Classic British Bike: 1964 Norton Atlas 750

There’s something quintessentially cool about all vintage British motorcycles, but among all the Triumphs and BSAs that one might run across, it’s the Nortons that hold a special place in my heart. This 1964 Atlas 750 is located in Tampa, Florida, and is listed here on eBay. Currently the bid rests at only $2,750, with a little more that two days left on the clock.

In an effort to revive and rebuild the economy, industry in postwar Britain developed a focus on export markets, and motorcycle manufacturers were no exception. The United States was a particularly alluring prospect, with Indian and Harley-Davidson being the only domestic competition. Even better, British bikes were well-situated to fill an underserved market for lower-displacement bikes– a market that Honda and other Japanese manufacturers would enter in the late sixties and dominate by the mid-seventies. Even with their success with 500cc and smaller, it was clear to Norton that American preoccupation with displacement bordered on the religious. Accordingly, Bert Hopwood’s 497cc Dominator engine from the late Forties was gradually modified. By the time the Atlas was introduced in 1962, it had grown to 745cc, and the Atlas 750 was born.

This engine was rated at 55 brake horsepower at 6500 rpm, which made its way to the ground via a four-speed transmission and chain drive. In addition to the larger engine, the Atlas features the Norton Featherbed frame, incorporating a swingarm rear suspension that, when introduced, was well-regarded for its durability and ride characteristics. These motorcycles were fast, with a top speed well over 100 mph, but temperamental. For example, the combination of a high-revving engine with a spring-and-weight system to mechanically advance the timing means that the points wear quickly. Adding insult to injury, those springs have a habit of popping off at inopportune times. Keeping a Norton running can be a challenge, but one could argue that this was the price that had to be paid for performance.

The seller states that this bike was a part of a private collection, and that while it has been sitting “for some time,” it ran when parked (I know, I know) and has been stored inside. He goes on to state that it will need a thorough going-over before getting on the road again. The year this motorcycle was built was the same year that the Atlas was converted to 12-volt, among other upgrades to the model. Upgrades did not include an electric start, though, so you’re going to get some exercise. Still, if you feel like you could use some cardio, this could get your heart racing in ways that a spin class just can’t match.

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Aaaagggh ( drooling on keyboard), a “Snortin’ Norton”,,, I swear, if I wasn’t such a wuss, and if I overturned my moratorium on buying anything motorized ever again,, I’d buy this in an instant. Nortons and the slightly lesser known, Royal Enfields, were always my dream bikes. The look, the sound, the dripping oil and gauge needles laying in the bottom of the glass, they were the 2 wheeled versions of British sports cars. Nothing, save some Italian job, could touch them. “Limey’s” were about the only bikes H-D riders would allow to ride with them. And for good reason. I’ve said this many times, but if it wasn’t for British engineering, we all might be speaking German right now, and H-D riders will never forget that. Great find, some lucky dog going to get one of the best motorcycles ever made!

    Like 19
  2. RexFox

    Now I know which bike inspired Yamaha to build (and improve upon) the XS650. I would love to have this Norton.

    Like 4
  3. Jim Weaver

    I owned a 1971 750 and have never owned anything that leaked so much oil from the primary cover on the left side. It had a single bolt holding the 24 inch long cover. A year or two later, Norton’s had about 12 bolts holding the cover.

    Buy stock in an oil company if you buy this!!

    Also, consider installing a Boyer electronic ignition that fires both cylinders simultaneously. It beats having two coils, two condensers, and two sets of points.

    Like 4
    • Andy Parrish Andy Parrish Staff

      The oil on the ground is how you know it’s British.

      Like 1
  4. Kenn

    I loved the sound of a Bultaco. (Sp?) Reading the comments, this may have had the same muscular, thumping sound.

    Like 1
    • Terrry

      Bultaco, Montesa, Ossa,CZ, Husqvarna..all killer enduro bikes from back in the day.

      Like 3
    • Howard A Member

      Hi Kenn, well, I had a 200 Pursang, and I still have old injuries that ache from time to time, thanks, in part, to that GD Buljunko. The motor had plenty of steam, kept up with most 250’s, but was a poor MX bike. Now the Sherpa was a much better bike. Parts today are almost non-existent for those, and on a recent Ebay ad, a guy was selling a restored 200 Pursang, just like mine, for $15 GRAND!

  5. Derek

    Bultacos were generally mad, bad and dangerous to know strokers; I had a 370 Pursang for a while, I got confident with it and then had a good offer and thought that I’d accept to prevent future injury!

    I thought that the Atlas was a 650?

    As for Italian bikes, whilst my mates were chasing British twins I bought a Laverda 750 SF. Such a lovely smooth fast thing. I currently have – amongst others – a Ducati 900 S2, which is pretty much an SS with a dualseat.

    Like 2
    • Doug

      The Atlas that I owned was a 750, and had a magneto ignition. Anyone with one of these would be wise to carry at least one cap for the end of the spark wire where it exits the magneto….I once had to ride 17 miles on one cylinder after I got off work at midnight, due to a cracked cap. The bike settled in at about 55mph in 3rd – I had pulled the plug out of the dead cylinder to reduce load. One of the easy to spot differences between the Atlas and Commando was that the cylinders on the Commando were slanted forward, while the Atlas had them vertical. There was a 650 called the Mercury built between 1968 and 1970, but all the Alas models were 750s.

      Like 2
  6. Terrry

    It’s a beautiful bike, but…..You’d better have the knowledge and the tools if you’re going to wrench on this vintage machine, and you will be the one doing the wrenching. Even if you find someone who says they can, would you trust them? Because if they screw something up, good luck getting spares. Do you know what Whitworth is, and where you can get them? No?, step aside and let someone else buy this bike..

    Like 2
    • Robert White

      I’m a Tool & Die Making Mechanical Engineering Technician. British Whitworth threads are easily made via dies & taps. British Whitworth can still be purchased NOS.

      Boyer Electronic Ignition as someone said above is the only remedy to points & condenser conundrum. I has a Beezer with Electronic Ignition and it was excellent with no issues ever. Started every first kick.

      Bob

      Like 5
      • Terrry

        There’s a mechanic about 80 miles from here who has his own shop specializing only in British motorcycles (open only Wednesdays and seen by appointment only). He operates out of his own backyard garage and does repair and restorations on said bikes. Excellent shop, but be willing to wait, 6 months or more in some cases.

  7. Dave

    One only need look at modern Triumphs and Royal Enfields to see how far Britbikes have come with modern technology.
    The story I heard about the Yamaha XS650 was that it was originally designed by Triumph, and when they rejected it the engineer sold the design to Yamaha.

    • Terrry

      and Yamaha perfected it, made the engine oil-tight and reliable and sold them like hotcakes. Nice engine, I used to have an XS650 Special.

      Like 1
      • Howard A Member

        Meh, they still buzzed like a British bike, and were hard starting and generally an uncomfortable ride. I knew guys with Yam 650’s that couldn’t ride them for a long time. There were better bikes, and while the 650 may have been a good “starter” bike, most moved on to nicer bikes.

  8. John Traylor

    The first thing the next owner should do it is throw away those horrid pull back handle bars and put on proper ones for a vintage Atlas 750.

    Like 1
    • Terrry

      The second thing is to throw away the points, get an electronic ignition setup and get decent coils..

      Like 1
  9. LarryS Member

    Really need some input from an Atlas expert on this one – there are a lot of things that strike me as changed from the original.

    One of Norton’s claims to fame in the Atlas era was the Featherbed frame and Roadholder forks (which was proclaimed by a badge on each fork leg). While the frame looks right, the forks don’t look at all like the original Roadholders. Also, all of the Atlases I remember had fuller fenders than this one, which has fenders that resemble the fenders on a Triumph (as does the taillight – the side reflectors were from later years). The air filter box is missing and another beautiful feature (to me) that is missing here is the mufflers, which were uniquely shaped. The megaphones on this one were a common replacement for the stock mufflers on practically everything. The original Norton Atlas tank that I remember had chrome trim on either side with the Norton name toward the front. Finally, I share JT’s dislike for the pull back (buckhorn?) bars. But given that British motorcycle manufacturers often altered their offerings for export to the US, I wonder whether they might not have been a variation available on US market Atlases.

    Like 1

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