The Norton Company was first formed in 1898 by James Lansdowne, (J.L Norton).
Although originally they were just supplying motorcycle and bicycle parts, it wasn’t long before the first Norton motorcycles were produced in 1902 using French and Swiss engines.
It wasn’t until 1908 however that they produced the first ever Norton motorcycle available to the public. This of course came off the back of their racing success, albeit in its early stages.
The following decades would cement Norton’s strong racing reputation in history, especially when it came to the hallowed roads of the Isle of Man TT.
Since Rem Fowler rolled over that finish line in 1907 on his twin-cylinder Norton to win the first ever Isle of Man TT, the English based manufacturer kicked off an illustrious and successful race history spanning a century.
In the early years that first taste of success drove them to more victories at Brooklands and many other European events, and began etching Norton’s reputation as a serious contender on the racetrack.
Norton’s Achievement and Success
Of course they ceased racing during the first World War, but on their return in 1924 to the Isle of Man TT.
They were the first to win the Senior race with Alec Bennett recording an average speed over 60mph on the 500cc Model 18, Norton’s first ever overhead valve single.
The following year J.L Norton passed away at only 56, but he did live long enough to see his beloved motorcycles win the Senior and Sidecar TTs in 1924.
Between the two world wars Norton won the Isle of Man Senior TT ten times, and between 1930 and 1937 they won 78 out of 92 Grand Prix races.
Of the nine Isle of Man Senior TTs (500cc) between 1931 and 1939, Norton won seven. It was unrivalled success and led them striving to achieve even more.
More About Norton’s Impressive Racing Journey
They enjoyed further TT victories every year from 1947-1954 which had a lot to do with the introduction of the Featherbed frame in 1950.
This enabled the Manx Norton to dominate the twists and turns of the mountain course, so much in fact that 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.
Peter Williams who was also a famous accomplished motorcycle racer represented Norton at the IoM TT from 1966 to 1973.
Racing in the era of legends like Giacomo Agostini, Barry Sheene, Mick Grant, Percy Tait, Tony Jefferies, Paul Smart, Dave Potter, and John Cooper wouldn’t have been easy, but he was still competitive and brought Norton some success.
Interestingly he ended up becoming a mechanical engineer and introduced quite a few innovations that are still commonplace on today’s road bikes, such as alloy wheels and disk brakes.
Did it seem like an end?
Through these years Norton raced under the sponsorship of John Player, however by 1976, Norton, along with many other great British marques had been driven to the brink of extinction due to the recession accompanied with fierce overseas competition.
It was also the year the last Commando was produced.
How they Got Back on Track
Obviously this meant the days of racing for Norton seemed destined for the history books, until they made an emphatic return in 1989 when Steve Spray won the British Superbike Championship on the all-black JPS bike, a victory repeated in 1994 by Ian Simpson on the Duckhams Norton.
But more importantly it was in 1992 when Steve Hislop, on an ABUS Norton, defeated Carl Fogarty, riding a Yamaha, to win the Isle of Man Senior TT, and in doing so recorded the first victory at the Manx course for a British manufactured motorcycle in almost 30 years.
Did They Disappear Altogether?
Unfortunately Norton again disappeared from the infamous mountain course for many years, and with the company almost disappearing altogether.
It seemed we had seen the marque navigating one of the most famous stretches of road in the world for the very last time.
Resumed Their Course
That was of course until Stuart Garner resurrected the brand in 2008, and made a return to the mountain course with the SG1 in 2012.
After promising results they returned in 2013 with Australian legend and two-time TT winner Cameron Donald spearheading their campaign.
Both Cameron and the Norton performed valiantly, but it was evident that it wouldn’t probably be some years to come before Norton would stand on the top step of the podium again.
I remember being over there for the 2014 IoM TT, and hearing that distinctive deep exhaust note of the V4 Norton blast past in full song was truly insane.
Ups and Downs in the Journey
Judging on Stuart Garner’s serious commitment to racing, especially the Isle of Man TT, Norton Racing have made some extensive changes.
In the past year, not only with the construction of two purposely built race bikes but also integral changes to the race team.
It included resigning talented Australian road racer Josh Brooks for his second year while alongside him the mountain king John McGuiness who amazingly made the jump from Honda to Norton for the 2018 Isle of Man TT a couple of months ago.
What a History Made by the Nortons!
Unfortunately John McGuiness, who was recovering from a broken leg leading up to the races, rebroke it only a couple of months before the fastest fortnight on earth kicked off and as a result couldn’t ride.
With the bike being built to suit him and only him, they decided not to go with a replacement rider at the last minute and left Josh to fly the flag for Norton alone. John did complete a lap of honour before the Superbike Race kicked off, but it’s 2019 he’ll now be diverting his attention to after signing a multi-year deal with Norton Racing.
For the record, Josh held the Norton flag high finishing 10th in the Superbike TT backed up with a valiant and hard fought 5th in the Senior TT, the showcase race that everyone wants to win.
The more than impressive results left Norton recrossing the Irish Sea with enthusiasm and realistic goals for their return next year.
And who knows, it may even be the year they make it back to the top step and in doing so write yet another chapter in their already impressive racing history.
Check out our magazines for more exciting information and keep your passion for riding alive at all times.