Norton motorcycles: synonymous with the British sport motorcycling culture


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2015)

There’s rarely been a motorcycle race in the world  as prestigious as the “Isle of Man Tourist Trophy” (IOMTT). It is considered the most traditional, spectacular and controversial motorcycle race in the world. The drivers use the normal streets and race between the houses, stonewalls and hedges. Crests of the road, for example on bridges are not made safer. One British motorcycle brand is undoubtedly linked to this legendary motor-race: Norton Motorcycles! No other brand has gained more victories in the Tourist Trophy of the Isle of Man. 

The original company Norton Manufacturing Co. was founded by James Lansdowne “Pa” Norton in 1898 in Wolverhampton. Since 1913 motorcycles have been built in various series and won a number of victories. Thus Norton was one of the big names in the British motorcycle industry, especially known to have dominated the European and then global motorcycle racing for decades.

The race on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, the “Senior TT” (Tourist Trophy), a race in the class up to 500 cc, was the most important race in the motorcycle world championship until the 1970s. Drivers on Norton motorbikes won ten times in the years between the World Wars, and then every year from 1947 to 1954. This series of victories is unmatched in the world. No other motorcycle brand has been nearly as successful in international racing competitions.

Norton Motorcycles has faced a history full of ups and downs and different owners in recent decades until the British businessman Stuart Garner - owner of Norton Racing Ltd - bought all the rights and development in late 2008 and founded Norton Motorcycles (UK) Ltd. The new production facility was built close to Donington Park Circuit where the Norton headquarters are located today. We spoke to Stuart Garner, CEO of Norton Motorcycles, about the Isle of Man TT and how Norton aims to revive the earlier successes in this racing series.

No other motorbike brand has ever gained more wins at the Isle of Man TT than Norton Motorcycles. So would you say that Norton motorbikes has made its contribution to the myths of this legendary race?

Stuart Garner: Yes we have, ever since winning the opening TT in 1907. We will continue to race in the TT. My mission is to make the bike more successful and to win again.

What myth surrounded Norton Motorbikes back in these days?

S. G.: Speed, passion, excitement and the skill and endurance of the racers.

Can you still feel this myth nowadays by riding a new Norton?

S. G.: Yes you can, it is all part of the appeal of owning a Norton.

How would you describe today’s Norton Motorcycle biker?

S. G.: Men/women of a certain standing and affluence, who appreciate the finer things in life. But when you buy a Norton, it’s all about brand, lifestyle, your enjoyment and a tangible experience. We’re authentic.

Why were Norton Motorbikes so incredibly successful in the early IOMTT? Were the bikes technically just perfect for a demanding street course? 

S. G.: They were the fastest on the course and inevitably won.

Norton Motorcycles has had some ups and downs in the last centuries. In the 1990s Kenny Dreer wanted to develop a new Norton “Commando” based on technical designs from the 70s, but it did not work out in the end and his dream of a Norton relaunch failed. You bought Norton and secured Dreer’s prototypes in 2008 and Norton motorbikes are literally now back in the race! Will you get back to the glorious victories at IOMTT again soon?

S. G.: That is my goal, we are constantly working towards improving our race bike and with the dedicated hard work and enthusiasm from our race team I hope that we will re-capture the glory days.

Donington Park is one of the most historic racing circuits in the UK and home to the MotoGP, it is quite literally one of the “sacred grounds of motorsports”.  Here you have purchased two factories – Norton’s HQ are now located at the beautiful impressive castle of Donington Hall. Is it simply appropriate to rebuild the iconic brand of Norton Motorcycles here or why did you chose Donington Park?

S. G.: We were based at Donington race circuit from 2008 and in March 2013 we bought Donington Hall. But it wasn’t just about the house; we wanted a prestigious address to match the brand and the product. Donington Hall conjures up a uniquely British way of showing style, strength and quality, which are all great attributes of the Norton brand.

By rebuilding an iconic British brand with such an important heritage in motorbike racing, how will you keep this legendary image for the further development of the brand?

S. G.: Remembering our past and our heritage and continuing with the same passion and excitement, we will continue to build the brand in the right way. By maintaining our racing pedigree, while hand-building exclusive road-going motorcycles.

What is your favourite Norton motorcycle model?

S. G.: The Norton SG4.

Which street or course would you love to ride a bike?

S. G.: The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy of course.

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Stuart Garner grew up in Barrow on Trent and left school with no qualifications when he was 16 years old. He worked as a gamekeeper and in a warehouse, which was part of a fireworks business – which ignited his entrepreneurial spark, as he recalls. When he was 19 years old he owned his own fireworks business and made a fortune. In 2008 he bought all the rights of Norton motorcycles and in March 2013 two buildings at Donington Hall, where the headquarters of Norton are now located.

Picture credits © Norton Motorcycles

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