Retro-Futuristic: 1974 John Player Norton Replica Replica for Sale
Well, this John Player Norton Replica isn’t American, but at least it’s red, white and blue to celebrate the Fourth of July…
Of course, “John Player” wasn’t a person. This bike was from the era of motor racing when cigarette sponsorship reigned supreme, and John Player was actually the name of a British tobacco giant. Its bones are mostly stock Norton Commando, no bad thing considering the well-known performance potential of that bike. This example features Norton’s 828cc “850” engine and four-speed gearbox, although a short-stroke 750 was available for riders who planned to race their bikes in the US.
With largely stock underpinnings, aside from taller gearing to capitalize on the bike’s improved aerodynamics, it’s that angular, bug-eyed fairing that was the main selling point. Or not, as was the case when new. It’s important to realize that the concept of collectible race-replicas and limited-edition bikes wasn’t really established in the early 1970’s. Old cars and old bikes were mostly just that: obsolete. No one was really buying them with an eye towards appreciating value since, in the early 1970’s, it hadn’t really occurred to anyone that might even be a thing. So a bike with shockingly futuristic styling, with race-replica graphics and a much higher price, produced in limited numbers to seemingly stimulate collectors was an idea before its time, and these didn’t sell particularly well when new. Just 200 were believed to have been built, with 120 shipped to America. Interestingly, this particular bike is not an original JPL, but is a replica of a replica, built from kits available at the time the bike was new. It looks to be in beautiful shape, and might be a great opportunity to get a very striking machine for much less than you’d pay for the real thing.
From the original eBay listing: 1974 John Player Norton 850 Replica for Sale
The John Player Norton (quickly abbreviated JPN) was introduced in late 1973 and reached the public in April 1974. Many people think it was put together by the race team, but only the production racers were built by the race team, not the John Players. In actuality, the JPN was either built at Andover, in a separate facility, or on the main production line at Norton’s Wolverhampton factory.
Most JPNs went to the United States. It’s believed that of the approximately 200 JPNs made, 120 were sent to the U.S. All factory JPNs (as opposed to home-built copies) were made in 1974, with the shifter on the right and 30mm intake ports. Tapered manifolds connected the ports to 32mm Amal Concentric carburetors. The front brake was a disc, the rear a drum. All factory JPNs had forged aluminum brackets on the back of the fairing. There are some copies floating around, but these have welded brackets.
Unfortunately, the JPN banked on a collector’s market that did not then exist. To most potential buyers, the fairing and twin headlights looked weird instead of fashion forward. Young men looking to lure the fairer sex objected to the lack of a passenger seat, while other buyers objected to the price tag. At $2,995 — $495 over a standard Commando — it was the most expensive production Commando. JPNs sat on dealership floors. To make matters worse, John Player Tobacco quit sponsoring Norton at the end of 1974. And that was the end of the John Player Norton.
This is an excellent example of one of these classic motorcycles- while it is NOT one of the original 200 built- it is an authentic replica of the JPN replicas in that Sprint offered the body pieces as a kit for sale back in that era – this is one of those kits placed on a VERY LOW MILEAGE 1974 Commando – and while the tank underneath the fairing is a standard tank – we do have an extended matte finish tank (which needs to be fitted) and it will accompany the bike – all in all a great little collectible to take to rallies and show off to your friends! Even the kit bikes are Rare as hen’s teeth and this one runs like a dream.
There are just about 8 hours left on this auction, and bidding is up to just about $6,000 as of writing. These are certainly odd-looking, a design from an alternate future that never happened, like a space rocket from a Buster Crabbe “Flash Gordon” episode. But the Norton Commando underpinnings mean that parts are available, and a huge support community exists to keep them running and make them faster, so if you fancy something that will turn heads at your next vintage bike meet, this might be a great way to pick up a bit of history on the cheap.