I didn’t know whether I was impressed or disappointed when I went to visit the Norton factory in Donnington; I still don’t. It wasn’t what I expected from such a prestigious brand with an excellent pedigree.
The pure passion that come from the fabrication shop was astounding. We were marched from the small showroom, to what appeared to be, a farm building behind the main office block. The guy that gave us instruction was one of a handful of people in the workshop, yet his knowledge was second to none. We were told that all parts of the frames and fuel tanks are handmade from scratch, then lovingly polished to within an inch of their lives. He proudly quelled any doubts of mass production parts saying only a handful of items came from specialist partners. From our viewpoint in the doorway of the building, we weren’t privy to see any processes so we couldn’t confirm or challenge what we had been told, yet we were allowed a photo opportunity of ‘not a lot.’
Next we were directed to the factory where my excitement and curiosity grew. Thoughts of highly sophisticated production lines and state of the art technology raced through my mind, yet I wasn’t sure where this pumping heart of productivity could be in this rural setting with a handful of idyllic buildings. We were guided into the main office block and into a larger showroom (or so I thought). Half a dozen bikes were presented on platforms before a cordon stopped us from going any further.
On one side, two V4 RR’s were in mid assembly and to our right three Commandos were in a similar construction. “You can’t take any photos, as these are customer’s motorbikes!” bark the instruction of our guide. My first thought was ‘Is this it.’ There was no noise of a well-oiled factory, in fact no noise at all over our voices. It was as if we were browsing around a dealership; and oh yes, there was a clothing and merchandise section just like my local Honda shop.
I asked where the engines were made and the answer I was given was, “Oh, upstairs but you can’t go up there.” We were then left to excite ourselves over the completed bikes ‘without touching.’ A fully carbon framed and faired V4 RR had just been completed for a client, having waited a couple of months for his wish-list machine to roll of the imaginary line, albeit he’d be £50k lighter for the experience.
If I’m honest I was underwhelmed by the experience and if I was a potential customer I would struggle to open my wallet. Bravo for being a cottage industry but sales come from the experience not the hype. There’s no point acting like a top secret society that magically produces the goods. Grow some balls and show people what makes you so special.