For many clas­sic rid­ers, Nor­ton’s twin en­gine in the iconic feath­erbed frame is the ul­ti­mate Bri­tish bike. Stu­art Urquhart takes a spin on a Dommi that daz­zles – in ev­ery re­spect…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Stu­art Urquhart

For many clas­sic rid­ers, Nor­ton’s twin en­gine in the iconic feath­erbed frame is the ul­ti­mate Bri­tish bike. Stu­art Urquhart takes a spin on a Dommi that daz­zles – in ev­ery re­spect…

Ask any driver of an en­thu­si­ast’s sports car, be it a clas­sic MG or a mod­ern Fer­rari, why red is the only suit­able colour for their ma­cho wheels. ‘Ex­cit­ing, thrilling and stirs the blood’, might be the-off-cuff re­ply. Be­lieve what you will, but the wis­dom of ex­pert psy­chol­o­gists in­forms us that the colour red is as­so­ci­ated with en­ergy, war, strength, power and de­ter­mi­na­tion as well as pas­sion, de­sire, love and suc­cess. The colour red is also sup­posed to en­hance hu­man me­tab­o­lism, in­crease re­s­pi­ra­tion rate, and raise our blood pres­sure. An­other un­der­stand­ing is that red at­tracts at­ten­tion more than any other colour and is there­fore of­ten used to sig­nify danger.

Small won­der then, that the pres­ence of a red mo­tor­cy­cle can cause an other­wise dis­in­ter­ested biker to come across all hot and both­ered. Would it be far-fetched or fan­ci­ful to de­duce that sev­eral pop­u­lar Ital­ian thor­ough­breds such as MV Agusta, Du­cati and Moto Guzzi ex­ploited red as a cun­ning ploy to win sales? Small won­der, then, that we all get ex­cited about Ital­ian mo­tor­cy­cles.

The same could be said of the flam­boy­ant red Nor­ton Dominator 99 that poses se­duc­tively through­out these pages. Ac­cord­ing to owner Sandy Bloy, red is the only colour for this pop­u­lar 1950s twin – def­i­nitely not dull poly­chro­matic grey or bor­ing, bland and passé black! Sandy, as we can see, is pas­sion­ate about red Nor­ton Dom­i­na­tors, and who can blame him?

Back in his teenage phase, Sandy’s first en­counter with a red Dominator oc­curred when his friend Jim or­dered a brand new, 1956 Model 99 from Pride & Clarke in Lon­don. The bike was de­liv­ered by Bri­tish Rail, and Sandy vividly re­calls the im­pres­sion the Nor­ton had on him when they went to col­lect Jim’s new bike at Perth sta­tion. The Dominator was dou­ble-wrapped in cor­ru­gated card­board held by string and sticky tape, but hints of glint­ing chrome and gloss red paint­work peeped through the wrap­ping – even the BR guards­man was bab­bling ex­cit­edly as he as­sisted the boys in un­wrap­ping the mo­tor­cy­cle.

Then Sandy had to en­dure rest­less nights lis­ten­ing to Jim’s 99 twit­ter­ing around the back streets of Perth in the com­pany of some chuff­ing sin­gles. In the wee sma’ hours Sandy made a prom­ise to him­self that one day he would have a red Dominator like Jim’s.

Just four years later Sandy’s dream of Dominator own­er­ship be­came a re­al­ity – al­though it was more of ‘poly­chro­matic grey’ wish come true. Sandy had a mo­tor­cy­cling cousin, Vinny, who had a poly-grey ’56 Dominator 88. Un­for­tu­nately Vinny dropped his 88 on black ice and the Nor­ton came off far worse than its pi­lot. The dou­ble whammy for Vinny was that he needed a com­muter mo­tor­cy­cle to get to and from his work. For­tu­nately, he re­mem­bered Sandy’s dream, and he of­fered his crash-dam­aged Dominator as a straight swap for a run­ning Ariel Ar­row that Sandy had re­cently re­stored to the road. Sandy was thrilled with the idea of own­ing his first Dominator and so they shook on the deal.

With­out de­lay Sandy be­gan to sort the dam­age, which mostly amounted to bad­ly­dented tin­ware on one side. He turned the Dominator into a café racer (the rage of the 1960s) and binned the dam­aged mud­guards, tool­boxes and head­light. Al­loy guards re­placed crum­pled steel and road-scratched ex­hausts were ditched for swept-backs and re­verse cone mega­phones.

‘Fol­low­ing weeks of hard graft I soon had Vinny’s 88 back on the road,’ said Sandy. ‘ The bike was very good to me, but I only ran it for a cou­ple of months be­fore a rac­ing pal pestered me into sell­ing it to him. A painter by trade, he was nick­named “Rad” be­cause he painted his rac­ing bikes in bright colours – so it will come as no sur­prise when I tell

you he cruised the streets in a daz­zling vista or­ange Capri. But I was flab­ber­gasted when he painted my ex-Dominator in vista or­ange too – not quite red, but nearly!

‘Rad ran the 88 for years be­fore it sud­denly pro­duced a death rat­tle. Un­for­tu­nately Rad had for­got­ten to turn on an oil tap he’d fit­ted to pre­vent wet-sump­ing. So the bright or­ange Dominator came back to me in ex­change for an AJS field bike I’d built. I was more than a lit­tle chuffed, as I loved my old Dominator 88. I have never for­got­ten its reg­is­tra­tion num­ber ei­ther – JTS 345 – I won­der where she is now?’

Since then Sandy has garaged no less than seven Nor­ton Dom­i­na­tors, in­clud­ing an At­las, none of which was red. Read­ers will have no­ticed this is not the case with Sandy’s cur­rent and very red Dominator 99 pic­tured here­abouts – prob­a­bly the cause of your ris­ing re­s­pi­ra­tion and blood pres­sure…

How­ever, worry not, in the in­ter­ests of restor­ing calm, here fol­lows a brief his­tory:

Nor­ton launched their 596cc Model 99 Dominator twin in 1956 by in­creas­ing the ca­pac­ity of the 88 model’s en­gine from 497cc. Bore and stroke went up to 68 by 82mm from the pre­vi­ous model’s 66 by 72.6mm. The new 99 model was of sim­i­lar di­men­sions and weight to the 88, tip­ping the scales at 395lb. It pro­duced 31bhp (an ex­tra 2bhp over the 88) and had a top speed of over 100mph. The en­gine un­for­tu­nately would de­velop prob­lems if tuned for rac­ing, whereby the crankshaft was prone to break­ing un­der the stresses of com­pe­ti­tion. This led to the emer­gence of the fa­mous Tri­ton, which mar­ried the fa­bled feath­erbed’s han­dling to Tri­umph’s highly-tune­able Bon­neville mo­tor.

Left in its stan­dard spec how­ever, the Nor­ton 99 Dominator proved to be an ex­cel­lent all-rounder and was well re­spected

by the mo­tor­cy­cle press of the day. By 1958 Nor­ton had in­tro­duced twin carbs and al­ter­na­tor electrics. The wide­line feath­erbed frame was re­placed by the slim­line in 1960, be­fore this Dominator ceased pro­duc­tion just two years later.

Red, the colour of Sandy’s model, was avail­able on both the 88 and 99 Dominator mod­els from 1958 to 60. Other op­tions were metal­lic blue, and black and sil­ver. The equally pop­u­lar poly­chro­matic grey was in­tro­duced by 1951 on the 500cc 88 model and con­tin­ued through­out Dominator pro­duc­tion. In the early 1960s op­tional colour com­bi­na­tions were in­tro­duced, along with chromed mud­guards. These in­cluded: black and dove grey; blue and dove grey; cream and dove grey; red and dove grey; and green and dove grey. Poly­chro­matic grey and dove grey be­came avail­able on the later 88SS and De Luxe mod­els.

‘Be­ing wed­ded to the mo­tor­cy­cle trade I had a well-known friend who’s the pro­pri­etor of Spin­ning Wheel clas­sic cars in Ch­ester­field’, con­tin­ued Sandy. ‘Adrian dab­bles in clas­sic cars and mo­tor­cy­cles and for sev­eral years he was aware that I had been on the look­out for an orig­i­nal red 99 Dommi. He’d also ex­pressed a keen in­ter­est in a beau­ti­ful black and chrome Ve­lo­cette Viper that I’d re­stored. Then out of the blue Adrian emailed me some ir­re­sistible pic­tures of a nice red Dominator 99 he just hap­pened to have in stock. 364 CJO looked very ap­peal­ing on my PC screen, and looked in bet­ter than oily-rag con­di­tion. How­ever Adrian in­formed me that it would re­quire some sort­ing.

‘Of course, I knew his game as soon as he asked if I still had my lovely Viper. Fol­low­ing some lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions we even­tu­ally agreed on a straight swap, sub­ject to me view­ing the Dominator. So I bor­rowed a pal’s horse­box and trot­ted down to Ch­ester­field with my Velo strapped inside the box. Thank­fully, the 99 looked even bet­ter than its dig­i­tal ef­figy and I re­turned to Scot­land with my prize, much re­lieved that my search for a red Dominator had come to an end.

‘Al­though I was in­formed that 364 CJO had been part of a pri­vate col­lec­tion, it be­came ap­par­ent that the bike had not been used for a long time. It just would not start. Even an oblig­a­tory ser­vice of chang­ing oils, fuel and plugs made no dif­fer­ence. I also cleaned and re­set the dis­trib­u­tor points and there was a healthy spark. Com­pres­sion also felt good, and yet I ex­pe­ri­enced great dif­fi­culty in start­ing the bike from cold. Play­ing with the choke set­tings made no dif­fer­ence, nor did flood­ing the carb or open­ing the throt­tle. I kicked it over ’til I was blue in the face!

‘I was truly stumped, be­cause in my ex­pe­ri­ence Nor­ton Dom­i­na­tors are easy to start. Fuel, spark, bang – and off you go is the norm. I had fuel and sparks, but alas, no bang. When she did even­tu­ally fire up, the en­gine started mis­fir­ing on one cylin­der. I had just enough time to check that en­gine oil was re­turn­ing to the tank be­fore blue smoke be­gan puff­ing from both ex­hausts. I knew then that I was look­ing at some se­ri­ous fet­tling…’

Sandy sus­pected an ig­ni­tion fault was the cause of poor start­ing. He had al­ready de­cided to up­grade to a 12V sys­tem and fit­ted a new al­ter­na­tor, bat­tery, rec­ti­fier and coil. The dis­trib­u­tor and points were per­fectly ser­vice­able and only re­quired the points to be dressed with a mag­neto file. While at­tempt­ing to trace the er­ratic run­ning fault, Sandy no­ticed that the Monobloc carb’s float bowl had a gas­ket sec­tion omi­nously pro­trud­ing from its cover. When he in­ves­ti­gated inside the carb, Sandy also dis­cov­ered that some poorly-ap­plied sil­i­cone was prevent­ing the float from op­er­at­ing cor­rectly, and could pos­si­bly be a cause of fuel star­va­tion.

‘Af­ter strip­ping the car­bu­ret­tor and sort­ing the stick­ing float, I thought I had solved the poor start­ing prob­lem. But then I no­ticed the throt­tle slide was stamped “three and a half”

Nor­ton’s Dominator twins were made for roads like this

Right: It’s some­thing of a cliché to com­plain about the leaky na­ture of the long, pressed steel pri­mary chain­case. Care­ful assem­bly, mod­ern rub­ber seals and en­sur­ing that the joint faces are in good con­di­tion helps. As does us­ing the cor­rect spac­ers for the footrest hanger

Above: There are rel­a­tively few mo­tor­cy­cles where the frame is as de­fin­i­tive as the en­gine. Feath­erbed Nor­tons are one of them

All the Dom­i­na­tors make ex­cel­lent rid­ing ma­chines. Here’s owner Sandy Bloy set­ting out on his

The sin­gle carb is the old re­li­able Amal Monobloc, easy to use and to ser­vice

The twin’s power is fed by a long sin­gle-row pri­mary chain to this, the fa­mous AMC / Nor­ton gear­box, Famed for its clean shift­ing and re­li­a­bil­ity

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