Sunday, June 27, 2010

A little Norton Model 7 history

Mention the name Norton and several iconic motorcycles come to mind. These include the Manx, the Inter, the Commando, even chimeric combinations such as the Triton or Norvin. Behind this backdrop of pedigreed performance, there are some well-known utilitarian mounts such as the 16H, the Big Four, and the ES2. The Model 7 unfortunately doesn't generate a great deal of excitement except for those that own them or those that understand the motorcycle's place in history.

The Model 7 Dominator  made its debut at the Earl Court Show in late 1948. It was Norton's first in-house foray into twin cylinder engines under the direction of Bert Hopwood. Hopwood came over from stints at BSA and Triumph where he was responsible for the Speed Twin. The resemblance between the two is uncanny although conincidental in my mind considering that the chassis came from the pre-existing, plunger-framed ES2.

Model 7 Dominator

Triumph Speed Twin

The Model 7 was a 496 cc, 360 degree, vertical twin featuring a new "laydown" gearbox intended to fit below the oil tank. It wasn't a performance bike and I think Bert Hopwood correctly understood the social reality of post-war Europe. It was an era of practicality and the Dominator was a sensible machine that was reliable, easy to maintain, while still offering style. Back at the home office, it was controversial. Joe Craig and J. Moore were not enthusiatic. They felt it was a departure from the racing tradition set by the famous single cylinder machines that were the foundation of Norton's reputation. The clash of styles eventually led to Bert Hopwood's departure from Norton before he really was able to see production in full swing.

The reviews of the Norton Model 7, on the other hand, are very complimentary on both its performance and presentation. Again, the mentality had changed from the pre-war years and in an era of rationed fuel and rebuilding of nations, the motorcycle fit perfectly. Hopwood understood the economic reality of the times. The earliest road test from my archive is March 1949 in The Motor Cycle shortly after the Earls Court Show boasts that performs with the power greater than 500cc's!

The Importance of the Model 7 Dominator doesn't rest in the bike itself but as the progenitor of a 30 year production run ending with the Commando. Not too shabby. It's great to see that tradition reborn again in the Norton 961 in all its incarnations. By all the reviews, I hope it will be as successful as it historic commpetitor Triumph. By the way, Thanks Bert Hopwood!

Norton 961 Commando

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