Home Intro People Events Equipment Places Maps Books Photos Videos Other Reference FAQ About

World War II Database

16H file photo [16807]


CountryUnited Kingdom
ManufacturerNorton Motorcycle Company
Primary RoleMotorcycle


ww2dbaseThe Norton 16H could trace its heritage back to the 1911 Isle of Man TT when the firms founder, James Norton, entered the first ever Senior race on a 490cc side valve machine listed as the "3 1/2". Although Norton failed to achieve a place in this first outing, in the following year he won the Brooklands TT (including breaking three world records) with a similar machine. In 1913 Norton had several Machines on sale to the public including the Brooklands Special (BS) and the Brooklands Road Special (BRS) which, with their single speed belt drive transmission, could claim an ability to lap the Brooklands circuit at 70mph and 65mph respectively. Indeed some Nortons were well able of exceeding 80mph in competition events.

ww2dbaseThe First World War disrupted production and it was not until 1919 that the 490cc Norton was offered for sale once again. The new model now came with a chain-drive and a three-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox. In 1920 Norton moved production to a new factory at Bracebridge Street in Birmingham and at that year's TT races more than half the finishers were riding Norton machines (although the Senior trophy was taken by Tommy de la Hay on a Sunbeam ahead of Norton's Douggie Brown).

ww2dbaseIn 1931 Norton launched a new model, called the Colonial, to take advantage of a growing market in less developed areas of the British Empire. This had a higher ground clearance than the standard machine which itself was given a new designation The 16H ("H" for Home). In that year's TT competition, Norton motorcycles were not placed higher than sixth although they were still, by far, the most popular mount of contenders.

ww2dbaseBy the mid 1920s the side-valve engine was no longer competitive in motor sport, but the dependable and rugged 16H would find itself a new role as popular family transport. With improved styling and detail refinements (such as switching to a saddle fuel tank), its considerable charm and popularity would ensure that the Norton would remain in production throughout the next decade. The engine was reworked in 1931 and in 1936, after extensive trials by the Army; a War Office order was placed for a military version with suitable modifications for off-road work.

ww2dbaseThe Norton 16H was purchased in very large numbers for use by the British Army just prior to the commencement of the Second World War. The Royal Air Force also took it and these were usually fitted with a single-seater sidecar. The sidecars were less frequently used by the Army, however, who preferred a solo machine for despatch riding and convoy marshalling duties.

ww2dbaseOver 80,000 were delivered through the war years gaining a unique reputation for "unstopability" as well as being a joy to ride on the road. A large number were supplied to Canada to be used by the Canadian Army for despatch riding. The Canadians who were accustomed to big US-built twins like the Indian and Harley-Davidson at first treated the lighter machine with contempt, but very soon began to respect the rugged British thoroughbred for its good handling and ability to keep going even when magnetos and gearboxes had been almost wrenched free by over-enthusiastic handling. It was not long before the Norton would acquire the reputation as the "Bike that not even the Canadians could break".

ww2dbaseAfter the war some machines remained in military service until the late 1950s, whilst many others survived with civilian owners for upwards of another two decades.

Andrew Kemp and Mirco De Cet, Classic British Bikes (Colour Library Direct, 1997)
Ian V Hogg & John Weeks, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles (Hamlyn 1980)
John Reed, Motorcycles in WWII (Article in War Monthly, October 1981)

Last Major Revision: Dec 2012


MachineryOne 490cc Single-cylinder air-cooled side-valve four stroke engine rated at 12bhp @ 4,500rpm
Weight0.2 t
Speed125 km/h


16H motorcycle, date unknown

Did you enjoy this article? Please consider supporting us on Patreon. Even $1 per month will go a long way! Thank you.

Share this article with your friends:


Stay updated with WW2DB:

 RSS Feeds

Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Hank says:
5 Mar 2013 11:38:25 PM

The top speed of the 'snortin Norton' as it was know was 110 km per hour (70 mph). Reference: Orchard, C. J.; Madden S.J. (1997). British Forces Motorcycles 1925 - 45. Suton Publishing
2. JOHN says:
11 Sep 2013 10:15:49 AM

how can i find out about the back ground of my Norton 16h engine no20793 in a 1940 frame any help would be gratefully received
3. robert de cock says:
12 Jun 2015 03:02:08 PM

i need some information for my norton 16h frame nr 86042 -1938 ? i wand to bring it back on the road i have no papers of it

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

Posting Your Comments on this Topic

Your Name
Your Email
 Your email will not be published
Comment Type
Your Comments
Security Code


Note: We hope that visitor conversations at WW2DB will be constructive and thought-provoking. Please refrain from using strong language. HTML tags are not allowed. Your IP address will be tracked even if you remain anonymous. WW2DB site administrators reserve the right to moderate, censor, and/or remove any comment. All comment submissions will become the property of WW2DB.

Change View
Desktop View

Search WW2DB & Partner Sites
16H Motorcycle Photo Gallery
16H motorcycle, date unknown

Famous WW2 Quote
"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945