'74 Commando 850 refurb

jae

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Hey guys, new here, and with my first vintage build. I'm hoping to find a lot of information to hopefully make this a smooth process.

As for the bike, I'm supposed to pick this up on Saturday (it's out of town).

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The story I've got is that the guy I'm buying it from is the 2nd owner, and bike's been sitting for about 10 years. He said he bought it somewhere around 1980 (issue date on the title is May '82) and rode it until he started having an issue with the brakes. Said he started tearing into it to find pitting (either in the master cylinder or caliper piston, couldn't tell which from what he was saying) and ended up losing interest after not being able to find parts at the time.

I'm really not entirely sure what my end goal is going to be on this. I'm leaning towards a period-correct cafe build, though I also think it'd be pretty cool to build a scrambler out of it. I definitely want to get it running and rideable, but I also kind of want to go the "resto-mod" direction and fit newer suspension, brakes, and tires so that it can handle like a new bike. Only plan for the engine right now is a digital ignition, though we'll see once I find out what condition everything is in. If the carbs are worn out, probably going to go with a set of Amal Premiers.

As with most bikes/cars, I'm assuming that the further the engine gets from stock the less reliable it's bound to become, and reliability is higher on my priority list than straight power.
 
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A well sorted stock commando is still a very ridable bike on today's roads. There are choices to make which charcterize it's performance like number of teeth in your final drive sprocket for one. There's a million other choices to make too. Everything from crankcase reed breathing to electronic ignition choices. Wider aluminum rims, more modern tires, etc,...

A commando rider is also a commando mechanic, so expect to learn and enjoy that aspect of commando ownership too. I love mine. I've had it for 40 years, and by now (joke here) it's pretty well sorted out... While some people look in amazment when you ride up on this dinasaur of a machine, the real joy is in how it rides and handles once it's well sorted out, and well set up. It's certainly not going to have near the same power as some of the modern superbikes made today, but it's got enough horsepower to be enjoyable without tempting stupidity... good luck with your bike... lots of very smart people here and good information...
 

jae

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wrenching has always been an enjoyable part of vehicle ownership for me... definitely feel like I end up having more of a connection with the machine once I understand how things are *supposed to be* working together. plus, and intimate knowledge of the machine has never hurt when I'm broken down on the side of the road and need my buddy to bring the one tool I need that I don't have in my kit. ;)
 

Scout63

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Best of luck with the new machine. It looks to be in pretty good shape. I love working on bikes and buying tools, and the Norton provides plenty of opportunity in both regards.
 

Tornado

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I've had my 74 850 for nearly two years now. My first vintage bike and only my second bike ever.
Been quite a steep curve for me but I agree with what's been stated above. The low points of ownership are out weighed by the joy of riding and the smiles the bike generates when out and about.

Read these forums for all the tech tips and must do lists for restore.

Cheers.
 

Burgs

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Hi Jae
Welcome, looks like you have a good starting point, for me when I restore a bike now I go for original as possible in looks, but add newer bits where I can, due to the fact that when I was a young fella I destroyed a lot of original bikes, by turning them into café racers.

There's a lot of experience and knowledge on this site, so your off to a good start whether you go original or original café racer, all my early (1965 on) bikes where built into café racers.

Best regards and looking forward to seeing your progress, whatever you decide.
Burgs
 

Richard Tool

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Welcome to the ward where many who are afflicted with Norton’s disease are quarantined. Get your shots.
Cheers- RT
 

jae

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Went and picked the bike up this weekend, and the condition certainly was not well-represented by the original pictures, but for $1,000, I still think it was a steal.

First of all, the handlebars and foot control levers (shifter, brake) are all bent at least a little bit. Minor dents in the mufflers and front fender. The tank is in much rougher shape than it appeared. Even though it seems fairly straight so far, there are tons of spots where the paint is either cracked or chipping off, and up near the steering stem it's obvious there's a lot of bondo. I couldn't figure out what the dark marks in the paint were in the original picture, but apparently they were on purpose. Even if the paint was in perfect condition I'd probably be wanting to immediately repaint, but now I may be looking at just finding a replacement.

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My list so far. Right now I'm just going item by item and shopping cost of OEM replacement or rebuild kit, but from the prices I'm seeing on brake parts I may be looking at jumping directly to a more modern fork swap.
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jae

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I did indeed. Two phone calls and numerous text messages with the guy over as many weeks and he wouldn't give me an asking price ("I don't even know what they're worth, I'll have to look into it..."), but wanted it gone quickly. I essentially told him I didn't want to offend him with my offer, but I was making it based on the amount of money I could put into the bike to get it back on the road and a rough estimate of how much I was anticipating spending to do so. Told him I didn't intend the offer to be insulting, but without driving 3 hours to look at it in person, I made a high guess on mechanical restoration cost (based on the mechanical restoration cost of a '70 Commando a friend has in the shop locally) and figured I could give him $1,000 for it and still reasonably expect to have enough money to actually finish the project and have it running. I fully expected him to counter at $2,500 or more and negotiate from there... He didn't even hesitate 5 seconds before accepting. I was floored, but figured if you don't ask, you'll never get.
 
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Done well for yourself. Fix it, ride it & don't look back. You have no rights to complain about anything from here on out in life BTW.
 
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jae

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:D
Maybe this is some cosmic (positive) repayment from when our house flooded in ~39" of water 3 months after moving in (no flood insurance at the time) back in 2017 and I lost 4 motorcycles and my brother's '73 C10 was almost fully submerged...

Good or bad, "them's the breaks". When it comes to vehicles though, I seem to be adept at finding pretty exceptional deals.
 

jae

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So that list I posted is by no means comprehensive as to everything wrong with the bike, that's just the shopping list. Handlebars, headlight ears, and rear brake lever are definitely all bent. However, I've got a set of clubman bars sitting around that I will probably throw on and I think the others I should be able to get straightened out with some gentle persuasion. If I have a chance to get out and work in the garage this evening I'll get some more pics.

The paint definitely needs to go, I'm just torn as to whether to strip this tank down and have it bodyworked and painted or go with a polished alloy tank. If money were not a consideration, I definitely know which way I'd go...
 

Richard Tool

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Good for you - sounds like you bought well .
Make sure the master cylinder will work with the lower position if you mount clubman bars . I have a set of headlamp ears if you want them - a little rusty . Yours for the cost of shipping- LMK if you want pics

Good luck with your project
 

jae

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Pics will be up before too long, waiting for them to upload to my album.

I'm guessing there's supposed to be some sort of cush drive setup in the rear hub, and that there's just no "cush" left. Have about an inch of differential linear play at the chain ring between the wheel and chain before a *thunk* and they start moving together...
 

jae

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so pics showing some of the imperfections...

bent rear brake pedal and damage to the primary cover from the pedal and foot peg
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wondering if all the isolastic bushings need to be changed out
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I really don't mind this color, especially the pearl, I just really don't understand what they were going for with the crappy font and all the black squiggles. Both fuel taps have the lever broken off.
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Front rotor's seen better days. Lots of flaking chrome.
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Can see how far the headlight's tweeked here. Don't know if this is standard, but the headlight ears are sheet steel welded to the fork legs.
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Left side of the bars is a little off
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Some of the damage on the fender
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Little more of what's hinting at hidden damage on the gas tank
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jae

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Before I forget, permanent build album address:
But it's matching numbers.
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Tornado

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Foot rests can be bent back into correct angle. I've seen a rebuild video series where that was done using bench vise and lever bar. Also engine covers brought back to better than new despite having lumps or deep gouges. Some filling done by welding and grinding back.
 

Tornado

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Pics will be up before too long, waiting for them to upload to my album.

I'm guessing there's supposed to be some sort of cush drive setup in the rear hub, and that there's just no "cush" left. Have about an inch of differential linear play at the chain ring between the wheel and chain before a *thunk* and they start moving together...
Sounds like cush rubbers gone. No biggie as these are pathetically small by modern standards and not expensive.
 
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