There might yet be hope for Nortons

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I have always like British motorcycles, despite their shortcomings. I was watching this video about the development of British cars and it seems to me there are some similarities in mindset involved in the background of the Norton factory. I have never seen a full documentary about the development of the Manx Norton, and the John Player Nortons. But since I began racing my 850, I have come to believe there is probably untapped potential in the design of the Commando engine. The problem might be that when we compare motorcycles, the basis of comparison might not be fair.
Manx Nortons were very strange. Nobody could just front up and buy one - you had to be a name rider. And the work's bikes were different. One of my friends has a work's 350. His father had owned it - he sold the 500, but there was no way he would ever sell the 350. It had come to Australia with Jack Ahearn. I knew his father at the time he bought it, but there is no way I would ever have known what it was and that it was available.
I don't think Commandos were ever raced with the same intent that which was applied to the Manx.

 
Alan
I don't know where you get your information but Manxes (over-the-counter racers, as opposed to Works bikes) were sold to whoever had the cash. Many were sold to people wanting performance 500cc engines for car racing. Hence to proliferation of "empty" rolling chassis leading to Tritons.

Please explain the "untapped" potential of the Commando engine. I love my Commando but don't get your point. Air cooled, pushrod twin with carburettors and a crankshaft that won't put up with much more stress.
Where's the "untapped" bit?
 
The new Royal Enfields hasve fuel injection. A Commando with that and a decent engine management system, might be a complertely different kettle of fish. My 850 motor is quicker than it should be. I'm certain it is about the fact that I use methasnol fuel and can get the jetting closer. Petrol is much more difficult to tune. But with a modern engine management system, iy can be made to give much better results. Methano had about 0.8 times the calorific value of petrol, but you use twices as much of it, so theoretically you get a net gain. BUt in the 1950s, when Australians raced in Europe, theyt found the British Manx Nortons on pool petrol were are fast as the Manxes were in Australia using methanol. The only thing was, our riders were accutomed to the speeds they encountered in Europe. So they raced very well.
The average guy in Europe, probably never gets their Commando onto a race track to get it up to speed. And you would not wabnt to be doing that anyway. When you buy a modern bike these days, it usually has a black box on it and fuel injection.
My main comment about that W.O.Bentley video is about the mindset involved. That is what we all need.
What engine management system is being used on Garner's 961 ?
Modern bikes are fast, but most of it is probably in the level of control they have over their tuning.
When I tune, I choose an ignition advance and jet to suit it. I am sure there are better ways . I am probably not using the optimum ignition advance at all times, to suit the fuel A programmable ignition system is only part of the answer.
 
A friend of mine is a big millionaire - he own Motec. His engine management systems ure used in Porsches and Ferraris. If you watch that video of MIke Hailwood at Mallory Park in 1979 - In the same race Barry Ditchburn was on the Motec Honda. Some years ago, I was talking to my friend and he mentioned he had fitted one of his systems to a Honda at Mallory. With the injector nozzles in the bell mouths of the carbs, they picked up second a lap. All they did was turn the petrol supply to the carbs off, and ran on the injectors. A second per lap is a lot on Mallory.

I have seen superbikes in Australia with Motec systems on them. They even monitor the shock absorbers. I do not know how they handle the data. One day I will ask my friend about it. But I don't want to give him ideas - he is rich enough already. He builds replica Ford Daytona racing cars. The only time he ever raced a motorcycle, he had a very big crash. He has told me that he does not sell just an EMS on it's own.

 
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With my 850 motor, there are probably two things which make it fast - the needle jets and the shape of the needles. When you jet for methanol, it is no different from jetting for petrol, but the jets flow twice as much. So the errors in their size and the shape of the needles, are much less significant Getting the jetting right is much easier. I think that with petrol, Amal and Mikuni carburetors are at their limit. The slightest tuning error means you will be slower.
 
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I'm stiil waiting for someone to put Royal Enfield fuel injection on 850 Norton. Couple holes in case, one for cam sensor and one for crank sensor Easy-Peasy
 
The air cooled modern Bonnevilles also run injection. They are placed within hollowed out keihn carb bodies so bikes still look like they run carbs. Those could potentially be fit to a commando as well.

We also have Comstock with his FI commando. What power is it making?
 
All of the mentioned motors with injection have overhead cams, and much stronger cranks, cases, and gearboxes, unit construction, etc. Adding that kind of horsepower will just expose the aged architecture of the Norton's motor configuration.

As for an unlimited racing concern, maybe I don't understand the end point in the development of this imaginary Norton racing motor. Lets just say you spend a fortune with upgrades and chasing the modes of failure to the point where you end up with a completely redesigned motor, something like a 961. Unfortunately, a 1969 Honda CR750 made more horsepower than your all-new Million-Dollar Commando way back then, and will always make more due to the inherent limitations of the pushrod motor, despite all the money and tech you throw at it. Once you change the engine configuration to get rid of the weaknesses, it's no longer a Norton, so why start with one? Unit construction, dual overhead cams, fuel injection and mapping, and engine monitoring are not things Nortons were ever blessed with, so when does it stop being a "Norton"? When the methanol injectors pop off and melt the stickers off the tank?

Norton/AMC/NVT did an absolute incredible job milking an engine design from the 30s for almost 50 years, but the gig was (is) up. The organizational and racing feats of Pa Norton, Jimmie Guthrie, Doug Hele, Paul Dunstall, Peter Williams, et al, doing way more with way less is what makes Norton a compelling story, and therefore a compelling brand and bike to ride. Plus, they just look bitchin'.

Add the most brilliant, daring, damn-the-torpedos, mindset, and it's still almost a hundred year old engine design - that was easily bested by other engine designs shortly after, but were made illegal for racing. If we want to make it really fast and interesting, let's all build MotoGuzzi V8 Ottos and see who survives! Or we could all go buy over-the-counter Aprilias, and save ourselves a million dollars for partying (which is what Norton did!). Gone are the days of a backyard shed being able to be competitive. RIP, John Britten.

In the past you've said you want to race in an "unlimited development" class. Up to what year/displacement/engine configuration/etc? If it's true "unlimited development", that class more or less exists: MotoGP. Maybe they'll let you do a qualifying lap on the Million Dollar Pushrod Commando against their 15 million dollar V4 Ducatis?

While we're just talking about squeezing that tube of toothpaste, Jim Schmidt did it!
 
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I agree with the above except perhaps the info about the 69 Honda 750. It is true that the claimed bhp of the Honda was a bit higher than the 69 750 Commando, however the Norton out performed the Honda in acceleration testing (Superbike 7) The weight difference was at least some of that, but the high torque Norton engine also plays into it.
The 750 Norton has about 30% more power on tap than the CB750 does at 70mph cruising speed.
For overall usable on road power, I would choose the old Norton 750 engine over the CB750.

Glen
 
I proved how good my new Commando was after owning it for 2 years back in 78 my mate Mick Mogg (who just passed away recently) was a Honda 4 man and always put sh.t on me about buying a new Commando and after 2 years of putting up with his carrying ons a street circuit race was lined up, Mick was a good rider as we all rode dirt bikes together and at 17 we all got road bikes when we got our license and we knew each other's riding styles.
Well it was a good race with 2 circuit of our area and I was over the finish line and stand down before he got there, my Commando was all stock his Honda 4 had extractors/power pipe.
Even beating him he still recond his Honda 4 was better even after proving him wrong.
 
I agree with the above except perhaps the info about the 69 Honda 750. It is true that the claimed bhp of the Honda was a bit higher than the 69 750 Commando, however the Norton out performed the Honda in acceleration testing (Superbike 7) The weight difference was at least some of that, but the high torque Norton engine also plays into it.
The 750 Norton has about 30% more power on tap than the CB750 does at 70mph cruising speed.
For overall usable on road power, I would choose the old Norton 750 engine over the CB750.

Glen
Yes, but the CR750 (acotrel knows nothing about road bikes, only very limited racing) was the race version, and put out over 90hp (unreliably)
 
None of this discussion supports the assertion that there is "untapped potential" in the Commando engine - as the OP proposed.
Comparing the Commando to the Manx is similar the comparing an XS650 to a TZ750. One was designed as a road bike the other nothing but racing. The fact that quite a few people have made Commandos go very fast in some races does not mean they are a proper race bike. They are respectable within the classes they are permitted to race.
I find the comparison absurd.
 
When I first started watching this video, I thought it wa a bit rat bag. Then it started to make sense.

 
The trouble with most current race classes is they usually have rules which limit the modifications you can do to the bike. In Australia, the only develppment classes for old bikes are 'historic'. To me that is stupidity. Most hostoric bikes in Australia are 'cheaters'. Most of the cheating is done by increasing capacity. Our CB750 Hondas are often 1100cc. But they do not handle.
Originally 'historic' classes were supposed to be about 'preserving old race bikes'. Every old rase bike in Australia has usually been dranatically modified - but 'within the rules' - BULLSHIT !
If you build a motorcycle for racing in Australia, it needs to 'fit in'.
I built mine ro conform to what I knew about racing - NOT to conform to rules. In the old days, we did not usually cheat on capacity.
My motor is almost unmodified and is still fast enough. The bike is light and handles. Methanol fuel is easier to jet right. There was another stupid rule introduced about that. when historic racing began.
In Australia, most of our motorcycle racing is run by sidecar guys. It is harder to crash a sidecar. Many things are speculation.
 
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I proved how good my new Commando was after owning it for 2 years back in 78 my mate Mick Mogg (who just passed away recently) was a Honda 4 man and always put sh.t on me about buying a new Commando and after 2 years of putting up with his carrying ons a street circuit race was lined up, Mick was a good rider as we all rode dirt bikes together and at 17 we all got road bikes when we got our license and we knew each other's riding styles.
Well it was a good race with 2 circuit of our area and I was over the finish line and stand down before he got there, my Commando was all stock his Honda 4 had extractors/power pipe.
Even beating him he still recond his Honda 4 was better even after proving him wrong.
Stand down? That must have taken an extra four or five seconds on your Norton ;-)
 
About Honda CR750s
I have only ever seen one CR750 in Australia. It was imported by BIll Patterson Motors and raced by Tony Cacciotti.
I was never a top flight road racer because I am not obsessive compulsive. However, I spoke to Tony at Winton a few years ago. He had made a comeback and was riding one of Wolfenden's methanol -fuelled 1100cc CB750s. He said 'at first I was apprehensive because I remembered the CR750, but when I rode Rex's bike , I thought I could do it'. He also said he had actually got Rex's bike to handle a bit better.
Most current four cylinder historic bikes have 4 into 1 exhausts and cams which are less than an old-style race cam.
That XR750 Suzuki which Graeme Crosby raced in Europe was the full bit - race cams and gearbox. The replicas in Australia do not have that. Most use Katana engines.
Most young guys in Australia have never ridden a bike with megaphones. A CR750 has four.
 
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I only ever built my Seeley 850 because I could not get the Laverda 750 SF motor, it used to have. The reason I chose the Norton motor was because it was right for the Mk3 Seeley frame. Gus Kuhn's bikes were Mk3 Seeley Commandos.
I never believed in Commandos even though I had seen onw win an Allpowers race in the hands of an expert rider. I sill cannot believe my motor is fast, but my bike has been up front against Rex's bikes.
I can probably ride OK, but my Seeley 850 should not be able to do that. I do not ride like a maniac - in my mind I do things very slowly even when I am going fast.
 
Every production engine (especially old Brit ones) can always be improved, including the Commando. But to describe it as ‘untapped’ is odd because the Commando was the end of a nearly 30 year development programme, which started with very low tuned iron 500 and ended as torque monster 850, and was very successful on the race tracks as a 750.

It’s the Honda that was untapped. It was deliberately a low tune to keep it reliable and it got progressively developed and progressively more powerful.
 
When myself and all my mates left school at the same time at 15 years old unknown to each other we all brought new Honda dirt bikes as we had a great and Honda shop in out local area of Sandgate, there was no other bike shop around and when we all started to get our licences at 17 buying a road bike was the next major step in our lives and of course everyone was buying Honda 750 4s Steve Saker Honda dealership in Sandgate became number one sales dealership in Australia at the time and he was a good person to deal with.
Well when it was time to look for a road bike, I already upgraded to 3 new Honda dirk bike by that time I took a Honda 750 4 for a good test ride, yes they were smooth running but felt like a brick, very top heavy for my skinny body and chicken legs and handled like a concrete truck going into corners, no thanks just wasn't for me, I had already taken my mate's Don hot 750 Commando/Featherbed out for the day, the lightness, handling and torque of the big twin won me over and was more suited to my riding style, the Honda 4 didn't come close.
Well 2 weeks later my new 850 Commando was waiting at the front door of the dealership for me. I told no one I was buying it even the mates who drove me up town to pick it up, after riding it home after a few close calls getting use to right hand gear change and put up with the crap from the die hard Honda riders "why you buy a unreliable oil leaking British bike" it never fazed me with their BS.
Well 46 + years later I still own it but in a Featherbed frame and none of the mates who all went the Honda 4s way have long sold them off or smash them up except for one old mate who just built one out of bits he collected over the years, in his younger days went the water bucket way and later on a Z1000, still hasn't come to his senses lol.
When the old mate's still carry on about my British way of life and they see me riding around on my old Norton still with a big smile on my dial everytime I take it out they still can't work it out that I went the right way.

Ashley
 
Belief is a very strange thing. I usually do not believe much without evidence. TIe Japanesse always seemed to look at the best before thay made their own. But appearances can be deceptive I read somwhere that when they were building their 250cc racer, they has access to the design of the Mondial. The British had a different mindset. We all probably suffere from cognitive dissonance - we have preconceived ideas and what we believed is shaped by those deas. I think British designs were always good, but deveopment slowed.
This video I have pasted in 'motorcycle discussions' is about the Honda pushbike gearbox. It was only a tsk Honda gave their engineers to stimulase their brains.
The long and short of it is - we do not think right. I buld on experience so I do not often pluck something out of thin air. I don't think the Japanese are smarter - just different.

 
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