1970 Norton 750cc Commando S Café Racer
Engine Number: 136121
As the 1960s wound down, Norton had a problem. To battle rivals BSA and Triumph, the company’s parallel twin had been taken to 750cc, and while the resulting Atlas model retained superior handling thanks to its Featherbed frame, now engine vibration was a problem for riders. The solution was ingenious and would make the Commando 750, and later 850, two of the most useable, rider-friendly Britbikes of the era. For 1968 a new frame held the engine/gearbox/swingarm unit in a rubber-mounted cradle, a remarkably efficient ‘Isolastic’ anti-vibration system that effectively, indeed, isolated the motor’s oscillations from the rider as soon as revs passed 2,500rpm. The new Commando became an instant hit with the motorcycling public, being voted Motor Cycle News’ ‘Machine of the Year’ five consecutive times in the UK.
Besides the new frame, the rest of the running gear was pretty familiar – forks, hubs, brakes and transmission were as fitted to earlier Nortons, long proven in service. The engine’s forward-inclined cylinders added some flair, as did the sharply angled rear shocks and distinctive cast alloy footpeg carriers.
There were few models in the beginning but by 1970, two years after launch, there were three: the Fastback; the R for Roadster – the model that established the ‘Commando look’ in the public mind; and the S for Street Scrambler (two high pipes on the left side.) Mid-1970 saw the start of model ‘alphabet soup’. The S, the model this Cafe Racer is based on,’ made a radical styling statement. Its 5in headlight wore a chrome “halo” attached to a special upper steering yoke, and side panels, color-keyed to the metalflake-painted fiberglass gas tank… covered a central oil tank. Gone were the sensible shrouds and gaiters from the front forks, exposing slender chrome fork tubes with token dust excluders. Chrome exhaust headers wove around the frame downtubes, exiting on the left and sweeping along the side of the bike, with chrome heat shields adding a finishing touch. Chrome also anointed the fenders, rear damper shrouds, chain guard and seat trim.
This Commando Café Racer was bought as a rolling frame in 1998 and built up…rearset footpegs, ‘café’ tank (internally coated), hump seat, low bars, upswept exhaust with Dunstall-style Decibel mufflers. The engine, transmission, including the primary drive, have never been opened as a result of careful use and regular maintenance in its previous life. Not surprisingly it won a show award in 2007 and been on display for the last three years.
Now, having been recently “gone though”, the bike starts with ease, idles well and runs beautifully. It handles and stops with confidence and all systems work as they should.