It can sometimes seem like it’s hard to find any positive news anywhere. But a bit of news that made me smile was the news that Norton Motorcycles was returning to its roots in Birmingham with 100 new jobs being created. Yes, the classic British motorbike manufacturer has risen again to start afresh building up to 8,000 bikes each year. While some reports have said that the new Solihull base will be temporary, that is being suggested by the Norton hierarchy as untrue, with the new facility being aimed towards a full ‘Norton experience’ rather than just being a factory.
Norton is a much-loved and cherished company; from Clint Eastwood to Keanu Reeves, the Norton motorcycle has been a thing to own and impress with. Yet it was just over a year ago that the famous company went into administration; back then the company’s survival depended on the ‘future financial support of its bankers and creditors’ according to the company accountants. It was a big shock at the time, as Norton had only relatively recently been rescued from oblivion in 2008 by entrepreneur Stuart Garner. Former Norton boss Garner now has his own tricky waters to navigate once again, as it is being reported that he will face the courts accused of illegally investing pension savings in the Norton motorcycle business.
Now things are rosier, and Norton is owned by TVS Motors who are based in Chennai, India. TVS manufacture motorbikes, 3-wheelers and scooters and have previously won awards from the likes of JD Power magazine. Norton cost TVS £16 million, but with over 5,000 excited customer enquiries already, its looking like a very shrewd – no, sensible – purchase.
New CEO Dr Robert Hentschel states that craftmanship will be key and he wants to manufacture motorbikes that both the company and its customers can be proud of. Already, pre-production bikes are being assembled and Norton plans to shortly reveal a limited run of 200 V4 SV models – a reworking of the V4 SS sportsbike. In May, existing V4 SS models were subject to a recall with some serious safety defects traced back to the previous Norton regime. In a commendable act of loyalty, Hentschel says that anyone with a defective machine can trade it in and get the new model for a special price of £10,000; that’s a saving of roughly £34,000. This will likely leave about 70 of the limited run bikes to available for wider purchase.
The future will bring a new Commando 961 model (I have a scale model of one on my desk; I’m hoping Norton won’t be tampering with the Commando’s classic looks too much) and new Atlas and Superlight 650 models as part of a ten year plan which will hopefully soon see the beginnings of an electric Norton model; now that will be interesting…
Of course, part of the respect and love for Norton is due to the war effort; almost a quarter of all motorcycles supplied and used by the British Army came from Norton. My uncle George, a Chindit in Burma, rode one. Once after the war during the 1970s, he and his wife went for a picnic in the New Forest, a biker gang arrived and encamped nearby making my aunt fidgety. Seeing this, George sauntered over to the biker gang and much chatting and laughter ensued. When he wandered back to my bemused aunt, he told her that the gang’s leader had told him that if he still had his Norton he would have had to give up the leadership and pass it over to him. Such was the status of Norton Motorcycles – as Hentschel says, ‘Norton is one of the most exciting motor brands in the world’.
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