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Norton, Terblanche and the V-4

We were a bit surprised when Norton Motorcycles announced a few months ago that it would field a MotoGP team in 2012 when the 1000 cc capacity comes into play, but the recent announcement that Norton has hired famed Ducati designer Pierre Terblanche tells us Norton has some resources to back up its grand ambitions. European reports now indicate one of the first new Norton models Terblanche will pen is a V-4 superbike. Undoubtedly, this bike will be tied to the engine configuration of the MotoGP machine that will debut in 2012.

Norton is already doing well with its Commando 961 models, despite unfavorable economic conditions, so don’t discount the power of this marque in the future.


  1. jaybond says:

    Before even thinking of jumping into MotoGP, first Norton should produce a superbike and compete in WSBK. This is the foundation in which Norton could build, before moving on to the next level. Look at Ducati & Aprilia, the have followed the same route (although Aprilia failed miserably with the ill-advised 3 cylinder GP machine). Despite the glitz & glamour, MotoGP has the potential to push the small manufacturers into the brink of collapse. So the best option for Norton now, as a motorcycle company that started to ‘re-grow’ is to go for WSBK, and enter with those two types of superbike – 4 cylinder & rotary machines, that would be more interesting (and worth it)!

  2. jimbo says:

    I too question Dirck’s comment that “…Norton is already doing well…” IIRC Norton is 100% privately owned and operated, not a publicly held company, and that means its books are permanently closed to public scrutiny. A source for the comment is appreciated, especially because a reader might infer financial health. Maybe he simply meant that Norton’s current bikes are well accepted by professional road testers and public comments are positive. Norton’s bikes look awesome and the specs are attractive, though of course they are not mass-produced, hence costly. A similar yet polar opposite exists in the caged vehicle world: The current Mustang GT is the best so-called “pony” cage of the three available (in spite of being the oldest platform). The GT is a fantastic performing cage, but because it’s so affordable you pass yourself on every drive.

    Won’t happen on a Norton!

  3. Michael Heth says:

    >In the olden days I always got the impression that Norton built a bike, put it on sale, and then found out how it handled – usually when one of their customers wrote to the factory complaining about how dead he was…

    Where did you get that idea? Have you ever ridden a Norton with a Featherbed frame? Have you ever ridden a Commando that was set up properly? Any bike with a Featherbed frame will be one of most fun riding bikes you’ll ever get on. A properly setup Commando still keeps up with just about anything on a twisty road. How do I know? I’ve had one for 33 years.

    It’s not considered cheating to know what you’re talking about before you make a comment.

    Terblanche makes bikes that are different, some are going to hit and some are not. It’s too bad that the 749/999 were too far outside the circle of comfort for the Duc Superbike buyers but now 5-8 years later they look pretty fresh. The 848/1098 are also very nice but as has been said, a refinement of what had come before.

    Me and many of my friends have watched the Norton marque go through it’s trials of fire trying to come back. The new owner seems to be trying as hard as you could ever expect.

    Final note – The original air cooled Norton Wankel was the smoothest bike I ever rode and was rock stable at 100 MPH on a small Brit roadway. The water cooled F1 was not legal in the US due to not meeting the EPA regs. That is probably why it wont come back as a bike.

    If you want to pine away for a Norton motor then pine away for the Challenge twin engine with 4V, dual overhead cams and a Lancaster balance shaft. The old engine and tooling have to be kicking around Britain somewhere.

    Michael Heth

  4. Dave says:

    Does this make you think of how did that VDou worked out for Bimota?

  5. Jerrylee says:

    Nice to see Norton try to make a comeback. Good luck to them. I think what I’ve seen so far.

  6. peter says:

    Looking back now at the 999/749, I can’t agree that it was such a flop. Design-wise it was ahead of its time. Granted the 916/999 was a beautiful bike – espically back in the mid-90’s. But since then, all designers have moved in that direction. The 999 was truely unique and I think a beautiful design. When the 1098 came out, it looked more like a rehash of what had already been done, then copied by everyone else and then represented. Over time, the 999 will stand out as an icon in a see of ‘me too’ – not to mention its racing success.

    • ROXX says:

      I agree.

    • Gerald G says:

      I don’t know how anyone can praise the 999/749 design. It’s different, I will definitely give it that, but there is nothing aesthetically pleasing or functional about this design. The swingarm is flexy and flimsy and looks absolutely out of place when viewing the whole bike. The gauges, tach/speedo, and the instrument cluster in general look like they were drawn up by a 1 year old. And the front end…with those two round lights and cheesy mirrors. Absolutely horrible. There’s a huge reason the 1098/1198/848 have taken Ducati back to profitability that the 999/749 couldn’t accomplish, and style and functionality are but a couple of those reasons.

  7. Rosso Cagiva says:

    Pierre Terblanche , like all brilliant artists , is always going to be controversial . I personally like most everything he’s done . I would never part with my Gran Canyon . The 999 was not as pretty as the great master Tamburini’s 916 , but what is ? The MV’s ? It , like the Multi Strada , was a huge functional improvement over the predecessor . Terblance understands functionalty and has a great eye for style . As far as the Moto GP comments , look at the rules for 2012 . 1,000 cc 4 cylinders with 81mm max bore . Look for Aprilia and maybe even BMW to take advantage of that .They built their new bikes with cassette transmissions and other GP worthy features for a reason . Some procuction parts allowed . All Norton needs is what we all need to race , Other Peoples money !

  8. Mapes says:

    He also designed the Supermono which was fantastic. Shame it was never put on the street.

  9. Mickey says:

    Did Norton get tarp money for this endeavor? LOL j/k

    Norton is doing pretty well with it’s 961 model? Really? Has anyone ever actually seen one on the road? I haven’t.

    Man, that’s a lot of money for a small company to spend. Even Triumph isn’t that foolish and they have some pretty nice bikes that sell pretty well. What’s Norton’s share of the motorcycle market? Doubt it would even show up on a pie chart. One would think that after designing several popular selling models and making LOTS of money they might take on this expensive endeavor, but not at this point, when nobody even knows if this latest iteration of the marquee will even be around next year.

    Guess we’ll be seeing some bright red Nortons soon.

  10. Rickster says:

    Terblanched singled handed dropped Duc sales by 50% with the attrocious 999, not to mention the original Multistrada. He to have his pencils taken away–I fail to see this as a positive step.

    • Norm G. says:

      well not single-handedly but in collusion. at the end of the day, terblanche was an employee like any other. ultimately somebody (or a collective somebody[s]) in management at borgo panigale had to give the design the green light. they could’ve told him “NO” let’s try again. instead, they made a conscious decision to manufacture. guilt on that one spreads like peanut butter.

  11. Erik S says:

    Original Norton (nothing to do with these guys) cred was largely derived from a GP bike that you could buy from your local dealer. It was the mainstay for privateers until Yamaha came along with their TD TZs. The Manx was outclassed by the exotic factory bikes that were only available to factory riders, but if you wanted to make a name for yourself and you had not been recruited by MV or one of the Japanese factories, you could buy a Manx, which was good enough to win the odd race with a bit of luck and skill. Yamaha did the same thing in the two stroke era of GP racing.

    This year there are only 17 riders competing in GP1. If this racing class is going to survive, it needs some bikes that are affordable for the hotshots with something to prove but no factory ride. If Norton can build an affordable machine capable of snapping at the heels of the factory bikes and flood the track with them they will win the odd race, achieve giant killer status, and sell lots of street bikes. This worked for the original company, and it works today in other areas, like KTM and rally bikes (so successful they were banned :-).

    • brinskee says:

      Interesting. What a refreshing and original perspective. I hope you’re right, and agreed, the starting grid is embarrassingly small.

  12. Chris #2 says:

    Forget the V4, put Norton’s rotary engine into production! That thing has the best power to weight ratio of any motorcycle engine ever made, including 2 strokes. They could break the 300lb. sport bike weight barrier with that.

    • MikeD says:

      I heard they haven’t done it cause NSU[Patent Holder ?] wants them to pay up royalties with the 2 eyes of the face plus the brown blind one at the end of their backs.

    • joe broussard says:

      best power to weight of any engine made? I think your drunk.

      • jimbo says:

        His claim might be correct. Mazda’s Wankel rotary motor in their RX8 is street licensed, passing all EPA regulations in 2011 and beyond, and is a mere 1.3L making 238hp IIRC, or 183hp per L, on par with the BMW’s current 1000R. I presume passenger caged vehicles have far more stringent EPA regulations vs. race-replica bikes. Suzuki’s mid-70s street licensed production rotary was a mere .5L, and compared directly to touring bikes with piston motors twice its size like Honda’s 1000cc Lead (Gold) Wing.

        IIRC there are no reciprocating parts in a Wankel. Non-engineer boobs like me can only imagine the heat and power loss directly caused by the many reciprocating parts constantly changing directions in a typical piston motor.

        Wankel’s suck fuel at a rate that would make a 2-stroke envious.

  13. denny says:

    Crazy, crazy world… into racing and such a big time? Why? After all, what that liter size V4 will be like: copy of Ducati? They could have easily revived their Commando with water cooling and faux fins plus fuel injection and even ABS if they wanted to spend and live from it.

  14. Leo says:

    For crying out loud…if you wan to throw your money away and drop the price of the 961 and/or flesh out your dealership network so you can get more bikes on the road.

  15. Goose says:

    As the former owner of a Pierre Terblanche designed motorcycle I’d say Norton has managed to move the task of being successful in MotoGP from very, very difficult to impossible. Mr Terblanche would be stretching his abilities to design a wheel good enough to be competitive in MotoGP, a whole motorcycle just isn’t going to happen.

    • GaryF says:

      Goose … that’s a mighty strong statement delivered from a very flimsy base of expertise. You owned a bike he designed so you are an expert on his MotoGP potential? That’s a little like saying you own a George Foreman grill, so you know how good a fighter he is.

      • Herbert says:

        i agree, It would be like making a hardcore adult film, and then editing it so that it can be shown in British hotels. You’d just end up with a sort of half hour close up of some bloke’s sweaty face

      • brinskee says:

        Not at all. I think goose is right. What you’re saying is that owning a fender designed by the man is not knowing the man, goose owned a bike. Huge difference. I agree. Look at the garbage he turned out while at Ducati! Anyone remember the MH900e? How about the 999/749? I’d be happy if he went back to designing boats and we never heard from him again.

        • Kai Ju says:

          All these people that are bashing Terblanche’s designs seem to forget a very important fact:
          Ducati’s Management signed off on these designs before they went into production.
          So who’s fault is it ? The guy that penned the bike or the company that built it ?

          • Brinskee says:

            Do you know how long it takes to design and implement a bike? They had no choice, you go with what you have at some point. Responsibility rests solely on the designer’s shoulders. You can’t let a designer bask in the glory of a stunning bike, and not blame one when they fail. Teblanche needs his pencils taken away. Actually, no, they should be broken first, and then taken away. Awful.

    • ROXX says:

      Re-read the article. It doesn’t say he’s designing the MotoGP bike.
      He is designing the Superbike according to this report, which obviously he has experience doing.
      Wether you like his Superbike designs or not is another matter.
      I can say for sure, the Superbike engine will NOT be used in the MotoGP bike.
      No company in their right mind would ever put a production motor in a prototype racing class.

  16. Herbert says:

    In the olden days I always got the impression that Norton built a bike, put it on sale, and then found out how it handled – usually when one of their customers wrote to the factory complaining about how dead he was…

  17. Wendy says:

    $1,000,000 a unit for the fielded cost of a finished unit in MotoGP, along with endless engineering hours, transport and other ancillaries. Oh yeah, you have to have an Alien riding it. Otherwise, you get to be Suzuki or the late, lamented Kawasaki and watch the race take place in front of you. Don’t do it Norton.

  18. Norm G. says:

    money to burn… and burn it shall. hmmmn, if they’re hell bent on spending cash…? a worthwhile expenditure might be hiring bloor to act as an outside consultant. pay dividends that.

  19. clasqm says:

    Get your 961 while you can, then. The vast expense of fielding a race team will most likely finish Norton off again.

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