Designed around the best pieces developed for the Manx Norton production racer and the Norton Atlas with new concepts like Isolastic driveline mounting, the Norton Commando excelled in every way.
Many special versions of the Commando were made between 1968 and the hiatus in production for all Nortons in the early 1990’s. At the beginning, 1968, the Norton Commando “Fastback” hit the streets with little fanfare. The look was not well accepted in the American market and Norton quickly retooled with a trendy scrambler high pipe version, and eventually the Roadster which they gave a very conventionally look. At 100ccs stronger than offerings from Triumph and BSA, until the Trident and Rocket III arrived, the Commandos fared well even against the Harley Sportster, Kawasaki H1 and Honda CB750. In 1972 the “Combat” version hit the scene offering higher output, but some mechanical problems. An electric starter was added to the 850 for 1975. On a twisty road or a race track, the Norton left about everything behind; the Manx derived frame and 19 inch wheels shod with Dunlop’s famed K81’s made it handle. Disk brakes came in 1972.
It was either not a well known science or too expensive to achieve, so engine balance was a problem on big twins of the era. A Norton engineer Bernard Hooper designed the Isolastic system which mounted engine, transmission and swingarm in a separate subframe on rubber mounts. The drive line still shook just as a Harley’s does today, but similarly the rider is isolated from it.
It’s also interesting to note just how universal and tough the Commando motor is. The Norton fared well on road race courses around the world, including the Isle of Man. And although never meant to run nitromethane blends or to be drag raced in anger, John Gregory and Tom “T.C.” Christenson built HOGSLAYER, a world championship winning twin-Commando engined top fuel drag bike now in the National Motorcycle Museum in England.
A British contemporary of Hendee, Hedstrom, Harley and Davidson, James Landsdown Norton began assembling motorcycles with clip-on engines in 1902. The Norton Big Four hit the streets in 1908 and Norton himself rode in the 1908, 1909 and 1910 Isle of Man TT races, run on the “short course.” Rem Fowler won the very first TT riding a Peugeot-powered Norton. John Norton died in 1925 at the age of 56 and it is amazing the company thrived into the 1960’s before closing its doors in the 1990’s, largely due to bad management and strong Asian competition. Much like Indian has been revived, new ownership of the Norton brand commenced limited production in 2012 and new Nortons are now available.
This 1971 Roadster is lightly customized with a solo seat and flanged alloy rims.
- Engine: 745cc overhead valve, two valves per cylinder, air cooled parallel twin
- Bore and stroke: 73mm x 89mm
- Compression ratio: 8.9:1
- Carburetion: Twin 30mm Amal Concentrics
- Horsepower: 56 hp @ 6,500rpm (R model; 60hp @ 6,800 rpm)
- Primary: Chain-driven
- Transmission: 4-speed
- Electrics: 12 volt, coil and points
- Frame: Twin downtube cradle with Isolastic engine mounts
- Front suspension: Telescopic fork
- Rear suspension: Twin shock absorbers
- Front brake: 8 inch twin-leading-shoe drum
- Rear brake: 7 inch single-leading-shoe drum
- Front tire: 3.00 x 19 inch
- Rear tire: 3.50 x 19 inch
- Wheelbase: 56.75 inches
- Weight: 420
- Top speed: 115 mph