Motorcycle Classics

1963 Norton Electra 400ES

Reader Contribution by Mc Staff

AMC employees assemble new electric-start Norton Electra 400ES motorcycles in this staged photo, circa 1963.

Launched in 1963 specifically for the American market, the Norton Electra was Norton’s first motorcycle with electric starting. Power came from a short-stroke 383cc parallel twin (66mm x 56mm bore and stroke) developed from the 250cc Jubilee and 350cc Navigator, with a Lucas M3 electric starter (later used on Trident T160s!) tucked behind the cylinders and driving the crankshaft by chain.

The Norton Electra was instigated by Norton’s American importer, Berliner Motor Corporation, after Joe Berliner built two electric-start Navigators as test beds and then pressed parent company Associated Motor Cycles (AMC) to put the machine into production. Importantly, the Electra was the first new Norton to go into production at the AMC plant in Plumstead, London, following AMC’s decision to move all Norton production from the old Norton factory on Bracebridge Street in Birmingham.

The goal was a mid-level motorcycle that could go head-to-head with the latest Japanese offerings, but the Electra was not a success. Although it used 12-volt electrics, shortcomings included unreliable starting, plus engine vibration and heavy fuel consumption. Norton dropped the model two years later.

Ex-AMC employee Brian Slark, now technical consultant at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, remembers the Norton Electra well, if not necessarily fondly. “It had four different electrics; Wipac, Lucas, Prestolite and even Hella turn signals. The starter was never that good, but the things started very easy on the kickstarter. I tested the first one on March 8, 1963. I remember that, as I got married the next day!” Slark says. Slark worked for AMC from 1957 to 1964.

These photos came from fellow tester Alan Jones, with whom Slark remains in contact. “If I recall, the photos were staged, as they never came off the end of the production line that quick. When a group of dealers were visiting from the USA, the assembly line would slow down so the bikes were nose to tail. As soon as we had notice the group were approaching, the bikes would come off the line, giving the impression of mass production. When they had left it all went back to normal!” Slark says.

List price from Berliner in 1964 was $789. MC

Another view from the same series of photos. Alan Jones is at far right.

  • Published on Jun 28, 2012
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