The Norton Company was formed in 1898 by James Lansdowne Norton, known to all as ‘Pa’ Lansdowne because of his paternal appearance.
Although originally supplying motorcycle and bicycle parts, it was not long before the first Norton motorcycles were produced – in 1902 – using French and Swiss engines. It was not until 1908,however, that the company produced the first Norton engined bike.
In 1907 Rem Fowler had won the Isle of Man twin cylinder class riding a Norton and this marked the beginning of a strong racing tradition for Norton.
Success in the very first Isle of Man TT race, followed by wins at Brooklands and other European races helped cement Norton’s reputation as a builder of serious road and race bikes of performance and reliability.
From 1916 Norton motorcycles carried the famous Norton logo on their tanks.
By the mid 1930s, Norton was producing nearly 4,000 road bikes annually and racing bikes based upon the road going models.
Between the wars, the Isle of Man Senior TT race was won by a Norton ten times. With the onset of the second world war, Norton withdrew from racing and concentrated on road bikes, supplying nearly a quarter – over 100,000 – of all the British military motorcycles produced.The Featherbed frame was developed for Norton in 1950. Fitted to the Manx Nortons, it proved very successful, improving the bikes’ handling and contributing, in no small way, to the success of legends such as Geoff Duke and John Surtees.
By the end of the 1952 season, Geoff Duke, riding for Norton, was the world champion in both the 350cc and 500cc classes and was awarded the OBE.
The Earls Court Motor show of 1961 heralded the introduction of the Commando, over 50,000 of which were to be produced and sold over the next.