Hall of Fame News

New HOF Display: 1973 Norton Commando 850

Nov. 8, 2021

By Joy Burgess

The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum has a new Brit in house…and no, we’re not talking about Director of Operations Steve Austin, who you’re also likely to see in and around the museum. The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame is now home to a 1973 Norton Commando 850, generously donated to the museum by Al Lankford and his family.

“I’ve visited [the museum] on many occasions,” Lankford said. “We’ve noticed on these visits a number of European bikes, but no Norton. We’d been thinking of selling the bike, but on reflection decided that a better home is at the museum, where others can enjoy this example of classic British engineering, and a bike often thought of as one of the first superbikes.”

Norton first launched the Commando — a 750, and a descendant of the Norton Atlas — in 1967, the bike becoming what is arguably one of the most iconic motorcycles ever. Based upon an old-style, pre-unit engine, Norton used a revolutionary “Isolastic system” featuring rubber mounts to reduce engine vibration.

In 1973, Norton introduced the high-performance Commando 850, which featured a more powerful 828cc parallel twin that incorporated some quality and reliability improvements over the previous 750.

According to Lankford, this particular 850 was #41 of the first batch of new 850s to roll out of the Norton-Villers assembly facility in Andover, England. It then made its way to a Wisconsin Norton dealership, where it was purchased by its previous owner, a Vietnam veteran.

The story of how Lankford happened across the bike is interesting. The bike had been put in storage by the veteran in 1990, and years later upon his death his widow asked that the Norton — along with his 1975 Harley-Davidson — be sold. While Lankford wasn’t interested in the Harley, he’d been looking for a British bike to restore.

The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame is now home to a 1973 Norton Commando, generously donated to the museum by Al Lankford and his family.

“The Norton,” Lankford told us, “although covered with barn grime from the 27 years in storage, had beauty underneath and less than 15,000 original miles…we bought it and hauled it home, becoming only the second owner.”

Lankford spent two years on the frame-up restoration, stripping the bike down to the frame and refurbishing its various bits.

“The engine was in good shape,” he said, “and only the top end needing refreshing, which was done by Dale’s Cycle in Walworth, Wis., a British bike specialist. Rebuilding the engine in my shop required obtaining Whitworth and other special hand tools, some of which had to come from England. Most of the NOS parts, and a lot of expertise, came from Morrie’s Place in Ringwood, Ill., a specialist in old British bikes. The frame and other components were painted by our local paint shop. The tank and side panels were painted by a Norton specialist in Indiana. All the gunked-up aluminum and pitted chrome was polished by Oconto Metal Finishing in Oconto, Wis. Not surprisingly, some of the hardest work was figuring out and re-creating the Lucas wiring.”

“Over many long hours in my shop,” Lankford continued, “coffee in hand and music on the stereo, the bike was painstakingly restored to stock, as-new condition. It starts on the first kick — most of the time — and it’s a joy to ride.”

Since being fully restored, the bike has been displayed at Riding Into History’s Concours de Elegance Bike Show (look for a feature on Riding Into History in the December issue of American Motorcyclist) in St. Augustine, Fla., and at the annual Iola Classic Car Show, one of the country’s largest classic vehicle venues, by special request.

“It’s now prominently displayed in the museum lobby,” Lankford said, “and it is extremely gratifying to use to know that it is in such an appreciative home.”