The Norton 650SS
Top dog until the Norton Atlas arrived
Non-stock items on Derek Steele's 1962 650SS include a vented, twin-leading-shoe front brake, Amal Concentric carbs and Dunstall Mufflers.
Photo by Robert Smith
Years produced: 1962-1967
Total production: N/A
Claimed power: 49hp @ 6,800rpm
Top speed: 120mph
Engine type: 646cc overhead valve, air-cooled parallel twin
Weight (dry): 198kg (434lb)
Price then: N/A
Price now: $4,200-$7,000
If seven was the magic number of the ancients, in my formative motorcycle years it was 650, as in 650cc. But with a budget that could support nothing better than a castoff moped or a terminally asthmatic scooter, England’s glorious 650s seemed like the chariots of the gods, all of which have become classic British motorcycles.
In my youth in England, a 650 was the biggest, most powerful British motorcycle you could buy: BSA’s Golden Flash, Triumph’s Thunderbird, Royal Enfield’s Super Meteor (an overachiever at 692cc) — these were the “big inch” bikes of the day. So I could never understand why Norton didn’t build one — until 1960, anyway. And why it was, when they finally caught up, that they already had a 750 waiting in the wings.
Norton did get a touring 650 in 1961, but it was only available for export and sold in the U.S. as the “Manxman.” Finally, in 1962 the Norton 650SS arrived and was an instant hit. It seemed to be the bike every Norton twin should have been.
But the Norton 650SS was top dog for scant seconds. In the same year, AMC-Norton introduced the 745cc Norton Atlas, a big bore version of the 650 intended to boost U.S. sales. As a result, few Norton 650s made it across the pond, the majority being sold in the “home” market.
The Norton 650SS was essentially a stroked version of the model 99SS, with dimensions of 68mm x 89mm (the 99’s stroke had been 82mm). Like the top Dominator, the 650SS breathed through twin Amal Monoblocs, but with the intakes now angled downwards. Twin exhausts replaced the 99SS “siamesed” system, and the headlight nacelle was dropped in favor of matched speedometer and tachometer. Finish went from the 99SS two-tone color scheme to a classic black frame, silver painted tank and (optional) chrome fenders. Though simple in concept, the overall effect was stunning. The black, silver, polished alloy and chrome finish created “the look” for sports motorcycles for a decade — until the metalflake Seventies.
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