▲ Les Emery manufactures Norton Commandos 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. The classic British motorcycles industry, it seems, never completely went away. It just downsized a little.
Norton Commando Isolastic verniers and tips
Norton Commando spares and specialists
Manganese Bronze Holdings & Dennis Poore
Norton Atlas and bad vibrations
Commando Combat Engine
Norton's revolutionary Isolastic system
Norton-Villiers from Woolwich to Andover
Electric starters, discs, and left hand gear levers
One-minute Norton Commando review
▲ Norvil Norton Commando Roadster with Les's beefed up front disc brake. It's an eyestopper and a tyrestopper.
▲ Norvil also repair and upgrade original Commandos—or Dominators. If you're looking for one, Les can help you source it.
▲ Those boxes behind Les 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 Fastback Commandos are to your taste, Norvil can supply. Fibre glass fuel tanks are not on offer, however. Modern fuels destroy them. Norvil now supply tanks only in steel and aluminium.
▲ A Norton Commando takes shape in one of Norvil's "clean" assembly rooms. Engine building takes place next door. Les is very much hands on-as witnessed by the picture below.
▲ Les very much has a "hands-on" approach. There isn't much, if anything, about the Norton Commando that he doesn't know.
▲ Norvil pretty much make all the parts you need to build or upgrade your Commando, 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 Norvil's classic Norton Commandos are British to the core, and Les intends for them to stay that way.
▲ If you spot a mobile phone at Norvil, there's a good chance that Les will be holding onto it. He runs a regular helpline for Norvil customers and always comes up with the right answers.
▲ Meet Les's 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 Les Emery. Follow this link.
[for details. click here]
Mick Hemmings Motorcycles
Telephone: 01604 638505
Home of Mick & Angie Hemmings, Norton expertise, rebuilds and spares since 1974.
Norvil Motorcycles Company Ltd
96-98 Cannock Road, Chase Terrace,
Burntwood, Staffs, WS7 1JP
Telephone 01543 278008
Les Emery will sell you Commando spares or build a ready-to-ride bike from brand new parts. Good tech back up too.
Andover Norton International Ltd
3 Old Farm Buildings
Standen Manor Estate
Hungerford, Berks. RG17 0RB
"The exclusive source of all genuine Norton Commando and Dominator factory spare parts."
British Cycle Supply Company
US and Canada based suppliers of Triumph, BSA and Norton spares. Lots of interesting stuff.
US based British bike parts. Huge range of high quality, high performance precision spares for BSA, Triumph and Norton. Original equipment and custom parts.
It’s one of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers in the UK, employs 15 staff, uses "99 percent British engineering skills and materials", sells a class product that practically everyone recognises at a glance—and yet very few people in the mainstream bike trade have heard of this firm. Who are we talking about?
Les Emery’s Norvil, of course; bespoke manufacturer of classic Norton Commando and Dominator twins, plus a few Norton Manxs.
Current production is between 23 and 30 bikes per year, with over 500 machines sold. These are brand new time-warp motorcycles built on modern equipment; bikes that are 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.
What makes these bikes extra special is that you can buy a brand new model in a huge range of configurations by cherry picking the best of what Norton had to offer, and then improve upon that with modern developments on an age old theme.
“That’s right,” said Les, now sixty and an avid collector of full size locomotives. “We build 750cc, 850cc, 1003cc and 1040cc Commandos. 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 Norton’s 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 Norton 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 speeding up for myself. So I took the redunduncy. It looks like it was the right move because we've gone from strength to strength.'
So where are these Commandos and Dominators going?
“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 bikes, however, are sold in “kit” form to comply with local legislation.”
The Norvil Trademark
Les shares the rights to the Norvil trademark with Mick Hemmings. But the position is a little more complicated regarding the Commando name. That's jointly owned by Stuart Garner (Norton Motorcycles). Meanwhile, the Norton name is enjoyed by Les 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 Les is keeping it right where he wants it.
The Norvil workshop
The modest workshop in Burntwood, Staffordshire, is a labyrinth of “clean” and “dirty” assembly rooms. But in reality, it’s all spotless. Ask for a part, and Les—or one of his staff—can lay their hand on it in seconds. Like all good workshops, tooling and equipment is efficiently placed. Occasionally 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.
The worst of it is that Les and Co make it all look 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.
But 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 Les is confident they're made to tighter tolerances than they ever were, most of them on up-to-the-minute machinery.
As you wander around, you can ask Les any number of technical questions, and the answer comes right up.
“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 Les patiently explaining the relevant procedure.
Other times, the queries relate to "running issues" or maintenance questions. It doesn't matter. Norvil customers get personal attention from the man at the top. Not many business can boast that.
Norton Commando and Dominator prices
A basic Commando or Dominator currently costs just £11,500 plus VAT (November 2010 prices). A Manx Norton (three sold so far) will set you back £22,000 (also plus VAT) which is amazingly good value for hand-built, bespoke motorcycles with unimpeachable pedigrees—and ones that holds their value at a level that would shame modern bikes. They rarely come onto the market as secondhand, however, but a 2002 Les Emery Commando recently sold for £7500 (£8250 new). A 1997 example sold just a few weeks ago for £6500 (£7500 new).
Moreover, as all-round commuters, tourers or weekend fun bikes, these Commandos are 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 Norton rivet counting.
Only, these are genuine. They’re not retro. They’re not fakes. They’re not homages. These bikes are quite simply a near seamless continuation of the original British parallel twins—except that they’re superior in almost every respect. Norvil even use many of the original engineering suppliers and foundries.
Norton parts suppliers
“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.
“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 bikes as good as they can get.
"We've stopped making fibre glass fuel tanks because the petrol companies are going to kill someone soon. Modern ethanol fuels dissolve the tanks and gum up the carbs which can jam them open. So we use only steel and aluminium. Our aluminium tanks aren't exact copies. There are some manufacturing problems with that. But we think they're nevertheless very good and look right on the bikes."
Norvil facts and figures
Staffing at Norvil includes wife Sue, son Paul, daughter Kate, Jan Harbour, Les Allen, John Brisco—plus nine other members all focussed on supplying to the public one of the most desirable made-to-order motorcycle products in the world.
As an example of a highly tuned bike business fully in touch with its products and customers, you might equal Les Emery’s Norvil, but you can’t beat it. This is a one-stop Dominator and 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 at Norvil 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 Dominators and Commandos and is constantly releasing these bike onto the market.
Is there a similar niche in the world of Japanese bikes awaiting a shrewd businessman?
We think there might be.
But what do you say?
▲ 1962 750cc Norton 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).
Norvil/Norton Commando timeline:
1968: First Norton Commandos built
1976: Norton Commandos cease production
1980: Les Emery launches Fair Spares.
1982: The Norvil name is purchased from Norton
1990: Les Emery begins bike production
1997: Company name 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 274775