In spite of all the race-replica motorcycles named after their riders like this week’s Eddie Lawson Replica Kawasaki, the John Player Norton was not actually named after a particular rider. It was named after the British tobacco company that sponsored Norton’s race teams and the distinctive looks effectively bridge the 1960’s half-fairing sportbike style of the Ducati Super Sport and the later, fully-faired GSX-R750.
For the most part, it’s a Norton Commando under the skin and features the same strengths and weaknesses of those bikes. The main changes were cosmetic, with the wild, twin-headlamp bodywork and solo-seat tail section. Road-going examples used Norton’s standard 828cc parallel-twin and four-speed gearbox, although an optional short-stroke 750cc version was available for US race classes.
This one looks to be in excellent shape, and is fitted with the road-oriented “850,” rather than the short-stroke engine, and is currently located in Denmark.
From the original eBay listing: 1974 John Player Norton 850 for Sale
This is a very, very cool bike.
Up for your consideration is a 1974 Norton John Player 850. (It’s kind of like a Commando but my boss says don’t call it that…)
From the sales brochure:
“Limited production run of this eye-catching luxury machine for the connoisseur. Powered either by the high torque 850 unit to provide outstanding flexibility for the highways or by the 750 c.c. short-stroke high output engine as a base for competition. White fibreglass fairings give the same aggressive appearance as the machines which carried the Norton name to yet one more victory in the 1973 Isle of Man T.T. This model offers the ultimate in exciting high performance motorcycling combining style with comfort, speed and safety.”
“Features Twin double-dip headlamps with halogen light units if required; high output alternator with twin zener diode charge control. Rear set footrests, brake and gearchange pedals; clip-on handlebars. 3½ gallon (15 litre) steel petrol tank. Access to flip cap through quick-release cover in the styling. Access to steel oil tank by lifting seat panel.”
This bike comes from a good a respectable home where it has accrued only 12,198 original miles over its lifetime.
While somewhat awkward in appearance, the JPL has undeniable presence and is historically significant, an evolutionary step to the sportbikes of today. Approximately 200 are believed to have been made in 1974, their only year of manufacture. At the time, they were not especially desirable and were difficult for dealers to unload but this, as so often seems to be the case, simply makes them rarer and more valuable now.
There’s very little time on this auction, so move quickly if this strikes your fancy!