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Norton have been producing motorcycles since 1902.
1898 Company founded by James
Lansdowne Norton, a toolmaker with deeply religious beliefs and very
high standards. He began with the supply of fittings to the two-wheeled
1902-1903 Early Norton machines were first advertised under the
name of Energette. They were powered by 160cc French Clement
engines and had either direct-belt drive or chain to a two-speed gearbox,
and final belt-drive.
1902 James Lansdowne Norton built his first motorcycle, powered by an imported
engine which hung from the bicycle frame downtube. Advanced for the times,
the machine was called the Energette, with either direct belt or
chain transmission and two-speed gearbox.
1903 More machines were developed using mainly Peugeot
1907 The name Energette was revived for another model. This was
powered by a V-twin 374cc Moto Reve engine. The complete machine
only weighed 76lb.
1907 the Norton Energette was displayed at Olympia fitted with a V-Twin
Moto Reve engine.
1908 Launched the Nortonette. This had a 2hp single-cylinder engine,
but was soon dropped. Energette took the Nortonette name,
before vanishing from the Norton range.
1907/1908 Norton began to design and produce his own engine, a 4bhp
633cc side-valve single called the Big Four. The success of this
simple, well-built machine lasted for over four decades. His concentration
on engineering and neglect of finances brought trouble. This resulted in
in a buy-out by R. T. Shelley,
who joined Norton as managing director.
1909, 1910 and 1911. James Norton raced in the TT himself, unsuccessfully,
on his new 494cc model.
1910 Cycle and Motorcycle Exhibition
The Norton Mfg. Co., Ltd.
Deritend Bridge, Birmingham. Stand No, 56.
Mr. Norton has an exceptionally good team of motor bicycles for 1911,
and it is impossible to do justice to them within the narrow limits of a
Show report. One of the greatest novelties here or elsewhere is the
Nortonette, a 2 H.P. two-stroke machine, designed to serve as a hack;
the weight has been got down to about 65 lbs. The 2 1/2 H.P. Miniature comes
ont at 40 lbs, more than this, but it has spring forks and 2in. tyres,
besides a four-stroke motor. Both these models are also built as ladies'
machines. The 3 1/2 H.P. Unapproachable, upon which Mr. Norton has
performed some creditable feats, is improved in detail. The "Big Four"
has a single-cylinder engine of 82 and 120 mm., and should be a fine
steed for passenger work, especially with the two-speed gear. There is
also a 5 H.P. twin, and last, but not least, a Tourist, Trophy model.
The bore and stroke of this are 79 and 100 mm. respectively. The wheel
base is short and a special spring fork is .fitted. The steering and
brakes are designed with a direct view to the terrific trouncing a
machine gets in this race.
1913 Norton went into liquidation, while its owner recovered from
an illness contracted on the Isle of Man. A new company, Norton Motors
Ltd was formed shortly afterwards, with James Lansdowne Norton
and Bob Shelley, using the
services of Dan "Wizard" O'Donovan, racer and master tuner.
In 1914 they built a DOHC 4-valve parallel twin, with desmodromic valves.
1915 Although there was little involvement in the Great War, production
of a three-speed gearbox and all-chain drive commenced.
1920 Norton moved to Bracebridge Street, and remained there until 1963.
1925 James Lansdowne Norton died at the age of 56, after two years of ill
1926 Public company formed as Norton Motors (1926) Ltd.
1927 A new ohc engine, designed by Walter
Moore, first appeared. This had the magneto behind the engine (rather
than in front), and a camshaft driven by shaft and bevels, all mounted
on a new cradle frame.
Moore left the company and was replaced by Joe
Craig who became famous as the firm's race director. He co-designed
an engine with Arthur
Carroll that was one of the greatest designs of all time and that remained
almost unchanged for over thirty years.
1930 Company name changed.
The 1930s were the glory days, when Norton was winning many races,
including all but two Senior and Junior TT races between 1931 and 1938.
The most successful Norton racer was the 499cc single Model 30
International, first released in 1932 and made until 1958. International
was used for Norton's top line of sports-roadsters, originally intended
for racing but sold until 1939 in road guise to the public. Nortons
predominance remained in the racing world for much of the decade - until
the outbreak of war.
World War II - Large numbers of motorcycles were produced for the services.
From 1949 to 1951, Norton won at Daytona, but the company withdrew
official support for racing in 1955.
Despite the racing successes, Norton was in financial difficulty, and in
1953, Norton was sold to Associated Motorcycles (AMC), who also owned the
brands AJS, Matchless,
1956 After many years of service and notable contribution to Norton,
1959 Brought radical changes and a new machine based on a Francis-Barnett
1961 Listed as Norton Motors Ltd a subsidiary of AMC.
Works at 89-117 Bracebridge Street, Birmingham. Employs 160 persons.
1962 The Birmingham factory was closed in 1962 and production was moved
to AMC's Woolwich factory in Plumstead, Southeast London.
1963 The Electra 383cc went into production - this had an electric start.
1977 Production ceased. This was due to the general crisis in the British
motorcycle industry. It was not, however, the end of Norton.
1983 During the 1970s, Norton had inherited a Wankel
project via Triumph and BSA.
In the early 1980s the police tested this rotary engine, with the second
version appearing in 1983.
1993 The UK recession and some dubious financial deals brought financial
disaster, so production stopped again.
1997 The name of Norton lived on with the production of a machine
using a BMW engine (actually
a Rotax from Austria).
1998 A link was formed with March
and their range carried the Norton badge.
1999 The appearance of a machine built to the design of Kenny
Dreer of Vintage
Rebuilds in Oregon, which retained the classic Norton lines
by restoring and upgrading Commandos to produce whole machines.
He modernised the design and went into series production.
2006 In April of that year Kenny
Dreer suspended operations.