It has been a few weeks since we've seen a motorcycle featured in Jay Leno's Garage, but he has returned with a real classic – a 1962 Norton 650SS. While Norton may not be as well known today as fellow Brit Triumph, it built some of the top English sport bikes of its day and this was one of the fastest motorcycles you could buy.

This particular Norton is propelled by a 650cc parallel-twin that was capable of 119 miles per hour in period tests, notes Leno. Of course, being in Jay's collection, the bike doesn't show any of the negative stereotypes of old British bikes. There's no leaking oil here, and in fact, Leno says the restoration his bike underwent probably makes it better than the day it came off the assembly line.

While technically a sport bike, the Norton is much more relaxed than its modern equivalent. Compare Leno's position in the picture above to the way riders look on today's sport bikes. He's sitting up straight with his arms and legs out in front of him, rather than hunched over like you would see today.

Scroll down to check out this wonderful piece of vintage motorcycling as Leno shows off the Norton on the curvaceous backroads around his shop.


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  • 20 Comments
      TopGun
      • 7 Months Ago
      There is a lot of this review that many of today's "enthusiasts" don't seem to understand - begin able to ride/drive with finger/toe touches is a great description. Jay is right on, people today don't give a crap…park 'em and walk away. The very thought of spending time with the machine is crazy. Heck, we don't even want to shift for ourselves anymore…it's not as fuel efficient or as fast apparently…like that actually makes a difference on the road, or at the track I'd argue as we're not typically racing for our livelihoods.
      SquareFour
      • 7 Months Ago
      Even as a current owner of an Ariel (old Square Four, not Atom) and a former owner of a Spitfire (Triumph roadster, not BSA)--as well as numerous other Triumphs and Beezers that have passed in and out of my mitts over the years--I still want a Norton. I ought to know better by now, but I can't help it. It's a sickness. It also makes me yearn for a 60's-70's era Astons and all Lotuses (Lotii?), Caterhams and Morgans. Funny thing is, I can't seem to give a pinch for Rolls or Bentley.
      cvanac8550
      • 7 Months Ago
      Nice bike..... I'm bewildered as to why he wouldn't have put all this effort into a Commando S fastback or a Manx
        Lewis
        • 7 Months Ago
        @cvanac8550
        A Manx would be awesome. I would bet Jay would find an ex Hailwood example or the first one to crack the ton at the Island.
        icemilkcoffee
        • 7 Months Ago
        @cvanac8550
        Agreed. the Norton Commando was a much better representative of the breed than this Atlas.
          Milkovich
          • 7 Months Ago
          @icemilkcoffee
          The 650ss is for the norton purist. Manx was a tempremental race bike. A DBD34 but not as friendly or cheap. The commando was a rubbery wallowing pig for hopping from disco to disco in the 70's and was obsolete by the CB750 before it hit the showroom floor. The atlas was a pre-combat 750 that would shake the fingernails out of your hand (even with bar weights and every other trick in the book). The 650ss was the featherbed frame, the classic side by side twin displacement and sound, and a significant bike of the period. In the early sixties, pimps and gangsters rode triumphs, gentlemen rode the 650SS.
      Burt Hulbert
      • 7 Months Ago
      they all leaked oil and would explode unexpectedly at any moment. sorry but it's true.
        Milkovich
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Burt Hulbert
        It's called character. Knowing your headlight is going to go out at any moment, and topping off the oil tank with quality gas station 'wolf's head' 10w30 to get home is an ADVENTURE!
      creamwobbly
      • 7 Months Ago
      "Of course, being in Jay's collection, the bike doesn't show any of the negative stereotypes of old British bikes. There's no leaking oil here [...]" No no NO, you daft bugger! Leaking oil is a negative stereotype of old British cars, not bikes! Your description doesn't actually show it, but a quick jaunt over to Wikipedia shows that this parallel twin 650cc motor developed only 52 BHP. I'm sure the transmission had some problems too. That big drum brake on the front? Yeah. It checks all the boxes. What killed the British bike industry wasn't leaking oil. It was stagnation and a Luddist attitude. A magazine article contemporary with the bike Leno is riding said of the first Japanese imports (which at that time were restricted to, I think 125 cc? I can't remember) "it's built like a Swiss watch!" Japanese manufacturers were putting not just new development and manufacturing practices into practice, they were improving the machines they built, with higher powered small displacement motors, smoother transmission, better suspension, and stronger brakes. To put it another way, what killed the British bike industry almost killed the US motor industry.
        icemilkcoffee
        • 7 Months Ago
        @creamwobbly
        Of course old british bikes leaked oil. Norton, especially was famous for leaking oil THROUGH their metal casting. In other words, not just seeping through the gaskets, but seeping through the cast metal itself because of metal porosity. And not just oil neither. To start a cold bike, you have to use the tickler to richen up the Amal carbs. And the ticklers always left your fingers soaked with gasoline.
          SquareFour
          • 7 Months Ago
          @icemilkcoffee
          Shoot! Knew I should of read the replies before posting my own.
          cgm9999
          • 7 Months Ago
          @icemilkcoffee
          What icemilkcoffee said. Of course Nortons and Triumphs leaked oil back then; not only were they notorious for it, but pretty much every bike back then did, especially before the Japanese showed the world what motorcycle innovation and reliability looked like. To deny this is pure willful ignorance.
        SpikedLemon
        • 7 Months Ago
        @creamwobbly
        Many vintage British bikes were known to be "prayer cooled" rather than air/oil cooled.
        SquareFour
        • 7 Months Ago
        @creamwobbly
        Man, old Brit bikes are definitely not immune to oil leaks at all, but what they really like to do is weep oil from around every seal and even through the metal castings.
      J P
      • 7 Months Ago
      Can anybody on this planet find Jay a helmet that fits him?
      Richard Martin
      • 7 Months Ago
      I was thrilled to see this motorcycle featured having been raised on Norton's and spending a great deal of a fun part of my life riding, racing and selling them, as well as Honda's all Japanese makes, CZ's and others. My last motorcycle I owned was a 73 Norton Commando for 65,000 miles and 13 years. Quite honestly, the majority of the opinions expressed in the preceding letters are total croc. Did they leak? Of course, was Lucas the Prince of Darkness, indeed. Porous castings - what are you smoking, weak transmissions, you mean those AMC transmissions that were so robust they were used in automotive applications. Drum brakes - well duh - everyone used drum brakes until - everyone didn't ... those were the times. I am so totally tired of reading mis-information about British motorcycles. This BS, perpetuated by enthusiast publications edited by children who loved to strut and rant their moto-nothings and ruined an industry, has become legendary along with the "perfect Japanese motorcycles." I love Hondas but i well remember countless broken cam chain tensioners on 175 cc and 350 cc Honda's, instrument needles that vibrated right out of the drives, cracked splatter welded frames, DOHC 450' (neat bikes) that overheated and seized, 750 cc Honda Fours, yes the legend itself that threw drive chains through the porous sand castings sheering off the the points - and then there was Kawasaki - volumes wait to written about the good'ol days of strings of brand new Kawasaki's lined up in the back of the shop, everyone with broken crank cases and zero replacement parts to fix them. I wish that people, the vast majority of whom have never had a relationship with a BritBike could resist the urge to repeat the rubbish that somebody told there friends friend who once new a guy that hadda Norton, Triumph, BSA, Enfield or whatever. In my life of motorcycling I owned at least 45 different motorcycles - only one, year after at the beginning of cycle season had that thrill of a brand new motorcycle being started (kick started) for the first time, each and every time. The 73 Commando, I loved it dearly - it was a pleasure to get out their and clean the chrome and stainless, buff the aluminum, wax the tank, marvel at the neat efficient design, get on it, jamb it through the Arizona mountains on a quiet morning, how i miss that bike - "rubbery wallowing disco to disco pig" - you dude, know nothing about what you speak. I feel better.
        Pat Labriola
        • 1 Month Ago
        @Richard Martin

        HEY, JAY IF YOU READ THIS I HAVE THE CROWN JEWEL FOR YOUR COLLECTION, A 1973 TRIUMPH HURRICAN X75 ,5000 MILES, ALL ORIGINAL .

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