▲ Norvil manufactures motorcycles to any specification. Drum brakes, disc brakes, electric starters, belt drives, Interstates, Fastbacks, Roadsters—or whatever you like. They're brand new and built to boogie. Better than originals, these are original Norvils.
Isolastic verniers and tips
Specialists and spares
Manganese Bronze Holdings & Dennis Poore
Atlas and bad vibrations
The Combat Engine debacle
The revolutionary Isolastic system
Norton-Villiers from Woolwich to Andover
Electric starters, discs, and left hand gear levers
Norton Commando one-minute review
▲ Norvil Roadster with a beefed up front disc brake. It's an eyestopper and a tyrestopper.
▲ The company also repairs and upgrades original bikes and can help you source a viable project.
▲ Those boxes contain parts, parts, parts, and more parts. You can buy your Commando in bits for self-assembly if you prefer. In fact, if you live in North America or Canada, that's the only way you can legally get a brand new model on the road.
▲ If early Norton Commando Fastbacks are to your taste, you're in the right place. Fibre glass fuel tanks are not on offer, however. Modern fuels destroy them. Tanks are now offered only in steel and aluminium.
▲ A new Norton Commando build takes shape in one of the "clean" assembly rooms. Engine building takes place next door.
▲ This company very much has a "hands-on" approach. There isn't much, if anything, about these products and processes that isn't understood here.
▲ Pretty much make all the parts you need to build or upgrade your Commie are remade, and 99-percent of it is forged, cast, machined, stamped, pressed, spun or hammered right here in the UK. There aren't many great products anymore that can boast "Made in England". But these classic products are British to the core, and this firm wants them to stay that way.
▲ A daily helpline for customers worldwide is part of the deal. That's the promise.
▲ Meet the team—or, at least, four of them. Left to right: Les Allen, Jan Harbour, John Brisco, Les Emery, and wife Sue.
UPDATE: Les Allen and John Brisco are no longer working for the company. Follow this link.
Mick Hemmings Motorcycles
Telephone: 01604 638505
Home of Mick & Angie Hemmings. Expertise, rebuilds and spares since 1974.
Norvil Motorcycles Company Ltd
96-98 Cannock Road, Chase Terrace,
Burntwood, Staffs, WS7 1JP
Telephone 01543 278008
Andover Norton International Ltd
3 Old Farm Buildings
Standen Manor Estate
Hungerford, Berks. RG17 0RB
British Cycle Supply Company
US and Canada based. Lots of interesting stuff.
US based. Huge range of high quality, high performance precision spares. Original equipment and custom parts.
THE NORTON COMMANDO is still being manufactured in the UK. Brand new. Not everyone on the classic bike scene knows that. But it's a fact, and the man behind that fact is Les Emery. His firm, Norvil, is actually one of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers in the UK. It employs up to 15 staff, uses "99 percent British engineering skills and materials", sells a class product that practically everyone recognises at a glance—and yet he's still one of the best kept motorcycle secrets around.
Current production is between 23 and 30 units per year, with over 500 machines sold. These are brand new time-warp twins built on modern equipment and finding a steady stream of buyers from all over the world keen to help preserve a legend and put it to work with real world day-to-day riding.
You can opt for a 750cc or 850cc Norton Commando, or even a Dominator twin, or (if you've got deep pockets) a 500cc Manx. Emery makes them all.
What makes these twins and singles extra special is that you can order your choice in a huge range of configurations by cherry picking the best bits of the various models, and then improve upon that with modern developments on an age old theme.
“That’s right,” says the man himself, now sixty and an avid collector of full size diesel locomotives. “We build 750cc, 850cc, 1003cc and 1040cc variants. Customers can order any combination of drum brakes, disc brakes, electric starters, belt drives, numerous petrol tank and seat styles, suspension upgrades, original or custom colours—and all with the legendary Isolastic engine mounts to keep the vibrations at bay. We carry 100% of spares and have a waiting list of 13 months. We’re quite simply selling our bikes as fast as we can build them.
“We build Dominator (twins) in 500cc, 600cc, 650cc and 750cc capacities. We have also manufactured 500cc Manx singles.”
So how did all this come about?
“It was back in February 1980,' said Les. 'We started a company called Fair Spares. I was working at the time for the electrical firm, Lucas. My wife and sister were operating the shop in Rugeley, Staffs selling Norton spares and accessories. I was filling-in whenever I had the time.
"After a while, I found that I needed to commit more and more time to Fair Spares. I was working double day shifts at Lucas. The company was offering voluntary redundancy packages. Business was slowing up for them, and was speeding up for myself. So I took the redundancy. It looks like it was the right move because we've gone from strength to strength.'
So who's buying these motorcycles?
“They sell everywhere. The USA. Canada. Europe. South America. And, of course, into the home market. Bikes for the UK and Europe need Single Vehicle Approval (SVA), which gave us problems in the past. But the SVA people are used to us now. We simply book a day in advance to get fast-tracked through, then collect the registration documents the following day. US and Canadian exports, however, are sold in “kit” form to comply with local legislation.”
The Norvil trademark
Emery shares the rights to the Norvil trademark with Mick Hemmings. But the position is a little more complicated regarding the Norton Commando name. That's jointly owned by Stuart Garner (Norton Motorcycles). Meanwhile, the Norton name is enjoyed on a perpetual licence.
Don't be. Most people know what they want and buy from whoever they want to buy it from. It certainly doesn't make much difference in practical terms. But no one is currently challenging Les's right to the Norvil name, and he's keeping it right where he wants it.
The modest workshop in Burntwood, Staffordshire, is a labyrinth of nominally “clean” and “dirty” assembly rooms. But in reality, it’s all spotless. Ask for a part—any part—and it can be located in seconds. Like all good workshops, tooling and equipment is efficiently placed. Occasionally, as you wander around, a piece of machinery jolts into life, but most of the work is manual and fairly quiet, be it assembling engines or building cycle parts.
It all looks so simple, which it ought to be by now. But as you watch, you secretly wish that occasionally they would look confused or stymied and would sit down for a long think about an unexpected problem. However, such things are rare, and when they occur, it's doubtful that much head-scratching gets done.
Close to the front of the shop is a corridor where large cardboard parts bins (three rows deep) sit on racks. The parts are all new and well machined, and they're made to tighter tolerances than they ever were, most of them on up-to-the-minute machinery.
“We also have a happy hour every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon at 4-5pm, UK time,” he explains. “We keep a phone line clear, and our customers can and do call us for support.”
And soon the phones are ringing and Les wanders off to a quieter corner where he fields enquiries from Australia, the USA, South Africa, and pretty much anywhere else where the dominant tongue is English, or where the natives have developed a sufficient command of it. Much of those enquiries related to assembly issues. Eavesdrop, and you'll hear a patient explanation the relevant procedure.
Other times, the queries relate to "running issues" or maintenance questions. It doesn't matter. Customers get personal attention from the man at the top. Not many business can boast that.
A basic Commando or Dominator currently costs around £14,750 plus VAT (November 2014 prices) which is amazingly good value for hand-built, bespoke twins with unimpeachable pedigrees—and ones that holds their value at a level that would shame modern bikes. A Manx (three sold so far) will be considerably more expensive (roughly double), but you'll have to phone to check.
These motorcycles rarely come onto the market as second hand, however, but a 2002 Emery Commando recently sold for £7500 (£8250 when new). A 1997 example sold in 2010 for £6500 (£7500 new).
Moreover, as all-round commuters, tourers or weekend fun bikes, they're more viable than ever—and, in tuned form, will crack 120mph without much trouble. And if you want them to be, they are absolutely indistinguishable from the “genuine” article, except to an expert in chassis numbers and rivet counting.
Only, these are genuine. They’re not retro. They’re not fakes. They’re not homages. They're quite simply a near seamless continuation of the original British parallel twins—except that they’re superior in almost every respect, even using many of the original engineering contractors and foundries.
“Exhaust pipes, silencers and grab rails are made in Hednesford, Staffs, just three miles away,” explains Les. “The cylinder barrel comes from Brierly Hill, just eight miles down the road. The side panels used to be made by Triangle, but are currently made by Lucas Mitchenall in Salisbury, Wiltshire. GRP parts, until fairly recently, came from Sprint Manufacturing, also in Wiltshire. But they're concentrating on parts for Hinckley Triumphs, so we've got a new supplier now.
“We used to make some GRP tanks for the appropriate models, but have stopped those due to modern fuels turning the glass fibre to jelly. Now we use only steel and aluminium. There are some manufacturing problems with this. But we think the tanks are nevertheless very good and look right on the bikes
"Modern ethanol fuels also gum up the carbs which can jam them open. It's a problem all round, and we can't solve that one."
“We could get most or all the parts manufactured in China and bring the price down considerably. But we want to create British jobs. That’s very important to us. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind Chinese people making our parts in Britain. I just don’t want the bikes or their components made overseas.”
"We manufacture our parts to the tightest tolerance. Our engines use Superblend bearings. Mating faces for castings are enlarged in key areas. We look at the smallest detail, such as the radii on the crankshaft, to ensure they don't fracture under load. We really feel that we make our product as good as it can get.
Company facts and figures
Staffing includes wife Sue, son Paul, daughter Kate, Jan Harbour, Les Allen, John Brisco—plus nine other members all focussed on supplying to the biking public one of the most desirable made-to-order products in the world.
As an example of a highly tuned business fully in touch with its products and customers, you might equal Emery’s Norvil, but you can’t beat it. This is a one-stop Norton Commando shop that’s carved out a magnificent niche for itself in what was once, and arguably still is, at the heart of British motorcycle manufacturing country.
Annual turnover is around £1 million, and the company isn’t—and never has been—in hock to anyone. Least of all the banks. Orders are strong for both bikes and spares (509 machines built to date), and the firm also restores early examples and is constantly releasing these restorations onto the market.
Is there a similar niche in the world of Japanese classics awaiting a shrewd businessman?
We think there might be.
But what do you say?
▲ 1962 750cc Atlas rebuilt to Norvil's very exacting specifications and upgraded for riding in the modern world.
Yours for £7495, or very near offer (...but probably long gone
by the time you read this).
1968: The first 750cc Norton Commandos are built
1976: The Commando ceases production
1980: Fair Spares is launched.
1982: The Norvil name is purchased.
1990: Emery begins bike production
1997: Company name is changed to Norvil from Fair Spares
(and Fair Spares America)
2010: 500th bike built.
Norvil Motorcycle Company Ltd.
96 - 98 Cannock Road, Chase Terrace,
Burntwood, Staffs, WS7 1JP, England
Telephone: +44 (0) 1543 278008
Facsimile: +44 (0) 1543 27477