’68 Norton Fastback
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.