Decades later, it can be easy to understand why the 650SS earned so many admirers in its heyday. Right now the road ahead is clear of traffic, and the previously dull sky has brightened. When I wind back the throttle on the exit of a bend, the Norton pulls forward with a thrillingly strong surge of parallel-twin torque. It’s a magical moment as, with its Featherbed-framed chassis keeping everything stable, the 650SS shows off the blend of acceleration and handling ability that helped make it arguably the world’s best sports bike of the early Sixties.
At other times this silver Norton is less impressive, partly because it vibrates more than I’d expected even of a solidly-mounted parallel twin, despite the fact that I’m keeping the revs down and not approaching the 193km/h top speed that was celebrated back when the 650SS was launched. There’s a persistent oil leak, too, that the Norton’s owner is planning to cure with a top-end rebuild before selling the bike.
The 650SS is sure to command a high price, because it is one of the most famous and desirable models from Norton’s long history. With its blend of 646cc, twin-carburettor engine and familiar Featherbed frame, the SS was arguably the first twin-cylinder model from Norton’s factory at Bracebridge Street, Birmingham to combine competitive straight-line performance with the marque’s traditional fine handling. To those basic assets, the SS added good looks and reasonable reliability, plus soon the added attraction of success in high-level production racing. No wonder it was such a hit.