When you name a motorcycle after an Intercontinental Ballistic Missle it better be one hell of a bike. Norton did just that, sort of. Norton had some sort of Post War / Cold War theme going for a while. They had the Dominator, then the Atlas, next came the Commando… Norton was at war with the rest of the motorcycle industry. Not really, they just had some cool names…and bikes.
The Atlas really was named after the ICBM and was aimed at the U.S market. Norton took a lot of the good parts of the successful Dominator model and then put on some higher handlebars, a smaller gas tank, chrome mudguards (fenders) and a chrome chain guard…Voila, a bike to compete with Triumph and Harley Davidson here stateside.
The Atlas was a great handling bike. The 750cc engine was mounted in the popular ‘Featherbed’ frame, the front end was the wonderful ‘Roadholder’ forks and the rear was suspended by Girlings best shocks. The bike handled wonderfully by comparison to the Triumph or Harley it was aiming for, however, it had one problem….It was a bone shaker!
The 750cc motor from the Dominator had a higher compression ratio than the Atlas and Norton lowered the compression for the Atlas the engine vibration became almost unbearable. In 1964 Norton modified the engine, going to a 12volt system and twin carbs and that did help some but still, at higher RPM’s it would shake the fillings right out of your teeth. Now, most riders didn’t ride the Atlas at higher RPM’s they would use all that low end torque that the long stroke Norton would give and that is what Norton figured the American rider wanted and, it’s not as if Harley’s were all that smooth?.
For a few years the Atlas model, in the UK, was the basis for some great racers. Dunstall built a successful Atlas based roadracer and so did the Rickman Brothers with their Metisse chassis. Norton put a 150mph speedo on the Atlas ( a bit optimistic I believe), Cycle world Magazine coaxed the Atlas up to 119mph but most riders never got above 110mph, still not bad for a 58HP, 60’s era motorbike.
The Atlas was mildly successful here in the U.S until the Commando arrived on our shores and that was the end of the Atlas, well almost, it hung around until 1968. I found a really nice 1965 model on ebay today with only 6,000 miles on the clock and in stock condition. This is a great bike to leave just as it is or…a perfect cafe racer! Sorry folks, I couldn’t resist.
The Norton I found on ebay today is really clean, it has been sitting inside for 30 years, it starts and runs great, is completely original and not over priced. What else could you ask for? Here’s the cool thing about the Atlas, it is the truly underloved Norton here in the U.S but, more and more collectors and riders are getting on the Atlas bandwagon because you get a great classic Norton without paying Commando prices! Click on the pic’s below for more info and pictures.