In the motorcycle world, there are plenty of machines that have a reputation. But few command the respect of the Norton Commando. Between 1968 and 1972, the Commando was awarded ‘Machine of the Year’ in the UK by Motorcycle News. More than that, it was popular all over the world and became one of the most successful Norton models of all time. We’ve decided to take a look into the history of this iconic machine.
A motorbike with a revolutionary frame
The origin of the Norton Commando can be traced back to the 1940s, with the 497 cc Model 7 Twin. This design evolved into the 600 cc, which laid the groundwork for the 750 cc Commando. It came with a new frame and engine that tilted forward. The frame proved to be revolutionary compared to earlier models. Designed by former Rolls-Royce engineer Dr Stefan Bauer, the new frame was isolated from the engine and gearbox.
The isolated frame neutralised the vibration problems found in other Norton models. It was named the Isolastic anti-vibration system.
In 1967, the first Commando was introduced at the Earls Court Show. Early versions came with weak frames, so the design was modified with an extra bracing tube to make the motorbike stronger.
Production of the original Commando, known as a ‘Fastback,’ was carried out in several places across England. The engines were produced in Wolverhampton, the frames in Manchester and the final assembly took place in Burrage Grove, Plumstead.
1970 saw the introduction of the ‘Fastback Mk2,’ which featured alloy levers with modified stands and chain guards.
Not long after it was introduced, the Norton Commando was entered into racing events. It proved to be very successful, helping riders like Paul Smart and Mick Andrew reach second and fourth place in the Isle of Man TT. Andrew also won the Hutchinson 100 while riding a Commando. This success inspired Norton to produce an exclusive racing model called the ‘Yellow Peril.’
In the 1970s, Norton built factory racing bikes that were based on the Commando. This kind of model helped Peter Williams win the Formula 750 Isle of Man TT in 1973.
Although the Norton Commando was only produced for ten years, it didn’t stop other companies from using the name. Many of the trademarks were disputed and a number of new Norton companies emerged. The most interesting development was the rise of re-manufactured original Commandos. This came from Norvil in the UK and two US companies, Colorado Norton Works and Vintage Builds. Norvil was formed to build replica models of classic Norton models.
The Commando has remained a significant British motorbike that has earned its place in legend.