Buying my first Commando, - what to look out for?

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Aug 7, 2004
Hi everyone

I’m new to this forum, so I’ll kick off with a short introduction. My name is Niels and I’m in my mid forties now, and have been toying around with old American cars for more than 20 years. For a number of practical reasons (one of them being the horrendous gas prices here in Denmark - now more than $5.50 pr. Gallon and climbing !!!), and to pursue a 25-year-old dream, I’m now looking to buy my first Commando. I have my heart set on a 850 MkIII, and is now looking at a ’77 for sale in England that should be in really - really - good condition. Being new to the Commando, I would like to know what to look out for. Could anybody tell me for instance what 3 most critical issues to be aware of, when buying a old Norton.

So with all you gear heads on this forum, I imagine there would be a couple of you that has had your share of fun with old cars as well. - Am I totally wrong swapping my ’58 Ford and ’73 MachI for a nice running Norton???? I must admit, I’m pretty excited ‘bout the hole thing… :o

first Norton


First of all I'm impressed with your command of the "American" language. Did you spend a lot of time in the US?

I have not owned an 850 MkIII electric start and they have several problems all thier own. Weak points are camshafts that are soft and loose their lobes. sprag gears (starter) in the primary that wear & an annoying clicking sound from the rear hub that has something to do with the unique to the MkIII cush drive. Amal 932 carbs do wear out from all the vibration, but can be resleeved and the jet needles and needle jets need to be replaced at around 10K mile intervals.

Nortons came into my life in 1973 with a '72 750 combat roadster that had 300 miles. Since then '73 750 roadster, '57 Model 50, '50 Model 7, '63 Electra, '61 ES2, '74 JPN and my current '72 signal red 750 combat roadster.
Hi Niels,

You will love owning and riding a Norton Commando. This bike has a snarly exhaust note that is almost sinister; it never lets you forget that you're riding one of the first super bikes!

I own and ride a '75 850 Commando, which was the last year Commandos were imported to the US. So, I can't comment fully on the '77 model you are thinking about buying. However, there are some similarities between the '75 and '77 models. Chief among them is the electric starter, which at best is an electric starter assist. The electric starter design was not up to the task of spinning this long stroke twin. I removed the starter and associated gear mechanisms on my bike. I don't miss it a bit, as it starts just fine with the kick starter.

Also, as illf8ed mentioned, the '75 Commandos had soft cam shafts that wore quickly. You can get a rough idea of the camshaft condition by examining the magnetic crank case drain plug. If it looks "hairy" chances are your cam is wearing, rapidly. Keep in mind that the '77 Commandos may not have the same soft cams as the '75 models.

I have not experienced any clicking noises from the rear hub on my '75 that illf87ed mentions.

Buy that '77 Commando and don't look back.

Happy trails!

Buying an old Commando, - what to look out for?


About the electric starter; This particular bike has seen some upgrades regarding the electrics. The guy tells me that the starter is an “upgraded electronic starter motor (4 pole, 2 field coil)”. Does that mean that it is now to be considered a fully dependable starter, or is Mk3 electric starter story more like; “no matter how much you upgrade it, it will still just be a assist to the kick starter”?? I have just attended a British bike meet, and among the 10 Mk3 Commandos there, I guess only 2 or 3 had the electric starter mounted. - I guess that’s quite the normal way to go about it...

Examining the magnetic crank case drain plug seems like very good advice!! Now, - being used to cars with oil pans, removing the drain plug means “watch out for about a gallon of pouring black oil”. I guess it’s not quite as dramatic on a bike engine with a separate oil tank, or is it?? I assume it’s possible just to plug a finger in the hole while inspecting the magnetic drain plug?!


The actual starter motor is only half the problem with electric-start Commandos. The other half, which illf8ed elluded to, is the starter clutch mechanism within the primary chain case. These components fail and fail often.

Norton Commandos tend to wet sump after not riding them for a day or so, meaning that some oil will drain from the oil tank into the crank case. So, when you remove that magnetic drain plug from the crank case to check for fine steel "whiskers", you need to be prepared for some oil, approximately 1/2 a quart.

Best regards,

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