1963 Norton Electra 400ES

| 6/28/2012 10:34:55 AM

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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.

7/26/2012 8:57:10 PM

My first bike was a 1963 Norton Electra - Serial Number EL192. I bought it from my brother in 1967 and it was pretty well used by then. But I repainted it, rebuilt the engine (after a struggle to find oversize pistons), put a new seat on and it was as good as new. It was a lot of fun to ride, not fast on the straights but had Norton handling and would hold its own with anything on the twisties. Thanks for the memories.

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