You can’t talk motorcycle history without mentioning the Brits. That’s why whenever we attend a motorcycle show, we like to find at least one or two British bikes to take a closer look at. Older Triumphs are hard to come by, Vincents and Nortons are even rarer. That’s why we were ecstatic when we saw a vintage Norton that stood out from the crowd at this year’s Fuel Cleveland Show.
Many will recognize classic Norton bikes from their iconic black and gold styling, so when we saw Stephanie Hronek’s silver metal 1954 Norton, we weren’t sure what we were looking at. Hronek informed us that the bike is a Dominator 88, a popular twin-cylinder 500c model in England that never quite made its way to the states in any major frequency.
Hronek owns Chelsea Motorworks, a small Cleveland, OH-based customization and restoration motorcycle shop.
“This particular bike was a very challenging restoration,” she said. “A lot of parts had disappeared over the years, and it was completely in pieces when I got it. There are very few records and shop manuals available for Nortons of that time so I tried to get as close to the original specifications as I could.”
There are a few qualities of the Dominator that set it apart from its older brother, the Commando. The dashboard is unique to the 88 where it has a large central speedometer, ammeter, and lighting switch. Some of the parts like the exhaust system are even available for reproduction from companies in England, which Hronek says are very high quality.
The 497cc Bert Hopwood designed engine was the same powerplant shared with the Model 7 Dominator that preceded it. The pre-unit 360° pushrod vertical twin used cast iron cylinders and head. Ignition was by a magneto mounted behind the engine and power for the lights was supplied by a dynamo.
As for aesthetics, the plain silver paint job was harder to settle on than it may seem.
“Even coming up with the color of the bike was quite a challenge because the color codes don’t exist anymore. And there’s not much of any samples left on the bike other than underneath road holder badge on the fork. There was just a little bit of old paint there that I could work off.”
Once Hronek found a good sample, she went to Axalta paints and chose a silver that best matches the original polychromatic gray. In certain lighting, the paint will have either a green or a gold tint to it.
At the time, the hand pin-striped and painted wheels and the fully chrome gas tank made the Dominator 88 a rather fancy motorcycle, despite nearly 200 of them being produced every week. In comparison, the Dominator 88 retailed for around 20% more than its competitor, the Triumph Speed Twin. The motorcycle’s production life spanned from 1952 to 1966, when it was replaced by the Commando.
If you have a motorcycle, ATV, UTV, snowmobile or jet ski you’d like to feature in MPN’s Ride of the Week series, please email MPN Content Director Greg Jones at [email protected].