Yellow Peril: Norton Commando Production Racer

The Norton Commando Production Racer has become the most collectible of all Commandos.

| November/December 2013

1971 Norton Commando Production Racer
Top Speed:
131mph (period test)
Engine: 745cc air-cooled OHV parallel twin, 73mm x 89mm
Weight (dry/est.): 400lb (182kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 6gal (22.7ltr)/4.2gal (16ltr) stock
Price then/now: $1,900 (est.)/ $5,000-$14,000

The devil is in the details, they say. That certainly applies to racing motorcycles. It’s not just bolting together go-faster bits that wins races: It’s also the painstaking task of squeezing out more performance by incremental improvements; reducing friction and saving weight; blueprinting and matching components; machining, shaping, honing and polishing.

Take the Norton Commando Production Racer, for example. Though it certainly included some special performance parts, the engine wasn’t that far from a stock Commando. But by careful tuning, testing and assembly, the factory race department was able to find at least a dozen more ponies than a stock Commando. And it didn’t hurt that the competition shop had its own full-size test track!

Plumstead to Andover

The Production Racer story really starts in 1969 with the pending closure of the old AMC factory in Plumstead, London, where most Commandos were assembled at that time. The site was slated for development, and the company issued a compulsory purchase order. But as part of the deal, Norton-Villiers (the company rebuilt from the ashes of AMC by new owners Manganese-Bronze Holdings) acquired new premises in Andover, Hampshire, on the site of the Thruxton racetrack. As well as a Commando production line, N-V chief Dennis Poore established a race shop at the new site under the guidance of ex-AJS racer and development engineer Peter Inchley.

The Thruxton airfield had been a bomber station during World War II, and Inchley’s workshop was a converted B17 hangar — re-christened the “Long Shop.” And of course, it helped having the Thruxton circuit on site as a development testing ground. Not only that, but by 1970, Inchley’s team included one of the world’s best development riders, Peter Williams.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Commando Production Racer’s first major victory was in the 1970 Thruxton 500 mile race with Williams and Charlie Sanby riding. Williams came within 1.6 seconds of winning the Isle of Man Production TT that year, too, but ran out of fuel just before the finish. That allowed Malcolm Uphill to take the trophy on his Triumph Trident. Clearly, though, the Commando Production Racer (CPR) had plenty of potential. 1971 saw Williams finish third in the Formula 750 race on the Island, while setting a new lap record of faster than 101mph in the 750 Production race before retiring.

12/5/2013 12:22:35 PM

Great article. As someone who owned and raced a PR back in the '70s, I really appreciate the history. I would point out one error. The gas tanks were fiberglass, not aluminum. As you said, the standard one held 3.5 Imperial gallons (4.2 US gallons), but optional 5 and 6 Imperial gallon tanks were also available. Another interesting bit of info for anyone trying to determine the originality of a PR, is that the bikes delivered to customers didn't always have all the special engine bits as advertised. If they didn't have the special engine parts on the shelf when the bikes were built at Andover, they weren't averse to using stock Commando bits instead. My PR came from the factory with all the right external bits, including the optional Boyer ignition and 5-speed Quaife, but the engine was not as advertised. It did have the domed Powermax pistons, but the head and camshaft were stock Commando items, not the big valve head and 3S cam the PRs were supposed to have. Still, the bike was very competitive at the time, and I had no idea there was anything missing in the engine until I tore it down for a rebuild.

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