Back In the saddle of a Norton Commando
Back at the time of the millennium I was fortunate enough to be given a 1972 750cc Norton Commando by the husband of my wife’s friend as a thank you for some favours I had done for him. This on the face of it would sound like an incredible piece of good fortune but in truth the bike was far from that.
In 1972 Norton fitted the Commando with a tuned, high compression ‘Combat’ engine that proved to be prone to self-destruction and this particular bike was being run with open carbs which did little to improve its chances. Rather predictably, sometime during 1975 the engine had blown up & the bike crashed. The bike, in a partially dismantled state, was then left to rot for the next 25 years, in the back of a leaky concrete garage. Over the years various parts had gone missing or had rusted away. Both the engine and gearbox were filled with dark brown coloured water. To add insult to injury someone had tried to straighten the forks with a hammer.
Back in the day I had sustained very serious injuries when I planted a Norton Dominator into the side of a Morris Minor Traveller making a suicide bid for a missed right hand turn. The vehicles involved will give some sort of clue as to how long ago that was. Partially because of the damage I sustained plus my wife’s aversion to motorcycles I had not ridden a bike for quite a number of years. Now all that was about to change.
Initially I looked on the Commando purely as an interesting long term project since, when new, this was a bike I had lusted for but with the realities of starting out in life with a new mortgage etc. etc. it had to remain a pipe dream.
Over the next five years I slowly went about, piece by piece, bringing the bike back to life. Things took a dramatic turn when we decide to move house, I think the term is downsizing, which resulted in the bike being worked on in a wooden shed as opposed to the former luxury of a centrally heated large double garage. At this point my patience quickly expired. I pushed on and finished it quite quickly. I never set out to restore the bike to concourse standard as I would never have kept it in standard condition if I had bought it brand new. Like most bikers I sought to make small improvements to hopefully improve its reliability. Electronic ignition and a solid state rectifier were quickly added, plus twin tone horns replaced the feeble original item.
My personal fetish is stainless steel. I think that every nut, bolt and washer on the bike plus as many parts a feasibly possible were replaced by highly polished stainless steel. Yes I know its way over the top but that’s what gives me pleasure. I know the rivet counters don’t approve but it’s my bike not theirs. Numerous alteration/improvements have been made to the bike over the years. I still find the odd thing to do but it’s an aging classic British bike, it’s an absorbing hobby and a joy to ride. More than anything else it puts a smile on my face. If I wish to go on a serious ride I generally go on my modern Triumph.
I started exhibiting the bike at various transport shows, within the area. Having put so much time and effort into the bike. I found it really gratifying when people admired it and wished to talk about it etc.. Imagine my surprise when on numerous occasions I ended up winning the best bike awards. I never ever restored the bike to win awards I just hoped that some people might like what I’d done with it.
Norton Claimed that the Commando with a Combat engine could exceed speeds well in excess of 100 mph but I have to say that I have only been able to achieve 69.9 mph (honest officer!)
Of recent years I have come to realise that I no longer own the Commando, the true owner is my sole grandson. Magnanimously he is allowing me to ride and maintain it until I’m too old and infirm to manage it; then it becomes his. Cheeky young devil, but in truth he is a fine young man and moreover a good rider. Hopefully the bike will continue to give pleasure and be exhibited for a good many years in the future.
The Picture shows my finished Commando, the one in yellow. I also built, from the ground up, the black Commando behind it, for a good friend of mine. My wife has now banned me from restoring/building any more bikes citing all the grease and mess etc. I suppose I will have to go along with ‘she who must be obeyed’ but should a very cheap DBD34 Gold Star come along you never know (I can dream).
Author - Pete Thelwell
Many thanks for sharing your story