1975 Norton Commando Returns from the Grave

Flight of the phoenix


| November/December 2008



phoenix1

Robert C. Herman's 1975 Norton Commando after restoration.

On Sept. 15, 2007, I celebrated 25 years of owning my 1975 Norton Commando. In that time the bike and I rolled through a litany of adventures and misadventures, our relationship sometimes harmonious, sometimes not.

During those years I owned many other motorcycles, but they’ve come and gone like phases of the moon, useful or interesting for a time, but eventually tossed back to the marketplace. All except the Norton, which despite its idiosyncrasies and functional obsolescence never bored or annoyed me enough to cut the cord. When it was good, it was very, very good. And when it was bad … well, it is a Norton, after all. 

Of the 20 or so motorcycles I’ve owned over the past 40 years, the Norton Commando I bought on Sept. 15, 1982, has been the only keeper. In good times and bad, laying down an oil mist at speed or gathering dust in a dark corner of the shed, it has been more than a motorcycle. It’s been a companion, a friend, a confidant. And it’s been through hell and back – literally.

On the evening of March 11, 2006, I took a phone call from ace Norton builder Jim Comstock. My bike was in Jim’s Pueblo, Colo., shop for minor repair and maintenance work. He said, simply: “Last night my shop burned down, and I’m afraid your Norton was totally destroyed.” Jim never was much for small talk. Hanging up the phone, I settled in to let the reality of his statement pry its way into my world view. That took a while, as my mind kept trying to reject this insult. If you’ve ever taken a late night call to learn that a close friend has suddenly died, you understand.

After a few days, I went to find what was left of my bike: Buried under charred rafters amid soggy heaps of rubble, it was barely recognizable. My first view of the wasted Norton was one of the most depressing sights I’ve ever laid eyes on. That ruined lump couldn’t possibly be my beautiful Norton! After clearing a path through the wreckage, I dragged the carcass out of the burned-out building, hauled it to a storage shed and drove home in a funk.

The end and the beginning 
The story might have ended then and there, but for the ceaseless commiseration, encouragement and haranguing of my Norton Colorado chums (the local, unofficial Norton club), who convinced me the severely damaged Commando could be brought back from the ashes. If only to get these guys off my back, I retrieved the crusty hulk and hauled it up to Gary Bolduc’s place in Denver for a tech day we’d scheduled. With mixed feelings I unloaded the Crispy Critter, its bare front rim grating on the concrete garage floor as I wheeled it in place. It was like Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen; grimy bits and pieces dropped off the rusted chassis as I pushed it along. In cruel irony, the image of my bike in its pre-burnt glory stared back as Miss April in the club calendar on Gary’s garage wall.

nate
11/4/2008 7:56:07 PM

Outstanding! The help from fellow enthusiasts is what makes classic bikes such a great hobby. What I find amazing is that the frame wasn't warped or had lost its temper. Enjoy your future rides.






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