Café racers and brand reclamation

Peter Williams adorns a Norton sales brochure from 1971

A well attended function last night hosted by the Ontario Norton Owners Group heralded the formal launch of the new Norton Motorcycles brand in Canada. Headed up by a steely group of enterpreneurs (sadly, the new Norton Commando itself was not available for viewing), the highlight was certainly listening to Peter William's "track tales" from back in the day (like pushing off Norm White's bike in a GrandPrix corner).

I'm not certain how well the re-imagined Norton brand is going to fly, we were given the "privilege" of lining up to plop down 35K on 1 of 20 of the first 200 "LE" models rolling off the line; The "LE" model gets you the bike, a commemorative watch, an official Arai Norton helmet, a Norton leather jacket (truly worthy of a "Wild Hogs" character) and a signed certificate of authenticity.

Peter Williams rides a Norton Commando factory racer
While the street model will likely come in at around 20-25K, it's still going to be a tough sell to a "cafe resurgence" market largely ignorant of the Norton marquee to begin with (racing pedigree doesn't mean squat to some 25 y/o hipster doofus looking for a cool bike with clip on's and rear sets)... Norton is simultaneously competing for those "doofus dollars" against the likes of Triumph, Moto-Guzzi & Ducati; three heritage marquees with a decades long head-start of leveraging their respective brand's historical cache to create the small but enduring cafe-is-cool market. Not forgetting for a moment that, while being un-japanese is very cool in this little corner of the motorcycle market, having japanese-like build quality is just as prized. Only time will tell if Norton can find the magic elixer of brand panache and build quality that eluded Indian Motorcycles in their unsuccessful bid for brand reclamation a few years back (at least they make nice T-shirts).

After all was said and done, it was a pleasure meeting Williams and I managed to snatch a nifty coffee mug and a nice 8x10 of him banking a production-racer (funny enough, he spent 5 minutes deriding the production-racer class as a necessary evil having no place mixing with "real race bikes")... classic times for those in the know...