Help Needed - What should I do about restoring project?

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Oct 5, 2004
Hello all,

I will try to keep this as short as possible since and I really need the group's help deciding what to do, but I am sure that this post will end up long so sorry in advance...

I have a Norton project bike that I've owned for about 5 years and never touched. Having finally gotten the space to work on it I'm finally getting into it. It was a basket case when I bought it and is listed as a 1970 on the title. The frame has a plate on it labeled "132919 Jun 1969" and this matches the registration. The engine is numbered "20M 3S / 132919" so I know it's the correct engine but not sure about the other numbers.

Biggest problem is that someone "chopped" this frame...

It's been "raked" at the fork and doesn't exactly look like an expert job. I can send someone digital photos if they wanted. I bought it in this condition without a proper seat or tank, but it did have the side covers and appears to have proper front and rear rims. It also had a pretty cool steel chopper tank and a "solo" seat, of course both of these have nothing to do with Norton.

I had obviously indended to put the bike back to "proper" condition but never planned on it being a show bike of any kind. Consequently over the years I've picked up a few of the larger parts, such as a fiberglass fastback? tank and a bare frame since I figured it would be easier than trying to repair the current frame.

Now that I have begun sandblasting the (new) frame to have it powdercoated I've noticed a few other things. One is the markings are stamped into this one and they read:

"(symbol like a W) 850 (symbol) F 103 930 (symbol)"

which would lead me to believe that it is from an 850. There are also a few minor differences in the frame, mainly it seems like the front fork on the 750 has one small block (a stop?) welded in the center while the 850 frame has two (one on each side). The 750 frame also appears to bend up at the back behind where the seat goes whereas the 850 is straight.

These appear to be minor differences, but I figure you guys know best. I would hate to get 75% through and then find out that a minor design difference in the two frames prevents my project from going forward.

So here are my questions:

1) Do I continue to proceed as originally planned and start with a freshly powdercoated frame (albeit an 850) and transfer all parts over to it?

2) If I do this what about the ID plate? Should I drill it and move it over to the new bike?

3) Do I have the old "chopped" frame fixed and base the project on that? Is it worth the time and trouble? Will it ever be safe?

4) Do I go with option 1 and located another Norton (or similar) engine and make a chopper out of the old frame? (Hey - when life give you lemons...)

5) Do I sell the 850 frame and get a 750 frame?

6) Do I try and find an 850 engine?

Sorry this post is so long but I know I am talking to guys (and gals) who not only love these bikes but have a practical knowledge about them so that I can get real world advice.

ANY help would be appreciated, and feel free to email me privately for more info or whatever.

Thanks a bunch!!!

Wow - that's a bunch of questions!

Norton's make lousy choppers. As such, I would probably discard the chopped frame. That red identification tag riveted to the steering head stock can be purchased from a number of British cycle parts houses. You can then stamp any number you want onto the new tag.

Many motorcycle titles, depending on the state where they are registered, use the number that is steel stamped directly into the head stock. However, it sounds like your title uses the number stamped on the flimsy red tag. So, matching the new frame to the title will be no problem.

I'm quite sure the 750 engine will fit your 850 frame; someone in the forum will be able to confirm this. So, I would go for your option 1.

Good luck and let us know how it's coming along.

restoring a '69 Commando

The engine/frame numbers are correct for the June '69 manufacture date. "20M3S" is the designation through 1971 for a Commando 750 engine with points driven by the camshaft rather than in the old magneto position. A typical suggestion for any restorer is to read a lot about the various body styles of the year you want to restore to. A very good book is Roy Bacon's Norton Twins Restoration. Other publications such as the NOC's Commando Service Notes or the INOA's Tech Digest will give you insight into modifications that may be beneficial to what you want to do with the machine after the rebuild or restoration.

In 1969 there were two basic styles, Fastback and Type S. The late '68 to '70 frames were different from the '71 and changed again for the '72/'73 750 frames. The early frames had a bolt on side stand and the center stand was attached to the frame instead of the rear engine mount. Your "new" frame is from an 850 from the code you quoted. It would not be satisfactory for a restoration, but may be an improvement if you are putting the bike together as a rider. If you do look for an early frame make sure not to buy the very first type that were recalled due to breaking at the stearing head. These are missing the smaller tube under the main backbone tube under the gas tank.
As Illf8ed points out you will need to use the '72-75 side stand and either the '73-'75 850 center stand (preferred) or the '71-'73 750 center stand. However, another point of consideration is the 850 frame has 1 degree more rake than the 750 frame. This was compensated with 1 degree less in the triple trees, so it is best to match 850 trees to an 850 frame. This gets more complicated because your '69-'70 model uses the ring mount headlight. This ring mounts to the triple trees, but later 750 and 850 trees do not have the holes for these so they must be drilled. Later style headlight ears will also solve this.
If you are planning on using a "fastback" tank, you do realize you will need the matching seat/tail section combo, as a stock Roadster/S seat will not mate up properly. My suggestion here is to find a steel Roadster tank. If you do use fibreglass, be sure to properly clean and line it with a good tank lining compound.

Thank you for the information regarding frame and tripple tree rake; I never knew there was a difference between model years.

Another possible advantage to using a late model 850 frame is the revised location of the cross-brace beneath the engine. Early frames had this brace located directly beneath the crank case drain/filter, requiring a special wrench to remove the drain plug. Later frames moved this brace away from the drain/filter, eliminating the need for the special wrench.


These are EXACTLY the type of expert responses I need. I'd love to hear from any other list members on their two cents. Thanks so much for those who have already taken the time to chime in! I'll keep reading as they are posted and come to a decision in the next few days...

You asked for it, here's my 2 cents with change.
It started life as a 750, you have matching #'s with paperwork, I'd stay with 750 pieces.
If you have the period fork ears, it probably was a fastback, if you have the ringed headlight, it was either a Roadster or high pipe S series.
My feeling is the more correct you can make it, the more desireable and valuable it becomes.
If I owned it, I'd either go with the Fastback or S-type. Roadsters are more common. However, 70 is the first year for the Roadster and there can only be one first year. (Is that confusing enough?)
Good luck, (Don't forget your change)
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