A Norton Addict (Part 1)

Jean Des Rosiers, from Quebec

My brother is the one who brought the passion of motorcycles in my life when I was only 16 years old. He bought a new 1966 Yamaha rotary jet 80 on which we went everywhere we could at a time when life was simple and having fun was a bit more than five cents a liter. He passed his tiny Yamaha to me and bought a 175cc Honda, a big jump then. When his Honda was stolen and never found, he came home one day with what was registered as a 1963 Norton Atlas, we later learned the bike must have been stolen because the serial numbers had been altered and also Norton did not make 750s in 1963.

We took it apart that winter only to discover a burnt exhaust valve; amazingly, the Norton could easily do 80 mph with a sick engine. I was impressed by the build quality of the Atlas, compared with our early Japanese bikes which had screw-heads seemingly made out of cheese. My brother always liked choppers so we chopped his Atlas with what we could find and what we could fabricate with the tools we had then. The cost of the conversions were never very expensive, he was an art student and had access to welding equipment and we had lots of energy to saw and file by hand what is now done with expensive tools and machinery.

I also graduated to a Norton after three years of running around on my little Yamaha. My Norton was the infamous '69 “S” THE bike that was crowned by Cycle magazine as the first “superbike” At first my “S” was a joy, fast and fairly reliable, nothing major broke until I started to customize it, while the cosmetics did not cause any breakdowns, fitting hot Dunlop K81s which had more grip drove me to insanity with transmission problems, two broken gearbox shells, broken main shaft, broken lay shaft, I got to be very good at taking the transmission apart, I even modified the engine cradle so I could take the gearbox out without taking the engine out. While I had my Commando, I bought a 1961 650 Manxman which I promptly modified as a café racer, I also bought a '68 Atlas which I also modified as a café racer. When my 650 threw a rod which destroyed the engine, I used the 750's motor to rebuild, what else but another café racer.

Nortons were not very popular in the early eighties and at that time I was glad to sell the café racer I had built using the Manxman's frame, I traded it for a Rickman framed Kawasaki 900 plus $800. My Norton café racer had a homebuilt fiberglass gas tank, the tail section, also made out of fiberglass, housed the oil tank, the bike had an airy lean look with the back of the bike open, and the frame sported the original factory blue paint. I had front and rear disk brakes on it, the front was a stock Commando setup while the back end was built from a Kawasaki 900 front hub laced to WM4 rim in a cross 3 pattern with a homemade cush drive and a heavily modified Datsun front disk and a caliper from an unknown car. Unfortunately I lost track of that bike after I sold it.