I have been extremely curious to see how things have been progressing at Norton Motorcycles since the takeover by the Indian giant TVS, a company that produces thousands of motorcycles per year.
The Norton Motorcycles name re-born again, and again
They seem to be doing the right thing by this illustrious, but often troubled, brand. A fabulous new factory is now producing well engineered and built bikes. But first we need to take a little trip back through time and see the rocky road that has led to this bright future for Norton Motorcycles.
Ever since the collapse of NVT in the 1970’s there have been a number of re-births and false dawns for this proud brand: There was the ‘Rotary Period’ that brought us the 1984 Classic, the 1985 Interpol and the svelte F1 of 1988. Success on the track followed in both circuit Superbike championships and the ultra-demanding IoM TT races. Sadly, it proved to be a false dawn. I toured the Staffordshire factory in 1990. It was a tiny operation that eventually petered out. However, the Rotary engine went on to power large drones for the military.
The Rotary engined race bikes of the late 1980’s that sired the F1 road bike. Pictured here at the National Motorcycle Musem
The Interpol. Sold well to the plod for a while. West Midlands Police had a fleet of them
The slippery Norton V8 Nemesis
Later, around the early noughties came the incredible Nemesis. You may have seen this on display at The National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham. This was fitted with a wild V8 engine designed by A J Melling (of TVR Speed Six fame). Extravagant claims were made as to the bike’s performance, that to my knowledge have never been verified independently. Interestingly that bike has recently been dusted off by the museum and passed to Henry Cole of TV fame to get running again. His genius sidekick Allen Millyard is actually doing the work. They now have it running and it has featured in his latest TV series.
Another false dawn for Norton Motorcycles
The Nemesis never made it past the prototype stage. Then another group of owners took up the baton, bought the rites to the Norton brand and set to developing a new bike in the mould of the classic 1970’s Commando. They got as far making some well styled bikes fitted a 961cc parallel twin engine. Yet again things failed and in stepped a figure that was an initially seen as a saviour, but later events somewhat disproved that.
The Prototypes that were the pre-cursor the Garner era bikes
The rise and subsequent fall of Norton Motorcycles
But the early signs were really positive. The 961 Commando development reached a point where the bike was put into production at a site in the British midlands very near Donington Park racetrack. Things looked good for a while. Several hundred bikes were made. A V4 Superbike joined the range and a TT race programme started, with the likes of McGuiness involved.
The production line at Donington. In the carpeted former offices of an airline. Not a good sign
The V4 even led to an ill-fated race programme
A new range of mid capacity bikes were under development too. These were even displayed at the NEC bike show in 2019. I visited the site in 2019 and to be honest it whiffed a little of smoke & mirrors to me. It didn’t add up. This proved to be correct: The truth came out all too soon. Saviour turned villain…
Saved again, this time by the huge Indian manufacturer TVS
All looked lost for Norton Motorcycles once again. Then in stepped TVS, a massive Indian multinational that produces motorcycles by the million. They invested heavily and well. Several million pounds later the 961 and the V4 have both been thoroughly re-engineered. Production and sales of both are underway in a stunning, state of the art, facility in Solihull. Only 10 – 15 miles from the spiritual home of the brand in Kings Norton, a leafy suburb of Birmingham.
Things are looking up again
Sales are going well, and press reports all positive, I toured the new factory myself and also rode the 961SP Commando. I have to say that I came away highly impressed with both the facility and bikes that are emerging from it.
Norton’s state-of-the-art factory
The brand-new Norton Motorcycles factory is impressive right from the off: You enter via an expansive and tastefully appointed reception area: Cool tones, a selection of immaculate Norton bikes spanning the decades from the classics to the latest V4 CR are on display. The walls adored with huge B&W images of iconic owners and riders such Geoff Duke and Clint Eastwood. All very confident and assured.
A fabulous set up. This is the reception area: The production hall is even more impressive
Understandably I could not take any pictures in the actual assembly hall and engine build areas. But I can confirm that it is logically laid out, crisply presented, and looks the real deal. None of this could be send of the Donington set up of the Garner era. Modern process engineering and quality management structures are in place being used to the full. All very encouraging for any new owners of 961s and V4s
The re-engineered V4 – stunning
Commando 961 production and sales are going well
Norton Commando has a quality feel
The 961SP Commando doesn’t break any new ground as a bike. However, the bike is beautifully built, good looking and sounds absolutely fantastic. The Commando was very in tune with its surroundings as I rode a jet-black example across Warwickshire and Worcestershire on rural A&B roads. Each bike is put through a SVA process prior to sale and feels well put together.
The Re-worked 961SP Commando is a handsome bike and great to ride
I was impressed
I’d liken it to a tailor-made suit worn with hand made leather brogues. You can get both off the peg, but you can just tell when something is just that bit special. The bike is class on two wheels. They are significantly more expensive than a Bonneville for example. But they feel worth it. The awesome V4 CR is about to go out to customers and has a similar air to it.
The V4 CR should just be with it’s first customers now
In safe hands
Overall, I came away from my morning with them massively impressed and encouraged. The re-birth of Norton Motorcycles is an exciting development for the British motorcycle industry.
Given its previous multiple re-births, people both inside and outside of the motorcycle industry remain sceptical. Given that Norton Motorcycles has formed so much of the world’s biking heritage and that the efforts put in to this resurrection have been hugely impressive, I’m keeping extremely positive. Long may the Norton brand continue!
Words and Pictures: Tony Donnelly
A few words of praise for Kev of the Norton Sales Team. An absolute gentleman to deal with.