Rotary-Powered Nortons: From Commander to F1

Norton’s winding road of rotary-powered motorcycles.

| September/October 2014

  • Norton F1 Sport Bike
    The Norton F1 sport bike.
    Photo by Robert Smith

  • Norton F1 Sport Bike

The Commander story has to be set against the boardroom machinations that plagued Norton from 1978 to 1992. Two years after his NVT Engineering Ltd. closed in 1976, the canny Dennis Poore acquired the remaining assets of the company to form Norton Motors Ltd. as a division of his Manganese-Bronze group. A separate company, Andover Norton, was set up to run the parts business for pre-1977 bikes.

By 1982, Norton Motors was supplying limited numbers of rotary-powered Interpol 2 motorcycles to British police forces, while the company also bought back Andover Norton, consolidating its parts and service business with former racer and Norton-Villiers sales manager Mike Jackson in charge.

Following Poore’s death in 1987, a group of investors headed by Philippe LeRoux acquired Norton Motors from Poore’s Manganese-Bronze group to form a new publicly traded company, Norton Group PLC.

Though he would have preferred to take Norton out of the motorcycle industry completely, LeRoux was persuaded otherwise and embarked on an ambitious plan both to develop a new range of high-end motorcycles and to take the company into the ultralight/drone aircraft engine business.



The results of these programs were the air-cooled Norton Classic, the liquid-cooled Commander, the remarkable 22-pound, 38 horsepower NR73 drone engine, the RCW588 race bike and the F1 sport bike. But by 1992 Norton was £7 million in debt (about $12,350,000 U.S.) and bankrupt again. LeRoux was investigated for financial impropriety, though no case was ever proven. LeRoux’s business plan for Norton is the subject of a Harvard Business Review case study titled To Be or Not to Be in the Motorcycle Business. MC

Read more about the Norton Commander

Norton's Rotary: 1989 Norton Commander
The Rotary Wankel Engine



The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $4.95 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $29.95 for a one year subscription!




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds