Any Rotarians out there??

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Feb 14, 2004
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Feeling slightly tempted by a Norton Commander (rotary) which is for sale here.
Anyone had any experience of these non reciprocating beasties?
Any comments on reliability or on any particular shortcomings would be appreciated.
Have done a web search, and had one very clear opinion that its not entirely a good idea - but my wife doesn't know that much about rotaries so further opinions are being sought.
I left N-V long before the rotary came out, but I was there long enough to get a feel for the "corporate" mind-set. I would be very leery of buying a rotary except as a preservation of a very limited production machine.

The biggest shortcoming of N-V was a great shortage of development funding. I case after case, research and development was short-changed to fund other things (like the famous image make-over that produced the green "turn signals").

Even the major rotary manufacturers (NSU, Mazda) has serious problems in their early engines because the apex seals would wear out. These things do the equivalent job to piston rings on a reciprocating engine. The development costs almost killed Mazda. NSU (as far as I know) never made a follow-up to the Ro-80.

You can be sure that Norton never got around to recognising the problem let alone fixing it. The bike was a very limited production item, only sold to police fleets to begin with. I don't know if any went to private owners from the factory. I don't remember them showing up in private hands until the police agencies started selling theirs off.

I would be interested in knowing how one ended up in New Zealand.

Other folks more knowledgeable about Norton after the move to Andover may have different opinions. I didn't keep current after I emigrated to the US in mid-1968.
Well...I think you may be just a little out of touch with the rotary scene Frank?
If one came my way at the right price then I'd snap it up immediately.

The F1 models being highly sought after. There were also civilian production bikes like the Classic and Commander models, and many rotary Interpols have also been civilianised. ... 0index.htm

Indeed there were some problems with the design, (the Wankel rotary project being inherited from BSA/Triumph I believe?) including rotor overheating problems, high fuel consumption, slow running and rotor seal wear that took a while to sort out. I wouldn't say that the rotary Norton was anywhere near to being the perfect motorcycle, but there are people out there dedicated to improving them still further, like Graham Wilshaw.

And it must be remembered that it was a rotary that gave Norton its last TT win. ... rtondemo-/
There is no doubt that the Commander can make a good touring bike and can cover distance in comfort in a similar way to a contemporary BMW. I think that a prospective owner should be clear though what sort of motorcycling experience he is looking for.

They are smooth and fastish but the best comparison that I can come up with is that they are like a GT750 2-stroke Suzuki but a bit smoother and a bit better handling.

I think that like many Norton owners, I was tempted at the time by the name on the tank and with a dealer who wanted to make sales, I was loaned one over a bank-holiday weekend. It did what it said on the packet but it left me completely unmoved. It just didn't excite the bits that a Commando does ! :)

Most of the problems have solutions but I don't know how accessible they are for non-UK based owners.
Thanks for the feedback guys.
Frank - the bike is listed as original owner, don't know whether it was bought here or emigrated with its owner.
L.A.B. "at the right price" is relevant, price not low enough to make it unmissable at the moment.
79x100 - your comments about GT 750 traits is what is making me only slightly tempted so far. The name on the tank is a significant draw though. But my Ducati would need to go and there is not much of a 2nd hand market for my model (great bike though it is, one careful owner, full maint history, blah blah....) - so time will tell.
I had a ride out at the end of last year with two Rotary (ex Police) bikes.

Both owners were very happy with them in general. They did refer to a quirk that they apparently have which is if you ride down a long descent which would have the throttle closed for several seconds, the moment you open the throttle, a huge plume of smoke would bellow out creating a localised thick smog......which they found very embarrasing. They do have of course a constant loss lubrication system. I did understand the cause of this when it was explained to me at the time, and there was a modification which could stop this happening, but due to old age and senility I cannot recall exactly. Something about oil collecting on a gallery or something.

The other thing that I believe is desireable is that the rotor tips have been molybdenumed. I don't know if this is a retro treatment or new part that is fitted.

Personally not really my type of machine, but they are different.
Had an interesting email the other day through another club list re the Rotary is going to race seriously again

Sent: Saturday, January 26, 2008 3:10 PM
Subject: Thundersport GB at the London Motorcycle Show

> Visit us on the Thundersport GB stand at the London Motorcycle Show at
> ExCel
> from 31st January to 3rd February. We will be displaying examples of the
> new
> Aprilia 550 4-stroke GP2 bike, the new Honda Moto 450 Road Racer, an
> Aprilia
> RS 125 Superteen bike in the new J&S-Nitro Newcomers livery and one of the
> brand new Norton Rotary GP1 machines.
> The latter is the prototype design by Norton Racing boss Brian Crighton
> who
> is building two new GP1 machines to compete in the Thundersport GB
> Championship. Technically a 588cc machine, class restrictions mean that
> the
> new bikes will compete in the GP1 class against the theoretically more
> powerful Superbikes. The Norton Racing Team see this as just one more
> challenge and are relishing the prospect of proving the capabilities of
> the
> rotary design. Rumours of a 600cc road bike in development by Norton may
> soon see the benchmark for this most popular category moved beyond the
> reach
> of conventional piston engined machines with the Norton racer producing
> 170bhp and weighing just 135kg ready to race.
> The Thundersport Team will be accepting registrations, helping with ACU
> paperwork (including endorsing licence application forms), giving advice
> on
> starting racing, explaining the TV and media package and booking
> pre-season
> testing. See us on stand S427.
> You can find more info on the new Thundersport GB race series at our
> website
> Dave Stewart,
> Thundersport GB

Good luck to them is all I can say - heard it runing at Mallory Park last summer .....awesome 8) 8) - Get the Norton name up there again in front of new generation :wink:
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