Norton, the Later Years
Norton, the Later Years
John H Glimmerveen Licensed to About.com
Although James Lansdowne Norton was considered by many to be an exceptional engineer and designer, his business acumen was not so strong.
The Norton company had experienced strong early results but difficulties ensued and the company was purchased in 1913 by Bob Stanley. Just before the death of James Norton in 1925 at the age of 56, the Norton company had again needed funds which came by the way of investment from R.T.Shelley, of Vanderwell Ltd.
After the passing of the Norton founder, a new engine was designed by engineer Wally Moore during the winter of 1926/7. The new OHC engine (the CS1) proved to be fast but fragile. However, it did win the 1927 TT in the IOM. Soon after, Moore left Norton and went to work for the German company NSU .
The next major design for Norton was by Arthur Carroll in 1929. The OHC design was both fast and reliable, having achieved many racing successes–only being beaten by the German BMW Kompressor machine in 1939.
During the Second World War, Norton received orders from the British military for 100,000 versions of its 16H model, putting the company on a sound commercial basis.
Note: Many of the WD-16H machines are still available but are not as valuable as the prewar street version. Buyers must thoroughly research the engine and frame numbers to determine which model they are considering buying.
After the Second World War, Norton returned to both street bike production and racing. In 1946 the famous Manx Norton was offered to the public for the first time, along with the model 18 and 16H.
A new chief engineer was recruited and his designs changed the face of Norton engines for the remainder of its history. The engineer was Bert Hopwood who had worked alongside Edward Turner at Triumph. Hopwood took the lesson learned from the Triumph parallel twins and designed the “Dominator” twin cylinder engine.
Although the company still produced single cylinder engined bikes until 1963 (chiefly as a result of the numerous successes by the Manx Norton), the Twin cylinder machines proved to be more popular with the buying public. However, the company again experienced financial difficulties in the 50s and was taken over by AMC (Associated Motor Cycles). Unfortunately, AMC also began to suffer cash flow problems, and to offset some overheads, the company decided to close the Birmingham Norton factory, consolidating all motorcycle production in London.
By 1966 AMC was in serious financial trouble and was forced into receivership. The company’s assets were sold off. Manganese Bronze chairman, Dennis Poore, bought Norton for his group.
After taking over Norton, Poore wanted a new model to replace the aging Atlas, whose Dominator engine had been stretched out to 745-cc in an effort to keep up with the competition. With a few to isolating the rider from the inevitable big twin vibrations, Norton decided to make new engine mountings based on Isolastic technology–something car manufacturers had been using for many years.
The new Norton was called the Commando in reverence to the British military’s elite soldiers.
The new machine came to the market in 1969. Its new frame was widely accepted as a reasonable replacement for the venerable Featherbed, and combined with its almost vibration free ride the Commando began to sell well.
In 1972/3 the British Government took the unusual step of convincing (with financial incentives) Poore to take over the struggling remains of BSA and Triumph. The new company became known as NVT (Norton, Villiers. Triumph).
Industrial troubles hit the new company almost immediately when workers, via the union, organized a sit-in as a protest against plans to relocate the company to Small Heath Birmingham. This industrial action lasted for two years and ultimately led to the closure of the factory. Although the company was wound up by the official receivers in 1975, some 1,500 Commandos are produced from parts held in stock.
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