Norton Motorcycles’ 122 years of speed

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Norton Motorcycles' 122 years of speed


The Isle of Man Junior TT Tourist Trophy motorcycle race on 5 June 1951Image copyright
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Norton is most often associated with decades of competition in the Isle of Man TT race

As globally renowned motorbike builder Norton goes into administration, the BBC looks back on its past glories.

Started by James “Pa” Norton in Birmingham in 1898, the firm was originally a manufacturer of “fittings and parts for the two-wheel trade”.

Rem Fowler with a 5 hp Peugeot-engined Norton motorcycleImage copyright
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Rem Fowler won the first TT with a Peugeot-engined Norton in May 1907

A Norton in 1937Image copyright
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Between the wars Norton Motorcycles were seen on racetracks around the world

The first motorcycles were built in 1902, winning the first Isle of Man TT race in 1907, though they did not carry the famous logo until 1916.

Between the wars Norton was producing over 4,000 road bikes annually, winning the TT race 10 times.

During World War Two the firm withdrew from racing but manufactured almost 100,000 sidevalve motorcycles – almost a quarter of all British military motorcycles.

The 1961 Earls Court motor saw the introduction of the Commando model and more than 500,000 were produced in the next decade.

1940 Norton 16H in the militaryImage copyright
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Norton produced almost a quarter of all British military motorcycles in World War Two

Poster advertising Norton motor bikesImage copyright
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After the war, Norton pushed hard to capture the civilian market

But the 1970s saw increased competition from Japan and the last Commando was produced in 1976.

Image from film The Motorcycle DiariesImage copyright
Entertainment Pictures/Alamy

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Norton had a part in movie (and world) history by appearing in a film of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries

After going through a series of owners, the brand was relaunched in 1989 and enjoyed new TT success, beating a Yamaha to win in 1992, the first victory for a British bike for almost 30 years.

1953 Norton ManxImage copyright
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The company was a firm favourite with collectors and starred in vintage vehicle races

Norton motorbike in display during the Breitling Baselworld Summit 2019Image copyright
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New models continued to capture the limelight until just months before the firm went into administration

Norton moved to Donington Park, Leicestershire, in 2008 and the name enjoyed renewed attention with appearances in films like The Motorcycle Diaries and James Bond thriller Spectre.

But owner Stuart Garner warned earlier this year Norton owed tax authorities £300,000 and needed more time to pay.

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