There would be no legitimate modern story of Norton without Kenny Dreer. The 63-year-old is the first guy to credit his small team of engineers and enthusiast bike developers—plus Ollie Curme, who brought the funding—for the success they had in building Norton America. But without the fierce, passionate drive of Dreer himself, the Norton name would have continued to languish as it had since the original factory died its slow death with Norton Villiers Triumph in the late 1970s.
There were several attempts, some more legitimate than others, to revive the brand between then and now, but the efforts of Dreer & Co. were what actually picked up the pieces and re-established the noble name.
“We fought for the rights to the Norton trademarks,” says Dreer. “They were fractured. Through our efforts, we consolidated those trademarks all under one roof. That was something accomplished through Norton America, in addition to fending off all those people who were just trying to profit from the name; there were so many shams and charlatans. We brought back legitimacy and credibility to the brand with our efforts to build a real-world motorcycle.”
These days, Kenny Dreer continues to exercise his motorcycle passion in regional drag racing and is looking for a few more tenths to better his consistent 7.40s. Not bad for a semi-retired 63-year-old.
Dreer says the prototypes the company made and that new owner Stuart Garner got with the deal were “70 to 80 percent maximum” in terms of how close they were to being production bikes.
What does Dreer think of the “new” Norton? “First, I would like to extend congratulations to Garner and team for picking up the ball and moving it forward,” he says, adding that he is definitely interested to see for himself what’s truly different on the Norton UK version vs. the American-made prototypes, since the outward similarities are so strong.
But in a sincere tone, Dreer says, “I just want to be sure our effort is recognized, nothing more. All of us involved paid a heavy price: Paul Gaudio, Simon ‘Semo’ Smith, Patrick Leyshock and Ollie Curme, who put in $10-$11 million, and everybody else who helped along the way. I could not have been more proud of our achievement and the bike we produced.”
These days, Dreer describes himself as semi-retired. He sells some vintage parts on eBay, which seems like perfectly adequate semi-retirement work, but then he also offers that he came up with a design he believes would be beneficial to the trucking industry.
“It’s an airflow add-on designed to enhance fuel mileage for tractor-trailers,” he says, explaining that he is putting together a proposal to engage a technical university to help him further the engineering through computational fluid dynamics testing. “If they can help me validate the concept, hopefully we can commercialize the idea.”
And there is also the drag racing. Dreer runs a nitrous-burning Pro Mod 1425cc Suzuki-based dragbike in the Northwest Drag Racing series, recently turning in a 7.43-second, 179-mph pass and, as ever, looking for better.
Just the thing for semi-retirement…
“Stuart Garner has done an admirable job, but let’s give credit where credit is due,” he says. “It’s not about the bike, it’s about the people who made the project. That’s important to me.”