The new Norton 961 Commando Café Racer.
Patience: That best describes the demeanor U.S. buyers for the new Norton 961 Commando have had to assume since Stuart Garner’s 2008 relaunch of Norton.
Garner, who made his fortune in fireworks, originally hoped to have bikes in production by mid-2009. But reality has a nasty way of insinuating itself into even the best laid plans, and it took another year for the first finished bikes, the limited edition 961 SE (200 will be built), to start rolling off the new Norton line. Here's the official promo video for the Norton 961 SE:
Yet delays haven’t stopped interest. Industry veteran Matt Capri was quick to link up with Garner, establishing South Bay Norton in August 2009 as the exclusive U.S. dealer/distributor. South Bay’s John Perkey told us only three of 50 U.S. allotted 961 SEs were still available as we went to press; the U.K. allotment sold out by October 2009.
The first U.K. market SE was delivered last March, the first Sport in October and the first Café Racer in November. U.S. customers can expect to start collecting their SEs in April or May, assuming the 961 passes EPA emissions testing, ongoing as we went to print. Capri expects it to pass easily, with California certification following shortly. The wire-wheeled SE is priced at $17,999 and the carbon fiber-wheeled SE at $19,499. Perkey says those bikes are being sold at a discount to drive interest; in the U.K., the Café Racer and Sport are priced at approximately $22,000 and $19,500, respectively. The first Café Racer could arrive here as early as April, but it could be as late as mid-summer. For a taste of what you can expect, read Alan Cathcart's road test of the new Café Racer.
Garner has clearly been re-evaluating the importance of the U.S. market; in November he named one-time Ducati North America CEO Dan Van Epps as CEO of newly created subsidiary Norton Motorcycles USA. Van Epps will spearhead efforts to establish a dealer network in time to start selling bikes by April or May, with an ultimate goal of dealer presence in the top 50 U.S. population centers. Further, as we went to press, Norton announced it had hired ex-Ducati fashionista Pierre Terblanche as head of product development and design. Among his challenges is designing a new line of multi-valve, multi-cylinder engines.