Commando Raid!

Norton Motorsports puts a famous old nameplate back in action with its new 952 Commando

Photography by Kel Edge

After two solid days flogging Norton Motorsports' new 952 Commando roadster on every kind of road, from traffic-clogged city streets in 100-degree temperatures to 8000-foot mountain passes, I can say unequivocally that American entrepreneur Kenny Dreer's new Commando follows directly in the tire tracks of the original. It's torquey and powerful, light and agile, and steers faultlessly--a truly confidence-inspiring motorcycle, and a powerfully emotional one as well.

Dreer spent a decade establishing a solid reputation for Oregon-based Vintage Rebuilds, which specialized in original Commandos. Then Dreer and his primary investor, Ollie Curme, achieved what many observers thought impossible--consolidating the scattered Norton trademarks, though at a total cost of a cool $4 million. Since then they've spent another $2 million developing the motorcycle you see here, an all-new neo-classic Commando.

As we reported last October, there was a ton of interest in Dreer's prototype, first displayed at the Laguna Seca World Superbike round. Norton Motorsports has received more than 400 deposits, and should be around long enough to fill them; the company has solid financial backing and a business plan calling for the production of up to 4000 bikes per year in 2007.

Catching a first glimpse of the all-black 952 Commando awaiting me in the 11,000-square-foot Norton factory's yard nearly made me gasp, for the bike has undoubted presence in the metal; it's more muscular-looking and purposeful than even the best photography can convey. Dreer and company did their styling in-house, and their appreciation for yesterday's Commando has enabled them to build an all-new model that practically shouts Norton--but in a more mature and modern context.

This Commando shares not even a single component with its predecessor--just an implausibly authentic overall appearance and a mechanically similar general concept for its vertically split, air/oil-cooled dry-sump engine, with its forward-canted cylinders, pushrod valve gear and two valves per cylinder.

Norton Motorsports' earlier prototypes had 360-degree crankshafts, like the original Commando. "We were aiming to retain the classic Commando sound," says R&D chief Paul Gaudio, "but even with a counterbalancer, vibration was too intense. That's why we switched to a 270-degree crank." After experimenting with different dimensions, Gaudio settled on an 88mm bore and a 79mm stroke; so the 952 actually displaces 961cc.

A hydraulically actuated clutch is one distinguishing feature separating the new Commando from the old one. It also has a geared primary drive and a right-side final chain drive. The five-speed cassette-type gear cluster is thoroughly modern, and would be the envy of many Superbike race teams. There's room for a six-speed, which may be featured on future models, though given the 952's meaty torque curve this seems almost unnecessary.

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