The British motorcycle industry has a long and storied history, dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although there were many notable British motorcycle manufacturers, Norton Motorcycle Company is one of the most iconic and has played a significant role in shaping the industry.
In the early days of the British motorcycle industry, pioneers such as George Brough and William R. Morris began experimenting with motorized bicycles, which ultimately led to the development of the first motorcycles. The industry took off in the 1900s, with the establishment of several manufacturers like Triumph, BSA, AJS, Matchless, and of course, Norton.
James Lansdowne Norton founded the Norton Motorcycle Company in 1898 in Birmingham, England. Initially, the company focused on manufacturing and supplying bicycle parts, but by 1902, they produced their first motorcycle, powered by a Clement engine. Over the following years, Norton began developing their own engines, and in 1907, they launched the first Norton motorcycle powered by their own single-cylinder engine.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Norton achieved considerable racing success with their motorcycles, which helped establish their reputation for performance and reliability. Their "CamShaft One" (CS1) and "International" models were particularly successful in competitions like the Isle of Man TT, with riders like Jimmie Guthrie and Stanley Woods contributing to the brand's legendary status.
During World War II, Norton played a crucial role in supporting the British military by producing the 16H, a 490cc side-valve single, and the Big Four, a 633cc side-valve single. These motorcycles were designed to be durable and reliable, making them ideal for military use.
In the post-war era, Norton continued to innovate and expand their product line. The company introduced the Dominator, a parallel-twin engine motorcycle, in 1949. The Dominator would go on to become one of Norton's most successful and long-lasting models, with various iterations being produced until the 1970s.
The 1960s saw Norton achieving further racing success, most notably with the development of the Norton Manx, a single-cylinder racing motorcycle. The Manx was highly successful in the hands of riders like Geoff Duke and John Surtees, contributing to Norton's reputation as a dominant force in racing.
Despite its successes, Norton, like many other British motorcycle manufacturers, faced significant challenges in the 1960s and 1970s due to increased competition from Japanese manufacturers like Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki. Financial difficulties and various ownership changes plagued the company, eventually leading to its collapse in 1976.
However, the Norton brand has been revived multiple times since then, with various attempts to restore the company to its former glory. In 2008, Norton Motorcycles was acquired by UK businessman Stuart Garner, who began producing new models, including the Commando 961 and the Dominator, paying homage to Norton's classic designs.
The British motorcycle industry has seen its ups and downs, but the Norton Motorcycle Company remains a symbol of British engineering and innovation. Although the company has faced numerous challenges over the years, the Norton brand continues to be cherished by motorcycle enthusiasts worldwide.