The Commando was never meant to happen in the
form it did. Its development was very much rushed, and corners were cut to
get a new model into the market, with a more "modern" appeal,
and without the vibration and hassle the big Dominators were plagued with.
A new engine was envisaged, and one actually designed and built, but it
turned out to be a lemon and a dead duck compared to the old Atlas engine.
To save time, the Commando went into production with an Atlas engine
tilted forward, and it was so much meant as an interim measure, the
imperial threads on engine and gearbox were left as is; only years later,
most fittings on the engine were converted to unified threads- a
modification that has caught out a lot of Norton owners, who tried to fit
UNF nuts to CEI studs on the cylinder base and vice versa.
The Commando was born in what became known as the "Fastback"
form, an elegant but, at the time, far from popular format. Only in the
last decade or so the Fastback models have become sought after- twenty years
ago, nobody wanted them. For a short while, the "Fastback
Longrange" was sold, in fact an Interpol tank (which, in turn, was a
Dominator tank top with a Commando bottom), with the Fastback seats
"ears" cut off; not a popular one, but a rarity.
After the Fastback came the "R" model, which sported the later
"Roadster" tank/seat, but was in most other respects- say
the exhaust system- still very much like the Fastback. The Roadster in
turn led to variations, i.e. the "S" and the "SS"
In the early seventies, just over 100 Production Racers were built
by the Thruxton race shop for a selected handful of customers. These bikes
were meant to be used on the track, and in fact are not a pleasure to ride
on public roads.
Contemporary to all Commandos were the Police variants, the "Interpols".
These were basically standard Commandos, but at first- when all other
models sported glass fibre tanks- fitted with leftover Dominator steel
tanks with a floor that made fitment to the Commando frame possible.
Police bikes also had the big Avon fairing and a chronometric speedo,
which was far more accurate than the Instruments normally fitted to
Commandos. Some petrol tanks had radio equipment on top of the petrol
tank, and Craven panniers fitted for other Police equipment.
Together with the infamous "Combat" engine, the last variant of
the Commando came out, the "Interstate". Planned as a
long-distance tourer, it became short distance very quickly if used to the
full on German Autobahns with the atrocious "Combat" crankcase,
that threw all its oil out of the breather at over 4.500rpm and stopped
suddenly after all the oil had gone. After 1973, with the new crankcases,
it actually was a very nice long-distance bike.
For the American market, some tongue-in-cheek Norton man- my bet is Mike
Jackson- came up with the "HiRider", effectively a
Roadster with the 9ltr petrol tank of the "SS", a special seat,
and ridiculously high handlebars. It was described as "not marketable
in civilized countries", but even the colonials (Americans) bough
In 1974, to exploit the successes of the JPN works bikes, a JPN Replica
was built; reputedly only about 300 were made.
Basically, a Commando is a Commando; within
a production year there is not a lot of difference between the various
variants, the basic motorcycle being always the same. Tank/seat units are
interchangeable, so are sidecovers. The Fastback has a different rear
mudguard to all others and a different rear numberplate, but really, with
a bit of effort every Commando can be built into every other one. Bar the
really rare Proddy Racers and JPN Replicas, I do not think a premium is
being paid for any other model. Popularity of the variants varies over the
years, but what you buy is a question of taste, not of good or bad