A 1974 NORTON COMMANDO FOR EVERY TASTE
The Commando was available in a variety of configurations, all cosmetic packages, as they were all built on identical Commando engines, frames and running gear. While the first Commando was the Fastback, by 1974, the standard Norton Commando was the Roadster, which is the most common model and the one you see most often. The Commando Interstate was the touring version, with a larger fuel tank and cushier seat. The Street Scrambler, or SS, had high pipes running along the left side, in case anyone wanted to go off road on the 400-pound Commando. The hideous HiRider continued as Norton’s “Factory Chopper” with absurd ‘banana seat’ and high ape-hanger bars. But the real news was the gorgeous, ahead-of-its-time John Player Norton (JPN), essentially the world’s first factory cafe racer.
1974 Norton Commando ROADSTER
ABOVE & BELOW: The 1974 Norton Commando 850 made the same horsepower as the 750 did, but at a lower rpm.
For 1974, the Norton Commando the confusion about Mark’s continued on with a Mk1A version of the Roadster & the Interstate, while MkI’s became MkIIA’s with the addition of a new airbox, bean-can silencers (mufflers) & a pleated seat. Some US models retained the earlier intake & exhaust systems, because the airbox turned out to be hurting performance. The Hi-Rider continued as a MkII with its original airboxes & silencers.
1974 Norton Commando INTERSTATE
ABOVE & BELOW: 1974 Norton Commando Interstate. The Interstate has a distinctive, hump-backed petrol tank, extending range in keeping with its mission as a long-distance touring bike.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
Elsewhere in the Norton empire, the newly formed Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) was stuggling badly. Norton’s parent company, Mangenese Bronze Holdings, Ltd. had purchased the troubled BSA company (who also owned Triumph) & was attempting to breathe new life into them. They had mistakenly announced their planned closure of the Triumph plant at Meriden, with plans to move all Triumph production to Norton’s plant at Wolverhampton. The Triumph employees revolted by taking over the Meriden plant & holding it for the next 18 months, shutting down all Triumph twin production. All of the problems plus the loss of income was starting to take its toll on Norton Motorcycles.
This began to show in many ways. Models would start dropping off the lineup very soon. And quality was beginning to suffer. Magazine articles, which use to gush praises of the Commando, were now having trouble finding machines that could complete their barrage of tests. Generally it was found that if they were properly built in the factory & correctly set up on the street, they were fast & reliable. But get a ‘Friday bike’ or one that has not been properly maintained & anything could happen.
1974 Norton Commando SS
1974 John Player Norton
ABOVE: 1974 “John Player Norton”.
JOHN PLAYER NORTON
The real bright spot for 1974 was the introduction of the John Player Norton as a regular production motorcycle. Styled like a road racer of the day, and perhaps the first to do so on a production street bike (they’re everywhere today), with full fairing, big tank, squared-off tail section & blacked-out exhaust, it was one tough-looking machine. It was painted white with broad red & white stripes with the Union Jack on either side of the tail section. It had 2 side-by-side headlights faired into the front. Performance-wise, it was essentially a box-stock 1974 Norton Commando. While it never sold in huge numbers, it was a real ‘halo bike’ for all Norton Motorcycles. It brought ’em into the showrooms. And it worked.