It is no coincidence that the spy thriller heroes always seem to drive a Norton motorcycle, as novelists have long realized that the image of a CIA or Mi6 agent blasting around on a Norton is cooler than cool.
The iconic Norton brand and impression is what UK businessman Stuart Garner is banking on, as he attempts to bring Norton back to its earlier brilliance. And they were certainly brilliant.
Under the guidance of James Lansdowne Norton, the company produced its first bike in 1902. Within five years, a Norton won its first TT race and the company soon built a reputation as one of the best manufacturers of road and race bikes.
Norton supplied more than 100,000 motorcycles to the British Army during World War II. And when racing resumed after the war, they remained powerful for 20 years.
However, by the mid-70s, Norton was suffering like much of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Sales fell as Japanese competitors churned out superior models at lower prices and Norton’s ageing production methods left it unable to compete. A merger with Triumph failed to revive the company and by 1976 it had all but vanished.
Fast forward to present where Stuart Garner recently bought the Norton brand from the US owners that took control of it 15 years ago. Garner, owner of Norton Racing Limited, purchased all of the trademarks and development work relating to the Norton, Manx, Atlas, Commando and Dominator brands, including the $10 million the previous owners spent on developing the new Norton Commando 961 road bike.
Garner recognizes the opportunity, stating, “We have an instant customer base and the brand is really strong still so it’s up to me to make sure we don’t ruin it.”
While plans to race Nortons are being finalized, Garner reports they want to import limited numbers of the 961 Commando street bike into the United States for 2009 where it will surely be well received.
Norton will move into a 15,000-square foot factory alongside the paddock at Donnington Park Motor Racing Circuit in England. For more information, visit www.nortonmotorcycles.com.
[Source: Norton Motorcycles]