Bernard Hooper well known in the motorcycle industry for the highly successful Norton Commando and the Isolastic system formed BHE to further advance R & D into the novel concept of the stepped piston engine, together with advanced projects on conventional engine and vehicle projects.

The background to the present day



Career history of Bernard Hooper CEng., MIMechE.

After completing an apprenticeship with Lucas Industries in Birmingham, Bernard studied Mechanical Engineering at Cornwall Technical College. He studied to ultimately become a chartered engineer (CEng) via the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) chartered engineer status entrance examinations. Soon after graduating from Cornwall Technical College he decided to emigrate to Australia. He worked initially for Lawton Forklift Trucks in Adelaide and latterly for Chrysler Australia Ltd also in Adelaide.

In the early 1950s, after a spell working for the Ministry of Supply, he joined BSA, working at the Redditch plant and rising to the position of Senior Design Engineer. Key engine and gearbox projects he was responsible for included: -

The Sunbeam S10 500 cm3 OHV engine unit

The BSA Bantam 150 cm3 engine

The Bantam 4 speed gearbox

BSA Bantam 150 cm3 engine


Sunbeam S10 500 cm3 OHV engine unit


At BSA Bernard became a close colleague of Hermann Meier and became ever more fascinated with two-stroke cycle engines. The design process seemed to be a black art and he decided that there must be a more consistent approach to consider the design methodology involved in porting, inlet and exhaust system. He was fascinated by the work of Prof. Hans List (AVL, Graz, Austria) and Walter Kaaden s pioneering work at MZ. Bernard became disillusioned with the lack of forward thinking evident at BSA. He regularly visited the Frankfurt Motorcycle show and was well aware of the developments coming forward from the key World competitors. Back at BSA he made proposals for the future way forward for BSA to remain a World leading motorcycle manufacturer and was staggered to hear push backs from senior managers. One comment being "you can't go saying things like this. They (the BSA directors) might want us to do something about it." Completely unimpressed by this blinkered thinking he resigned from BSA as he could see no future there and formed a partnership with Meier (Hooper Meier Partnership) offering engineering consultancy. During this period the following were successfully developed: -

The Scott Swift 500 cm3 twin cylinder engine (with BH designed Schnurle ported)

Outboard designs for Coventry Apex

The Norton 5 speed gearbox (for Harold Daniell)

400 cm3 engine for a small coupe for Saville Cars


Scott Swift 500 cm3 twin cylinder engine


By this point in his career Bernard Hooper's talents were making larger companies take notice and in 1958 he was offered the position of Chief Designer at the Villiers Engineering Company. At VEC he became famous for the highly successful Starmaker engine. His key projects included: -

The Starmaker Scrambler and Racing engines

The 4T Roadster and Minicar engine

150 cm3 Lightweight four-stroke engine

500 cm3 Twin Minicar engine

75/2 100 cm3 Vertical shaft engine

Starmaker and Stormer engines

Starmaker Racer - Bultaco framed 250cm3 Starmaker
(Peter Inchley rode to 3rd in the TT Races)


At Villiers he formed another strong key partnership with John Favill. John was a gearbox specialist and they both worked successfully on the Starmaker engine and integral gearbox unit. Unfortunately again Bernard felt heavily constrained by the limited plans that Villiers had. He and John decided to resign in 1965 and formed their own consultancy partnership, Hooper Favill. This resulted in further key projects and developments: -

The modern stepped piston engine (SPX and SPR concepts)

TSS improved engine concept

Transamatic high speed roller feed system


Soon after leaving Villiers, significant changes were happening in the British motorcycle industry. The AMC Group was taken over by Manganese Bronze led by Dennis Poore. Poore immediately set to work in trying to turn around AMC and wanted talented engineers to lead the newly formed Norton Villiers. On visiting the Villiers plant at Marston Road he was told that his most talented engine designer had recently left. Poore tracked Bernard down and asked him if he would return as Chief Engineer of the Group. Bernard was however by this time keen to develop the stepped piston engine concept and was therefore reluctant until he showed the designs to Poore. Poore readily became keen on the designs shown to him and NV became the first licensee of the SP Engine. Bernard and Favill joined Norton Villiers and the new Technical Director Dr Stefan Bauer. The first task was to save the Group by developing a ground breaking new motorcycle. Bauer insisted that the high vibration of the proposed parallel twin must be tamed. The Norton Commando was from this point born. Bernard invented the famous Isolastic anti vibration system while returning to Wolverhampton on the train from Plumstead with his assistant Bob Trigg.

The key engineers, reporting to Dr Bauer as Technical Director were: -

Engineer 1 Bernard Hooper (Chief Engineer)

Engineer 2 Bob Trigg

Engineer 3 Tony Denniss

Engineer 4 John Favill

Norton Commando

Z26 DOHC engine and gearbox unit for the new Norton Commando


The original plan for the Commando was to design and develop a completely new engine and gearbox. The development project was code named Z26. Unfortunately due to the need to have a bike in production at break neck speed this was a very tall challenge. Bernard realised this was a long shot but he and Favill did their best and a Double Overhead Cam engine and gearbox unit was designed. The need for the Commando to be in production so quickly really meant that there was insufficient time and resources for the Z26 engine development. Bernard knew that a faster solution was the only way. The engine continued through development but Bernard had also seen the results of Wally Wyatt's great work on the Atlas 750 cm3 engine. Bernard saw this as a much more rapid and viable option to meet the stringent production deadlines imposed by management. He was frustrated by the director's inability to be able to make decisions. In desperation he scheme-ed out a design with the cylinders leaning forward, creating a more modern design. He was always a fan of tail fairing layouts and so the future Norton Commando Fastback design was born. The directors finally made a decision and the Commando was to become the saviour of Norton.

The Norton Commando is one of the most successful motorcycles the industry has seen being voted MCN Motorcycle of the year for 5 consecutive years despite the increasing competition from Japanese manufacturers such as Honda and Yamaha. In 1970 Bernard Hooper and Bob Trigg were awarded the Castrol Design Award for best contribution to motorcycle safety, comfort and performance, for the Norton Commando Isolastic Engine Mounting System.

Other engines and projects, in addition to the Commando, completed by Bernard Hooper at Norton Villiers included: -

The Wulf 500 cm3 Motorcycle (SPX500 stepped piston engine)

AJS Stormer and Starmaker engines

C30 Four-stroke 256 cm3 industrial engine

Vertex 172 cm3 rotary mower engine

SPR150 and SPR270 Industrial engines (Single cylinder stepped piston engines)


As is well-known the British Motorcycle industry struggled with deep financial constraints in the 1970s. Bernard again became frustrated by the lack of support for future ground breaking designs and future advanced projects and he resigned from Norton Villiers Triumph (NVT) in 1974.

NVT went into receivership in July 1975 following the recall of loans by the Labour Industry Minister Eric Varley. The Action Committee at Marston Road tried to save the industry and approached Bernard to see if he would help. He agreed and Hooper and Favill teamed up again to quickly develop the following in order to show what the new industry could do if the Government would support the efforts at the factory at Marston Road: -

The Wulf 500 cm3 Motorcycle (SPX500 stepped piston engine)

Norton 76 Motorcycle (New modernised Commando design)

EURO 50 (50 cm3 entry level motorcycle)


Norton Wulf - 500 cm3 SPX500 stepped piston engine motorcycle

Norton 76 Modernised Commando

EURO 50 (50 cm3 entry level motorcycle)



Sadly efforts to save the industry and factory at Marston Road were not supported by the Government despite the strong remaining popularity of the Commando. Government funding was redirected to fund the Chrysler factory at Ryton in Coventry and the Triumph co-operative at Meriden. Hooper and Favill therefore re-established their partnership and concentrated on stepped piston engine developments along with other non-SP based projects including:-

Wulf II low emission liquid cooled stepped piston engine and motorcycle

Vertex vertical shaft engine (for Mountfield)

L150 Anti-vibration system (for Scooters India)

FLT Anti-vibration system (for Harley Davidson)

750 Bonneville/Tiger Anti-vibration system (for Triumph)

Opposed piston two-stroke engine design and development for National Research Council, Canada.

Golfcar engine upgrade (for AMF Harley Davidson)

Mitchell VVT engine development (for BTG/Austin Rover Group)


750 Bonneville/Tiger Anti-vibration system


In 1981 Bernard Hooper won the Castrol Silver Award for Best paper "Minimal Maintenance Engines". His paper focussed on the stepped piston engine and its inherent advantages over conventional two-stroke and four-stroke engines.

Wulf II Motorcycle with liquid cooled stepped piston engine


Further details of other stepped piston engine projects can be seen on the other pages of this website.














Bernard Hooper was also retained by Ford Motor Company and other leading companies as a consultant.

More detail on Bernard Hooper's career can be found in Peter Watson's excellent 2 part article in Classic Bike Magazine published in January 1991 and February 1991.



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