Norton Commando Fastback
Launched to rapturous acclaim at the
Earls Court Show in 1967, and four times voted Machine
of the Year, the Norton Commando was the best-loved
product of the final years of the British motorcycle
industry. And yet it grew from a classic compromise.
By the mid-60s, Associated Motorcycles (AMC), Norton's
parent company, was in trouble. In late 1966 AMC was
taken over by Manganese Bronze Holdings, a conglomerate
which already owned Villiers. The motorcycle interests
were amalgamated into one company - Norton Villiers.
Virtually all the current product consisted of 650
and 750cc Norton twins, using either the ageing Featherbed
or Matchless frame. It was clear that the new company
needed a flagship - and quickly, preferably by next
year's show. Efforts initially centred on an existing
design - the P10. This was a double overhead camshaft
parallel twin, but after several months developmentit
was apparent that the machine would prove to be too
heavy, too rough and potentially too unreliable.
With only some three months to go before the show,
engineering director Dr Stefan Bauer argued that conventional
frame design was contrary to good engineering principles,
and suggested that the P10 should have a frame based
on a single top tube. Bauer also insisted that engine
vibration could not be tolerated - and it was vibration
that was one of the chief complaints with the existing
The idea put forward was completely radical - fit
a modified version of the tried-and-tested Atlas engine
to a new frame and to eliminate the problem of vibration,
simply isolate the engine from the rider, together
with the entire transmission train, including the
rear wheel. This was done by cleverly bolting the
separate engine, gearbox and swinging-arm assembly
together as one unit. The unit was suspended from
a spine frame based on a 24in diameter top tube, using
adjustable rubber bushes at three carefully calculated
points. The idea worked superbly, allowing the engine
to shake to its heart's content without disturbing
the rider and in 1969 the idea won an award for the
most significant contribution to motorcycling.
Styling on the prototype was carried out by design
consultants Wolf Ohlins, a company with no motorcycling
experience. It included a silver frame and tank. At
the rear it featured a ray hump, which led to the
model being dubbed the Fastback.
Nuch lighter than its predecessors, the machine had
phenomenal acceleration for its day, under five seconds
to reach 60mph, leading to a top speed of almost 120mph.