The Norton Commando – The Last Great British Motorcycle
The Norton Commando started production in 1967 and ran through 1977. During that time, it built a reputation for performance, and stability not found other British motorcycles. It was also popular for its lack of engine vibration due to the unique framework used in its design.
Tracing Its Pedigree
One look at the Commando will show its heritage. The bike’s design hearkens back to Bert Hopwood’s designs in the 1940s with the Norton Model 7 Twin. From there, the design evolved into a 600 cc model, then into the Manxman and the Dominator, and finally the Atlas before becoming the Commando.
The Pre-Unit Engine
The Norton Commando offered a number of benefits, including the fact that the engine was a pre-unit, which meant that the gearbox wasn’t part of the crankcase. This allowed the engine to be tilted forward, rather than directly vertical, and this move allowed the of gravity to move forward, offered more space for the bike’s , and had a marked effect on the style of the motorcycle.
While the pre-unit engine offered quite a few benefits, the real revolution was the use of a new frame for the bike. Designed by an ex-Rolls Royce engineer, the framework was called the Isolastic system. It was designed to eliminate the rattle and vibration that plagued many British bikes at the time. However, the system was not without its drawbacks. The engineers used rubber mountings to effectively disconnect the rider from the engine. However, if the correct amount of free play was not present, then either the handling would be affected (too much play) or the vibration would affect riders (too little play).
The Evolution of the Commando
The original 1967 Commando was a 750 cc bike. However, by 1973, it had evolved into an 850 cc motorcycle, which was used in several different versions, including the and the Roadster. The power output from this engine was similar to the smaller 750 cc model, but it was able to create that performance without as much strain.
By 1975, the Mark 3 Commando had launched. It still featured the 850 cc but had quite a few new features, including full fairings, an electric and new vibration absorption technology. Only two models were produced – the Roadster and the Mark 3 Interstate, and the Commando stopped production finally in 1977 when the company went into receivership.
The Norton Commando brand was purchased by Norton Racing LTD, which began manufacturing Commando models once more in 2010. The new model used a 961 cc engine, and the overall style of the bike is very reminiscent of the classic Commando.
While the classic Commando has not been in production for decades, it sold very well, and finding a used model in good condition today is not that difficult, although depending on the model type in question, pricing can be high.