2017 Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Celebrating 50 years of the Norton Commando at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

  • There were 42 Nortons entered in the Norton class, including 37 Commandos.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • A replica of the first Commando shown to the public at the Earls Court show in 1967.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • Owner John Goldman describing the 1957 ex-Tarquinio Provini 250cc DOHC Mondial Grand Prix race bike that won Best of Show.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • 1975 Moto Guzzi 850T custom built by Untitled Motorcycles won the Design and Style Award.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • Late afternoon light brings out the best in a Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica restored by Revival Cycles.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • Jeff McCoy’s 1968 Norton Commando Fastback won the 50th Anniversary of the Commando Award.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • Proud owner John Bennett tells Gordon McCall about the Bryan Fuller-built custom Motus MSTR that won this year’s Industry Award.
    Photo by Corey Levenson
  • A lineup of Honda CL350 K4 “Flying Dragons,” one in each of the four known color schemes.
    Photo by Corey Levenson

Fifty years ago, the crowd at London’s annual Earls Court show, then the most prestigious motorcycle show in the world, lined up at the Norton stand, gawking at a silver bike with an orange seat. A separate stand displayed the bike’s new and innovative frame, and a third display explained the trademarked rubber engine mounts —“Isolastics” — that kept engine vibration from annoying the rider.

That silver bike, dubbed the Commando, was the prototype of what became one of the most popular British motorcycles of the Sixties and Seventies. Fast, smooth and sexy, the Commando was somehow considerably more than the sum of its parts, and a surprising number of the possibly 90,000 built over a 10-year stretch are still on the road.

This year’s Quail Motorcycle Gathering featured a recreation of the Earls Court Commando that started it all, plus examples of every model produced during the Commando’s 10-year run. Accompanying the bikes were displays of period Norton ads, models dressed up like the Norton Girls and even one of the original Norton Girls!

“It seems like everyone has a Norton story,” says event organizer Gordon McCall. “When I was in high school, one of the maintenance guys had a 750 Commando. I was mesmerized by that bike. When he started it up, it looked like it was pirouetting on its center stand.”

Phil Radford has been running Fair Spares America, a parts supply for Commandos, for many years. “I’m now talking to the sons and grandsons of the original owners. They want to keep Dad’s bike on the road. Parts availability is better than when the bikes were being made. For a bike that hasn’t been built for 40 years, that’s pretty amazing,” Radford says.

Although the weather was unexpectedly cold and windy, that didn’t seem to deter the crowds. The pre-show Cycle World ride sold out, and ticket sales ($75 in advance) to the main event were better than ever, as more than 3,000 spectators gathered to take in the more than 350 motorcycles, scooters and bicycles on display.

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