Norton International

If the Manx Norton was one of the most famous racing motorcycles of all time, then the International must be one of the most legendary roadsters. In fact, they were substantially the same machine, differentiated at the factory by the name scribbled on the job-card. ‘Manx’ simply meant racing specification, whilst ‘ Inter’ referred to a roadster with lights. Nonetheless, many Inters found themselves stripped down for racing. Over half a century before Suzuki’s GSX-R750 re-worked the theme, these were the ‘race replicas’ of their
day.

The precursor of both was the Norton CS1, a 490cc ‘fast tourer’ which itself derived from the works machine on which Stanley Woods had emphatically led the 1927 TT until retiring with clutch failure. Fortunately for Norton, Alec Bennett rode a second machine rather more circumspectly, winning at an average speed of 68.41mph.

Specifications

Engine

Horsepower

transmission

Frame

Brakes

top Speed

Years in Production

air-cooled 497cc OHC single

up to 46 bhp

4-speed

‘Garden Gate’ tubular steel cradle

drum / drum

up to 120 mph (in racing trim)

1931 – 1957

Overhead camshafts were new to Norton, whose previous racing success was achieved with pushrod engines. But the success of overhead camshaft designs from Velocette and Blackburne spurred Walter Moore to design the classy ‘cammy’ Norton single. When a production version was unveiled at the 1927 motorcycle show, the ‘CS’ of the name stood for ‘cam shaft’ for, like the Inter and Manx which were to succeed it, the CS I boasted an overhead camshaft driven by shaft and bevel gears.

However, by 1929 the new Norton racer was already being eclipsed, and Arthur Carroll set about the redesign which was to create the immortal Manx. A road-going version was first offered to the public in 1932, and the Inter was born. Almost at once it was tested at 100mph, an astonishing speed for a half litre machine at the time. Buoyed by the continued track success of its factory racing siblings, the International became the definitive sporting machine of its era.

Factory versions of the cammy Norton engine went on to win no less than seven Senior TTs in the thirties, raising the lap record from 76 to over 90mph in the process. 350cc versions of the same engine were no less successful. Yet perhaps the biggest accolade for the roadster came in 1939. With the factory pre-occupied with military affairs, Norton’ s TT effort centred around six privateers riding – what else? – stripped-down Internationals.

The thirties, undoubtedly , was the Inter’s heyday. But just as the factory Norton racers had to fight hard to remain competitive after 1950, so the Inter felt the weight of competition from a new generation of machines. Not the least of these came from Norton itself. The 497cc Dominator launched in 1948 offered a comparable level of performance in a machine that was far cleaner, easier to maintain , and cheaper to produce. Of all the methods of driving overhead camshafts, bevel gears are the most intricate, which is why belt or chain drive is preferred today. Inters, moreover, retained their messy exposed valve springs to the end.

T he Inter, along with the rest of the Norton range, had acquired telescopic forks from 1948. The next development came in 1953 with the introduction of an alloy cylinder barrel, improved gearbox, better brakes and – above all – the renowned Featherbed frame. Whilst this marked a quantum leap in the Inter’s roadholding, the same was true of Norton’s sporting twins . Nonetheless, stripped-down Inters were still popular amongst racing privateers, but even here a threat was looming. 1952 had brought Clubman’s TT victories for BSA’s emerging Gold Star in both 350 and 500cc classes. Although the Featherbed Inter resumed it’s rightful place in claiming the 1953 500cc Clubman’s T T, the Gold Star went on to sweep all before it. From then on, the Norton International faded quietly away, last being listed in the 1958 Norton catalogue at £303 2 shillings and 1Od.

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