James Lansdowne Norton was born in Birmingham in 1869. In 1898, he formed the Norton Manufacturing Company in Bradford Street, Birmingham to
manufacture parts for the bicycle industry.
In 1902, James Norton began making his own motorcycles using
Clement engines imported from France by the UK agent, Charles Garrard.
The single cylinder 142cc Clement-Garrard engined Norton was known
as the Energette.
Norton later used Peugeot engines.
In 1907, Rem Fowler, a motorcycle enthusiast from Birmingham,
entered a Peugeot engined Norton in the first TT motorcycle race in the Isle of Man.
Although Fowler was not the overall race winner, he did win the twin cylinder class.
This was the start of Norton's remarkable racing
After the 1907 TT,
James Norton started work on his own engine, known as the Big Four because of its four horsepower
Later that same year, he exhibited a prototype of the Big Four at the Stanley Show in London.
The Big Four was a side valve single that remained in production until 1954.
In 1909 the first Norton logo appeared. It was designed by Ethel
Norton, James Norton's daughter.
James Norton fell ill around 1912 and for a while struggled to run the
company. The company ran into trouble and was forced
into liquidation in 1913, but was rescued by
Bob Shelley, who owned R.T. Shelley & Co., an automotive accessory manufacturing business who were already
suppliers to Norton.
James stayed on as Joint Managing Director of the newly formed Norton Motors Ltd. The company occupied premises at Floodgate Street and soon after moved to
Sampson Road North.
Norton was now making a name for itself and winning
In World War I,
Norton was unable to supply large numbers of motorcycles to the British military. They managed to produce a small supply for the Russian
In 1916, Norton moved to larger premises
in Bracebridge Street, Aston.
After the war, Norton acquired some
of the ex-military machines and refurbished them for selling to the general public.
In 1922, Norton introduced their overhead valve Model 18.
In 1924, a Norton ridden by Alec Bennett won the Isle of Man Senior TT Race and
the Sidecar Race was won by George Tucker also on a Norton.
James Norton died in 1925 aged just
Bill Mansell from
R.T. Shelley & Co. took over Norton management.
In 1926, the Big Four was fitted with Norton's own design four
In 1927, a production version of the winning TT machine was introduced. This was
known as the CS1 and featured an overhead camshaft engine designed by Walter Moore. That same year, a cradle frame version of the Model 18, known as the ES2, was
On Moore's departure to NSU in 1930, an entirely new OHC engine was designed by
Arthur Carroll who was assisted by Irish racing enthusiast, Joe Craig.
In 1931, Norton machines came in 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th in
the Isle of Man Junior TT and 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Senior TT. Tim Hunt won both the Senior and Junior TT.
In 1932, road going versions of the works racers were introduced with 350cc and
500cc single cylinder engines. These machines were known as the International.
Until 1934, Norton had used Sturmey-Archer gearboxes and clutches. When Sturmey-Archer ceased production, Norton bought the design rights and had them
manufactured by Burman's.
The Arthur Carroll / Joe Craig engine was tuned over the next few years to extract
more power whilst still maintaining its reliability.
In 1937, the engine featureddouble overhead camshafts
and became the basis for all later OHC and DOHC
From the late 1930s, Norton introduced plunger rear
suspension and telescopic forks.
In the 1930s, the International engine was developed into the
racing Manx engine. The 350cc & 500cc Manx Nortons were very successful racing
The Manx engine was also used in Cooper racing
In the late 1930s, Joe Craig still thought that
Norton's racing future was with the single cylinder engines, however, with increasing competiton from abroad,
this was not to be and Norton withdrew from racing in
Norton stopped production of civilian motorcycles during World
War II, however they produced many 16H machines for the military.
1948 saw the introduction of the 497cc Norton Dominator.
By this time, Norton had
returned to racing and it was in 1950, that the McCandless brothers from Belfast designed what was to become
one of the most famous motorcycle frames in the world. It was nicknamed the 'Featherbed', a name which Norton used
Geoff Duke was recruited to race for Norton at that time.
Geoff was a very successful racer. He is still involved with motor cycle racing
and he runs Duke Video on the Isle of Man where he lives.
Norton had considerable success racing in the USA, including
at the Daytona races. They also did well in Europe.
Despite their racing success, Norton fell into financial
In 1951, the Norton Dominator 88 was introduced featuring a 497cc engine in a Featherbed frame.
In 1953, Norton was taken over by Associated Motor Cycles Ltd. (AMC) although the
motorcycles still had the Norton name.
99 was introduced in 1956.
1957 Manx Norton advertising poster (image courtesy of Norton Motorcycles)
Norton introduced the twin cylinder 250cc Jubilee in 1958 to
be followed in 1960 by a 350cc version known as the Navigator.
Under AMC management, Norton struggled to make a
profit. There were many factors that contributed to these difficulties including rising costs
and increasing competition leading to low production numbers.
650cc motorcycles were becoming more popular and Norton's response in 1962 was the introduction of
the 110mph 650SS.
The engine was a stroked version of the Dominator 99 and the frame on the SS was altered so that
the top rails were closer together to create what became known as the 'slimline featherbed'.
However, even as the 650SS was introduced, Norton already had the 745cc
Atlas waiting in the wings.
The Norton Atlas was the stepping stone between the Dominator / 650SS and the famous Norton
It featured many parts from the Dominator range including Norton Roadholder front forks and the slimline version of
the famous "Featherbed" frame.
A scrambler version of the Atlas was also introduced in 1964.
Image courtesy of Norton Motorcycles Ltd.
In 1963, AMC closed the Bracebridge Street works and Norton production was
transferred to the AJS works in Plumstead, London.
In 1966, AMC sold out to Manganese Bronze Holdings Ltd. who had already taken over Villiers
a few years earlier.
Norton Villiers was thus formed.
Norton then introduced the Commando which featured
a745cc twin cylinder engine that was rubber mounted in an 'isolastic'
frame. This was increased to828cc and later versions
featured an electric starter.
The Commando had a strong following, but even this could not save the Norton Villiers
company who then moved to Wolverhampton in 1968.
Norton Villiers were struggling
financially and were assisted by the British Government in 1973 and Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT) was
formed. However, this was short lived and the Government would not provide any further financial
assistance to NVT.
NVT battled on until the last
Commando finally rolled off the production line in 1977.
In 1987, the Norton Group PLC was formed by Philippe Le Roux and other
investors. The company started toproducea range of rotary engined machinesin Lichfield in
In 1992 Steve Hislop won the Isle of Man Senior TT
Race riding the Norton F1 Rotary.
the AquliniInvestment Group of Canada acquired ownership of the Norton name and
In 1998, a plaque to commemorate the 100th
Anniversary of Norton was erected at the Bracebridge Street factory and eachyear in March, the Mike Hailwood Memorial Run
starts from the factory.
In the late 1990s, Kenny Dreer,
a vintage motorcycle restorer based in Oregon, USA designed a modern take on the
Commando. This featured a twin
cylinder 952cc engine which was then increased to 961cc.
In 2003, Dreer, funded by businessman Ollie Curme, acquired
the Norton name and set about marketing the new Norton. Eventual lack of funding led to the project being halted in 2006, however the Norton
name is now back in the running after Stuart Garner, a UK
businessman, bought the rights to Norton in 2008.
Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd., based at Donington Park in Leicestershire, have revived the Commando name and are
currently selling a range of 961cc twin cylinder machines:
...the Commando 961 SE, 961 Cafe Racer and 961 Sport.