The Norton Commando 750 was a breakthrough in British motorcycling history. Despite being released during the UJM takeover, half a million were sold during the decade it was in production. Today, the Norton Commando 750 remains a popular buy to ride classic motorcycle.
Norton Commando History
The origins of the early Norton Commando 750’s can be traced back to the Matchless factory in 1968, followed in 1969 by production moving to the Villiers factory in West Midlands, England. Production of the Commando would run until 1976.
The Norton engine was a 745cc OHV, two valves per-cylinder, air cooled parallel twin that delivered 56hp at 6,500rpm, with an estimated top speed of 115mph and it returned between 40-50mpg.
The engine was the Norton Atlas engine in a newly designed frame. This is what allowed Norton to be able to eliminate the vibration issue that caused endless problems with all British parallel twins at the time.
The most important feature of the Commando 750 was its Isolatic Suspension of the engine. It was Norton’s Chief Engineer Dr Stephen Bauer, who was a former Rolls Royce engineer no less, who can be credited for the revolutionary concept.
Rubber mounts had been used to reduce vibration previously by some manufacturers but to little avail. Bauer knew that in order for Norton to compete with the bikes coming out of Japan he needed to solve this problem for the faster bikes they needed to make to compete in the market.
So, the Featherbed frame which in itself was a feat of engineering was scrapped and a new one designed. This in itself was a big step as the Featherbed was light, rigid, strong and known for being the best handling frame around, but the Commando 750 needed a new frame and so Bauer got to work.
The result was one that tilted the engine forward and the engine, gearbox and swing-arm assembly were bolted together, isolated from the frame using rubber mountings. Instead of the engine being bolted rigidly to the frame, it would ‘float’ on the vertical plane, allowing lateral movement. It hung off the main frame, by two cross-frame tubes.
One tube attached to the front of the engine and the other at the rear of the sub-frame, this suspension design kept the swing-arm true with the engine position, while at the same time isolating the engine and its vibration from the rest of the chassis. Essentially it removed the rider from the engine, eliminating vibration as a problem.
The design was phenomenal and allowed the engineers to squeeze as much power out of the 750 twin engine as possible. However, it was not without its issues in the first production model year particularly.
The whole concept relied on the correct angle tilt of the engine and the right amount of lateral movement in the mounts. Too little or too much, could cause the frame to crack, vibration to return or poor handling leading to dangerous fishtails at high speeds.
In 1969, the second year of production Norton addressed this as best they could with an improved frame. This was not solely down to issues with the new engine concept, the frame was bending and required some strengthening.
Norton would go on to produce several models of the Commando 750 and it proved to be their most successful model in the line-up and arguably for that time at least, saved the company from collapse. There would be various spin offs from each of the main models including a Commando S which was a Scrambler with high pipes.
- The Roadster
- The Interstate
- The Fastback
- The Hi-Rider
- The Production Racer
- The Interpol
Norton had a few hit and misses with these models including a Combat engine that was produced to squeeze even more power without increasing size. However, many of these engines blew up and were having to be replaced during 1972 and 1973 so the Combat engine was soon dropped.
The 750 Commando engine was clearly at its capacity and to try and squeeze any more out of it meant it just couldn’t cope.
In 1973 the 750 engine was finally bored to 828cc for all models going forward.
Norton Commando Performance
Why was it so successful? The revolutionary suspension system solved vibration issues that had plagued British manufacturers since they had started to build bigger engines.
Owners could now ride for longer without being hindered by vibration.
Demand outstripped supply and Norton simply didn’t have the production capacity to keep up with the likes of Triumph. The bike’s popularity continues to this day.
A clever sponsorship deal with John Player Cigarettes worked wonders for instilling intrigue in the Commando 750. Intended first for just livery for their road racing efforts in the early 70’s the design was admired so much the John Player Norton was put into production as a street bike.
It was a fully faired bike, that was very much a stock commando 750 with a pretty appearance package thrown on top to look like a real racing machine. To this day the JPN is highly coveted, fully faired and sponsorship paint schemes just weren’t a thing in the early 70’s, unlike today where race replicas are common on the streets.
Norton Commando Achievements
The Norton Commando 750 was named Motorcycle News’ “Motorcycle of the Year” 5 years in a row.
The Commando Production Racer won the coveted Thruxton 500 mile race with Peter Williams and Charlie Sanby riding.
Williams came within 1.6 seconds of winning the Isle of Man Production TT but ran out of fuel just before the finish, which left Malcolm Uphill to take the win on his Triumph Trident.
The Commando Racer had plenty of potential and that was proven by taking on the Trident and nearly beating it.
It was 1973 when Peter Willams got his Isle of Man F750 TT win and that was on his race prepared John Player Norton.
Buying an original Norton Commando
American buyers will be able to find stunning Commando examples but at a slight premium to their UK counterparts. I could only find 5 for sale on eBay US and they ranged from $5,000-$16,500.
Hemmings Auction has a Commando up for $12,000 and it’s a pretty authentic example of an original 1974 model.
For those in the UK my trusty go to site Car and Classic has several bikes available ranging from £7,000-£14,000 with the average cost around the £8,000 mark. eBay UK has 50 or so listings starting from £2,500.
The good news on both sides of the pond is that many of the bikes I looked through were in good condition and would require very little if anything to restore them to their former glory. Some only needed a quick oil change, check over and you could be steaming down the highway.
As with all classic bikes there are some tips to follow:
- Check the chrome over for flaking and pitting
- Check the frame and engine numbers match
- On a 1968 Model check the frame over for any notable weak points or bulging.
- Check for records where parts have been replaced to see how much of the bike is original (where possible)
- Start it up, does it sound right when idle?
- Check the electrics all work
Importantly for the Norton Commando, keep an eye for the various spin off models as they are the most coveted among collectors, the JPN in particular. These are the bikes that will fetch the most money and increase in value the most.
Restoring a Norton Commando
The UK market is flooded with parts for the Norton Commando and all are fairly priced, the US Market not so much so parts are somewhat more expensive. However, they are not extortionate and on par with most other British models of the era.
If you are taking on a restoration project on for yourself to keep and ride, so you aren’t worried about everything being original, there is a good replica parts market for the Commando that you could tap into.
- $279 Tank and Side Panels
- $145 Engine Mount
- $150 Front Brake Master Cylinder Repair Kit
Is an original Norton Commando a Good Investment?
You can’t go far wrong with investing in any classic Norton and that holds true for the Commando. Value over time will continue to crawl up as riders continue to appreciate the game-changing Norton.
A side point that is worth noting, many Commando enthusiasts and buyers aren’t quite so obsessed with 100% originality with parts on the bikes compared with other motorcycle collectors.
There are Norton Commando’s on the market with some modern modifications that are selling for very similar prices as original only bikes.
Further to that it’s also the go to for collectors and enthusiasts to ride around today. Capable of keeping up with modern traffic, it attracts attention and crunches miles, plus an original bike costs less than a modern new Harley, what more do you need?
What a bike? The demand at the time of release meant Norton couldn’t keep up with the supply and so it seems 50 years later the demand remains high.
Claimed as the first British Superbike by many, but perhaps more importantly the first British motorcycle to have eliminated vibration issues that plagued all the models at the time.
Even lately Norton have always been turbulent in its existence. However, there is no denying the quality of their machines, and the Norton Commando 750 sits right up there with the best of British motorcycling.
Saturday 2nd of July 2022
What was the shift Pattern, friend said it was either on the other side or shifted different than other bikes.
Wednesday 24th of August 2022
@Michael Eivers, 1 up and 3 down with the right foot