Remember the Norton Atlas project? Here’s what it could have been!

The Zongshen RE650 utilises an engine developed by Norton but shelved when TVS bought the marque

The Zhongshan RE650

CHINESE brand Zongshen is giving us a taste of what we could have, as images of its RE650 retro appear in technical drawings.

The link between this bike and the famous British motorcycle maker Norton comes about thanks to some wheeling and dealing by Stuart Garner, shortly before the brand went belly up, and these images come from Ben Purvis of Cycle World, who has once again been trawling the murky depths!

It began when Garner signed a Design & Licence Agreement to build 650cc engines developed by Norton and the engineering firm Ricardo, and manufactured by Zongshen. The motors were half of the Norton V4 SS engine, retuned and slotted into an all-new frame.

We all know how this story ended, Norton went under, got sold to TVS, and Garner had his day in court. After all of that, Zongshen got quite a significant prize: the right to continue building that same 650cc unit.

Now, the rest of the bike we can see here is not a Norton and doesn’t appear to use any of the Ranger’s or Nomad’s cycle parts. But it gives us an idea of how the Atlas project could have turned out. We’ve seen the Norton/Zongshen engine in a bike before - in the RX6 adventure bike also built by Zongshen. That bike though was a modern-looking adventure touring machine, and this RE650 is much more in line with the style that Norton was aiming for.

The Zongshen RX6

The frame of the RE650, while not exactly the same as the Atlas bikes, is a similar-looking item. The frame rails follow a similar line, and the engine is suspended in the same way. The overall silhouette of the bike is fairly close, too, although the tail unit of the Zongshen is distinctly more bobber than retro scrambler or roadster, as the Norton was. 

One big difference between the two is the shock placement which, on the Norton, was a conventionally mounted item sitting between the frame rails. The RE650 sees the shock mounted on the side of the bike, and directly to the banana-shaped swing arm.

What we don’t yet have are any concrete engine specs and performance figures for the bike, although we can have a stab at what the RE650 will produce by looking at the RX6. In the adventure bike the 650cc parallel twin produced around 70hp and 62Nm (45lb-ft) of torque. Both numbers were slightly down on the quoted Norton figures (82hp and 64Nm were quoted at the time). 

While it is a technical design drawing and not a full bike, we’ll take the overall look of the RE650 with a pinch of salt, but it is still interesting to think about what could have been, had Norton’s new owner TVS gone ahead with the 650cc project.

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