1962 Norton Atlas
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.