Norton delivers first Commando 961SE

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UK First, US Second

In a serendipitous coincidence, two days after the exhibition of the new 2010 Norton Commando 961SE at the Clubman’s All-British Show in San Jose, CA, the first production model was delivered in the UK, on March 29.

Interest here in this latest reincarnation of the Norton marque has grown since the 961SE’s first US showing at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach last December by US distributor South Bay Norton of Lomita, CA.

Fifty Commandos from the first production run of 961 SEs’ are allocated for the US according to Matt Capri, owner of South Bay. He’s holding deposits for 22 bikes and expects to begin deliveries in May or June. It’s a good sign for him that UK owners are now taking possession from the sold-out UK allocation.

The Norton Owners Club (NOC) of Northern California made a special trip to Lomita to bring up one of the two SE models currently available for display in North America. The centerpiece of their booth at this annual vintage motorcycle show, the black beauty drew attention from all over the exhibition hall.

Norton aficionados recalled a similar scene five years ago when Kenny Dreer exhibited his pre-production Commando at this same San Jose event. But Dreer’s re-creation of the Norton never made it to production and three years later UK entrepreneur Stuart Garner bought the Norton name and Dreer’s prototypes.

Garner’s factory in Donington Park (yes, that’s where Triumph Motorcycles are also made) is now running at capacity. The Norton website tells their UK constituents that orders taken now will be delivered in approximately July, and that the first UK allocation will be filled before any models are exported. Norton will also begin producing 961 Cafe and 961 Sport models in the Commando series later this year.

Not surprisingly, the current Norton retro-bike bears an external resemblance to Dreer’s. While the engine and frame have been completely redesigned by Garner’s company, the Norton heritage – that forward sloping parallel twin with two pushrod-operated valves per cylinder – is preserved.

Harry Bunting, president of the local NOC, says his members are excited about the possibility of owning the new version but generally are taking a wait-and-see approach, particularly on the question of reliability.  Many of them own several Nortons already and are accustomed to waiting for the Second Coming. Donington Park is also concerned about reliability and attributes the delay in UK deliveries to their need to complete warranty testing. The Commando carries a two-year, unlimited mileage guarantee.

Meanwhile, back in the States, Matt Capri is getting restive. Canada has sold its allocation, booming sales are reported in Europe and, if would-be Norton owners here don’t get moving, he’s worried that some of the US 2010 Commando 961SE allocation might go elsewhere. His phone number is 310-784-7693.