The Approachable Nortons

Norton’s release of a new “all-British V4” has us sifting through the sands of time, starting with the Monocoque Commando.

The Monocoque Commando, designed by innovative Norton engineer Peter Williams.

Norton’s tie-up with respected U.K. automotive engineering firm Ricardo has resulted in an all-new V4 engine. It’s the first clean-sheet 4-stroke performance model the famous company has made since the 1970s. Computer-designed and painstakingly developed, it is Norton’s new platform off which several models will spin.

This isn’t the first time a motorcycle manufacturer has joined forces with the car industry. Harley-Davidson did it twice with Porsche. The first time, in the 1980s, was the still-born “Nova” V4 engine. Their second union conceived the Revolution engine range, which powered the liquid-cooled V-Rod family launched in 2002.

However, Norton only needs to look back into its own history to read a cautionary tale. In the early 1970s it worked with Cosworth on what it hoped would be a world-beater, the so-called Norton Challenge P86. Sadly, this was a dead-end and the project was soon abandoned.

Long forgotten, it unexpectedly reappeared in the mid-1980s to win a major international race at Daytona’s speed bowl. The original Challenge project was planned to become the basis of a range of models and the current Norton V4 engine has already achieved this aim. As well as the V4 SS, Norton has revealed three 650cc parallel-twin models based on the V4 engine: the Superlight road racer, and the Nomad and Ranger retro street scramblers. All these bring back memories of Norton golden years of the 1970s. Hang on for a wild ride back in time.

Monocoque Commando

The sales success of Norton’s 1968 Commando was underpinned by its racing efforts. Just a year after production started, the Commando was up on the podium at major events in the U.S. and U.K. Often forgotten in the hype of Triumph’s legendary 1969 Isle of Man TT Production win at 99.99mph is that Norton rider Paul Smart finished second at 99.37mph.

12/16/2019 8:30:34 AM

Hello DougT, In response to your comment, Hamish Cooper responds: I notice the first comment on the webpage version of my commando story says I am incorrect in saying that the new Norton V4 is the first clean sheet design since the 1970s. In fact I have said it is the first clean sheet performance model. The 961 commando was never intended as a race bike whereas the Cosworth Norton was built firstly as a race bike with the intention of going into production, as were Peter Williams race bikes, which developed parts later used in production Commandos. Landon Hall, editor Motorcycle Classics

11/1/2019 3:02:30 AM

While an interesting tech heavy article on these beasts, Its confusing how you are trying (poorly) to tie it into the Modern Nortons. Why even mention them when very little is relatable? Factually its in error. The clean sheet design of the Norton America engine was as a result of the shortcomings of the original Norton twin design. Originally was supposed to be 952, because of a materials issue it ended up as 961 (Choice was given to Dreer, smaller or larger?). THAT was a clean sheet design, early prototypes which I have were a 360 deg, but eventually went to a 270 deg crank with balance shafts. Also featured a center main bearing. Norton UK after purchase has refined that design and carried them to this new stage however you omit this important detail which undermines the premise of your story. I enjoyed the rest of it and the tech involved, But I know you can do better. Cheers. DougT, owner of the remnants of Norton America.

10/31/2019 5:13:15 PM

Norton failed to deliver 961's anywhere on time and halted production on them while they did a money grab to do the limited edition dominator. customer comes last at Norton . good luck with this effort. Hope you learn about customer service along the way.

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