The Norton brand has over 100 years of motorcycling heritage, James Landsdowne Norton started his working life as an apprentice toolmaker in the jewellery trade. He founded the Norton Manufacturing Company in 1898, initially to make bicycle components. Later Norton Motors Ltd, his company became one of the most famous names in motorcycling history. It won the first ever Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race in 1907 and continued through the decades to win many more.
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The history of Norton...
After the decline of the British motorcycle industry there were many stops, starts and restarts, some restarts were heralded as the return to greatness. Norton Motorsports, Inc., has the support of both the industry and the Norton faithful.
The first Norton motorcycle was produced in 1902 it consisted of a bicycle with a Belgian Clement engine on the front down tube. The 633cc side valve Big 4 with all chain drive was introduced in 1908 this continued as a mainstay of the five model range from after WWI until after WW2.
Harrods in London, of all places was the agent in the early days where eight models were offered for sale, two with bought in engines and six with Norton engines.
Norton produced their first OHV machine in 1922, 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. Later four speed gearboxes and internal expanding brakes became standard equipment on several Norton models along with automatic primary drive chain lubrication.
In 1938 The Manx Grand Prix racer was offered for sale, 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 on OHV machines for just the one year.
During 1940 to 1946 over 100,000 Nortonís 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 drive to the sidecar wheel which could be disengaged.
An interest in the U.S. export market was taken by Norton in 1948, they entered successful works teamís under Steve Lancefield then Francis Beart in the Daytona 200 race using American riders, this was until OHC engines were banned in 1952.
The Featherbed frame, designed in Belfast by the McCandless brothers in 1950, 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.
In 1964 all models had wider roadholder forks, this was to allow fitting of a wider tyre on machines destined for the U.S. market.
Development of the Commando began in 1966, Norton Villiers decided that things needed to be spruced up; this was started by replacing the ageing Featherbed frame. The 800cc OHC P10 prototype is reassessed for suitability but due to vibration and a poor performance potential it is rejected. The chain drive to the camshafts is almost as long as a final drive chain. Then in 1967 the Norton Commando becomes a reality, with just three months left before the Earls Court Show, the decision was made to go with Bernard Hooper's idea of hanging 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 had not shown much promise, so the Atlas engine remained in use for a few years. However, the Commando had so many changes from the Featherbed twins that it marked 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. The Commando's triplex primary chain is now properly housed in an alloy casing rather than the pressed tin thing that Norton held dear for so long. 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.
The "S" Type version Commando debuts in March 1969. It sports a high level left side exhaust system, a small 2Ĺ gallon fuel tank and naked front forks. It has both exhaust pipes at a high level on the left side and despite its good performance is far too radical at the time for Great Britain and it doesn't sell very well.
1976 saw the last Commando roll off the production line in Britain. Despite having a great commercial success with the model, Norton could not survive a combination of the British recession, and the huge influx of new Japanese bikes into the market.
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