Nice article about Norton of old.


Mar 8, 2006
Body:West Central Missouri, Mind: Yes I are.
The Navigator that lost its way

Norton made a bold foray into the lightweight motorcycle market, but priced itself out of it

THE NUMBERS GAME The Norton Navigator might be dime a dozen in England, but is a rare sight in India
Stability can be achieved only through means that seem unappealing — cutting out the flash, counting the cost, keeping the nose down to the grindstone, accommodating diverse viewpoints and lending both the ears to anyone who has a special genius for leading a team.

And a good leader's contribution to stability and success can be fully understood only when he is gone. It is not clear if Norton's designer/director Bert Hopwood resigned from his position or was squeezed out. But he left the company at a time when his presence, it appears on hindsight, could have proved crucial to its survival. He seemed to feel the pulse of motorcycle buyers and bikes intended for learners and first-time buyers topped his list of priorities. He had pencilled in plans for a 125cc single cylinder machine and a 250cc twin and completed the design of the two-cylinder, 500cc Dominator, one of the best loved Norton bikes ever, when he found himself heading towards the exit door.

Like Moses who led the Jewish exodus from Egypt but could not enter the `Promised Land', Hopwood could not celebrate Dominator's launch. BSA welcomed the man with open arms. However, Hopwood made a comeback in 1955, but into a Norton that had landed in different circumstances. Norton had been dominating the Isle of Man TT, but victories on the tarmac need not necessarily mean a motorcycle company is stable and successful. While legendary racers like Derek Minter and Geoff Duke were barnstorming with Norton machines, the company was beleaguered by financial problems. In 1953, Associated Motorcycles (AMC) bought Norton. Hopwood picked up where he had left, quickly setting to work on his `Project Lightweight Motorcycles'. Hopwood liked to wander from accepted and traditional forms of bike-making, something that did not go well with the rest of the pack. He had to flip-flop on what he had planned.

The first lightweight that came from Norton's new factory (in Woolwich) was called the Jubilee, because the 250cc twin was launched in 1958, Norton's diamond jubilee. The Jubilee shared many features with AJS and Matchless, because the three were now drawing from a common pool of resources. Except for their engines, these lightweights were six of one, and half a dozen of another.

The Jubilee started out with a disadvantage. While other companies seemed to be inviting bike lovers to just "smash and grab" their wares, Norton (or AMC) was pitching Jubilee a bit too high. Triumph priced its Tiger Cub at £149 and BSA did not charge a unit more than £172 for its Bantam and Ariel Leader was all yours for £209. In the light of such reasonableness, Norton looked avaricious and was clearly pricing itself out of the market — at £215.

However, the Jubilee models gained popularity as "bikes that can be set right in no time". Their innovative frames were responsible for this — various sections of these bikes could be unbolted without much ado.

In 1960, Norton launched another lightweight, the Navigator which was a Jubilee that had grown in size. The 350cc parallel twin gained a reputation for being sturdy and reliable. But both Jubilee and Navigator were swept out of a market that was now being dominated by a growing band of Japanese manufacturers who were specialising in lightweights, among others. The Jap bikes' highlight was their electric starters. In 1963, Norton launched the 400cc ES400 Electra, comparable in many respects to the Jubilee and the Navigator. But the Electra was also designed to wean Britons from Japanese machines. But just like Jubilee and Navigator, the more modern Electra did not stay the course.

Interestingly, these three Norton lightweights have received the favour of classic bike collectors in England. Because, you don't have to pay through the nose to get one of them. And Norton Owners Club says they are easier to repair than other Brit bikes. These men and women also know these lightweights as sturdy machines.

Siddharth, who owns a Navigator adds one more, "It is fast, capable of 150 kph". That's more than what you can ask for in an old bike.