Rider’s Library: Norton Villiers Triumph by Brad Jones Book Review

What's My Dream Motorcycle? 1971 Norton Commando 750
1971 Norton Commando 750

It is a story with a lot of moving parts. It involves problems with products, people, policies, and politics, plus promises not kept. Poor judgment and indecision by multiple corporate, labor, and government entities, plus competing interests, intensifying competition in the marketplace, and global economics all figured in the collapse of some of Britain’s most storied motorcycle manufacturers in the 1970s.

Given the complexity and scope of this industrial epic, it is surprising that somebody took on the daunting task of gathering the background, images, facts and figures and putting it together in some understandable form. Author Brad Jones rose to the challenge.

His book, Norton Villiers Triumph — Viable Proposition or House of Cards, tells the story in only 147 pages, with some great and rare product development and racing insights as well.

Jones has traveled this complex road before; he is also the author of BSA Motorcycles — The Final Evolution and From the Inside — BSA/Triumph’s Umberslade Hall Research Establishment Revealed.

Jones not only sheds light on the overall state of the British motorcycle companies and industry of the early ’70s that saw such a precipitous decline, but names the industry, labor, and political leaders involved, describing how they contributed for good or for ill.

Examples include Peter Deverall, who resigned as BSA Marketing Director in 1972 over differences with the company leadership on many things, particularly its decision to field factory-supported racers in the United States, but not Europe or the UK in 1973.

Also, the book examines the roles of Dennis Poore, the Chairman of Manganese Bronze Holdings—the parent company of Norton Villiers Triumph. Secretary of State for Industry Eric Varley comes under Jones’ watchful eye.

Contrary to a common view of how the British motorcycle industry was ruined by complacency and lack of innovation in product development, Jones reveals several stunning product developments on the drawing board, in early development and testing, or working prototype phases.

For example, Triumph Development Engineer Bert Hopwood had completed design work for a line of modular four-stroke OHC engines ranging from a 200cc single, 400cc twin, 600cc triple, and 800cc four to a jaw-dropping 1000cc V-5! The single and twin-cylinder models included counterbalancers. A Wankel rotary engine also figured in new model development.

The Norton 76 never reached production, but this prototype showed the long, sleek tank, plus cast wheels, double-disc brakes, and a fork from Italy.

There was advanced development by Doug Hele on a four-cylinder version of the Triumph T150 Trident triple called the Quadrant,  set to displace 988cc. There were advanced plans for a 500cc four-stroke single-cylinder BSA engine in a Norton Isolastic frame called a B50. There was the prototype Norton 76 model with a long, sleek fuel tank, Italian-made front end—double disc brakes, forks, and cast wheels—10:1 compression ratio, and a single SU carburetor fitted to a revised Commando twin. It produced 2.5 horsepower more than a Commando MKIII, while achieving better fuel economy.

A 500cc two-stroke twin with stepped piston cross-transfer (SPX) induction dubbed the “Wulf” had reached working prototype status. Also brought to working prototype status as a racing engine in the 750 Challenge bike was the Norton Cosworth 750cc DOHC, four valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled twin-cylinder engine. Ultimately, the Cosworth engine would have been the basis for an all-new street bike model. Gearbox problems and less-than-expected performance doomed the Cosworth.

Jones also gives excellent insight into the John Player Norton racing years, and the roles played by Peter Williams, Phil Read, Mick Grant, and Dave Croxford are covered.

Brad Jones’ Norton Villiers Triumph Viable Proposition or House of Cards is a fascinating read for any student of industrial design, engineering, business administration, and government. Fans, owners, and collectors of motorcycles in general, and of the British brands involved in particular, will find it a great resource and excellent companion book to his BSA Motorcycles — The Final Evolution and From the Inside BSA/Triumph’s Umberslade Hall Research Establishment Revealed.

Norton Villiers Triumph — Viable Proposition or House of Cards Fast Facts

  • Author: Brad Jones
  • Published: 2019 hardcover, 147 8” x 10.0” ges, 140 color and black & white (period) images and illustrations
  • Publisher: Spangle Media, Xpdia House, Cinnamon Park, Warrington, Cheshire, WA2 0XP
  • Ordering: Brad Jones via website or email

Norton Villiers Triumph — Viable Proposition or House of Cards Price: £27.50