Norton Motorcycles 1950s

Today in Motorcycle History

Norton Motorcycles

The Norton marque first appeared in 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 trade.

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 Clement 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 engines.

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 health.

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.

1929 Walter 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, Francis-Barnett and James.

1956 After many years of service and notable contribution to Norton, Joe Craig retired.

1959 Brought radical changes and a new machine based on a Francis-Barnett design.

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.

In 1966 AMC collapsed and was reformed as Norton-Villiers part of Manganese Bronze.

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.

2020 Norton Motorcycles goes into administration on January 29th 2020.

Norton fell into financial difficulties in 2008 and was then purchased by Stuart Garner who revived the marque. However, the new company was plagued by Brexit and numerous allegations of fraud.

The Guardian writes: "Even before this week’s collapse, the businessman was being pursued by dozens of “ordinary working people”, some of the 228 savers whose pension pots added up to the £14m that was invested into Norton following a fraud.

Those savers had been persuaded by a conman to transfer their retirement funds out of conventional pension plans during 2012 and 2013. Their money was then locked up for five years into three new pension plans controlled by Garner – where the cash was invested in just one asset: Norton shares."

Taken for a ride: how Norton Motorcycles collapsed

2022 Stuart Garner admitted three offences of illegally investing millions of pounds of pension savings into his business. Many questions remain.

Stuart Garner Guilty

Sources: Graces Guide

Norton Motorcycles