From rust to gold: The Gasbox Norton Dominator


We love a good barn find story, but stories of wrecks transformed into custom gold are even better. This particular tale comes from Jesse Bassett, one of the finest motorcycle builders in the American Midwest. Jesse started his career sweeping floors in a custom shop when he was just ten years old. Today he’s famous for running The Gasbox, and he usually has a dozen bikes in his Cleveland shop at any one time. Occasionally something extra special comes along, like this Norton Dominator.

“One day a friend told me he knew where some Norton Commando parts were hidden,” Jesse tells us. “We drove about an hour west of Cleveland to a large barn. It was full of British parts and bikes, just thrown in over the years, without any regard for future condition.”

“The owner mentioned having an old Dominator engine, but said I would not want that ‘rusty thing.’ But after about two hours of digging, I found my rusty gold. It must have been the first thing he put in there.” Luckily for Jesse it was a complete drive train, still bolted into a cradle. So he made a cash deal, gathered his ‘junk’ and headed home.

The project sat around for a couple of years, as restorations are wont to do. Then Jesse was visited by an Australian enthusiast, a well-traveled man who lived in the UK but did business in the states. “He’d been following my work since 2010, when our 1965 BSA Lightning became famous. He loved the BSA and wanted a similar bike, but built around an engine with a little more wow factor.”

Jesse remembered the pile of ‘junk.’ And when his client saw the Dominator engine, he was sold. He’d grown up listening to the roar of Nortons on the Australian back roads. Jesse fabricated a new rigid frame. He’s styled it like the Norton ES2 frames, but with custom geometry—to fit the rider better. While doing this, he also discovered that rigid-framed Model 7 Dommies were an Australia-only machine. “That was cool, knowing the bike will eventually reside there.”

Jesse fabricated the girder-type forks from scratch. He’s kept in mind the original Webb design, but updated elements such as the bearing style and material thicknesses.

Sticking with classic British styling, there’s a 19-inch rear wheel and a 21-inch front. (“We went with high-shouldered alloy rims, and accented them with black centers and a vermilion stripe.”) The rear brake is stock Norton, but the front is from a Triumph Thunderbird.

The bodywork is hand-fabricated from sheets of steel, but Jesse’s kept the original oil and gas filler caps. The exhaust was fabricated from stainless, and kept as simple as possible. The motor has been subtly upgraded. “The original 500cc was just not enough, so we installed a 600cc cylinder and crank—which was no easy  feat.” Jesse eventually found the parts via the Norton Owners Club in England.

Once the crank and barrels were machined and balanced, Jesse installed larger valves in the head and opened up the ports for breathing. He’s also had the original cam reground with a more performance-oriented profile, and installed a brand spanking new Amal carb.

To keep the looks as sparkling as the performance, Jesse’s polished the engine cases and aluminum bits, and had the cast iron heads and cylinders nickel-plated.

To keep the electrics humming along nicely, magneto specialist Skip Brolund rebuilt the generator and original BTH magneto. The lighting is vintage—no LEDs or mini-blinkers here—and runs off a Lucas 6-volt system. There’s a single restored Smiths gauge: “Just lightly cleaned, so as not to disturb too much history,” says Jesse.

The result is a one-kick machine worthy of the title ‘Dominator.’ It’s a style that looked good six decades ago, and looks even better today. If there’s a motorcycling definition of ‘timeless,’ this is it. The Gasbox | Images by Mikey Arnold.