bike purchase question

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Jun 25, 2008
I am new to the site. My brother is over looking at a 850 commando whos owner recetly passed a way. His wife does not know alot but says it perfect and wants 7-8k dollars. He bought it in Germany?? and had it shipped to the USA 3 years ago. Where are the serial numbers? How do i calculate the year of the bike? What should I look for?? I Where can i go to see and read the specs for this bike? appriciate anything you can help me with.
The numbers should be found on the headstock plate, engine L/H crankcase below the barrels and also on the top of the gearbox casing. The three numbers would have matched originally.

850 MkI model production started at frame/engine/gearbox number 300000 in early 1973.

MkIA (late '73) from number 306591

1974 MkII and IIA from 307311

1975 MkIII electric start from 325001

Any Mk I, IA, II, IIA or MkIII model could have been built as either a "Roadster", "Interstate" or "Hi-Rider" bodywork styled version?

"A" models and the MKIII would have had a black plastic airbox and "bean can/black cap" mufflers/silencers.

Police/military "Interpol" 850 models were also built but it is unlikely to be an Interpol model?

A few '74 models were also built as "John Player" models but they are rare:

Model identification info: ... etail.html
As Les says, the "A" models had "bean can" mufflers and big plastic air box, but most models I have seen in the 'States have had these removed. If so, look at the left side cover, it will attach with a plastic quarter turn button if it is an "A" model. Of course this could have been changed also, or might be missing :shock:

Realize that if this was imported from Germany, the speedo will be in KPH rather than MPH.

Also the build date should be on the red ID plate on the headstock. This is not necessarily the model year. i.e., many '74 models were actually built in November or December of 1973.
Hey thanks for the reply, Here is what i think i know about this bike for sale.

it came from england to the usa 3-5 years ago.
last ridden 6 months ago
has a wiring electrical issue
head light ring is held on with tape
metal gas tank
has extra seat
really clean, chrome in real good shape,
he paid 10k she wants 7k,

1973Norton 850 mk2
seems to be a roadster
engine 202770
frame FAH RGEST NR 230943

Any help on translating this info is greatly appricated. Wwe are anxious to make an offer but want to know what we are getting

What else can i look for?
thunderbay said:
1973Norton 850 mk2
seems to be a roadster
engine 202770
frame FAH RGEST NR 230943

Neither of those numbers would appear to be correct for an 850 model?

The engine number "202270" would be from the 1972 750 series, and the "230943" plate number would also be a 750 number, as 850 models start with a 3***** number?

However, the last recorded 750 to be manufactured was number 230935.
thunderbay said:
has extra seat

Could we have a little more information? Do you mean it has a single seat with another passenger seat added on?

Do you have any photos of this bike you could show us? As being able to see some photos could answer a few questions.
I do not know what to think.
Here is what is on the plate
NORTON gb 850 MK2 390 KG
fahrgest nr
230913 or it could be 230943

THe motor has 202770.

The plate looks original to the frame. Could the plate be a misprint?

Besides serial numbers, can a 750 motor fit an 850 frame?
What can i look for to tell the difference between a 750 and an 850 motor and frame?
I have 3 picutres and am going over to take better more specfic one. It is 5 pm my time in washington dc USA. What time is it where you are? How do i post or forward pictures. The help is appriciated
Unless the German Commandos had a different numbering system, then I can't explain it?

The easiest way to check the difference between standard 750 and 850 models is to look at the barrel base?

A 750 should have nine barrel base studs and nuts holding the barrels on, the 850s only have five studs/nuts visible (3 front & 2 rear), as the two outer barrel fasteners on each side of the 850 barrels are through-bolts that are not visible.

Look under " Sticky: Useful Commando & Photo Posting Information" on the index [Edit] >topics page for photo posting info:

It is now 10:15 PM UK time.
Thanks for the cylinder pictures. It is a 750 motor, single carb. I confirmed the frame plate does say 850 MII and the serial number is 230943. It is held on with 4 straight slotted screws. Was that the original way of fastening them on? The numbers on the engine do not match. Is there a data base of current Norton bikes' serial numbers. I will try to post pictures some time tomorrow.
Despite the vendor describing it as perfect, The headlight is held on with tape and there are electrical issues! My observation is that this price is higher than what lots of running Commandos go for, especially as there appears to be some discrepancy with the frame and engine numbers. You should also look at the number stamped on the top mounting-lug of the gearbox, which should also match the engine and frame number, this could confirm whether the bike is an assembly of unrelated bits - this in itself doesn't necessarily mean the bike is a bad one, but I would expect a machine with non-matching numbers to command a lower price than an original one. Post some photos if you can and the eagle-eyed enthusiasts on this site will point out any obvious discrepancies.
You should be able to find a sorted, numbers matching, Norton in the DC metro area for 7K. Go to the Nations Capital Norton Owners site for some local contact info. Well organised chapter w/ many long time members.
Check eBay for a price check. Not reliable, but another data point.

I bought my 73 850 off eBay. call it $5500. I have well over twice that invested in it now. Money well spent? Couldn't tell ya. But I just went out and looked at it (we had a brief ride earlier tonight, to check out the new main jets..see separate thread if interested). Bottom line: I'm still in love. Anything for my baby!!

30 years riding, and I've not seen any bike I crave more. Black Shadows included. (Not to say I wouldn't LOOOOVVEE one....)
thunderbay said:
I confirmed the frame plate does say 850 MII and the serial number is 230943. It is held on with 4 straight slotted screws. Was that the original way of fastening them on?

The plate should be fixed by what are known as "hammer-drive" rivets, and they would not have slots, and slotted screws were never used as far as I know?. If it is an 850 frame, then you should find another number (F1****) stamped vertically next to the plate? The information given on the plate does appear to tie in with the (Black?) German model certification plates: only the 230943 number itself seems to be odd, but there may be a perfectly innocent explanation for it? Unfortunately, we do not have many German members here.

Possibly member hewho.. may know why?

An 850 frame would normally have its part number stamped on the front face of the left-hand fuel tank mounting bracket? You may have to look very closely to see it, as the digits are small and not stamped very deeply.

thunderbay said:
The numbers on the engine do not match. Is there a data base of current Norton bikes' serial numbers.

The engine, frame plate and gearbox numbers should all match if it was original?

There's no definitive database of Commando numbers on the Internet unfortunately. There is a list here for all Norton models that can be used as a guide: however the majority of 850 serial numbers on that list have not been entered correctly! [Edit] The Sept. '73 750 "212278" number entry is also not correct, as that should read Sept '72, not '73.
A couple of things come to mind here. As L.A.B. says, original Norton plates are fitted with hammer-drives and I'm sure that anything else such as screws or rivets means that the plate has been off at some time (and that it was done by someone who wasn't looking for 100% originality).

Germany has long had a reputation as the most expensive country in Europe for Nortons and, especially in Deutschmark days, German buyers would always pay top money. Dutch and Belgian sellers regularly advertised their bikes in Germany, even pre-eBay. That a bike cost 10,000 USD in Germany doesn't mean that it's 'worth' that elsewhere.

Belgium introduced Type Approval for motorcycles in 1973 and the recently-deceased former Norton importer told me that he didn't bother with the costs of homologating the 750 model as it was to be discontinued so all 1973 750s first registered in Belgium were documented as 850s. It's a minefield out there !

There is also the factor of Germany's very strong type-approval and Registration procedures and there is a great temptation to take the route of least resistance when it comes to registering a personal import. If this involves using the identity of a bike that was perhaps crashed or otherwise scrapped but where the paperwork still existed then I've seen plenty to suggest that this is what happens.
Thunderbay said: "(the ID plate) is held on with 4 straight slotted screws" The ID plate was not held on by slotted screws. The factory used rivets.( of course you already knew that because it was mentioned early on in this thread)

The engine #202770 indicates it may be a Combat engine.

Check the transmission number. See if it matches the frame or the engine or is different. This bike may have been pieced together. This isn't neccesarily a bad thing but it should affect the value of the bike.
hey my brother bought the bike for 3500 us and brought it home this evening. I will post pictures tomorrow. There is a wiring issue. From what we can tell there is electronic ignition. I can see a module up underthe tank and under the points cover. We are questioning how do we know if it pos or neg ground? We really wantto getitstarted nay help is appriciated.
thunderbay said:
There is a wiring issue.

There normally is!

You will find electrical information including diagrams in the factory manual: ... p/004.html - select the relevant section, then click < > to turn the pages.

thunderbay said:
We are questioning how do we know if it pos or neg ground?

Originally it would have had a positive ground electrical system. If the bike still has the original circular finned "+ stud" rectifier, then it would suggest that it still wired positive ground?
The most common electronic ignition is "Boyer Bransden" (black plastic box) Micro Mk III:

Black box: ... 00017_.pdf
Red box: ... 00032_.pdf
Blue box: ... 00232_.pdf

Another common ignition type is "Lucas Rita" (metal box):
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