1973 Norton Commando Fastback 750

In 1971, after my freshman year in college, my girlfriend and I flew to London and picked up a brand new Norton Commando Fastback. At the time, buying in England and shipping the bike home was actually cheaper than buying one here, provided enough miles were logged overseas to qualify the vehicle as a used import. That summer, we happily fulfilled the mileage requirement while traveling to Istanbul, Turkey and back. What a fabulous trip. Seeing the world by Norton is a first-rate technique for a young person seeking adventure; just ask Che Guevara. By summer’s end, two things were certain: motorcycle touring would be a way of life for me, and the Norton Mystique was well deserved.

Decades later, the memory of that Norton still haunted me. Until my 40 th birthday, that is, when I came home from work to find a Commando Fastback in the garage. My wife Lynn, God bless her, had found a basket case for me to fettle. It was even red, just like my first! Should I be ashamed to say that it brought tears to my eyes? Over several years, and with great pleasure, I brought this machine back to life. My labors have not gone unrewarded.

Of all the vintage bikes I have tried, the Norton may be the best for dealing with modern traffic conditions. The kickstarter lever is short and can intimidate at first, but following the prescribed technique recently produced an easy first-kick start -- after a 4 month layover! The light curb weight is combined with generous horsepower from its Combat-spec engine, gobs of torque at all engine speeds and a buttery gearbox, letting the rider sprint ahead of traffic with ease and confidence. The first-year Lockheed disc front brake hauls all those ponies in promptly when necessary, and the handling is -- well, it’s legendary.

There may be other twins with a similar gutsy power-to-weight ratio, but the isolastic engine mounting system used by Norton is uniquely functional. The engine and exhaust system dance around like mad dervishes at idle, and the engine vibration can totally dominate the ride, to the point of blurring your vision….but only up to 2,500 RPM. At that point, the rubberized motor mounts take over, and things smooth right out. The sensation is akin to an airplane bouncing along a rough airstrip until, at one magical moment….liftoff, and all is smooth and quiet. It is almost spooky it works so well.

This engine smoothness, along with amazing tractability, excellent steering and rugged good looks make the Norton Commando an object of desire. The Fastback, in particular, has always appealed to my eye. With its sleek rear cowling and fiberglass tank, it maintains an esthetic quality that is only enhanced by the patina of 30 years on the road. No wonder the Norton is so frequently picked as the riders’ favorite.