Norton NRV588 | Rotary Revival, Two Decades Later

Future Rides

Beginning in 1987, British motor-cycle manufacturer Norton raced a series of Wankel-engined machines and earned successive British roadracing titles (and even an Isle of Man TT victory) before the troubled manufacturer finally dissolved in '94. Now, 20 years after the rotary racer's debut, original designer Brian Crighton, with financial backing from dedicated enthusiast Roy Richards of Britain's National Motorcycle Museum, has created a new-generation rotary racer. Dubbed the NRV588, this one uses a spare '94 motor retrofitted with direct fuel injection, traction control, ride-by-wire throttle and more to bring the 13-year-old motor up to modern specs.

The Wankel engine is a simple design that makes power with a rotating mechanism, rather than a reciprocating piston, resulting in a smaller, lighter and potentially more powerful motor. I tested each variant of the Norton rotary back in the day and remember them as unquestionably fast and thrilling to ride, with decent handling-and this new one is even better.

The "V" in the alpha-numeric designation stands for "variable," in reference to the variable-length intake system that is the key to the NRV588's improved rideability. The Norton rotaries of the past suffered from torque dropping off as the revs rose-the NRV588 has no such problem. The servo-powered variable intake runners really come into play past 8200 rpm, where max torque of 82 lb.-ft. is delivered. Instead of the fat midrange tailing off as in the past, the engine keeps on pulling hard, right to the 11,500-rpm rev cutout. There's a huge spread of seamless power over the entire rev band, and because throttle pickup is extremely responsive, revs rise very quickly to create rocket-ship acceleration.

Other high-tech engine upgrades include digital fuel injection controlled by an Omex ECU running GEMS software, matched to Crighton's own dual 36mm throttle bodies. The rest of the NRV588 is relatively conventional, consisting of a Spondon twin-spar aluminum frame fitted with hlins suspension, exceptional AP brakes and Dymag carbon-fiber wheels. The bodywork is crafted by Harris Performance and painted in a style reminiscent of a vintage Norton Manx.

The slim NRV588 is much smaller than any Norton rotary before. It likes to take wide, sweeping lines to maximize corner speed, aided by exceptional edge grip that allowed the Norton to shoot out of Mallory Park's turns even while banked over. It did push the front slightly under hard acceleration, perhaps from that extra torque compressing the shock, but otherwise the Norton tracked straight and true.

Too bad there's presently no free-formula racing category where the NRV588 can be raced. Perhaps it could be converted for street use, then. Imagine how great a Norton NRV588 street replica would be, complete with fuel injection to clean up the rotary's notoriously dismal emissions (just as it does for Mazda with the RX-8). That would be a Rotary Revival indeed!

Tech Spec
A venerable 1994 Norton rotary racer updated with state-of-the-art electronics, a variable-length intake system and a modern Spondon frame.

Nothing, save for the other 16 factory Norton rotary racers from the late-'80s/early-'90s.

Price: na
Engine type: l-c twin-rotor Wankel rotary
Valve train: na
Displacement: 588cc
Bore x stroke: 2 x 294cc swept-volume trochoidal chambers
Compression: 9.6:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 165 bhp @ 11,450 rpm
Claimed torque: 82 lb.-ft. @ 8200 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: 43mm Öhlins inverted fork, adjustable for spring pre load, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Öhlins shock, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual AP Racing our-piston radial calipers, 320mm discs
Rear brake: Single AP Racing two-piston caliper, 210mm disc
Front tire: 120/{{{80}}}-420 (16.5 in.) Dunlop KR106
Rear tire: 190/65-420 (16.5 in.) Dunlop KR108
Rake/trail: 23.7Þ/4.0 in.
Seat height: na
Wheelbase: 56.1 in.
Fuel capacity: na
Claimed dry weight: 289 lbs.
Colors: Black/silver
Available: na
Warranty: na

Contact: The National Motorcycle Museum
Coventry Road, Bickenhill, SolihullWest Midlands, England B92 0EJ

Verdict: A wonderfully unique and exciting display of rotary performance potential. Too bad there's no street version.

They say: "We'd like to wave the Norton flag again, and show people a rotary done right."
We say: "Rotaries work for Mazda on four wheels, why not Norton on two?"
Strip shot shows the Spondon frame with modern geometry and hlins suspension.
Tiny Wankel mill uses twin rotors-not pistons-to make power.