A silk purse from a sow’s ear. That’s the first thing that came to mind when this striking ’73 Norton Commando Combat 750 popped up on my radar. It was built under the ownership of multi-award-winning music artist Tim Lopez. Despite the Combat engine’s somewhat dubious past, Tim has transformed one of Norton’s engineering failures into a reliable runabout and he did it by enlisting the help of some of the best Norton experts in the country.
Tim’s Commando was rebuilt using a resto-mod approach. So along with remedying the Combat engine’s shortcomings he’s thoroughly upgraded all aspects of the bike’s performance. Looking at the bike it’s clear that Tim loved this machine, investing a lot of time and no doubt money to realise his vision.
In 1972 Norton set out to reinvigorate the Commando brand with the introduction of a high-performance engine configuration named the Combat. Based on the Commando’s 745cc air-cooled parallel twin, the retuned engine featured a spattering of modifications that promised a more spirited ride. These included a modified head that increased compression, bigger Amal 932 concentric carbs, a high-lift, long duration cam and larger intakes. All the changes amounted to a 5hp power increase for the Commando which equated to 65hp. To make the most of the changes to the motor the Commando Combat 750 was also fitted with a smaller front sprocket which improved acceleration.
This all sounds good in theory, but soon after Combat engine Commandos started leaving dealerships complaints started coming in.
Just as Norton declared, the Combat motor delivered on its performance promise and new owners, as you’d expect, were eager to experience everything it had to offer.
Unfortunately due to the changes in gearing the Commando’s top speed decreased to 108mph, which was the first big letdown. Even worse was that at that speed the engine was pushing 7000rpm which proved to be beyond its capability. In fact, thanks to the new gearing riders could over-rev in every gear and this was at a time when rev-limiters weren’t a thing. As you’d expect constantly pushing the engine beyond its capability resulted in failures. The worst of which was when a piston’s crown would separate from the skirt which is a catastrophic event, to say the least. The problems didn’t end there though.
The design of the Combat engine made cam chain adjustment difficult so many owners avoided the maintenance task altogether. The auto advance system was noisy and prone to failure and all of the issues combined resulted in excessive wear of the main bearing with some failing with as few as 4000 miles on the clock.
To Norton’s credit, they did find a solution for the Combat’s problems. They fitted the engine with a ‘Superblend’ spherical, self-aligning roller bearing, installed unslotted pistons, fixed the auto advance and revised the gearing to prevent over-revving. By this time, however, they were out of pocket and the reputation of their beloved Commando had copped a hard kick in the crotch. So with their tail between their legs, Norton permanently removed the Combat engine from the production line.
Surprisingly, despite the Commando Combat’s unsavourable history, correctly modified examples are now fetching hefting sums, which is precisely what’s been demonstrated here by Tim’s bike.
So how did Tim sort out his Norton Commando Combat? For starters, he had the engine completely rebuilt by the experts at Colorado Norton Works and fitted with a pair of black chrome Viking Exhaust mufflers. Along with ensuring all of the engine’s shortcomings were rectified Colorado Norton Works painstakingly restored the engine’s exterior, painting the primary cover black to match Tim’s classic black and gold theme.
The Norton’s frame has undergone an extensive refresh as well thanks to West Coast Racing. It’s been finished in fresh black powder coat and fitted with all-new suspension. At the pointy end, you’ll find a set of modern upsidedown Suzuki GSX-R forks. In the back are classically styled Works Performance shocks in black. Stopping power has been significantly stepped up too with a pair of Brembo anchors and wafer discs on the front end. To remove any unwanted front-end wobbles there’s a steering damper keeping everything in check.
Originally built as a roadster Tim’s taken more of a cafe racer approach with this Norton Commando. The aggressive riding position consists of a set of Renthal clip-on bars and Colorado Norton Works polished rear sets. The fuel tank is the original Commando spec but the svelte seat is a custom addition finished in recycled brown leather. The open triangle of the frame houses a bomb style oil tank and the electrics now live in a small compartment under the saddle.
In keeping with his chosen colour scheme, Tim has added a spattering of gold details to the Norton. The use of Brass is usually something we see limited to the chopper scene, but he’s put it to great use here. Both front and rear fenders are shaped from brass, as are the Euro Components levers, taillight and polished kickstand. The black and gold hub is a custom creation as is the black rim and black spoke combo. The GPS speedo that occupies the cockpit sits in a gold-finished surround and the front fender brackets follow suit.
After only just ticking over the engine’s 1000-mile break-in period, Tim tasked the crew at Austin’s Revival Cycles with selling his beloved bike. Listed at $30,000 USD this isn’t a purchase made with spare change. However, despite the high ticket price, this heavily customised Norton Commando Combat 750 sold in a flash.
I guess this goes to show that when life gives you lemons you can make lemonade after all.