had a huge sporting / racing name. Team manager Joe Craig was mostly responsible for this success and it helped that he had been a former rider himself. Great models during these years where the International and the Manx. The Mans was in the beginning only produced to each order separately.

The Featherbed (which the new design Manx was also known by) got a new racing frame in 1950. Designed by Rex & McCandless, it became a true race horse winning the world title in 1951. Great competitors during these days were the MV Agusta motorcycles and Gilera motorcycles.

Shortly after 1955 Norton stopped factory racing and went into a more market orientated period of existence. In 1949 the 500cc model 7 dominator was introduced, which later was combined (1952) with the strong popular frame from the Manx into the model known as the Dominator 88.

Norton became known for fine handling machines. And another great classic rolled off the line in 1962 – Dominator 650SS (still mounted in the Featherbed frame mentioned earlier). The 650SS was fast, stable and sexy (in the traditional silver color of Norton).

The Norton 650SS was followed by the Norton Atlas 750cc. However, this production bike didn’t sell well because of the high price point. Norton wasn’t producing enough of them to get the selling price and margins under control. Norton once again started to struggle with financial problems.

Norton changed the Norton Atlas motorcycle into the Norton Commando 750cc. Once again Norton had heads spinning with this new design and power machine. Norton upheld it’s name of developing good controlling bikes (create frame work), and even with the heavier engine Commando 850 cc the vibration wasn’t too bad (frame + rubber mounting system).

Norton had been integrated into the Norton Villiers Triumph group, but the whole thing went into liquidation and by 1978 the last commandos were built. Norton didn’t loose the name and developed (on a super small budget) a few bikes for the police forces and a civilian bike called the 588 cc Classic along with a touring Commander.
In 1989, a few members of staff built a Norton racer that won the national British championship. This win was mostly responsible for a renewed interest in Norton. So a year later a F1 model was built by Norton (replica of the previous years race winner).

And once again Norton couldn’t cash in on the renewed interest and together with financial mismanagement of the company in the 1990s the company lost huge amount of money invested though stockholders.

Briefly a plan was launched to produce a 1500cc Norton called the Nemesis but this was quickly dropped.

In 2003 Kenny Dreer bought Norton. New goals have been set by this Norton highly established specialist.