Reviving Norton Motorcycles

Norton resumes production in England-for real this time-and returns to America, too

Norton fans would rather forget most recent attempts to revive the brand, which were fraught with frauds and false starts. But thanks to UK industrialist Stuart Garner, Norton's rumored revival will finally become a reality. Garner has spent two years-and truckloads of money-gathering what scraps remained under the Norton name and reassembling these remnants into a coherent manufacturing concern. He's set to begin production at an all-new facility on the grounds of England's Donington Park Grand Prix circuit, and he has appointed Matt Capri of South Bay Triumph in Lomita, California, as director of U.S. dealer development. Capri is taking orders now, and expects to deliver the first 50 Nortons to American buyers in 2010.

The resurgent Norton Motorcycles will enter production with the modern-retro Norton Commando 961, originally developed by American Kenny Dreer almost 10 years ago. Though based on Dreer's design, the new Nortons will have more than 75 claimed upgrades and improvements, not the least of which is fuel injection. Norton will initially offer two versions: the base model and a higher-spec, limited edition SE upgraded with Öhlins suspension, carbon-fiber BST wheels and numerous carbon-fiber body pieces.

Capri arranged Norton's U.S. debut at the Advanstar International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach last December, and found that American fans seemed very excited to see the return of the brand. "Norton never had the marketing power of Triumph, but they always had a reputation for being a better, more powerful, more reliable machine," Capri says. "The Norton brand still carries that reputation so many years later. I think the new ones are going to do very well for us in America."

Capri is currently drawing up plans for a massive Norton facility on the South Bay Triumph premises, including a retail showroom, warehousing for Norton's U.S. inventory, a dealer-training center and a "research lab" where he expects to develop and manufacture performance parts under the Norton Performance USA banner.

Norton plans to produce 200 bikes in 2010, Capri says, with an eventual goal of 3000-4000 machines annually. Thirty percent of that total will be earmarked for America. "The numbers won't get much bigger than that," Capri says. "[Garner] doesn't want to be another John Bloor. Nortons are essentially going to be handmade-that's important-and you simply can't maintain that level of quality and control with large-scale production."

Commando pricing will be surprisingly reasonable for a hand-built, European motorcycle. Expect the base Commando to come in around $15,000, Capri says, with the SE landing closer to $20,000. Once Commando production is up and running, Garner hopes to adapt Norton's NRV588 rotary roadracer for road use, and then develop a line of modern sportbikes powered by a cutting-edge parallel-twin originally developed by Maxsym Engine Technology (a firm that Garner now owns a controlling interest in) for Moto2 racing, before that series went with a spec Honda motor.

That sounds like a Norton revival worth getting revved up over.

Reviving Norton Motorcycles

Relaunching the Norton brand is the latest business venture for British entrepreneur Stuart Garner, whose diverse résumé includes manufacturing fireworks and operating a wild game farm in South Africa.