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Known since 1908 as "The Unapproachable Norton" and perhaps the noblest name in a whole range of British marques, Norton epitomized all that was good about the industry. This guide details six Norton motorbikes from the post-war period, a time when Bracebridge Street products were fast, strong and tractable but above all set standards of handling and road handling by which others were judged.
Norton's post-war trials motor cycle, the 500T was introduced in 1949. At first, little more than a model 18 with extra ground clearance, the 500T was soon developed into a competent trials machine aided by an all-aluminium engine, small tank and improved steering geometry. The weight was reduced to around 300lbs. During its six year production life the 500T was ridden with distinction in numerous trials, both as a sidecar move and solo.
As late as 1947 the Norton 16H, although garnished with "teles", still looked much like its pre-war ancestor. The following year its old fashioned cast-iron block was exchanged for a large-finned, light-alloy casting, with new flat-base tappets and other modifications, which raised the power output to 15bhp. In 1954 the AMC takeover was established and time had run out for this old fashioned but good looking and ultra-reliable "slogger". Nevertheless, 43 years hadn't been a bad innings!
The overhead cam single-cylinder International Nortons were rarely referred to by their catalogue titles of 40 (350) and 30 (500). When the motorbike entered the post-war arena it was little different from the 1939 model. What differences there were concerned the front fork, tank, mudguards and gearbox end cover. Other than switching to light-alloy for the cylinder and head there were no changes and head there were no changes to the long-stroke motors. These retained shaft-and-bevel drive for the single ohc, exposed hairpin valve-springs and a modest compression ratio. Featherbed frames from 1953.
Norton Dominator 99
Developed from the Hopwood-designed 497cc twin, the 597cc Model 99 Dominator was introduced in 1956. It had a Featherbed frame and in common with the 497cc Dominator 88 of 1955, a light-alloy cylinder head and full width hubs. These were the original "wideline" twins, a nickname derived from the broad spacing of the frame top tubes. In later years there would be slimline versions, the top tubes being cranked inward in the region of the dual seat nose. Capable of 100mph with an average fuel consumption of 55mpg.
A deluxe version of the Model 18, the ES2 was part of Norton's post-war programme for 17 years. In 1949 the 370lb ES2 was good for around 80mph and would return around 75mpg at a steady 45mph. Years later, despite numerous changes that included substituting aluminium for cast iron as cylinder-head material and raising the compression ratio, the top speed had not improved noticeably.
Perhaps the most familiar of all racing motor bikes on the tracks of the 1950s, the Manx Norton put up a galiant rearguard action against the advance of the continental multi-cylinders. Single-overhead-camshaft with shaft-and-bevel drive up to the cambox, the 1930's design changed little over the years. In 1950 the new Featherbed frame was introduced on the Manx works racers. Hugely successful, it was a design that was to accommodate Norton and many other makes in the years that followed.