Norton RC 588




Make Model.

Norton RC 588


1987 - 88


Twin rotor rotary engine


588 cc / 35.9 cu in
Cooling System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 9.2:1


Twin 34/36 mm Amal smoothbores


Norton "hall effect" triggered CDI

Max Power

101 kW / 135 hp @ 9500 rpm
Clutch 20-Plate, wet


Final Drive Chain
Frame Spondon twin spar aluminium

Front Suspension

White Power upside down forks

Rear Suspension

White Power single rear shock

Front Brakes

Twin Lockheed calipers and twin Spondon front discs

Rear Brakes

Single Brembo caliper and Spondon disc

Dry Weight

145 kg / 320 lbs
Source Bonhams

The first 588cc rotary engined Norton race bike, used for development in 1987 and a few races in 88.
The RC588 was superseded by the RCW588 in 1989.

This Norton ‘Rotary’ incorporates the very first chassis (‘SPE/NOR/A 347’) built for the works by Spondon Engineering and raced for the first time by factory tester Malcolm Heath at a Darley Moor club event in 1987. Later that year Heath rode this prototype machine on its national debut at Mallory Park, finishing 13th in the 1,300cc race in the pouring rain. Following these ‘shakedown’ outings, ‘SPE/NOR/A 347’ was shown to the motorcycling press and track tested in Classic Bike (November 1987) and Road Racer (December 1987/January 1988).

The improbable success of the Norton rotaries is one of modern racing’s greatest ‘fairy stories’; the tale of how an under-funded British David took on and beat the best of the Japanese and Italian Goliaths. Ex-racer Brian Crighton was working as a development engineer at Norton Motors when he conceived the idea of turning the rotary roadster into a world-beating race bike. Crighton’s prototype used a tuned example of the 588cc, air-cooled, twin-rotor engine, as fitted to the Classic and Interpol models, in a twin-spar aluminium beam frame built by Spondon Engineering. Suspension at the rear was rising rate with Ohlins monoshock, while Suzuki RG500 Kayaba forks propped up the front. The wheels were 17” Dymags. With a race-ready weight of 320lbs and an estimated 135bhp available (Norton’s dynamometer could only handle up to 100bhp) the RC588 seemed promising. In fact, its achievements would prove to be out of all proportion to the resources available.

For 1988 the team recruited Simon Buckmaster and Trevor Nation as regular riders, but it was substitute Andy McGladdery who gave the RC588 its first win, at the ACU Star event at Carnaby. The rest, as they say, is history: between 1989 and 1994 the howling Norton rotaries featured at the forefront of British national racing, an unprecedented run of success in modern times that culminated in Ian Simpson’s victory in the ’94 TT Superbike Championship for Colin Seeley’s Duckhams-sponsored team.

After the end of its competition career, circa 1988, ‘SPE/NOR/A 347’ was relegated to the role of ‘show bike’, fitted with the latest bodywork and refinished in the livery of the team’s new sponsor – John Player Specials. When the JPS-funded team disbanded at the end of 1992, the machine was sold into private ownership in Wiltshire. The next (immediately preceding) owner bought the machine in 1994. Subsequently re-commissioned and fitted with a water-cooled development engine (‘P52 003’) and correct Triumph T160 gearbox, ‘SPE/NOR/A 347’ was sold to the current owner - a prominent European classic racer and collector – in 2003. We are advised by the vendor that ex-JPS chief mechanic Dave Evans has identified the engine as an experimental unit used as a test bed for possible JPS participation in long-distance events like the Bol d’Or. The motor is fitted with Norton F1-type Mikuni carburettors, while the exhaust was fabricated by Pete Gibson (who made the originals) to factory pattern.