What Brough Superior Was To T.E. Lawrence, Norton Commando Is To Peter Egan

Peter Egan has been called America’s Favorite Automotive Writer. A Wisconsin native, Egan held unprecedented dual editorial positions with both Cycle World and Road & Track magazines for nearly three decades before semi-retiring from his monthly columns in 2013.

In that time, Egan rode and reviewed hundreds of motorcycles, but none remained as close to his heart as the Norton Commando. In fact, it was “Dateline: Missoula,” a story about an ill-fated, cross-continent trip on a Commando which was his first published article for Cycle World back in December 1977. Egan wrote, “So it seems I owe my journalism career to that Norton as well. If I’d bought a Honda, god knows what I’d be doing now. Possibly something useful to humanity. That or sleeping under a bridge.”

t’s that “love/hope relationship” Egan describes which led him to the bike now displayed in the Throttlestop Museum, a black-and-gold 1974 Norton Commando Roadster. Given to him by a Cycle World reader on the condition that he make it roadworthy, Egan set about a full restoration of the “Free Norton” which was chronicled in the pages of that magazine.

In the early 1970’s, The Norton Commando was a superbike sensation. The legendary parallel-twin Atlas motor used rubber isolastic mounts between a “Featherbed” frame, lending exceptional smoothness to the motorcycle. “And when the Commando was updated to an 850 in 1973, it got even more torque, much improved ‘Superblend’ crank bearings, and a mild styling update of the seat and instruments, resulting in what is probably my favorite version, the 1974 Roadster. In black and gold, of course,” wrote Egan.

The motorcycle had one foot firmly planted in Britain’s rich industrial heritage, and another in modern-day refinements. Wrote Egan, “The Commando is really almost an accident of history, an unlikely amalgam of old and new ideas put together as a stop-gap solution to the problem of rapidly advancing technical progress in the motorcycle market. Norton didn’t have enough money or engineering staff to design an entirely new engine, and many British bike enthusiasts (me included) didn’t want them to. We wanted something that looked more or less like a Norton Atlas but that didn’t shake as much or leak oil.”

The bike inspired Egan to pen a number of Cycle World columns, including the retrospective “Fifty Years of the Norton Commando,” and “Norton Commando and BMW R90S in a Classic Rematch,” both which helped to burgeon interest in the bike amongst collectors. Ultimately, it was the wry and poignant column entitled “The Five-Stroke Norton” which related the story of Egan selling the bike after exuberant kick-starting delivered him a mild ischemic stroke.

Warm, dry and happy on loan to the Throttlestop Museum, Egan’s famous Norton is still close enough for Peter to visit occasionally. Is it the most-admired, famous Commando in the world? Arguably yes, if we prize our vehicles based upon the stories they inspire. In that case, this 1974 Norton Commando has given so much enjoyment to so many, through the hands of America’s master automotive storyteller.

Click here for ThrottleStop’s blog post on the famed bike they shared with us.

See the 1974 Norton Commando Roadster in our Museum Collection here.

picture of photo-credit-cycle-worlddrew-ruiz

Photo credit: Cycle World/Drew Ruiz
Used with permission.

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I am old enough to remember reading the trip with he and his wife on the Norton. Reading this now brings a smile.

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      I’ve been reading Egan’s scribblings most of my adult life. Always loved his musings.

      Reply
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      I’m a big fan of his, however didn’t the Commando seize a valve guide and he decided not to reveal it in the original article ?

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Bought my Commando new in 1975. Still have it and about 65 other (great) motorcycles have come and gone in that time.
    And there’s this ….
    One of my favorites from Cycle…
    Phil Schilling
    1974………………………………………………………………………
    “The Next Hurrah”
    “The Norton vertical twin should have died and gone to legend a generation ago. In a world of perfect logic, engine designs should never maunder on for decades and finally be crushed by onrushing technology. Good ideas deserve better. Good engines should go to harvest in the fullness of their autumn; most mechanical things which struggle on simply die cold and wretched in December.
    Seasons do not cover England in perfect symmetry. Spring is cold and damp, and so is fall and winter. Onrushing technology there slows; the present walks in cadence with the past. And mechanical things like the Norton twin soldier on and on…through the Fifties…into the Sixties…and reach the mid-Seventies. In other places, someone would have raised the last hurrah at an earlier stage-when the original 500 twin turned to a 600, or 650, or 750, or 850. But somehow, no matter how deep Norton reaches into December, the final cheer never comes. There’s only the next hurrah.”..

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      That’s fantastic, Lawrence, still have the old Norton in the stable. An heirloom, for sure.
      Thanks for sharing the Phil Shilling quote. Beautifully captures the legacy of Norton and other great (and gone, in many cases) Brit marquees.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Leanings… Peter is an editorial legend. No one painted a two wheeled adventure quite like he could. Those of you who are not familiar with his columns, buy the book. Leanings, by Peter Egan. The beauty of it is, you can pick it up, open it to any random page, and you’re hooked.

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      I’ve read his columns and articles for years, but will have to snag a copy of Leanings.
      Thanks Jason!

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  4. Avatar

    Growing up with Peter in Wisc and in my class was something.
    Never forgot the day he was driving a go-kart in the school parking lot
    Then all of a sudden the governor
    Broke and after a few terrifying circles he blasted across highway 71
    Into the root beer parking lot.
    Well it was gravel and he spun around a few times trying to grab the spark plug
    Meanwhile the owner came rushing out with his cane in hand ready
    To stop both peter and the cart.
    Just a normal day for Peter.
    Always a adventure.

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      Sounds like a bit of hooligan as a kid, John. I like it!

      Reply

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