The Oddball Norton 750 Commando

Strange turns in the evolution of the Commando line

| January/February 2008

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    The R, S and SS model Norton Commandos (from left to right).
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    The 1969 Norton Commando R and owner Tony Duffett.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    The 1969 Norton Commando S and owner Jim Bush.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    The 1971 Norton Commando SS and owner Dave Guthrie.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    At first glance the R looks like a Fastback, but a closer look reveals subtle differences like a different seat and no tail fairing. It was available for one year only, 1969.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    Different bikes, same gauges.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    The ultra-rare 1971 Commando SS model is high on style but was a poor seller.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    Fastback — 1968-1973. The first of the line, it’s not the image that comes to mind when folks think of a Norton Commando. Styling was controversial, and U.S. sales petered out after the Roadster was introduced in 1970.
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    The Norton Commando S performed better in dealer showrooms than the SS, but was only offered for two years, 1969-1970.
    Photo by Robert Smith
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    Interstate — 1972-1975. A big 6.25gal (24ltr) tank gave the Commando greatly extended range, while a bigger, softer saddle made it easier to ride for hours at a time. Early tanks are fiberglass, later steel.
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    Roadster — 1970-1975. The best-selling and most recognized of all the Commandos, and for good reason. It’s light, handles great and is easy to ride. Electric start finally added in 1975. Definitely a classic for the ages.
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    Hi-Rider — 1971-1975. The spiritual opposite to the Interstate, the Hi-Rider had a teeny 2.25gal (8.5ltr) gas tank, high-rise bars, and a backrest with sissy-bar built into the seat. A factory “chopper” for the U.S. market.
  • norton9
    John Player Special — 1974-1975. A limited-production model, the JPS featured bodywork designed by Mick Olfield and inspired by the factory racers, which were ridden to victory by Norton rider Peter Williams. It was otherwise stock.
  • nortonisolastics
    Vibe free: With Norton’s Isolastic system the drivetrain is a unit, hung from the frame on rubber bushings at three points.
  • nortoninterpol
    Norton Interpol — 1972-1975. With police showing interest in the Commando, Norton designed a police-only version. Sold to police forces around the world, the Interpol was never offered to civilians.

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Engine: 745cc overhead valve, two valves per cylinder, air cooled parallel twin/56hp @ 6,500rpm (R model; 60hp @ 6,800rpm)
Bore and stroke: 73mm x 89mm
Compression ratio: 8.9:1
Carburetion: Two 30mm Amal Concentric
Transmission: 4-speed
Electrics: 12v, coil and breaker points
Frame: Twin downtube cradle with Isolastic engine mounts
Front suspension: Telescopic fork
Rear suspension: Twin shock absorbers, adjustable preload
Front brake: 203mm (8in) twin-leading-shoe drum
Rear brake: 178mm (7in) single-leading-shoe drum
Front tire: 3 x 19in
Rear tire: 3.5 x 19in
Wheelbase: 1,441mm (56.75in)
Weight (dry): 181.5kg (400lb) (approx.)
Seat height: 787.5mm (31in) (SS; 800mm/31.5in)
Fuel capacity: 9.5ltr (2.5gal) (SS; 8.7ltr/2.3gal)
Top speed: 115mph (est.)
MPG:  40-50

If market demand is today’s mother of invention, then opportunity is its midwife. Such was the case with the “R,” “S” and “SS” models of the 750 Commandos.

The late Sixties were a tough time for the British motorcycle industry. Buyouts and mergers were happening left and right, yet despite being the illegitimate child of a shotgun marriage between Associated Motor Cycles and Villiers, the Norton Commando became one of the most successful motorcycles ever produced in Britain.

Best known are the Roadster and Interstate models, built starting in 1971 until production ceased in 1975. But between the first Fastback Commando of 1968 and the final electric-start bikes of 1975, the factory built a number of short-run variants that are now highly collectible.



The R and the S
The earliest Commandos were made at the old Matchless factory in Plumstead, South London. When the Plumstead site was slated for redevelopment, assembly was moved in 1969 to a new facility in Andover, Hampshire (on the famous Thruxton circuit), while engine manufacture went to the Villiers factory in Wolverhampton, West Midlands.

Along with the change in location came an opportunity to tidy up the Commando engine. Principally, the ignition points were moved from a chain-driven jackshaft behind the cylinders (where the magneto had been on the 750cc Atlas) to the end of the camshaft to simplify the design and make the points easier to service. The tachometer drive, previously taken off the end of the camshaft, moved inboard, with the tach cable now coming off the front of the engine instead of the right side. The new Wolverhampton engine became know as the 20M3S, while production of the old 20M3 “jackshaft” engine stayed temporarily at Plumstead pending the plant’s closure. (The numbering scheme works like this: the 750 twin engine was Norton’s Model 20, and the Commando engine the Mark III version; hence 20M3.)

KEITHF
2/23/2015 6:57:16 PM

Gary, Looking at the exploded diagram for the '71, I don't even see the lug for the sidestand, though the sidestand is shown in the diagram. There is a center stand shown though. Get on the Access Norton forum at http://www.accessnorton.com/norton-commando-f1.html, There's a person there, handle L.A.B. who knows virtually everything about these bikes.


GaryC
2/21/2015 8:07:11 PM

I'm restoring a 71 Norton SS I believe it's 100% original except it doesn't have the full stand only the side stand. But it has a strange 3" hinged clamp on the lower left hand frame tube is this part of the original full stand or is this something that doesn't belong?







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