When you name a motorcycle after an Intercontinental Ballistic Missle it better be one hell of a bike. Norton did just that, sort of. Norton had some sort of Post War / Cold War theme going for a while. They had the Dominator, then the Atlas, next came the Commando… Norton was at war with the rest of the motorcycle industry. Not really, they just had some cool names…and bikes.
The Atlas really was named after the ICBM and was aimed at the U.S market. Norton took a lot of the good parts of the successful Dominator model and then put on some higher handlebars, a smaller gas tank, chrome mudguards (fenders) and a chrome chain guard…Voila, a bike to compete with Triumph and Harley Davidson here stateside.
The Atlas was a great handling bike. The 750cc engine was mounted in the popular ‘Featherbed’ frame, the front end was the wonderful ‘Roadholder’ forks and the rear was suspended by Girlings best shocks. The bike handled wonderfully by comparison to the Triumph or Harley it was aiming for, however, it had one problem….It was a bone shaker!
The 750cc motor from the Dominator had a higher compression ratio than the Atlas and Norton lowered the compression for the Atlas the engine vibration became almost unbearable. In 1964 Norton modified the engine, going to a 12volt system and twin carbs and that did help some but still, at higher RPM’s it would shake the fillings right out of your teeth. Now, most riders didn’t ride the Atlas at higher RPM’s they would use all that low end torque that the long stroke Norton would give and that is what Norton figured the American rider wanted and, it’s not as if Harley’s were all that smooth?.
For a few years the Atlas model, in the UK, was the basis for some great racers. Dunstall built a successful Atlas based roadracer and so did the Rickman Brothers with their Metisse chassis. Norton put a 150mph speedo on the Atlas ( a bit optimistic I believe), Cycle world Magazine coaxed the Atlas up to 119mph but most riders never got above 110mph, still not bad for a 58HP, 60′s era motorbike.
The Atlas was mildly successful here in the U.S until the Commando arrived on our shores and that was the end of the Atlas, well almost, it hung around until 1968. I found a really nice 1965 model on ebay today with only 6,000 miles on the clock and in stock condition. This is a great bike to leave just as it is or…a perfect cafe racer! Sorry folks, I couldn’t resist.
The Norton I found on ebay today is really clean, it has been sitting inside for 30 years, it starts and runs great, is completely original and not over priced. What else could you ask for? Here’s the cool thing about the Atlas, it is the truly underloved Norton here in the U.S but, more and more collectors and riders are getting on the Atlas bandwagon because you get a great classic Norton without paying Commando prices! Click on the pic’s below for more info and pictures.
In 1969 BSA commanded 80% of all the Brit bikes sold here in the USA. Eighty Percent! Who woulda thunk? I, and I think most of us, would have pegged Triumph as the leader but not so say the statistics. What was it about BSA that made it that strong a seller in a time when the Japanese manufacturers were dominating the market? Was it styling? No. Was it performance? No. Was it reliability? Certainly not. So what was it?
Let’s find a bit of perspective here. BSA may have had 80% of the British bike sales here in the states but ‘Made in England’ motorcycles constituted a very small percentage of the total bikes sold here. So small that within a decade, they were all gone from the US market.
From the late 1950’s through the mid 60’s, the British were competing with the very popular Harley Davidson Sportster in the performance category. The Sportster was Harley’s ‘sportbike’, it had a slight horsepower advantage, it had a new look (the peanut tank was quite stylish then), it had the Harley sound and, of course, it had the advantage of being made in the USA. BSA, Triumph and Norton all were better handling motorcycles but back then, straight line speed was king, not the ability to go around corners fast.
Each of the big three from the UK tried styling mods to attract the American market, Triumph with the X75 Hurricane, Norton tried (and miserably failed) with their Hi-Rider chopper model and BSA tried with…well, nothing. Sure, BSA tried a few styling changes like a smaller slimmer tank, the oil in the frame design (which nobody was really happy about), and of course the ray-gun mufflers of the Rocket 3. Personally, I love the ray-gun mufflers but at the time they went over like a fart in church. Anyway, the Brits just faded away into the sunset. Today, Triumph is back in a big way and Norton is getting set to comeback this year with a new Commando and it is beautiful. I hope it succeeds.
I started my street bike life aboard a BSA so the brand has a certain spot in my heart that will never go away. Yes, it stranded me more than once with faulty electric’s, and yes, it leaked more oil in a month than any Japanese bike I’ve ever owned did in a lifetime. It could be a bit (?) temperamental when it came to starting in the morning (or when it was hot and the bike didn’t feel like going anywhere), and it could vibrate the fillings out of my teeth if the carbs weren’t balanced properly, but…when everything was working as it was supposed to, what a joy it was to ride that Beezer. I was raised to ride the canyon roads, to believe in handling over horsepower, and the sound coming from a parallel twin was the sweetest sound in motorcycling.
At one point in time (actually a couple of times) the Japanese manufactures realized that there was something about the British bikes that still captivated the American buyer. Yamaha did great with the XS650, designed to compete with the Triumph, Kawasaki brought out the W650 to head to head with the BSA and Honda tried with the GB500 single. The only one that succeeded over the long run was the Yamaha. Today, the Triumph Bonneville is a huge success because it looks like a proper English motorbike without the oil puddle underneath it.
Lately I have been thinning the herd of bikes in my barn and am starting to look for a new adventure…once I have finished the other four projects I have going, and am being drawn towards a BSA 650. I’m actually looking for one of the last designs more than the old chrome tank styles, mainly because I think they are probably going to be cheaper on the market(?). Today on ebay I found one that might just fit the bill.
On ebay today, there is a 1969 BSA A65 that has been set up for vintage roadracing. Remember, the A65 was BSA’s ‘roadracer for the street’. The A65 put out a very respectable 54HP and would top out at around 105MPH. This particular bike has been upgraded with Marzocchi forks, more modern rear shocks, and a Suzuki twin leading shoe front brake, which was a very good upgrade from the standard brake the BSA had at the time. The motor has been given some extra muscle by way of a 750cc kit But, here is the cool thing about this bike, it can easily be retrofitted with the electric’s to power a headlight, tail light and blinkers so you have a perfect cafe racer with almost no effort! The seller says that it does need some carb work but that’s no big deal. This could be a very sweet Sunday rider. Oh yeah, you may want to add some sort of small mufflers on, JC Whitney has a couple of styles that would look just fine and still let you have that sweet English parallel Twin sound.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and more info.
Why do I have this feeling that as soon as I clean out a few bikes in my barn that a Norton someone else doesn’t want is going to have a new home. Lately I seem drawn, pulled, pushed (?) to vintage Norton’s. I have been part of a race team running Norton’s, I have ridden Norton’s on the road, I have rescued a Norton off the side of the Hiway, posted numerous Norton’s on this website, and spent time with the CEO of Norton Motorcycles…the planets must be aligning themselves to give me no choice but to become a Norton owner. But which Norton?
I will say that my first choice would probably be an 850 Interstate, my last choice would be a Hi-Rider…boy did Norton screw up there!!!. I wouldn’t choose a Combat Commando because there were too many issues with that motor that I don’t want to deal with. A standard 750 would be just fine. A ‘Fastback’? No, I just can’t get used to that tailpiece.
I like the 850 because even though the 750 has a bit more responsive motor (quicker throttle response), the tuning of the 850 motor made it easier for me to ride fast. Why do I like the Interstate model? I like the shape of the tank and I can ride more miles before stopping. And riding the Norton, I want to put a bunch of miles on each ride.
Norton’s also make perfect Cafe Racers, my absolute favorite is the John Player Norton replica model of 1974, Norton’s factory Cafe Racer. The JPN was / is a beautiful motorcycle, the twin headlight fairing actually reminds me a lot of the fairing on my ’95 Triumph Daytona Super3…good designs never go bad.
The 850 Commando’s had a respectable 60hp, a top speed of around 115mph, and it weighed a pretty svelte 420 lbs. In 1974 it was still kickstart only but that really wasn’t a problem, in ’75 the bike came with an electric starter that was at best, a bit ‘dodgy’. I’ll take the kickstart model thank you. The ’74 model came with a disc brake in the front but retained the drum in the back. You still had the Isloastic engine mounting system which you really need to maintain regularly and knowledgeably. If you set the system too tight the bike vibrates; if you set it too loosely, the whole system becomes sloppy and can dangerously affect handling. When it is set right though, it is a wonderful system.
I found a really nice 850 Commando on ebay this morning that has had a very modest cafe’ treatment. The seller went the Dunstall route, which is normal when you own a Norton, the fairing, the mufflers (which look and sound great), foot controls and a nice set of Tommaselli handlebars, the stock seat was retained. The owner did keep the original parts as well…lucky you. The Commando has also had a good going over with important maintainance items.
This is a really nice bike and if I only had the room…
For more info and more pictures, click on the pics below.
I remember the first time I saw a Norton motorcycle up close and in person. A good friend of my step dads came over to pick him up and go for a ride…I had to go to school. The thing that struck me the most was watching the front wheel shaking up and down and the rest of the bike was dead steady. My first exposure to Norton’s Isolastic engine mounting system. The other thing that stood out was the exhaust pulse, the Norton long stroke motor puts out a very distinctive feel and sound, much different from the Triumph and BSA sounds I was used to.
A couple of days later I got the opportunity to ride Stanley’s Norton. Stanley had removed the stock reverse megaphone mufflers in favor of the Dunstall silencers because he liked the look better…I liked the sound. But still what struck me was the smoothness of the motorbike while sitting on it. The Isloastic engine mounting system really worked, from the saddle I could still see the front wheel bouncing around but I didn’t feel a thing….almost. It was a great ride and I fell in love with Norton motorcycles. I have raced Norton’s over the years but still have never owned one. What is wrong with that picture?
Today while cruising ebay looking for ‘after Christmas gifts for myself’, I found an interesting Norton with a history very similar to my BMW R90S’. This particular Norton had been buried in this gentleman’s garage and was found by two guys actually looking for something else. My BMW’s story is somewhat the same, I was looking to buy an antique radio and left with a motorcycle that had been buried for almost two decades. The Norton history is well documented on the sellers page and it is a great story, even if you don’t buy the bike (which you should), it’s good read.
The ’71 Norton featured is a great bike to start a restoration project with. For one, it’s all there, all you need to do is put in a good amount of elbow grease a few basic parts…all the rubber bits (including tyres), a battery and a proper paint job. The guys that bought it have kept in its ‘found’ condition and you get to do all the work…perfect! This motorcycle has so much potential in so many ways, it is a perfect winter project. Bring it back to stock, turn it into the Cafe Racer I’ve (I mean, you’ve…) always wanted, whatever you do it is a wonderful winter project and a bike that will keep you smiling and working on for years.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and a really good story.
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1971 Norton</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1971+Norton&item=190774789781&mpt=%5BCACHEBUSTER%5D“>
The great thing about true motorcyclists is that they never just let things be. We want our bikes to be faster, different looking, better handling…we want it to be ours. In years past we would cobble bikes together with parts from other bikes regardless of what brand it was, I’ll find a way to make it fit on my bike. If it worked, all the better. It was true creativity. Sometimes it worked and sometimes, well…not so much. Those of us that have cobbled bikes together at one time or another stand back, look at our creation and ask ourselves…”what was I thinking and how much tequila inspired this thing?” But over the years there have been genius designs that really did take parts from here and there and actually make something better than its original design. The Triton, to me, is the best example of making a motorcycle that truly is ‘greater than the sum of its parts’.
The Triton is quite simple really. Take a quick revving, lightweight, reliable and easily hot rodded motor, stick it in the best handling chassis with the best suspension and brakes and you my friend have a perfect motorbike. There is no Triton factory, these are all custom built.
The original Tritons used a pre-unit Triumph motor, a Norton Slimline Featherbed chassis and suspension, the Norton gearbox and occasionally some Manx parts. The beauty of building bikes like this is that you could build it to whatever level you like. Some are elaborate, some are junkyard dogs, it doesn’t matter…they are Tritons. You can still find the parts to build your own Triton or you can buy one that someone has already sorted out.
I found a really beautiful Triton on ebay that, even though it’s price is nearly through the roof, could well be worth the money for a serious cafe racer. Notice I didn’t say collector, there is nothing I find worse than having a wonderful motorcycle that is made to be ridden (and in the case of a Triton, ridden hard) tucked away in someone’s ‘collection’. Ok, off my soap box and back onto this beautiful Triton.
The bike has had a complete rebuild the motor is a 750 Triumph with new high compression pistons, hotter cams,Mikuni carbs, a new front end and stopping power provided by a great (but heavy) 4 leading shoe front brake off a SuzukiGT750. The seller is asking a lot of money for it but this is one of the few bikes I find that is actually worth the money…I just wish I had the money.
Click on the pics below for more info and more pictures. This is a beautiful motorcycle.
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1963 Triton Custom</a><img style=”text-decoration:none;border:0;padding:0;margin:0;” src=”http://rover.ebay.com/roverimp/1/711-53200-19255-0/1?ff3=2&pub=5574881880&toolid=10001&campid=5336495545&customid=1963+Triton+Custom&item=190772380809&mpt=[CACHEBUSTER]“>
It’s 1981 and I’m looking for that ‘West Coast’ look, but I want a Triumph. I could buy a new Bonneville and I guess I can do it myself but I only have enough mechanical skills to check the air in my tires, and I don’t enough money in my bank account to have a dealer or customizer to do it for me…what’s a poor guy to do?.
In the 70′s and 80′s we lived with basically three categories of street motorcycles; the standard, the chopper, and the touring bike. Most all of us had ‘standard’ motorcycles and more than likely, the ‘UJM’..Universal Japanese Motorcycle. Some people took the ‘UJM’ to both ends of the spectrum. Choppers were made out of Honda 750′s and touring bikes were made out of that same CB750. It was an era of great creativity. And, great marketability.
During that time period, the aftermarket grew at a pace that hasn’t been seen since and the manufacturers were taking notes. Custom this, chrome that…you could make your bike look any way you wanted. Kawasaki got into the cruiser look right off the bat with the LTD series, even the Brit’s and Euro’s got into the ‘Cruiser’ look.
There are good examples of the bikes from the continent that fit the look but more often they came out as ‘WTF’? Note the Norton Hi-Rider to the left. Triumph Motorcycles America (TMA) started noticing that dealers were doing a lot of customizing in house so, they went to the dealers to find out what they were doing so that the factory could build it. Customers were going after a certain look, the ‘West Coast’ look. Triumph was taking notice that the European market was also adding that look. After all the market research was done along came the T140-TSX.
Take your standard T140 Bonneville, stick on a kinda fat 16″ rear tyre, move the rear shocks back a bit on the swingarm to lower the back end of the bike. Next, bob the fenders some, add a stepped seat, some cool Morris alloy wheels, shorty mufflers and…voila, the ‘West Coast Look’.
The sad part of this story is that just as Triumph was addressing the new look of motorcycling, they went broke. There were other models of the TSX in the works including an 8 valve motor that would have bumped up the performance significantly and kept Triumph in the game. But there is good news for those that did buy one of the few TSX’s…it’s a really good motorcycle and is now worth a lot of money!
I found a really nice example of the TSX today on ebay. It’s a 1983 model (TSX’s were actually made in ’81 and ’82 but as was rather common at the time, bikes were titled when they were sold, not based on when they were made) with only 2691 miles on the clock. This TSX is factory original and in great condition. The seller says it runs and shifts perfectly, it does have the original Avon tyres (which you will want to replace), the owner put in a new battery but I would guess that a good carb clean is in order as well.
The TSX is definetly a rare bike and one that didn’t stray too far from being a Triumph Bonneville at heart. Look at what Triumph has done in its new incarnation Bonneville’s and you can see where the TSX had an influence on the future.
Click on the pic’s below for more info and more pictures. This bike is a bit pricey but considering it is a great example of an era and there are so few of them in the world, it’s worth it. And here is an added little bonus on this bike, the kickstart lever is an option item. Triumph had more faith in their electric starter than the rest of us and they knew it.
I have a very good friend who lives and breathes Norton motorcycles, well, he lives and breathes all kinds of motorcycles but Norton’s are his first love. He has taken a 1959 Norton to the Bonneville Salt Flats and set a land speed record, built a Bonneville Streamliner powered by a Norton motor and has roadraced Norton’s for the past three decades. In his work shop are the aforementioned Norton’s plus a couple more, one being a 350cc International (it happens to be in a variety of boxes at this time however). He does have plans to get it all back together someday but in reality, he has about a half-dozen other project bikes that are little higher on the list, so the International sits lonely and looking for some love. Sigh.
The Norton International has a great history. Built from 1931 to 1957, with a short break during a little thing called World War 2. When production resumed in 1947 they went back to the iron head motor instead of the pre war alloy ‘race’ model, but they did make a slight change to the suspension. The rear end was still using the older type ‘plunger’ suspenders but the front got Norton’s new hydraulic ‘Roadholder’ forks to replace the girder front end. The bike handled so much better.
The International had a great racing history throughout the 1930′s but by time the late 1940′s and early 1950′s the International was being out paced by the BSA Gold Star’s and Norton’s own Manx. Though the engine did get the pre-war upgrade back to the alloy head and barrel in the early 50′s, the biggest improvement was the ‘Featherbed’ frame in 1953. Sadly, this is one of those cases of too little, too late. The bigger faster twins were leading in every aspect of the motorcycling marketplace and the simple single cylinder motorbikes were becoming dinosaurs.
Being a lover of singles, I have a couple buried somewhere in the barn…actually one is on the lift being brought back from the dead at this time, I am always on the look out for parts and bikes. Today on ebay I found a very nice 1947 (the first year back in production after the war) Norton International 350 in good condition. Yeah it needs a little love, but what bike this old that hasn’t been totally restored doesn’t.
The great thing about vintage motorcycles is seeing their life in the oil mist on the frame, the shoddy electrics and then spending time making back to what it was and then riding it. The seller says that all it needs is a battery? You might want to put a bit more effort into it. The price is a little up there but you know what, if you would like to own a great piece of British motorcycling history this is a great bike to have.
Click on the pic’s below for more pictures and a little info.
For some reason I seem to be on a Norton kick at this time. I want one. That big long stroke motor, watching the front wheel shake at stop lights…wait a minute, we’re heading into a way different topic of discussion here…uh, back to motorcycles.
I think the main reason I’m on this Norton kick is because my friends at ‘Left Coast Racing’ and I are getting ready for another Bonneville LSR run in couple of months with a pair of Norton’s. We currently hold a Land Speed Record with a rather built up 1959 Norton.
The very first Norton I ever took for a ride was a ‘rode hard and put away wet’ 750 Commando back in the early 70′s that my step dad rescued from some guys back yard. It was a lot different from the BSA’s and Triumph’s I had been riding, and honestly…at that time, I liked my Lightning 650 a lot better. But, being the good motorcycle souls that we were, we went about resurrecting it…a project that took over a year and a lot more money than my mom knows about.
During that same time, we were also upgrading a Triumph Bonneville from a standard 650cc to a Weslake 750 model (again, another story for anther time…and a really good one??). The Commando rebuild was a lot easier thanks to people like Brian Slark, Domiracer and Berliner. At the end of the year both motorcycles were finished, broken in appropriately and then taken out for a proper thrashing…Sunday morning on Angeles Crest Highway.
I fell in love with the Norton. Up to that time my motorcycling life had been with high revving two strokes, and somewhat high revving (by then current standards) English and Japanese twins, the Norton was a different feeling altogether. Where my BSA would feel light at the bars, the Norton was dead steady, the BSA needed some revs to get off a corner quickly, the Norton just needed a nudge on the throttle…the BSA needed you to pay attention, the Norton just went along with however you were riding that day (even with a minor (major) hangover).
The Norton was sold to a friend of a friend of a friend or their third cousin by marriage twice removed (no Alabama jokes here…) and was never seen again. I had grown to love that motorcycle and was sad to see it leave the garage…the guy didn’t even ride it home, he put it in a pick up truck!??? After all the work we did?… and he didn’t even live 20 miles away!! This was way before the days of ebay and buying a motorcycle on the other side of the world was easy.
So today, while working on our other websites, http://www.ilovecaferacers.com and http://www.themotoworld.com and cruising ebay looking for yet another project bike for a friend, I came upon a very nice Norton that is ready to ride and has some very nice bits and pieces.
This is a 1974 850 Commando that is a runner but…it has been sitting for years according to the owner so if you buy this bike you really need to go through the carbs, change the fluids, probably the tyres…all the standard stuff but I think this bike will be well worth the effort.
The bike has been outfitted with the Dunstall bits that really make it great, starting with the Dunstall 2 into 1 into 2 exhaust system. This exhaust is worth the price of admission alone, it is a work of art in every respect…performance and looks. The beautiful tank and that very slim front fender (I put one of those on the front of my H2, it was pretty worthless as far as fenders go, but I loved how it looked), the 850 also has what looks to me like Lester mag wheels. This Norton only has only 8800 miles on the clock and like I said before, with just some standard service, should be a wonderful ride.
Click on the pics below for more pictures and a little more info. This is a great bike for the money.
I love Nortons. I have ridden quite a few over the years, have been part of an LSR team,(‘Left Coast Racing’) at Bonneville with two Norton’s (one has a Bonneville Speed record!) and have grown to love them.
When my step dad wandered, rather precariously, off the Triumph path, he brought home a Norton 750 Commando that needed some love, which he gave without a flinch. It only took moments after he fired it up and I heard the beautiful song from that big long stroke motor coming out of those exquisite Dunstall mufflers that I knew all the work I had put into it (mostly all the washing, degreasing, sanding, painting little parts, taking nuts and bolts to the plater, hand polishing everything else…I still have carpal tunnel issues because of that bike…) was well worth it.
Today, I would love to have a Norton to ride, the reality is I can’t afford a Manx Norton (the one I really would want), probably not even a good Commando. But…I’ll bet I can find an Atlas, the pre-runner to the Commando, that would fit into the budget. Here’s the low down on the Atlas.
The Atlas was Norton’s big move into the U.S market. They gave it very ‘American’ styling…higher handlebars, big valanced fenders, a smaller gas tank and a bigger motor. Hmmm…let’s see, who were they aiming for?
Norton started with the Featherbed frame, designed by the McCandless brothers back in 1949. The chassis was brilliant, its name came from a moto-journalist that described it as “riding on a featherbed compared to the older ‘Garden Gate’ version”. There is a lot written about the Featherbed and it has been copied many times over by other manufacturers, my ’72 Kawasaki H2 was built with a variation of the ‘Featherbed’… the design, perfect…execution however…not so perfect, the bike still handled like crap until I modified the daylights out of it!
The original 650cc Dominator motor was pumped to 750cc then set up with lower compression to make it easier to ride on the road. The Dominator was basically a race bike with lights…a bit peaky and twitchy handling…not well suited to the American taste and our roads. The Atlas also got the ‘Roadholder’ forks, a vast improvement over the older design. In 1963, Cycle World magazine described it as “the most pleasant to ride for long distances…despite it’s size, can be zipped through ‘S Bends’ like a lightweight”. All in all, the Atlas is a great bike except for one thing…it will vibrate the fillings right out of your teeth. That really is the one and only main complaint about the Atlas. Yes, it handles great, the motor has wonderful power where you need it, but my God…you would need to see a chiropractor after every ride!?
With all that said, I found a really beautiful Atlas on ebay this morning that is going to be a great buy for someone ( I just wish it was me, but I already have too many motorcycles to care for…according to my wife…). It has been gone through from top to bottom and nose to tail. There are a few flaws and the owner has told the story (a bit humorous…except to him…) The main upgrade has been from 6 volt to 12 volt electrics and a lot of the nuts and bolts have been upgraded to stainless steel as have been the spokes. This is a really beautiful motorcycle and if you would like to get into the Norton world, this is the best jumping off point.
Click on the pics below for more good pictures and more info.
When you think of Norton performance, the first name you think of is Dunstall. The body work, the exhaust system, frame mods, engine bits, the tuning expertise. Norton and Paul Dunstall are inseparable. The sound of a well tuned Norton fitted with a Dunstall exhaust is pure heaven. you don’t just hear it, you feel it. The long stroke Norton motor taking big breaths in and then out through that beautifully designed and tuned exhaust system, well…if that doesn’t stir your soul you should be driving a Prius.
A quick history of Paul Dunstall. His motorcycling life actually started in the family scooter and moped business when he was a teenager, his first ‘motorcycle’ was a Velocette 350 which within a year was sold off to buy a Norton 600 Dominator.
In 1957 Paul started racing the Dominator but found that parts to make it competitive with the more popular Manx Norton’s weren’t available, so he took it upon himself change things. Paul started making parts like cams, exhausts and carb intakes to make the Dominator (which really wasn’t then) a capable racer. He stuck the modified motor into a Manx frame and went racing with some success. Others took notice and wanted his parts.
In 1959 Paul Dunstall decided that he liked developing parts and bikes more than racing and retired from racing himself. He continued to support other racers with his parts and services.
He first started with the exhaust system. He made a couple of sets, hung them up in the family scooter shop and sold them almost immediately. So…he made more, and more and Dunstall Power was born.
Dunstall Power started by buying up all the Norton factory ‘Domiracer’ bits and adding them into his own bikes. The first Dunstall catalog came out in 1961. With the early successes the business grew to chassis mods, body parts and, to Japanese motorcycles…but that is an entirely different story. Really, there is so much out there about Paul Dunstall and Dunstall racing that it has taken me forever to write this and not just keep digging deeper into the history of Dunstall Power. If you have a Norton and want to improve it, there really is only one place to go…Dunstall.
Now, to the point of all this and why I find it so interesting. If you are a regular visitor to the Vintage Motorcycle blog, you know that I have been part of a Norton Motorcycle Racing team for years and I love reading about, writing about and riding Norton’s. There is something so special about the feel of a Norton. It is so completely different from a Triumph or BSA, a feeling that you can only know when you ride one…it is an experience that anyone who loves British motorcycles has to have.
I found a nice 1974 Dunstall Norton 850 on ebay today that at this moment looks like a good value. The bike is in really good condition has all the right stuff including receipts dating back to 1986. It has been modified with a Mikuni carburetor, and has the Dunstall cam in place. The owner states that it runs great and has a video showing the bike running…it sounds wonderful. The bike has 15k miles on the clock and from what the owner says regarding maintenance, no worries. This Norton looks to be a good bike at a reasonable price . Click on the pics below for more info, the video link and more pics. Could well be worth a trip to New Hampshire.
I would have to say that the worst Norton motorcycle ever built had to be the ‘Hi Rider’ . Whoever thought this was a good idea had spent way too much time in a pub after watching a few really bad ‘Biker’ movies. Worse yet, somebody in marketing and management went along with it. No wonder Norton went out of business. Okay, it wasn’t the Hi Rider that killed Norton, but it certainly was one of the nails in the coffin. This isn’t about the Hi Rider, but it is about models that were not so well received by the motorcycle buying public.
Every motorcycle manufacturer has laid its own share of eggs. Without going through a whole list (which is a whole ‘nother story of its own..actually a whole book!!) I’ll toss out just a few. Now, before I get into this list, it’s not about being a bad motorcycle, it’s only about how it was perceived in the market and how it sold.
One of the first that comes to mind is the Vincent ‘Black Knight’. A dud back then, very valuable today. The Harley Davidson XLCR, still the red-headed stepchild of the Harley lineage. Even the original Superglide went over like a fart in church. The Honda GB500? A great motorcycle but not the right bike at the right time and way over priced. Today a GB500 in good condition is selling for 2-3 times its original selling price (when dealers were begging you to buy one!). And think about this, the Triumph X75 Hurricane languished in dealer showrooms because it wasn’t ‘ a traditional Triumph’, today…good luck finding one for sale.
There are a number of great motorcycles out there that are just a bit of a missstep in the marketing department, and yet they become classics or cult bikes. One of these is the Norton Fastback.
The Fastback is, in my opinion, one of the very first ‘factory cafe racers’. Powered by the 750CC Commando motor, handling provided by the ‘Featherbed’ frame, engine vibration quelled using the new ‘Isolastic’ engine mounting system…(it really worked well. If you had ridden a pre-Isolastic Norton then got on the new model, you would immediately feel the difference), the classic Roadholder forks, all in all a great bike. But, some were put off by the new styling. The Fastback was the first bike to come out of the Norton Villiers marriage and though magazines liked the motorcycle, all had a tough time with the styling. The tank, seat. tail section were, well…not quite normal. It didn’t have the standard look and it didn’t quite have the Manx style, it was somewhere in between. Personally, I like it. Well, truth be told here, it did take me a while to like it…kind of like good Scotch.
So today I find a ‘nice’ Fastback on ebay. Nothing too special, it’s a runner, comes with an aftermarket tank and exhaust but the originals come with the bike so you can have it whichever way you like, it has been upgraded to an electronic ignition (which helps with the ease of starting and general rideability of the motorcycle a lot), the intake has been modified to a single carb which also helps general rideability but does rob the Commando engine some of its power and, the owner says it has a later model frame because the original frame had structural (weld) problems. OK, which frame is it?
This bike seems to be a good way to get into the Norton family without having to drain your vintage bike savings account too badly. Click on the pic’s below for a bit more info and a bunch more pictures.
My first introduction to Dunstall products was a set of mufflers my step dads best friend put on his Norton Commando, They were beautiful. These mufflers sounded even better than they looked. The honeycomb looking baffles, the shape of the mufflers themselves…works of art. I was so taken by these mufflers that I started looking for a set to fit my BSA, sadly, the Dunstall pipes were not in a teenagers budget…well, neither was a nice date with a pretty girl very often…but like they say, that is another story for another time.
I found this really nice Honda 750 on ebay today with the full Dunstall package so I had to do some research, how could I not?!
Paul Dunstall has a very interesting history. I’ll make my part short here, but at the bottom is a link to a very detailed history of Paul Dunstall and Dunstall Racing. Paul started off working in his family’s scooter dealer in England, scooters were OK, but Paul wanted more (is there anyone who rides a scooter that doesn’t??), so he picked himself up a Norton Dominator motorcycle and started modifying it for racing.
In 1957 Paul Dunstall began his racing career aboard that twin cylinder Norton. At the time, the Norton Manx, a 500cc single cylinder motorcycle, was the racer of choice…lighter, faster and more nimble handling than the Dominator, however, he was quite successful with his Dominator and for the next season, other riders wanted his exhaust system…Dunstall Racing was born.
In 1959 Paul ended his racing career and started building for others, the first commercial product was his exhaust system. By 1961 Paul had a full catalog of products for the racer and ‘cafe’ racer market. Domiracer was the catalog company.
In 1966 Paul Dunstall’s company was building complete motorcycles to race and here is where controversy entered Dunstall racing. Are you a manufacturer or a ‘pure sport’ builder? This is big stuff in the world of racing and marketing. The courts decided Dunstall was a manufacturer and Dunstall machines could continue as ‘stock’ machines.
Though Dunstall was closely linked to the Norton Commando, they started branching out to other manufacturers…Honda and Kawasaki in particular. Kawasaki’s H1 500 got the Dunstall treatment but the real thrust came to the CB750. Dunstall designed motors, chassis refinements, and of course the bodywork. Like I said before, there is a lot more Dunstall history available here http://www.woodgate.org/dunstall/history.html
So, back to what I found on ebay. A 1974 Honda CB750 with classic Dunstall upgrades and a couple of other good features. Let’s start with a Yoshimura big bore kit, Lester Mag wheels (which I put on my Kawasaki 750, along with some other Dunstall parts), a custom upper triple clamp and clip-ons (very nice) and all the proper Dunstall bodywork. This is a really sweet ride and worth the money. This Dunstall Honda is a rider not a hider. My friend Peter Jones, author and journalist extraordinaire, built a beauty of a Dunstall Honda years ago using a ’75 SOHC 750 as a base. These are fantastic motorcycles from the ’70′s that frankly, would put many modern motorcycles to shame. Click on the pis below for more info and more pictures of a great motorcycle. The sound of a SOHC Honda 750 singing through Dunstall pipes…pure music.
Norton’s are unique among British motorcycles, actually all British bikes are unique but there is something special about Norton’s. That big long stroke motor that shakes the front end of the bike while standing still, the beautifully shaped reverse cone mufflers, gorgeous body work,…whats not to love about Norton motorcycles.
I found a very nice Norton Cafe racer on ebay this morning, more of a hybrid really. Take a classic Featherbed frame from the sixties, slide in a slightly breathed on 850 Commando motor, upgrade the brakes and then give it some style. It doesn’t take much to ‘give’ a Norton style, Norton is style. But, the owner of this particular motorcycle had upped the style factor nicely without going over the top. The details on this bike are nice, besides the breathed on 850 motor, he married it to a Triumph tranny with right side shifting (proper British of course), added a Triumph front wheel and disc brakes, hung a BMW ‘S’ fairing with clock and voltmeter on the front and finally some nice looking custom bodywork. Nice bike. Click on the pics below for more about this really nice Norton.
I have been involved with vintage motorcycles since before they were vintage and over the years (decades) I have seen the cycles of popularity ebb and flow between era’s, styles and brands along with the prices that follow each change. There have however, been a few constants in the values of vintage motorcycles, the most consistent are the British motorcycles. As with all brands, no matter where they are from, some models are in higher demand than others, but for some reason motorcycles made in the UK seem less affected by this. Aficionado’s of vintage Brit bikes have their favorite brands yes, and some with particular model likes but for the most part, I have found that if you like Norton’s, a good Fastback will appeal to you as much as a Commando. The exception to that thought is the ill-conceived Norton Hi Rider, whoever came up with that was surely sent to the nearest pub to drown away the fact that he was fired. Vintage English motorcycles are very steady when it comes to holding and increasing in value, some a little better than others, and such it is with Norton motorcycles.
Norton’s seem to have a fairly high ‘cool’ factor. They are great looking, great riding and sound wonderful. Have you ever ridden up to a stoplight and next to you is a Norton idling away with the motor shaking like crazy but the rest of the motorcycle is as calm as can be? The beauty of the ‘Isolastic’ motor mounts. There are so many cool little things about Norton’s; the upswept reverse cone mufflers, the beautiful tank shape, the ‘Y’ shape engine side cover, that lovely tilted motor and of course, legendary Norton handling . Over the years Norton’s have had their issues…like all motorcycle brands, but they are still immensely desirable. And desirability usually comes along with a high price tag. This particular Norton I found is no exception.
On ebay this morning I found a nice 1974 Norton Commando 850. The mileage is low, and corrosion is at a minimum, for a thirty six year old motorcycle. The owner stored it for a while so it is currently not running…like about 2/3 of my collection?! It is in generally nice condition, needs a few parts and some TLC but it is a good place to start. Like I said before, Norton’s are very desirable today and therefore commando (a bad pun there but I couldn’t help myself…sorry) some lofty prices. Is this one priced a little too far out there? Well, maybe, but if you really want a Norton that can be made rideable rather easily and quickly, give this Nice ’74 a look. Click on the pic’s for more pictures and some added description.
‘The most effective racer of all time’, ‘the work horse of the race circuit’…just a couple of ways the Norton Manx has been described over the years. The Norton Manx is without a doubt one of the most desirable classic racing motorcycles of all time. If you have ever been up close and personal with 500cc Manx racer you know why. The look, the sound, the legend…it stops your breath and makes your heart beat faster, about 7500RPM faster. I have seen and heard Manx Norton’s on full song at different vintage race meets and I can tell you that every bit of mystique that surrounds this motorcycle is justified.
Those that have been around road racing for a period of time or those that are interested in vintage motorcycles are all familiar with the Manx Norton but a lot of us probably don’t know much of the history of this iconic motorcycle. My job, ladies and gentlemen, is to inform you, educate you, enlighten you, to bowl you over with my extensive knowledge of this two wheeled legend and to make you want to cash in your 401K and become the proud owner of a Norton Manx!! A little over the top? I thought so, but, I can give yo a little bit of history that I found interesting.
The Norton Manx was developed to win the Isle of Man TT race. At the time, the TT was the world premier road race and for Norton, winning races meant selling motorcycles. Development of the Manx was started in 1937 and was ready to race in 1938, however one small event slowed the racing effort, a little thing called World War Two. After the war, racing in Britain resumed and Norton achieved what it set out to do. In 1946 Norton won the Manx Gran Prix. Now, you also know where the name came from. In 1950, the Norton designers built a new frame for the Manx. The new frame, an all welded duplex style (very innovative for the time and copied ever since), was built for high speed stability on the long (37 miles per lap) TT course. The new short wheelbase also made the bike very agile. Harold Daniels of Norton described the new chassis as giving a ‘featherbed ride’, the now famous Norton Featherbed was born. In 1953 the 500c single cylinder motor was redesigned for more horsepower but also retained its famous reliability. It was the combination of ride and reliability that made the Manx Norton the favorite race bike of privateer’s throughout Britain and Europe. 1962 was the last full year of production for the Manx and in 1963 the model was finally put out to pasture. It is however, still, one of the most sought after vintage race bikes in the world. There you have a brief history of this great racing motorcycle. That brief history leads us to my latest find on ebay, a 1955 Norton Manx that needs you.
I know you need a good winter project that starts in the middle of summer and I found it for you. This particular Manx definitely need some love but, compared to some I have seen, this is truly a diamond in the rough. Here is how it is described; “the best barn find I have found in my forty years of collecting Norton’s”. The motorcycle is in relatively good shape, its mostly all there and yeah, it’s missing some bits here and there, other parts need replacing ( there are plenty of sources for Manx parts out there) and I hope you know a good body man. This Norton has lived it’s life as it was designed to and has all the bumps and bruises that a racer of this era should have. Now what this piece of racing lore needs is a good home and a new owner with the love and passion to return this Manx Norton to its glory.
To learn about this motorcycle and what it needs and to see more pictures, click on the pics below.
Matchless, a magic name in motorcycle heritage. The Matchless mystique started at the turn of the Twentieth Century when Collier & Son’s (the Matchless parent company) went into production. Legendary, beautiful, innovative, pure British and…fast, all describe the Matchless motorcycle. Matchless built its reputation on racing, most notably with the G series single cylinder bikes; the G50,80 and 85′s. Matchless won the first Isle of Mann TT in 1907 on a single.
In 1931 Matchless bought out competitor AJS motorcycles, then in 1938 formed AMC, Associated Motor Cycles, as an umbrella organization for Matchless and AJS. Later, AMC acquired Norton motorcycles as well.
In the 1950′s and 60′s Matchless singles were almost dominant in roadracing and off road as well. The G series single’s were a bit down on power compared to others but their lighter weight and excellent handling made the Matchless, well, matchless, on tight twisty courses.
Matchless also built twin cylinder motorcycles in the 500cc to 1000cc categories that never seemed to match the success of the singles. As sales were slowing, AMC started combining parts from its different motorcycle companies, the most successful being the Matchless/Norton marriage. And here is where we come to today’s ebay bike of the day. A 1964 Matchless / Norton G15CS.
The G15 is a nice marriage between Matchless and Norton though by some accounts, not a marriage made in heaven, nor hell either. I read a few reviews from magazines of the time and what I came away with was they were trying really hard to convince you that this lackluster (but beautiful) motorcycle was more than it was. With a little more research I found out why…I think. At that time, Norton was deep into development of the Commando model and innovation all went there. Nonetheless, the G15 in its various versions are wonderful pieces of British motorcycling history.
Today I found a really beautiful example of the G15CS. Low miles (around 10,000), recently serviced, new Avon tyres, and the tank you see in the pictures as well as the chrome version. The owner just rode the bike recently and has a glowing report. This is a beautiful, classic English motorbike. The ‘buy it now’ price seems reasonable for what you’re getting in my opinion, so…if you have a place in your garage for a piece of British motorcycling legend this Matchless may be just for you. Click on the pic’s for more. I don’t know about you, but I think the Matchless logo is far and away the best in motorcycling.
Over the years there have been a few motorcycles that I have truly lusted after and some, have actually found a home with me. A Ducati Darmah, a couple of Triumph Bonneville’s, a BSA Lightning 650 or two, a Kawasaki H2 and currently residing in the barn is a beautiful BMW R90S.
One motorcycle that has always eluded me was the John Player Norton. A little history here, there were only three John Player Norton’s built in the early 70′s. These were the monocoque chassis racers for the Formula 750 class. The racers were quite successful against the more powerful two stroke motorcycles of the time. The JPN was a truly innovative motorcycle for the time and actually, when you look at it’s design and the reasons behind it, the JPN was way ahead of it’s time. It took a lot of cues from Formula 1 cars using aerodynamics to compensate for lower power.
After Norton dropped out of racing, (why is it that corporate budget’s always get in the way of a good time?!) they concentrated on the 850cc Commando model which was doing quite well in the market despite the fact that this was the twilight of the British motorcycle industry. Norton needed something special so a race replica was designed.
The JPN was produced for only one year and only around 200 of them at that. Most of them, approximately 120, were sent to the US. In reality the production John Player Norton is a standard Norton 850 Commando with a fibreglass shell replicating the look of the racer. Underneath the fibreglass ‘gas tank’ is actually the standard steel tank. The motor puts out a whopping 50HP, but that 50HP will easily push you past 115MPH and in the Norton chassis, handle superbly. A Norton Commando is truly one of the most confidence inspiring vintage motorcycles you could ever ride.
On the market today is a beautiful JPN. This is a stone stock version with only 2900 miles on the clock. There are a couple of flaws that you can see in the pictures but nothing that takes away from the motorcycle. This is a very unique and rare English motorbike. And one final question you’re asking…who is John Player? It’s an English cigarette company.