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Norton F1

P55 F1

The F1 was the baby of Philippe Le Roux, who, though himself not a motorcyclists, saw the marketing potential a John Player Racer replica had, and who, from first-hand experience as the one-time MD of Norton Motors Ltd, knew the Commander had a very small fan club. His sentence I’ve got to shift some bikes, relating to the Commander, in a phone call in 1989 still rings in the authors ears today!

So Seymour-Powell were entrusted with the task of styling a fairing round the raw bones of a works racer with the new P55 engine/gearbox unit in it. This unit took the primary to an integrally-cast gearbox that used a Yamaha FZR1000 5-speed gearbox and a hydraulic clutch, so was actually ahead of what the race team of the time used.

The design they came up with must rate as one of the all-time greats in motorcycle design. Apart from the square FZ250 front light unit it would not look out of place on a newly-unveilled bike even today, with its timeless elegance and purposefully integrated rider. But, as always, there were problems.

Fred Swift, chief prototype builder at Nortons, complained about the task of having to shoehorn the bike under the fairing- the fairing was so compact, there was little room for the components inside it! The main problem was the heat generated by a rotary engine, which could not get out under the fully-enclosing fairing.

Norton F1
Norton F1

Therefore, the radiator heated up the plenum chamber (air box to the uninitiated), the hot air heated up the carbs, the engine was heating everything up from underneath, and the petrol in the petrol tank was also heating up, which did not help the cooling of the carburettors in any way. This made for exciting rides in built-up areas, the author being one who will never forget a spectacular ride on a howling, hopping motorcycle through central Munich in a traffic jam, or the night he was blown off by a Classic uphill at 100mph, the Classic building up power in the cool night air whilst the F1 was loosing power through heating up more and more.

Another problem, not aparent to people living on the British Isles, was the fact the P55 was never developed from an environmentally friendly point of view. Whilst the Commander passed German emissions tests with flying colours on its SU carbs, the F1 had emissions of virtually immoral proportions with the Mikuni carbs and the inherent overheating problems.

Therefore, a market that had the potential and the money to relieve Norton of virtually every F1 they were able to produce, was closed to this model- Germany, then the wealthiest and biggest market for high-price, high-performance motorcycles in Europe. After building and selling about 130 F1s, many of which into the high-flying, non-riding London party scene, sales came to a virtual standstill and it was time for the P55B.

The P55 prototype- a picture published in virtually every Norton book but showing a styling mockup, not the eventual production bike. Apart from the stylists usual trick of leaving off unsightly legal requirements like indicators and mirrors, the exhaust system is pure fiction, as are footrests and rear brake caliper.

Norton F1
Norton F1


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