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‘74 Norton Commando – 59 Café

Posted on June 20, 2014 by Andrew in Café Racer, Classic. 17 comments


Written by Martin Hodgson.

In the modern incarnation of the Café Racer culture perhaps no motorcycle waves the flag like a Deus Yamaha SR500. So when Rob decided his had to make way for something even better he set Erik Johnson of 59 Café a hell of a task and what better way to beat a modern classic than with a true original. First he tried to persuade Erik to part ways with his own award winning Norton Commando but waiting for hell to freeze over is a very long wait, so he commissioned Erik to instead build a Commando of his own that could gleam outside his Coeur d’Alene restaurant and take him home in hand crafted ‘old school’ British style.


To start the project an original 1974 Norton Commando 850 was found and while complete was in less than satisfactory condition. The bike was torn down and the frame modified to accept a centre mounted Manx style oil tank custom made at 59 Café. The frame was then treated to an upturned rear loop that now supports the stunning alloy seat pan also meticulously hand crafted in house. The seat is padded and then lovingly covered with genuine leather and contrasting gold stitching. Ordered especially from the UK for this build is the liquid metal like alloy “Sprint” Manx tank beautifully adorned with the classic Norton logo.


At the heart of the build is the legendary Norton twin which by 1974 was packing 828cc, giving the 850 its name, now with even more power than the early models that ruled the world and further increasing reliability. Before prying out a few extra ponies 59 Café ensured the engine and transmission were faultless in their operation and would jump to life with the first kick. Electronic ignition has brought the twin closer to the modern era while new Amal concentric carburettors and Wassel velocity stacks take care of the fuelling. Directing the Commando sound to the atmosphere is a set of genuine Andover Mufflers with “Norton” laser etched into their side.


While the Norton sports near Superbike engine capacity it handled like a middleweight out of the box, but time has taken its toll and an experienced builder makes all the difference. With his own Commando perfectly setup Erik knows exactly what’s needed and fitted up a new set of Hagon rear shocks. Lowering the rider’s stance is a set of custom clip ons and to eliminate the unsightly handlebar mounts Erik computer designed and fabricated a blanking plate. The Commando sports aluminium wheels relaced with Buchanan spokes and pulling the whole thing to a halt is a cross drilled front brake rotor.


Owner Rob wanted a Commando that one upped his Deus SR and would be the talk of the town, Builder Erik is a no-nonsense guy who builds old school perfection in true “Ton Up” style and when Photographer Jason finished the shoot he knew the world had to see this stunning Commando. Gentleman… done, Done and Done!



[Photos by Jason Shadrick]

  • Junior Burrell

    Very cool!!

  • Tony Gyepi-Garbrah

    i like this.

  • Jorgan

    A true Cafe Racer. Looks like it could have been built in the 70s. Which is a good thing.

  • Old Guy

    Having owned three Norton 750 commando’s back in the day, I can honestly say that this is one build that is disappointing. To start with, there is an odd angle if you follow the line running along the bottom of the tank into the seat pan. It’s almost a curve and when you take the bike off the centre stand it will be even more odd in that it will make the back end look like it’s drooping and give the appearance that the rider is about to slide off.

    One of the problems that many Norton owners had was the aligning of the bodywork components. The seats were held on via two metal straps that attached to the top of the shock mounts with two large alloy knobs and this setup did not guarantee the seat sitting dead straight on the frame. The gas tank, the oil tank/battery box, the mufflers, and the power train were all rubber mounted isolastic supports which created mega alignment problems when assembling the machine. The truly great builds were those where the assembler spent a lot of time making sure these components aligned making the machine appear “straight”. Sadly, the builder here has failed to attain that condition.

    If you look at the fore and aft photos, you can see the misalignment of the components hence the fail in my opinion. Sorry, but that’s the way i see it.

    • Davidabl2

      The voice of experience….I will never look at Commandoes the same.

    • David Egan

      Old Guy, I’m just finishing my first build, it’s an easy start with a Ryca CS-1 kit for a Suzuki LS 650. It’s been a huge learning experience and I see now how hard it is to get things like that right. Mine will definitely be “pretty from afar”. Can’t wait to get started on my next build. Maybe in 20 years I’ll be ordering a Vincent engine and building my dream bike.

      • Old Guy

        The whole point to building anything is the evolution of the product. The Ryca kit is an excellent start for anyone interested in what it takes to become a builder. As a novice, it is somewhat terrifying to start cutting things off and modifying what was a perfectly functional machine. Problem is, it’s someone else’s “perfectly functional machine”. It’s not yours. Building machines of your own is always a blend of art and science and it takes time, patience, experience, and perseverance to create your dream machine. Think of it as an evolution of your thoughts and dreams for all to see.

  • jcott

    @ Old Guy – good call on the line under the tank/seat – I was noticing that as well. It’s a pretty major element that makes this bike look a bit like a dog with its tail between its legs…

  • I want that tank!

  • Bultaco Metralla

    I’m with OldGuy on the bodywork but my oh my isn’t it a real hot go at a stripped down Commando..

  • For me, the baseline of the seat follows on from the tank quite well. The rear section beneath the knee scallops has a definite downwards kind and the seat just follows this line.


    • Cliff Overton

      Almost. I love Norton’s and aspire to own one like this one day – but that tank is such a hard act to follow with a perfectly aligned and suitably sized seat pan. It’s close – but compared to other bikes that get it just right in the all important tank/seat relationship – it’s not quite there for me.

    • jcott

      Looks like a slight kink at the rear of the tank. But, I’d say the tank angle also droops toward the back, and should ideally be lifted at the rear a bit or dropped at the front a bit. The angle of that line, like the window sill line of an automobile, really drive the vehicles attitude – aggressive and fast, droopy and slow…I believe Glynn Kerr has written about the importance of this particular line in some of his excellent design article for Motorcycle Consumer News.

    • Jack Pinyin

      I love the lines of this bike. Haters gonna hate….

  • Johnny Panda

    Just gorgeous. I’d hate to get it dirty!

  • v

    now that is a stunning well balanced build!