1956 Norton Dominator

You know how it’s just… so… easy to click a bid in when you’re visiting an online auction? That’s how Jim Algar transformed a mild midlife crisis into a Featherbed Norton Dommi 99…

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If I said I always wanted a British bike but things like working, marriage, kids and the like always got in the way, would I be a walking cliche? Of course I would. Good. Glad we got that out of the way.

Growing up in Southern California in the 1950s and 60s, British bikes were everywhere. The fellow who worked at our local petrol station had a thumper Matchless, and it was always fun to watch him (try to) start it. A couple of kids in my high school had Triumphs. Both had neglected to fit silencers, and the sound of their arrival every morning could be heard halfway across campus. Way cool.

I got my first bike when I was stationed in Japan with the Air Force in 1966. (You there at the back of the room, the one moving your lips; stop doing the math. I’m well on the slippery side of 50 now.) I scraped together every penny a serviceman’s pay would allow and bought a brand new Honda 305 Scrambler. A wicked bike on which, despite more than one attempt, I was unable to kill myself. Ah, the innocence of youth!

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When I was rotated back to the States, I sold that bike onto another airman (as one did). A couple of years later, in college, I decided that a bike would be an efficient, economical way to get around while the wife drove the (only) car. The dealer I visited had a shiny new Norton Commando on display, and just standing next to it did strange things to my (only slightly) mature hormones. Unfortunately, my pocketbook was nowhere near up to the level of my hormones, so no British bike for me just then; I could (just) afford another Honda, a CB175 twin. Very well made, very dependable… very boring.

All right, fast forward to present day (what I really want to do is direct). The children are grown, the career is on track, and the wife, bless her, is very understanding.

‘Mid-life crisis? Certainly, dear, go ahead and have one.’

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SUV, 1956 style?

So one day on eBay (I was looking for something else. Really), I spotted this: ‘1956 Norton: Dominator, Model 99.’ I had to do a quick troll through my mental database. Oh, right, the Dominator; pre-Commando twin, Featherbed frame, etc.

So I put in a bid that I honestly thought had little chance. Besides, I was breaking every cardinal rule of bike buying; sight-unseen and all that. Imagine my surprise (gulp!) when I was notified that I was the proud owner of a 1956 Norton, Dominator, Model 99.

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Looking into the soul of the machine?

The bike was located in Reno, Nevada, some 500 miles away. So I stripped the back and middle row seats out of the Pontiac Montana MPV (a Vauxhall Sintra in the UK), and headed north. 500 miles up Saturday, 500 miles back Sunday, and my Norton (mine, all mine!) was safely ensconced in my garage.

That axle stand is ready for a respray

So where are we now? Well, I’ve got a shiny new set of Whitworth spanners and sockets, I’ve joined the Norton owners’ club, I’ve memorised Norvil’s address and email, and I’m already tearing into the bike. The crankshaft seal has been leaking and happily filling the primary case with oil (which the seller was up front about) so I’m in the process of attending to that. The bike is currently wearing a fibreglass gas tank (black and gold to mimic a Commando) but the original steel tank was included in the sale, so that’s going to go back on eventually, in a correct colour scheme. There are a few other non-original items (front mudguard, and the silencers are 1957 units), but nothing to worry about just yet. This is just too much fun.

Good enough to lick. Ahem. Sorry.

Mid-life crisis? Certainly, dear, go ahead and have one.

Anyone with comments, advice, observations or who just wants to chat about Dominators can reach me at [email protected]

Great pictures, Jim.

Anyone on here not having a mid-life crisis?

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