A restoration with a little electric sting in the tale…
WORDS BY ROB DAVIES – PICTURES BY ALAN CLARK AND ROB DAVIES
The Norton Commando is one of the great classic bikes of the second half of the 20th century, and was essentially the final stage of the British archetypal twin cylinder arrangement designed by Bert Hopwood back in 1948. But… is it possible to take a grubby, ill-maintained 1970s Norton Commando and turn it into a better machine than it was when it came from the factory in 1974? Alan Clark shows us how to do it, with lots of work, new stuff and a certain amount of hard cash.
I genuinely went to Alan’s to sing the Norton’s praises. Unfortunately, the 850 Commando – finished as it was to a very high standard – was parked right next to an equally beautifully restored Honda CB750, and I couldn’t help but start to compare the two machines. Both bikes are, of course, from the very same decade, and yet they are miles apart, not only in looks, weight and handling, but also in finish and technology. At a glance we could see why one machine was in its ascendency, while sadly the British machine was on its way down.
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Having said all that, there is no doubt that with its clever, well designed frame and race-honed engine, coupled with its small but punchy styling, the Norton was going to win any street race hands down. But sadly the race for the popularity ratings and thus ultimate survival went clearly to the Honda with its superior build quality – and I’m presently focussing in on all kinds of features here; the finish to the barrels and head, the exhaust hanger brackets that appear so clumsy and basic on the Norton. And then there is the complete lack of styling to the square tail-light assembly. And for goodness sake why does any manufacturer put the ignition key down between the rider’s legs and not at the console? And ignition coils that hang down from under the fuel tank? Also, Norton still stuck rigidly to the pre-unit construction design that was an engineering anachronism in the 1970s. Still, as they say, these are just trifles to the aficionado…
Read more in the May issue of CBG – on sale now!