Commando Raid!

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

Photography by Kel Edge

The 952 will enter production with 41mm Keihin flat-slide carburetors, though Dreer is already working on a fuel-injection system. Ignition is provided by an American-made Powerheart electronic CDI. Purists will likely bemoan the absence of a kickstarter.The prototype I rode produces 80 horsepower at 7000 rpm, with maximum torque of 61 pound-feet at 5250 rpm. A rev limiter restricts the engine to 7800 rpm. With the present gearing, that's good for a top speed of more than 130 mph, according to Dreer.

While period Norton twins featured complex cooling passages beneath the rocker box, the 952 does without thanks to the partial oil-cooling provided by the high-volume oil pump driven off the crankshaft. Oil for the engine and transmission circulates through a four-liter oil tank incorporated in the frame's spine.

The neo-classic engine is rubber-mounted in a handcrafted frame made in Los Angeles by C&J Racing. The frame is a duplex cradle design fabricated from chrome-moly tubing. C&J has a great record in AMA flattrack, but this is no street-tracker; its 1435mm wheelbase and steering geometry are worthy of a current sportbike's.

The fork uses 46mm hlins cartridge tubes set at a 24.5-degree rake, with 99mm of trail. The box-section swingarm is suspended via twin, fully adjustable hlins piggyback shocks. The swingarm pivots in sealed tapered roller bearings housed in a pair of steel plates rigidly mounted to the chassis. There's no hint of the original Commando's Isolastic design, in which the motor and swingarm were both attached to the frame via flexible rubber mounts.

Twin 320mm Brembo discs and four-pot calipers take care of stopping duties up front, matched at the rear by a 240mm disc with a two-piston caliper. The 17-inch forged aluminum wheels are manufactured by Carrozzeria in Japan. The front 3.50-inch rim carries a 120/70 Avon Azaro tire, while the 5.50-inch rear is fitted with a 180/55 Azaro.The new Commando was designed for rideability and user-friendliness, says Gaudio, who emphasizes that the motor can be almost completely disassembled without removing it from the frame. The machine promises to be dealer-friendly, too, and should lend itself to hands-on owner maintenance. "We can all fantasize about overhead cams and eight-valve heads," he says "but that's in the future. This bike isn't about horsepower numbers or outright performance--it's about the quality of the riding experience, how it responds, how it feels, and yes, how it looks, too. That's why we call it a roadster rather than an outright sportbike."

It looks the part of a roadster, and it largely delivers on that promise. But as the first journalist to ride the 952 Commando in its preproduction, 270-degree form, I was also being sounded out by Dreer and Gaudio, who wanted my honest opinion of their handiwork. OK, guys--are you sitting comfortably? There was an ugly vibration under load throughout the rev range. The weighted ends of the Tommaselli bars meant few of those vibes reached my hands, and it wasn't too bad through that well-padded seat, either. But it was irritatingly apparent through the bare-metal footrests.

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