Built by an elite Vigili del Fuoco diver, complete with submarine materials!
The Norton Commando appeared in 1967, boasting a revolutionary new frame and “Isolastic” system, in which the air-cooled, 58-hp OHV parallel twin engine, gearbox, and swingarm were rubber-mounted, isolating them from the frame and rider — thereby reducing the hand-numbing, bone-shaking vibrations of earlier Featherbed models.
The Commando was an instant success, and not just because it was one of the smoothest, handsomest factory twins ever built. The performance was downright blistering…
“The year is 1967. A black motorcycle is kick-started awake, then settles into a deep, burbling idle. Soon a rider mounts and turns the wick. Down the asphalt they hurtle, reaching an electronically timed 142.74 mph. A race-modified Honda 750 Four? No. A 750 Norton Commando twin, claimed to be bog-stock but for a handlebar fairing and optional 24-tooth countershaft sprocket.” —Sport Rider
In 1967, that was downright warp-speed. Soon, the Commando would lay down a quarter-mile E/T of 12 seconds flat. To compare, two years later the original SOHC Honda CB750 would be unveiled, the “original superbike,” which would boast a top speed of…125 mph and run the quarter in…13 seconds.
What’s more, the pushrod twin in the Commando was a direct descendant of Norton’s 500cc Dominator of the late 1950s — basically just a big pre-unit British twin. The bike could put out 50+ ft-lbs of torque low in the RPM band, great for blasting out of corners, and the Road-holder forks were derived from the Manx race bike. In ’73, the Commando 750 would give way to the 850, packing beefier cases, lower compression, tapered-roller main bearings — prolonging engine life and reliability. Today, the Commando is one of the world’s most beloved vintage bikes — one you can still ride…
“It’s really the only classic British bike you can ride at current speeds and not have it shake apart. Also, it’s eminently tunable, with many upgrades available, and great parts availability as well.” –Brian Slark, Cycle World
Enter our friend Fabrizio Grillo, an elite diver with Italy’s Vigili del Fuoco — aka “Watchers of Fire” — the country’s national fire and rescue service. Fabrizio has combined his passion for vintage bikes with his profession, crafting an array of BMW trackers and scramblers that incorporate parts salvaged from shipwrecks, marine materials like neoprene and submarine tubing. This is not the work of some big, professional shop, experimenting for novelty’s sake. This is the work of a man in the fire and rescue service, using the materials of his trade.
Last summer at Wheels & Waves 2019 in Biarritz, France, we were sitting in a seaside restaurant when we noticed a familiar bike parked outside. “I think that’s Fabrizio’s BMW,” I said. Soon, a tall, fit gentleman walked out to the bike, and I knew I was right. Right there in Biarritz, we met in person for the first time, and he soon told me he was working on a bike for Biarritz 2020…a Norton this time!
Below, we get the details on this oh-so-cool Norton Commando 750.
Ready to Biarritz 2020: Norton Commando “Streetcross”
For years I have been looking for a Norton that could be made exclusive, built for off-road. Finally, I found a donor and completely disassembled it. It took a year of work to cut a new toy out of a very classic bike.
The rear section was made from pipes already used in underwater works and fished out from 60 meters deep. They were cleaned, welded, and readjusted to make the lines “more bad.”
A Hi-rider tank was masterfully painted by a friend, with references to the world of skate / Vans. Then came different wheels with semi trial tires and a revised front end with the original Norton disc and caliper.
Original Smiths instrumentation were fixed in place with a marine tube worked on the lathe and welded.
I hope you like it, see you in September in Biarritz!