1948 Norton Big 4

The Norton Manufacturing Company – founded by James Norton in 1898 – initially made bicycle parts, introducing its first motorcycles, with Swiss Moto-Reve or French Peugeot manufactured engines – in 1902. Norton’s first machine with its own design engine, a side-valve, single cylinder of 633cc, the Model 1 which became known as the ‘Big Four’ because it was rated at 4hp, came in 1908.

The Model 1 started out as a belt driven machine but a chain was introduced in 1915. Various modifications were made to the design and in 1931 dry sump lubrication was introduced and the front mounted magneto was moved to the rear. A right hand side exhaust system was adopted in 1932, with an optional four speed gearbox available in 1933. The model continued in production until 1954.

From early days Nortons were successful in motor sport at Brooklands and in the Isle of Man TT races with riders such as Alec Bennett and George Tucker, resulting in the famous ‘Manx’ 500cc single cylinder which was to prove a winner for many years – especially with the development of the ‘featherbed’ frame in 1950. The International was a road-equivalent of the Manx. Later production machines used a vertical, twin-cylinder, ohv, engine; the 600cc Dominator 99 appeared in 1955 and the 745cc Commando in 1967.

Norton suffered financial problems in the mid-‘60’s, although a number of company re-organisations has kept the name alive. More recent hand-built production had been undertaken at Donington Hall, Derby, under the ownership of businessman Stuart Garner, but the company has once again (2020) hit financial problems.


This ‘Big Four’ Norton was rebuilt from an incomplete ‘basket case’ in the Vehicle Collection workshop during 2004. It is used with the sidecar attached.

The ‘Big 4’ was used in the Second World War as well as having civilian use, and was often seen with a sidecar attached. Production ended in 1954 when the popularity of side-valve machines waned, after being in production for over 40 years, albeit it in a number of different forms.  It is on long term loan from Shuttleworth Assistant Chief Engineer Andy Preslent.


Manufacturer: Norton Manufacturing Company, Birmingham, England
Model: ‘Big 4’
Engine: Single-cylinder, 633cc side-valve
Top Speed: 68 mph