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Is Norton Really Dead?

News reports around the world confirm that Norton Motorcycles is experiencing tremendous troubles — not the least of which is making a break from its chief designer Al Melling (see MD’s article dated August 26, 1999). Norton’s directors and investors, apparently, are tired of Melling’s painstakingly slow approach, and want to get production bikes out the door.

Norton is hurting for cash, and is so far from producing motorcycles available to the buying public that the cash needed will have to come from investors, not customers.

Is Norton really dead? We doubt it. The Norton marque is simply too valuable. Even if the present organization goes bust, the name Norton will be bought by another entrepreneur, and another attempt at reviving the marque will be made.

Look at what’s happened to the Indian marque in the last ten years. The name has been bought and sold, lawsuits have been filed and, ultimately, it has ended up in the hands of someone who actually produces motorcycles utilizing the name. The same will happen to Norton, with the only questions being who will produce the motorcycles with the Norton badge, and when.

We’ll be disappointed if some of Melling’s designs don’t make it to market. Sure, the V-8 Nemesis is a bit crazy, and would undoubtedly cost too much to be a mass production bike, but Melling’s engine designs (including the four cylinder 750 Superbike, and even the V-twin cruiser) promised to be innovative and powerful. Perhaps, Melling’s dreams were never balanced by the practicalities of the business world — thus leading to the current problems.

According to Motorcycle News, Norton’s directors have received advice to “keep their feet on the ground” and stick to Norton’s traditional products, i.e., parallel twins reminiscent of the Commando of the 1960s and early 1970’s.

A parallel twin Norton, with classic, retro style and modern performance would be a smashing success, in our opinion. Indeed, we’ve been waiting for years for Triumph to do the same thing, and they are apparently about to do so.

Come to think of it, Norton should have left the V-8 concept alone (Melling getting carried away?) and stuck to its roots. Perhaps that is where this will all end.