Too Much of a Good Thing

Story by Alan Cathcart// Photos by Kel Edge
October 17 2018

With budgets cut, there were only so many ways to make the Manx Norton competitive, albeit unrideable.

The Manx Norton has no rivals for the accolade of being the ultimate British racing single in both 350 and 500 cc configurations, and as a production race bike, only the later TZ250/350 Yamahas can match its global appeal and formidable record of success over such an extended period in the hands of its customers. Indeed, the Manx’s popularity and copious race wins imbued the Norton marque with an aura of quality that extended right down to its humblest roadster, in a way few other brands have ever managed besides Ducati. That’s a key commercial justification for going racing in the first place, a strategy perpetuated today by the marque’s current owner, Stuart Garner, in taking Norton TT racing in the Isle of Man with some degree of success.

Riding the Norton 350 Lowboy

The introduction in 1950 of the double-knocker (DOHC) Manx engine and the Ulster-built “featherbed” frame designed by the McCandless brothers, enabled Norton’s Bracebridge Street factory to keep abreast of the European multi-cylinder opposition for a few extra years, after providing Geoff Duke with the means to take both 350 cc and 500 cc World Championships in 1951, and the 350 cc title again in 1952.

Thanks to the efforts of the factory race team in the 1950s, Norton held a similar status on two wheels in the British public’s consciousness as Jaguar had earned on four through its World records and Le Mans 24-Hour race victories. In Norton’s case, this was achieved by Duke’s against-all-odds World titles, and maintained by a brave if stubborn defiance of the inevitable threat posed by the so-called foreign multi-cylinder designs from Italy and Germany that, as the ’50s flew by, challenged Norton’s racing dominance ever more successfully.

The single-cylinder Manx Norton ultimately represented a gallant example of the traditional British love of the underdog, so that even after the factory team withdrew from racing at the end of 1954, Norton’s image was upheld by the hundreds of privateers from many different nations who continued to race Manx Nortons successfully – and, in many cases, profitably – right up until the early ’70s.

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