In pre-war days, the Norton Model 30
had been the racing flagship of the range, but by
World War 2 the pure racers had already begun to diverge
from the publicly available Norton International.
When post-war production resumed in 1947, the International
had found a niche as a fast sporting roadster, and
its single overhead-cam engine had become a vastly
different proposition from the double overhead-cam
racing Manx models.
The Internationals achieved steady, though limited,
sales for the next few years and while some die-hard
enthusiasts continued to race them in amateur competition,
they were becoming dated against competition that
included Triumph twins and the BSA Gold Star. Even
so, several Clubman's TT winners of the late 1940s
were mounted on Norton Internationals fitted with
special racing equipment, including an alloy cylinder
barrel in place of the roadster's cast iron one.
The final stage of development of the International
came in 1953, when the alloy engine was installed
in Norton's latest racing frame, the Featherbed, together
with a new gearbox of the current design. In this
form the Norton International won its final Clubman's
TT, although the Featherbed model was really intended
as a sports special for fast road work.
The international's Featherbed frame was not quite
a replica of the pure racers, but it was built to
a higher standard than the roadster. In any form,
the Featherbed became the standard by which all handling
would be judged for two decades, and with some of
the best telescopic forks in the business and braking
to match, it could be pushed to the limits of its
engine's considerable performance.
As a racing engine the 490cc overhead-cam unit although
supremely rugged and reliable, was not very practible.
It could be tricky to set up, with running clearances
adjusted by numerous shims and an oiling system that
relied on several hard-to-reach adjustable jets. The
valves remained exposed resulting in incurable oil
leaks. Roadster silencing stifled performances and
by the late 1950s it was possible to get the same
level of power from a Norton Dominator.
But such complaints missed the point. Full of class,
sound and fury, the International both handled and
braked superbly and allowed its lucky owner to believe
that he was riding a real racer on the road.
The Norton International was always expensive and
by 1956 it was made to special order only. The last
of the line left the works in 1958, when fewer than
20 were made. But the International had a pedigree
borrowed from some of the most famous British racers
and a performance that kept riders enthralled for