Vintage Meets Modern: Rusty Motor’s Commando Café Racer…
In 2014, Norton unveiled the Commando 916 Domiracer, a limited-edition special born from their new Donington factory and named for the Dominator-based race bikes of the 1960s:
“The Domiracer 961 represents a café racer for the modern era, an ultra-minimalist homage to Norton’s first parallel-twin GP racer of the same name.” –Motorcyclist
Simon Skinner, the Norton chief of design, had drawn up the bike based on the input of Norton employees, built it, and parked it on the factory floor for everyone to critique during their tea breaks. The Domiracer was the result, of which only 50 would be built. The bike had an 80-hp pushrod V-twin, 21st-century featherbed frame, Öhlins suspension, a Spondon swingarm, and other trick bits. The folks at MCN were well impressed:
“The Domiracer is a truly great bike — not great because of its abilities, dynamics or performance. Great because of the wonderously rich biking experience it delivers, Compared to this every modern superbike is flat, bland and sterile. The Domiracer, meanwhile, is one of my bikes of the year.“
When the Domiracer graced the cover of Café Racer n°65, our friend Stéphane Bertet of France’s Rusty Motors was inspired to build his own version of a Domiracer using an original 1969 Norton Commando 750 engine:
“I like the Norton Commando 750 for its engine torque, it’s smooth to ride, and I’m used to working on classic machines, so I wanted to build an old / new Domiracer — an old engine with appeal and character in a modern rolling frame.”
Though Stéphane has been building bikes for well over a decade, this Norton was the hardest project he’s undertaken — he estimates he spent 500 hours on the bike, building nearly from scratch around the 1969 Commando 750 engine:
“At the beginning of this project I had only two boxes of parts that contained the engine and the gearbox.”
He fully rebuilt the engine and gearbox, then used part of an original frame to preserve the Norton “Isolastic” engine dampening. He designed and built the “banana” style swingarm out of 25CD4 alloy steel and mounted it without the Isolastics for better handling.
Other highlights include GSX-R1000 K9 suspension, Beringer brakes, 17-inch wheels with supermoto rubber, motogadget electronics, a slew of custom-built parts (fenders, oil tank, chainguard, etc.), hand-built aluminum tank and tail from Cedric Cevennes of Retromotors, USV Racing yokes and axles, and much more.
Stéphane calls the result a high-handlebar café racer. Though the bike caused him no end of time, labor, and headaches, he’s incredibly proud of the result:
“An old charismatic British engine without any oil leaks in a modern frame!”
And he says “THE Norton” a blast to ride:
“The center of gravity is low, so it sticks to the road, brakes have awesome feeling, suspension works well, and the riding position is comfortable.”
Below, we talk to Stéphane for the full story on the build, along with more photos from Jean Francois Muguet.
Commando 750 Café Racer: Builder Interview
• What’s the make, model, and year of the donor bike?
The donor bike is a Norton Commando 750, 1969 model. But at the beginning of this project I had only two boxes of parts that contained the engine and the gearbox.
• Why was this bike built?
I built this bike for a customer. I had a blank sheet for this project, so I was free to do what I wanted. The main idea was to show off this beautiful, organic engine in a natural way.
• What was the design concept and what influenced the build?
The inspiration came to me the first time I saw the cover of Café Racer n°65 in summer 2013. It was the last Norton prototype project with the 961 Commando, the new Domiracer from the Donington factory. I loved the design, and for me this bike is the cafe racer archetype.
I like the Norton Commando 750 for its engine torque, it’s smooth to ride, and I’m used to working on classic machines, so I wanted to build an old / new Domiracer — an old engine with appeal and character in a modern rolling frame.
• What custom work was done to the bike?
I started to fully rebuild the engine and the gearbox. The cylinders were bored to 74mm, and I added a two-in-one manifold with a simple Mikuni carb, a Pazon electronic ignition, a primary belt kit with dry clutch, and an Alton ignition starter to the engine.
Then I used a parts of an original frame to keep the isolastic mounts for the engine, but rebuilt the swingarm mount to have it fixed on the frame — not isolastic anymore — for better roadholding.
The engine and gearbox case is made from laser-cut aluminium and machined aluminium tube that I welded. I kept the original peashooter exhaust because for me it is the Norton signature.
I designed and built this “banana” swingarm, which was inspired by the 961 prototype. I made it from iron tube of 25CD4 steel and welded it.
The rear wheel is from a KTM 990 with Excel rim 5.00×17 — the front one has a custom hub with a 3.50×17 rim. The tires are supermoto sizes for easy handling, 160/70-17 and 120/60-17.
The front Showa fork and rear shock came from a GSX-R1000 K9, but with custom settings. The fork was re-anodized in black and modified to have only one caliper — that’s really enough for this bike. The brakes are from the best in France, Beringer — 310mm in front with radial caliper.
I built the rear and front fender, the chain guard, the oil tank, and all different parts to assemble this bike. The foot pegs are from BMW R1000R, but completely modified to have the gear shift on the right-hand side.
All electrical parts are from Motogadget.
The tank and the seat were hand-built from aluminium sheet by Cedric Cevennes of Retro Motors. The seat and grips are made from alcantara leather by Sellerie Assela. The paint job was done by Neway Designs. The top end triple clamp and all axles have been milled by USV Racing. Every part of this bike was built or rebuilt, even all the parts I bought for it — I had to modify and fit them.
• Does the bike have a nickname?
Not a special nickname — I would say “pain” because it caused me lots of troubles. But a common name is “THE Norton.”
• How would you classify this bike?
Cafe racer with high handlebar (lower ones are not pleasant to ride).
• Can you tell us what the bike is like to ride?
It’s amazing to ride! The center of gravity is low, so it sticks to the road, brakes have awesome feeling, suspension works well, and the riding position is comfortable. It would be even more fun with highest horsepower.
• Was there anything done during the build that you’re particularly proud of?
Since 2009 that I’ve been building bikes, this one was the hardest. It was really difficult to build and it took me a huge amount of time (more than 500 hours), but I went to the end. I’m proud to say I nearly built a full bike. I love the design, the swingarm, lots of little parts I’ve done, treated, and fit for the job! An old charismatic British engine without any oil leaks in a modern frame!