The Norton NRS 588 – the ‘rotary racer’ – was the brainchild of engineer Brian Crighton. His innovative project was rejected by Norton management. Crighton built the bike anyway – off his own bat. In the caretaker’s shed! Subsequently, it performed so well in speed tests that the Norton top brass had a sudden change of heart! Indeed, they flashed the green light for its development.
To racegoers of a certain age, riders Trevor Nation and Steve Spray were joined at the hip with the ‘JPS Norton’. In their black, silver and gold leathers, they – and their bikes – were a sight to behold at British circuits. ‘Rocket’ Ron Haslam, too, played a pivotal rôle in the bike’s success. And Robert Dunlop – younger brother of the great Joey Dunlop – also graced the saddle of the iconic black Norton.
Revered for its jet-like straight-line speed, the rotary engine’s braking – or lack of it – made cornering much more of a challenge! The rear end, snaking this way and that, was the source of much spectator mirth at the time. The Norton NRS 588, then, was a legendary British race bike – one guaranteed to render misty-eyed those privileged to have seen it. And all thanks to Brian Crighton … and his powers of perseverance!