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Recommended Upgrades

Discussion in 'Norton Commando Motorcycles (Classic)' started by heynow68, Dec 5, 2018.

  1. heynow68


    Jan 10, 2016
    Hi Folks
    I am attempting to build a 1969 750 Commando S model from the ground up I pose this question. What modern upgrades would you recommend?
  2. cliffa


    May 26, 2013
    Safety first:

    • If you have a Widowmaker frame which only has a single top tube, get the additional brace (which is available for Andover Norton separately) welded in.
    • Make sure your rear brake lever has a return spring fitted. Also available from AN and others.
    • Replace the gearbox layshaft bearing, as there was a poor quality bearing fitted to some bikes which broke up and locked the gearbox. You can imagine the results.
    • A stiffening kit for the front drum brake (unless you intend to go disc).
    • Replace the headsteady, as the early ones break, causing dire handling.

    Other essentials:
    • Replace the shimmed ISO's with vernier adjustable versions. There are at least 4 types available.
    • Crankcase non return breather.
    • If it still has the original Amal carbs get them sleeved or buy new Premier's (but strip and clean them thoroughly before fitting).
    In My Opinion:

    • Bin the points, again there are at least 4 electronic ignition systems available
    • Replace all the Lucas bullet connector with Japanese pattern 3.9mm tinned versions. (buy decent crimping pliers). I would do this even if I was fitting a new loom.
    • Replace diode and rectifier with a modern replacement
    • LED bulbs.

    Oh, And most important, don't let your significant other see the parcels arriving, or access your bank / credit card statements, Paypal account etc.


  3. acotrel


    Jun 30, 2012
    Or buy a Ducati ?
  4. cliffa


    May 26, 2013
    There's no fun in that ! (or frustration, or skinned knuckles, or dirty fingernails, or getting to know your bank manager better) however, you do get to know folks on here, and you will definitely feel like you are in a global family (of sufferers);)
    mdt-son likes this.
  5. L.A.B.

    L.A.B. Moderator VIP MEMBER

    Nov 20, 2004
    Only the first approx. 1,400 '68 models (up to 128634) had the widowmaker frame so a '69 'S' model (131257+) should be well clear.

    It's not that there were poor quality bearings as any standard Commando layshaft 6203 bearing can fail. The metal cage breaking up usually being the cause of the failure.
    The Portuguese 6203 fitted to late models appears more likely to fail prematurely apparently because it has a brass cage rather than it being of poor quality.

    All standard metal cage 6203 layshaft bearings should be replaced regardless, with either the (067710) NJ203E roller bearing upgrade (link, below) or Mick Hemmings special FAG 6203TB.P63 ball bearing.

    cliffa likes this.
  6. Atlas Commando

    Atlas Commando VIP MEMBER

    Feb 27, 2018
    Interesting post. I am trying with some frustration to put my life on hold long enough to get a '72 Combat back on the road. My goal is to build a good solid rider with reasonable reliability. In addition to items above I would add an oil filter if not already fitted, and Superblend bearings for the crankshaft, especially if you need to go that deep anyway. I am fitting an electronic ignition, Superblends, new layshaft bearing, oil filter, XS650 crankcase breather, improved oil pickup point, a good air filter on the single Mikuni that came in the basket, and am struggling with whether to go further with improved motor mounts, i.e. better head steady and vernier isolastics. Then of course, I should upgrade from a lined fiberglass tank (gorgeous shape) to a steel tank such as produced by Emgo. It seems like I should leave something for the next guy..... He/she will need to bond with their new family member..
  7. Tornado

    Tornado VIP MEMBER

    Dec 5, 2017
    Don't leave the next owner anything special! Afterall, you will then be the Dreaded Previous Owner....
  8. ashman


    Jul 11, 2010
    So many upgrades you can do to these bikes it depend on how deep your pockets are or how far you want to go, it also depends on how you are going to use your bike, how hard you are going to push it etc etc, good luck with it.

  9. cliffa


    May 26, 2013
    Thanks for clarifying those points L.A.B., I wasn’t sure how many early frames were manufactured.
  10. heynow68


    Jan 10, 2016
    Thanks to everyone that has replied so far. I should have given a little more info. I am building this bike to give to my brother for his 50th birthday. I am building so he can ride it and be safe riding it. We owned a motorcycle shop in Toronto Canada down on the Danforth. Some folks may remember it as Firths Motorcycle. My Dad work for Harry Firth for about 30 years and when Harry retired my dad bought the shop and renamed it Loron Motorcycle. Now me being a dum ass kid and just what to ride and not wanting to learn how to work on these bikes never picked my father's brain and all his knowledge. So here I am today trying to keep the tradition alive and trying to rebuild this bike right from the beginning. I am lucky that when my father sold the shop and sold all the parts he arranged from the person he sold the parts to that my brother and I would get any parts we need at dealer cost, it helps a little bit, As I am looking in the future to build a few more of these Commando's and a couple of Triumphs which are all basket cases i might add So any help anybody regarding these bikes would be great. I have all the shop manuals and have ordered the Mick Hemmings DVD's But it's the little tricks of the trade I wish i had learned from my father. Anyway thanks in advance for all your help.

    P.S My brother doesn't have a clue he is getting this bike so don't say anything!!! LOL LOL LOL
  11. MexicoMike


    Jan 31, 2010
    I would start with, "What does a OEM Commando in good condition need to operate easily/safely on today's roads?" Frankly, if you started with a "new" Norton Commando as it was delivered in 197x, the only thing I think it NEEDS as opposed to "cool stuff I want to buy" is better front brakes. ;)

    Admittedly a lot of stuff that we install nowadays is convenience related - less maintenance. E-ignition, for example. Not that that's a bad thing but there is a difference between what you NEED to do as opposed to what you want to do.

    Don't misunderstand, I am not against buying new parts. Among other things that I can't think of, my Commando has a Trispark ignition, an Alton E-start, a CNW Brembo Master Cylinder, Swingarm Clamps, a high-zoot crankcase vent, two Amal Premiers to replace the orignal Amals, the Fauth front fork mod, the CNW 520 chain conversion, new wiring harness, SS brake and oil lines, etc. Heck, I just received a (gorgeous) Rear Set from CNW and a pair of Aluminum-body Ikon shocks. The bike doesn't NEED them to function but they sure look cool! They look SO good it might require me to repaint the bike! :)

    Of course you need all the normal replacement parts to get the everything in good, original condition - Iso rubbers, maybe a top-end engine rebuild (rings/valves/guides/seals), tires, spark plugs/wires, wiring harness, new mufflers and maybe pipes, etc, etc, etc. But that's just "normal" maintenance though it may have been deferred for 40+ years, making it rather expensive all at once.
    eskasteve and cliffa like this.
  12. Atlas Commando

    Atlas Commando VIP MEMBER

    Feb 27, 2018
    I got over to Firth's once or twice to drool a bit. It was a nice shop but Sturgis Cycle in Hamilton was closer for me so they got my ever-so-frequent parts purchases for my BSA's....
  13. worntorn


    Dec 22, 2006
    I've got a 68 650ss that was ordered in by Firths along with a few others.
    They were ordered as Mercuries (68 650ss didn't exist as a model) but optioned as 650ss.

  14. 84ok


    Aug 10, 2014
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018
    cliffa and Tornado like this.
  15. seattle##gs


    Oct 28, 2014
    My 2 cents. Ideally use a single Mikuni. If you want to keep the Amals, get a set of Premiers and a pair of #19 pilot jets (they come stock with #17 pilots) so you can have some tuning ability. And get a new throttle with TWO cables with the adjusters near the throttle where they are easy to get to. Throw the 2 into 1 system into the garbage.

    your switch boxes are probably corroded and trouble prone. Buy an aftermarket switch box and mount it on the left side. All it has to do is High and low beam, maybe turn signals, and a horn button. Simple.

    The Pazon ignition is good and the black box is small and tucks away in the frame nicely.

    Have a variety of clutch plates on hand and get the stack height correct. Then the clutch lever will be an easy pull. Lots of info on this subject right here on this forum.

    I have had good results with the ROADRIDER TIRES 100/90/19 front and rear.

    Of course change out the isolastics for the vernier type. Long job. Your old ones have probably beaten the shims to death and you are running .070 clearance front and rear.

    New clutch cable. MAKE SURE the clutch operating lever on the gearbox is lined up properly.

    check and clean all your electrical connections, especially the grounds. Better yet, toss the old harness and make a new one with far less wires. Get a new battery of very good quality and check often that it is holding 12 volts. Quite often a cell will go bad and it only holds 10.5 volts. If you get a good one you also get a good warranty. The shorai batteries seem to hold 13+ volts very well.

    There are many more things you can do but this is relatively inexpensive stuff.
  16. seattle##gs


    Oct 28, 2014
    Another couple of things...
    Replace the head steady with a box section type and replace the square shaped coil bracket (the boxy thing that bolts to the frame and the coils bolt to it) with the latest version for these reasons:
    The new bracket has all mounting holes backed with welded on threaded bosses. This makes it a lot easier to fit the bolts, no fiddling with nuts on fingertips in cramped spaces. Next, go down to the hardware store and buy the appropriate allen bolts -there are 8 of them- and the correct allen ball driver and one allen t-handle. Now, removing the coils and the bracket is a quick and simple (non-frustrating) job. Well worth the cheap price.
    Next, get the box section head steady. It is much stronger. I have seen at least a dozen early style head steadies broken and welded. Then, use a half inch drill and drill through the gusset plate and install a pair of grommets so the spark plug wires can go through. It looks better and now the wires won't chafe on the bracket. If you use the NGK plug caps it is easy to R&R.
  17. Onder


    May 11, 2010
    Start with the small items first as I did:
    TTI box and Fullauto head.
    From there it is an easy step to everything else!
  18. o0norton0o

    o0norton0o VIP MEMBER

    Apr 27, 2015
    nonsense... and not because both of those improvements aren't great things... My reasoning is below

    The original poster has a '70 commando. I have the same year commando. The '70 commando has numerous flaws that were corrected by the factory in later years. These flaws are overlooked by commando owners who own later models, but for we '70 owners correcting these flaws take precidence over adding higher performance parts.

    Superblend bearings- '70 bikes have a roller bearing on one side and a ball bearing on the other. Replace them with superblend bearings.

    Single bolt cradle swingarm tube- The cradle's swingarm tube wallows out and the back wheel snakes down the road. The kegler clamp modification fixes that. If you haven't had a bike with this issue, you don't know how sloppy the handling is with this flaw. It shouldn't be ignored.

    no directionals- The 70 didn't have directionals because they weren't required on bikes in the usa that year. Do you think that drivers today even know what a biker giving a handsignal is? Directionals add a bit of safety to riding amongst the caged drivers,.. albeit not much...

    Reed Breather- Every model needs this. Sadly the best designed bolt on reed breather doesn't fit the '70 model because of a frame cross member that is in a different location than later model bikes. Read up on the options for early model bikes.

    there's more stuff, but not as essential as the above... go ahead flame on...
  19. texasSlick

    texasSlick VIP MEMBER

    Jan 2, 2013
    If you want a bike with all the modern amenities, buy a modern bike.

    Since you say you want a good rider, limit your investment to items of safety, reliability, and less maintenance. Most, if not all, of these issues have been listed above.

    The beauty of these vintage machines is that they are simple and easy to work on ..... we are going to ignore the fact that they frequently require work.

    Last edited: Dec 7, 2018
    JimC likes this.
  20. MexicoMike


    Jan 31, 2010
    Good point re '70 vs later as far as what NEEDS to be done as opposed to what NEEDS to be done on a later model. Amusingly, I removed the directionals on my '73 because IMO I didn't need them. ;)
    xbacksideslider likes this.

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