Norton Atlas Café Racer 1966
Superb US-built custom café racer
Engine and Frame number; 20 118025
When motorcycle production resumed after the end of the Second World War the shape of the British industry was already determined by the Triumph Speed Twin and its derivatives. Norton was forced to produce a twin to survive, and in 1948 presented their 500cc Dominator. Although this followed the 360-degree parallel twin layout of all other English twins at that time, Norton used a single chain-driven camshaft, located in front of the engine. The 360-degree crank (with both pistons rising and falling together) was dictated by the requirement for a twin spark magneto, essential for sales at that time.
In 1953, the Dominator received the legendary “Featherbed” frame, so called when rider Harold Daniell claimed the McCandless-designed frame was “like riding on a featherbed” after finishing third in the 1950 Junior TT. The Featherbed frame initially had some weak points (like a bolted subframe and silentbloc swingarm bushes) but it was the class act of the 1950s and 1960s, providing race-bred handling at an affordable price. Norton set the standard for handling and roadholding, but the original Dominator engine was a little anaemic. Soon the twin grew to 600cc (with the Model 99), and in the 1962 became the superb sporting 650SS. But compared to Triumph, Nortons were still considered expensive, and because they were produced in far fewer numbers supply was problematic. Despite topping “Machine of the Year” polls the 650SS somehow didn’t capture the market. So, at the request of the American distributor Joe Berliner, Norton made it bigger again. Berliner wanted a motorcycle that would accelerate from 20 to 100 mph in top gear. While keeping the long 89mm stroke, the dry sump engine was bored to 73mm, and was initially detuned with a lower compression ratio and single carburettor. It wasn’t long before the Atlas received twin Amal monobloc carburettors, although the low 7.6:1 compression was retained. The result was a claimed 60 horsepower at 6,500rpm, providing the Atlas with a top speed approaching 180 km/h, and acceleration to match. While the vibration was criticised, no one had any complaints about the Atlas’ handling. Along with the Featherbed frame, Norton fitted their famous “Roadholder” front fork, and the Atlas handled as well as anything in the 1960s. There was much to admire in the Atlas. Few motorcycles of the period provided an equivalent combination of performance, steering, and handling, married to engine flexibility. As the engine was so torquey, the Atlas was one motorcycle that didn’t require more than four gears. This long-stroke engine provided real on-the-road performance from another era, so different to high revving modern engines that need judicious use of the gearbox. Conservative and unassuming, the Norton Atlas was the machine the boy racers aspired to, and the basis of many café racers.
This matching number 1966 Norton Atlas has benefitted from a full café racer modification It includes a belt primary drive, aluminium Akront wheels, single Brembo four-piston front brake with a floating disc, Hagon shocks, custom fuel tank, custom dash, and Honda switches. It was imported into Australia from the United States several years ago and received a replacement swept back chrome exhaust system. The Smiths speedometer reads only 260 miles.
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This motorcycle is sold unregistered.