My 1970 Roadster Rebuild

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After about three years of fun, puzzlement and overspending, I am in the final stages of tinkering with the rebuild of the 1970 Roadster. Some of the less experienced potential rebuilders in cyberspace might appreciate a bit of a commentary on the process - I have seen some threads here with potential buyers wondering if an old British bike is for them. So here goes with my project; stop reading as soon as you get bored...

The bike currently looks like this (he said with some pride:)

My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


I bought this a few years ago as a project – I have for years wanted to restore an old bike; and after looking at various makes I decided that a Commando was what I wanted.
When I bought it it was running but pretty worn out,– although it died on the trip home, and broke the kickstart spring when we were trying to revive it.
I was a complete novice to mechanical stuff; my previous experience has been pretty much limited to cleaning out float bowls on the carburettor of the lawn mower, and helping my grandfather change the clutch on his Hillman Imp in the early 1970s. So I was excited to buy this bike as a renovation project, and set myself up to do it by buying tools, and reading all that I could find that might assist me with the project.
I have discovered that the bike has had a few changes from stock by previous owners: a two into one exhaust - I think it is a Viking but it has no identifying marks on it; the factory recommended adjustment to the swing arm to firm up the spindle by welding on two nuts and drilling through them so you can add two extra bolts through the swing arm to press in the spindle (later versions have cotter pins); chain guard and air box removed, centre stand removed to make room for the two in one exhaust; and camshaft replaced; original seat – which would have been the “S” style seat – replaced with the one in the photos which has a label “Mark1A” stuck underneath it; Boyer ignition, and vernier isolastics. The side stand has been replaced with a Triumph one. An external oil filter has been added, like the later models have. Choke lever removed.
After the compulsory two year stand down period following acquisition, I stripped down the bike.
Because I don’t have a mechanical background I thought that it might not be a good idea to learn on this motor and gearbox. I decided to have the engine and gearbox reconditioned by a professional. After a false start I sent them to Bob Nesbitt of Classic Cycles in Wellington, who specialises in servicing and restoring Nortons and Harley Davidsons. Bob runs a racing team “Team Norton” in the NZ Classic Racing Register racing Commandos.
Bob has pretty much entirely rebuilt everything that you can touch in the motor - new superblend bearings; balanced the crankshaft; new big end shells; rebore; to +20; new pistons, valve springs and guides, black diamond valves, new cam chain, pushrods, new Amal carburettors; oil lines; studs, nuts and bolts –many of which are now stainless.
The gearbox has had the kickstart shaft replaced; and a general overhaul, some new sprockets and of course a new kickstart spring.
Bob cryogenically treated the pistons, valves and conrods. Apparently this treatment strengthens them. Bob found that the camshaft was not standard. It is stamped “PD05’ and I think “H 958 WFC” – although the latter may be tech talk on his notes that I don’t understand. I assume that PD05 stands for Paul Dunstall – does anyone know about this type of camshaft? Any information about it, and its characteristics would be gratefully received.
I had the wheels rebuilt with alloy rims and stainless spokes by Tom Morriss of Wheel and Spoke Services in Auckland. After talking to Tom and Bob, and noting an article on what Mick Hemmings was running on his production racer I changed the rear rim to 18 inches WM3 from the stock 19 inches, but retained a 19 inch wm2 rim on the front. That change of rear rim seems to be relatively common in racing circles here (not that I am going to race – or even ride hard), and on road bikes. The reason most often given for changing the rim is to give a greater choice of tyres. If I’m honest my motivation is that I have thought that the standard wheels and tyres on the Commando look too spindly, and I wanted to fit a slightly wider tyre – particularly on the back. When I went to the tyre shop to buy Avons they were out of stock and the guy talked me into getting Bridgestone Battlax BT45s; apparently they are standard on the new Bonnevilles; I have seen pictures of a number of other Nortons with these; hopefully they will be ok – and they were cheaper; a real consideration for me at the time.
Other additions, new things, and essential purchases for the project have included new brake shoes and a brake stiffener for the front drum, new wheel bearings (single only; original double bearings left in), all new cables apart from the tachometer cable which was still ok; new front springs – I haven’t gone to progressive springs – and new bushes and seals for the forks; diamond eternity ring, taper roller bearings for the bearing head, new wiring harness, diamond cluster ring, new Hagon rear springs; and new stainless steel fasteners when I could get them; new chain guard and air box and filter to replace those that had been taken off the bike in past years; stainless rocker feed pipe; Norvil headsteady, new choke lever, horn, horn/dipswitch, mirror, new inspection caps for the primary cover; solid state rectifier, ignition switch, steering lock (after paying a locksmith too much to get the original out I destroyed it trying to get it back in after powdercoating the yokes); rear hub cover; hoses; external oil filter; handgrips; footrubbers; chain adjusters and incidentals.
I had the frame powder coated black, and the engine mounts powdercoated silver I didn’t discover and read the Old Britts website and the perils of powdercoating the engine mounts until after the bike was totally reassembled; but on looking at the mounts it is clear that the coaters have kept cover very thin at the points where they are attached to the isolastics; and engine mount points; I am keeping my fingers crossed that the studs don’t snap.
I have pretty much rechromed everything in sight except the headlamp cover and the fittings below the fuel tank that hold the reflectors.
The original bracket that holds the coils had been replaced with a smaller L shaped metal piece (I have recently seen an identical piece on another bike of similar vintage, so wonder whether this is either a factory item or a common changeover); I found a second hand original bracket on the internet and bought it and repainted it myself. I also repainted bits and pieces that had not been powdercoated; in particular I was a bit wary of having the oil tank blasted, so chose to clean it out myself – it took quite some cleaning – and repaint it.
I did all of the disassembly; polishing (apart from wheel hubs and engine covers – both of which were done by respective rebuilders), and reassembly myself. I bought a grinder, stand, and polishing mops, and spent many weekends polishing away and getting covered in black muck.
The reassembly was the fun part; and I found that I had taken far too few notes and photos when I was taking it apart. As well as using a Haynes manual and factory manual to help me reassemble, I found the Andover Norton website very useful, its exploded diagrams.. Unfortunately it was not perfect for me as the diagrams start at 1971; my 1970 is quite different in a number of respects. Classic Bike magazine ran a pictorial of Mick Hemmings assembling a Commando over two issues which was very useful – he did it over a weekend; it has taken me about 2 – 3 years on and off.
Generally I have found that I have had to do pretty much everything twice or sometimes more; my joy at getting the engine back into the frame disappeared when I realised that I couldn’t get the gearbox in, and I had to take it out again and put the gearbox in first; I put in the isolastics and realised that the new gaiters I had bought for them had been left off; so had to lift everything up and scratch the frame to get them on.
I must have taken the rear wheel on and off about three times before I got everything in right; part of that issue was because I decided to buy and fit a new chain guard relatively late in the piece; and you can’t do that with the wheel in place.
The hand controls that are fitted to this bike are the older chromed steel ones (not alloy) and the front brake cable that I ordered and the clutch cable that the engine rebuilder ordered did not fit. I eventually successfully cut down and resoldered the brake cable, but basically wrecked the clutch cable trying to resolder it – it reads like the process is really easy – and eventually I gave up and bought another that fitted properly.
When I refitted the front wheel I discovered that as the new tyre was wider than the original the mudguard struts were too narrow; I have had to cut them, and have recently had them rewelded together with an extension, and bent them back into shape – they are currently being rechromed.
I spent hours and hours and hours figuring out how to reconnect the wiring harness, and how to read a wiring diagram; at one point I asked a mechanic to help; he insisted that I buy a new wiring harness, and then would not let me look over him so I could learn, so I decided to keep on at it myself, and ultimately conquered it. Some of you might have seen a question from me on this site about wiring; I couldn’t understand why I had wired the rear light permanently on – it transpired that it was the brake light, and I hadn’t adjusted the foot brake lever tension properly to turn it off.
I don’t know how many hours it has taken me – but I am pretty certain that it is a lot more than someone with more experience would have taken. Often I found myself without the right (or near enough) replacement fastener or tool and having to leave it to go and buy something. I did it all in our two car garage – with the usual family junk in it; in order to find room for the bike lift I had to cut my workbench in half. The first 20 minutes and last 20 minutes of any weekend working day or part day was spent setting up and putting away; that combined with trying to figure out what order things went in meant a fairly slow assembly project. I also struggled to deal with what nut or bolt needed a whitworth spanner; an ordinary imperial, or a metric.
My budget was completely blown – several fold. The real damage was done in the cost of the professional motor and gearbox rebuild – I could have bought a brand new crate V8 for less than it cost me to recondition the motor and gearbox, and for what I have spent on this bike altogether I could have purchased a very decent brand new bike; much more than just a Bonneville. However, for the most part I am extremely happy with what I have achieved, and don’t begrudge the money; I could have blown it on anything, and hopefully I will have an appreciating asset after a few years; I suspect that I have substantially overcapitalised it for the moment. Actually I paid for the rebuild (not the initial purchase) out of an inheritance from my late father; he was part of the reason I never had one in my youth, and during the two year stand down period he offered to run it over every time he visited. I felt it only fitting that he paid for the rebuild.
When I finally completed it and got it running I had one test ride on it, and then decided that what the hell, despite the cost I really needed to have the tank and side covers repainted to do the project justice. I had them redone in Fireflake Sapphire Blue, with the lettering in black and gold. Although all of the elements that I have used are authentic, I am not sure that the combination that I have used is. For instance, this early model Roadster did co9me in fireflake sapphire blue (the original of this particular bike was fireflake purple; it was painted over with a dark blue and white pinstriping after repairs to the tank); early models have a black and gold tank logo; and the word “Roadster” on the side covers, but I am not sure the style of “750 Commando” on the side covers – which is the newer style (I think they changed in 1970 the year that this bike was built) came in black and gold, rather than just black, and if it did, was it gold outlined in black rather than black outlined in gold?
Practicality governed; my painter did not have a stencil for the old version of “Commando”; he had already painted the tank logo black and gold; and we agreed that we would do the side covers to match. I’m really pleased with the result, and I think that the juxtaposition of black and gold surrounded by metalflake makes an interesting statement about the period of its manufacture.
Before I took off the tank for repainting I had real trouble getting the bike to idle. One issue was that the throttle cable was too tight (I have posted another thread on this) – the stock outer cable was too long for the inner cable, with the result that the throttle valve could not close, and when I turned the handle bars the bike accelerated and decelerated – between 3000 and 4000 rpm. With help from this forum I diagnosed the issue, and cut back the outer cable with a mini dremel tool, which allowed the throttle valve to hit the bottom of the carburettor body.
After that I couldn’t get it to idle at less than about 2500 rpm. I have tried and tried to adjust the Pilot Air Adjusting Screw, and it just does not like to idle – it likes to stall instead. I have temporarily attempted to fix it by adjusting the throttle cable back so the throttle is always slightly open (but less than it was when the cable was wrong), and decided that I would look at it again when the repainted tank was back on – I still have to adjust the timing, so that might influence things; the motor builder static timed it, but I now have to set it with the new timing light I have just bought.
That was a job for last weekend, but typically my inexperience has led me astray. I have recently got the tank and side covers back from the painters, and last week got the fuel tank cap back from the chrome platers. I refitted the tank and side covers. I screwed in the fuel taps to the tank; and put locktite on the thread of the fuel taps to lubricate them and to create an additional seal in addition to the o rings that I put on the fuel taps. When I put petrol in the tank I felt around the fuel taps; wet red locktite was present. I wasn’t sure whether that was just extra locktite; or petrol and locktite, so I decided to screw the fuel tap a bit tighter to make sure that no petrol could leak past. Mistake. The fuel tap snapped in half and petrol poured everywhere. At least I didn’t strip the thread on the fibreglass tank. So I’ve had to order a replacement, and the proper washer that should have been there in the first place; and the final tuning has to wait for at least another weekend.
In the meantime I have a pretty and almost complete sculpture.
Has it been worth it? Financially probably not. From almost every other perspective, absolutely. It has challenged me, it has allowed me to be creative (if fixing someone else’s invention can be seen as creative) in a way that I have not been before; it has taught me new skills, and I have something that I have great pride in every time I walk past it; and will certainly have pride in when I ride it – hopefully next weekend….
Would I do it again? I am told that I will not until (a) the kids have left home or (b) I am divorced, and that if I breach (a) the consequence will be (b).
I would love to fix up a trail bike for the kids; and as a teenager I had a poster of Peter Fonda as Captain America on my wall. A chopper would be great...
I am also captivated by some of the great café racers that I have seen on this site, and that sort of project would allow me to build directly on the knowledge that I have gained on this bike. I would also love to tear down a motor and rebuild it; I am pretty sure that like the rest of the bike, a motor is really just a 3D jigsaw puzzle for grown ups.
For this summer I just want to get it on the road, vinned and registered, and ride it. The bike has not reached its full potential; there is still room for say a belt drive; and some of the front suspension mods that have been reviewed on this site look really interesting. I’m also not happy with the seat; it looks too bulky; the photos that I have seen of the original “S” style seat look a lot better. I got a photo of the replacement that is available from the English suppliers; that doesn’t look any better than mine. Does anyone have some good close up photos of an original S seat, and the dimensions? Maybe I can modify mine.
 

ML

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Well done Chris, it looks superb. A mate of mine had one done up almost identical to yours, but a '71 ditched the drum front and went to disc and added a Mikuni. No expense spared. It was his first motorcycle at the age of 50 and he is absolutely chuffed with it. You don't lose money on a Commando, you gain an inner reward that's hard to measure.

Cheers, Mick
 

grandpaul

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Well done!

Can you "backfill" a bunch of progress shots of your work as it went along?

I'll be gritting my teeth until you loosen off the speedo nuts and rotate it in the meter cup to align better...
 
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Very nice, and as Neil said in 'The Young Ones' ..."Wow, cryogenics, that's really cool"
 

DogT

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Very nice job. Here are a few pics of the seat and decals. The 69-70 seat was smaller at the rear, you can see that compared to the later ones. The decals on the tank if it was Fireflake blue, black lettering with Gold outline, and on the panels, Gold lettering with black outline, make sure the decals are parallel to the ground, not the frame. They are available, I got them from OldBritts, but I think you can get them from Norvil too.

If the left side rear isolastic 1/2" locknut was beat up (from the exhaust), it was probably an S model to start.

From a website
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


From a Berliners brochure
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


Me in '72
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


Dave
69 S project
 
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Nice work Chris! If you're going to own a Norton you should know it inside out or have deep pockets and carry a cell phone. The things you've learned will pay off if you have some simple little thing shut you down when you're 500 miles from home. You have a lot of enjoyment in front of you now.

I also have to congratulate you on your post. You've managed to place the content of one of GrandPaul's 15 page threads into 1 post! (minus the photos) ........Don't get me wrong though, I didn't get bored, just poking fun at ya.
 
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I had the standard roadster new in a dark blue metalflake if I recall. Your bike brings back memories. We are working on a 71 in my garage and it does have a lot of differences.
Nice job and a lot of work for you so far.
 
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I thoroughly enjoyed reading your story and seeing the final result. You did an outstanding job for one not versed in motorcycle mechanics. You certainly picked the best bike to do. Nortons are wonderful to ride, listen to, look at, and fettle with. My first cycle was a 70 Fireflake Blue Roadster purchased in London brand new for $900. I rode it in England and on the continent and then across the USA from New York to Los Angeles. The bike was trouble free as my 71 red one has been. You are going to love the ride. Thanks for sharing your work.
 
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NIce bike and a good read. Dont worry about the other half, you are not alone. Enjoy :wink:
 

grandpaul

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RennieK said:
I also have to congratulate you on your post. You've managed to place the content of one of GrandPaul's 15 page threads into 1 post! (minus the photos) ...

HA!

You're right, I typically type 3 or 4 words per photo, so that would probably at least a dozen pages in Chris' post.

Now, ALL WE NEED ARE THE PHOTOS!
 
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Nice Job Chris T.

I'm afraid Auckland traffic scares me enough in a car.........much less a motorbike.

By the way....do you remember which issues of Classic Motorcycle is was that Hemmings did his rebuild. I'm afraid I threw mine out. I subscribe digitally now but have not yet sprung for the old issues as I can't find the month and year they did that article.
 
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DogT - what do you mean by "beat up from the rear"? I guess that as the isolastics on mine have been replaced with verniers I will not have the original lock nut in any case.


DogT said:
Very nice job. Here are a few pics of the seat and decals. The 69-70 seat was smaller at the rear, you can see that compared to the later ones. The decals on the tank if it was Fireflake blue, black lettering with Gold outline, and on the panels, Gold lettering with black outline, make sure the decals are parallel to the ground, not the frame. They are available, I got them from OldBritts, but I think you can get them from Norvil too.

If the left side rear isolastic 1/2" locknut was beat up (from the exhaust), it was probably an S model to start.

From a website
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


From a Berliners brochure
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


Me in '72
My 1970 Roadster Rebuild


Dave
69 S project
 
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Chris:

Lovely bike and a great story a lot of us can relate to.

If I was in your place I'd be looking forward to a trip down the east side of the Coromandel and after soaking at Hot Water Beach finish up with a day around the East Cape to Gisborne.

If I'm ever rich I'll bring my bike over for just that trip.

Let us know how the shake down riding goes.

Bob
 
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Congratulations, outstanding job. As Grandpaul said, more pictures and please, bigger ones. If you can get an "S" seat, it would be more fitting, maybe not more comfortable, but more in keeping with the looks of the bike.

Jean
 
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Well done Chris, it looks like you got a good apprenticeship and as a bonus a free bike! I myself am building a yellow S-type so most of the cycle parts are identical except for the exhausts. I believe the L-shaped angle bracket is the correct coil mount for this model, the earlier fastback also used this bracket which holds the coils closer together than the later inverted-U shaped bracket. Regarding seats, I have just bought a ribbed seat cover from E-bay UK for 29 pounds, I believe this will work on the S-model seat base that I have with just a bit of trimming of the excess material. The only issue I am concerned about is that the logo may be too far down the back of the seat to fit the thin back of the original. I will have to wait until it arrives before reporting. I believe you could use your existing seat base, cut down the foam a bit and turn it into an S-type seat without too much bother.

I like the routing of the oil tank pipes to accomodate a filter, in my opinion this is a good modification on any British bike from this era. Now that you are a seasoned pro I look forward to getting advice from you on this forum and of course seeing the next project emerge - I wont tell your wife if you don't.
 
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The photo article with Mick Hemmings assembly of a Commando from a bare frame was in the June and July issues of Classic Bike; I think that the August issue had a follow up, but I missed that one.

Diamondjet said:
Nice Job Chris T.

I'm afraid Auckland traffic scares me enough in a car.........much less a motorbike.

By the way....do you remember which issues of Classic Motorcycle is was that Hemmings did his rebuild. I'm afraid I threw mine out. I subscribe digitally now but have not yet sprung for the old issues as I can't find the month and year they did that article.
 
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grandpaul said:
Well done!

Can you "backfill" a bunch of progress shots of your work as it went along?

I'll be gritting my teeth until you loosen off the speedo nuts and rotate it in the meter cup to align better...

Grandpaul, I'll see if I can adjust the speedo position - thanks for the tip. I'll see if I can put together a few "before, during and after" shots; it may take a few days as I seem to only have hard copies of some of the early photos.
 
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Dave,

I've just had a look on e-bay, and can't find a listing for the supplier of those S type seat covers. Can you recall details of the supplier? Do you know if the silver (I assume chrome) trim for the base is readily available?
 
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