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1957 Norton Dominator 99
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Half a century old, some classic bikes are still going strong. John Kerridge (aka Yorkie) celebrates his Dommi's 50th birthday this year...

It was in the spring of 1957 that I decided to splash out on my first new bike. So armed with an ES2, I was allowed £100 against a new 600cc Norton Dominator 99 (the full price being £288 1s 8p including purchase tax, road tax, number plates, petrol and oil). I took delivery on May 11th 1957 of KHL 265. What a luxurious ride it was! The 99 held the road like a train on rails. It went quick and stopped quicker. What a difference to the ES2 which tended to hop around bends -- althoughI did miss the long-stroke single cylinder engine (something I still wax lyrical about, 50 years on).

John looking apprehensive on the first day of his new job as a human cannonball. 1957 Norton Dominator 99 photographed when new.

This was the beginning of a long partnership with the 99. One of the first trips I made on this bike was to the Jubilee TT races, before the drive-on ferries when the machines were craned up, three at a time, and placed on deck as deck cargo. It all appeared to be a slightly dodgy method of loading precious cargo. The experience of the TT was terrific; motorcycling saturation every day, with gazing at bikes, gymkhanas, a trial, motorcycle football, the museums, etc. A week fully enjoyed.

Full of enthusiasm, on return I decided to join the Halifax & District Motorcycle and Car Club to explore the trials and scrambles scene. I started riding in main road trials, somewhere different every weekend; travel to the venue, ride on about a 60 mile run, guided by a detailed route card and averaging 24mph throughout. It doesn't sound much but it was very exhilarating, especially if one got lost and had to make up time! On club nights in summer we had treasure hunts around the district, once again they were enjoyed to the full, and I gained a lot of knowledge about the district into the bargain.

In September of 1957 I had some trouble with the Smiths Chronometric speedometer on the 99, which was replaced by the manufacturer at a cost of £2/6/6d (apparently they were not covered by the bike's guarantee).

Unsurpassed in both appearance and performance 1957 Norton Dominator 99 publicity material.

I then entered the Rotherham White Rose Night Trial, which was a Yorkshire Centre ACU event. It consisted of starting at Rotherham at 10pm, leaving at minute intervals, riding at an average of 24mph for 200 miles, through the night, finishing at Scarborough. We checked in, then turned around and rode back home, so a 380 mile round trip. As a navigator I recruited Eric Atkinson, our club chairman, We managed second place in our class, winning an ash tray. I thoroughly enjoyed the night riding, especially as dawn was breaking, so I also entered in the two succeeding years and in 1958 won a lighter and in 1959 I took home a pewter tankard.

It was early in 1958 that a crack appeared in the front section of the rear mudguard. I wrote to Norton to complain and they said that it was out of warranty by a few months so was no longer their liability. As a gesture of goodwill they would let me have a replacement for 15/- as against the full price of £2/7/5d + 15%. The bikes must have only had a 6 months guarantee in those days!

It wasn't long before the bike had 30,000 miles on the clock and it needed a bit of maintenance so I stripped it down, fitting new main bearings and big ends, re ground the valves and fitted anything else which was needed. I re built it again so it was good for the next 30,000 miles.

At this time I met Vera, my wife-to-be, so I now had a regular pillion passenger. We travelled extensively doing road trials, trips here there and everywhere. We went on holiday to Folkestone in 1958 for two weeks. It was perfect weather, and I did most of my daylight riding in just sandals and shorts!

We did lots of mileage over the summer of 1958 and winter and spring of 1959. In the summer of 1959 we got invited to a wedding at Eastbourne, and decided to go there and back in one day. This sounds nothing in these days of motorways and endless dual carriageways but in those days it was very different. 260 miles of A- and some B-roads, through nearly every town en route including London. I remember setting off at something like 2am! It was a long 520 mile round trip, but a good day and well worth the effort.

Our summer holiday of 1959 was to St Ives in Cornwall, memorable because of the long drive down there. It was quite a journey which took us a grand total of 13 hours, with very little stopping because every time I stopped, all the traffic I had previously passed had to be passed all over again…

Also it was in this year that the first bit of British motorway was opened. It was the Preston by-pass, so the Norton was christened at the first opportunity. We steamed on merrily with a final burst of 98mph. It felt as if we were flying! On leaving the motorway we stopped to take stock and found that the silencer was flapping in the breeze, so with a bit of baling wire and a steady ride we made it home.

At the annual general meeting of the club I was presented with a newly inaugurated award, given by the RAC/ACU, it was their new ACU road safety award for 1959/60.

It was about time for another engine overhaul as the 99 had done about 65,000 miles and it was beginning to feel its age. So during the winter of 59/60 the engine was stripped and re conditioned. It got new main bearings and big end shells again, although it didn't really need them; the main problem seemed to be the valves and guides.

There was also wear in the cylinder bores, so new valve guides were manufactured at work, new valves fitted and the bores opened up to +30thou. New pistons and rings were fitted, the lot was then re assembled, and it was now good for a further 30,000 miles.

Random Dominator stuff on eBay.co.uk

By the end of 1960 the paintwork was beginning to look a little shabby. As we had decided to get married in 1961 the Dommie had to be cosmetically refurbished, ready for the forthcoming honeymoon. Black was to be its new livery so it was stripped down once again - but not the engine and gearbox this time. I was riding around on a Triumph with a box sidecar; the box was needed to carry parts to and from work for painting. It took a few weeks but the end product was well worth it.

For our honeymoon we decided to do something completely different which was virtually unheard of in those days -- to go abroad. We would go down France and then into Italy, do a bit of sightseeing then return by a different route. I sent to the RAC for all their information and a route, (which I still have), booked the ferry and our overnight stop in Leeds, and left the rest to take care of itself.

Northern France, back when they had sunshine. 1957 Norton Dominator 99, somewhere in Northern France...

The wedding day arrived, nuptials performed, and we were on our way, first to Leeds then the next day to Dover. The day after we sailed to France and proceeded south, stopping at Abbeville where there was still a lot of shell and bomb damaged buildings. We then proceeded to Paris which was quite a shock to the system! The driving was terrible, everyone 'drove on their horn' and their brakes. It was in Paris that I decided I didn't like the noise the engine was making, so we decided to cut out our Italian trip short and headed for Deauville, the nearest seaside town which was on our way home. We had mixed weather, and returned home refreshed and skint.

That autumn we went to the Earl's Court motorcycle show, a round trip of 400 miles of hard riding in the absence of motorways and in the middle of November. We returned home absolutely frozen, switched on every heat-producing appliance in the house and promptly blew the YEB main fuse! Oh well we live and learn.

In 1962 I entered the National Rally. This involved starting at 10am on the Saturday morning, riding 600 miles at an average speed of 24mph, taking in a special observed section on the Rhydimowyn (North Wales) race track at an average speed of (I think) 27mph, and finishing at Rhyll on the Sunday at 9am. I had my usual long distance navigator, Eric Atkinson, and we managed to win the Norton trophy for the best Norton entered. There was a total entry of over 600 riders so we had quite a good result, I thought.

By this time we were expecting an addition to the family and so would need a sidecar. I found a Busmar Astral child adult, a fairly big one and very modern, with sprung wheel and sidecar wheel brake, for £110. I attached it to the Dommie using fittings which enabled me to remove the sidecar chassis and body as one unit, to be able to drive the bike solo when I wanted. However, things weren't as simple as that. Driving it for the first time was horrendous, a 'tank slapper' set in as soon as I got moving. The outfit was practically unrideable, so off came the sidecar. The next step was to obtain a steering damper and fit it.

When testing commenced, the tank-slapper' was eliminated only by screwing the damper knob down as tightly as possible, which made it virtually impossible to steer the outfit. The next step was to obtain and fit sidecar fork yokes, so off came the sidecar again to be fitted with new yokes, sidecar rate springs and headlamp brackets. Finally, the sidecar driving was now up to standard.

Built in the light of experience. 1957 Norton Dominator 99 publicity material.

The Dominator served us well on short trips, long trips and holidays, despite the noises that appeared to come from the engine whilst on our honeymoon. In all I estimate that the bike did about 90,000 miles (the speedo packed up at about 65,000) before it was taken off the road for refurbishment. That refurbishment started immediately. It was stripped down to basic bits…

...and left for about thirty years.

The rebuild which started in 2002 cost over five times the price of the bike back in 1957. The Dommi was treated to new main bearings, big ends, rings, valves, valve guides, valve springs, gaskets, timing chains, auto advance/retard unit, both drive chains, wheels rebuilt with stainless steel spokes, wheel rims, wheel bearings, headlamp reflector unit, part of the rear mudguard, re wiring, reconditioning of dynamo and magneto, new exhaust pipes and silencers, swinging arm spindle, silentblock bushes and numerous small bits and pieces, nuts and bolts. It was all a labour of love.

Mirrors and a new helmet; don't go mad now... 1957 Norton Dominator 99 photographed 50 years later and after the rebuild.

I didn't build it to concours standard. I rebuilt it to the specification that it was in back when it was in its heyday, when I was fully active in the main road trials scene. The only things missing are the black Craven panniers that I loaned to a 'friend' way back in the 1960s, and I never did get them back.

It is now the Dommi's birthday year. It was 50 years old in May 2007. The bike is willing to do another 90,000 miles, but I have to sit this one out with a replacement hip and a dodgy knee.

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There's more real life reports about Norton Dominators (including the Model 7, 77, 88, 99 and 650SS versions), plus recommended modifications and suppliers in the September 2007 issue of RealClassic magazine - available to buy here soon...



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