THE NORTON COMMANDO – IT'S THE BIKE OF THE WEEK!
FOR A MOTORCYCLE WHOSE INITIAL RUN WAS ONLY TEN YEARS, THE NORTON COMMANDO CERTAINLY MANAGED TO COMMAND A PLACE IN THE HEARTS OF MOTORCYCLISTS.
The Commando was a British bike which entered the scene in 1967 and its first run remained in production until 1977. Made by Norton-Villiers it started off with a 750cc displacement engine which graduated to 850cc in 1973. The engine was based on an an old design, an OHV pre-unit parallel twin with a hemi-type head, common in Norton motorcycles since their debut in the 1920s, which makes its huge success even more surprising.
It was, from the beginning, an effortlessly popular motorcycle, garnering much acclaim and 'Machine of the Year' from Motor Cycle News for five years in a row from '68. All in a way, unlikely, due to the fact that it originated really with Bert Hopwood's 1940s Norton Model 7 twin which gradually morphed through many incarnations like The Manxman, Dominator and Atlas until the Commando was born.
State Of The Art
The Commando differed from its predecessors with a new state of the art frame designed by Stefan Bauer with his Rolls Royce pedigree. He worked on the design with the Norton engineer Bernard Hooper and they bolted the engine, gearbox and swing arm assembly together isolating them from the frame with rubber mountings. The engine was forward tilted in the frame as well which changed the weight distribution and moved the centre of gravity forward, also giving the bike a new stylish look.
The new design eliminated a lot of the vibration which had been present in previous models and was named the isolastic anti-vibration system and gave the Commando a superior edge over its predecessors.
The Norton Commando Mk1 appeared in 1967 but despite its promise the new frame design had not been perfected and the frame had to be changed and a new improved frame design introduced in 1969.
Other design problems haunted the Commando – the clutch couldn't handle the engine torque, the side stand kept breaking off and the centre stand dragged and could break, the engine shook excessively. These factors lead to a lot of associated problems and the Commando underwent a continuous programme of changes and improvements.
The manufacture of the Commando was a complicated process, with different parts being made in Wolverhampton, Manchester and Plumstead and shipped to the assembly line in Andover.
The Commando went through many incarnations, for example one model was commissioned by the police, designed by Triumph's Neale Shilton, it was produced to police specifications and called the ''Interpol' It was fitted with all the accoutrements which your average motorcycle bobby might need such as: panniers, top box, radio mountings and police lights and this specialist motorcycle sold well to police forces worldwide.
Many adaptations and many models followed: the Fastback, the S Type, the Roadster, the Interstate and the Hi Rider, to name but a few.
However Norton was beset with gremlins and quality control problems led to the company getting bad coverage in the press and a bad reputation. At the same time BSA Triumph were also in trouble and the UK Government offered a financial rescue package as long as the company merged with Norton Villiers. All the companies concerned went with this offer and Norton Villiers Triumph was the result.
So looking back, Norton has had a somewhat chequered history, but produced very much loved motorcycles throughout and inspired loyalty amongst many. Its reincarnation under Stuart Garner has now foundered on the rocks of nefarious financial dealings. But all is not lost, Norton has risen from the ashes of this latest disaster, snapped up for a mere £16 million by Indian manufacturer TVS Motor. It will be interesting to see what they make of it and if they change its fortunes and restore this much loved marque to its former glory - but without the glitches!
We wish them the best of luck.
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