Norton 850 John Player Norton Build with Italian Influences

Posted by Scot Wilson on

It has been great fun getting reacquainted with the Norton marque that contributed immensely to my discovering my passion for motor racing in general and specifically for the Sport of Motorcycle Racing. This all began for me when I was growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland in the late 1950's and 1960's and when the British Industrial Complex was the envy of the world. I learned at a very early age about how Scots and Brits generally were making their mark on the world stage on 2 and 4 wheel racing. I idolized racers such as Mike Hailwood, Peter Williams, Jackie Stewert, Phil Read, Dave CroxfordPaul Smart, Geoff Duke and John Surtees to name a few. Additionally there is the historical significance and heritage of motor racing that evolved after the end of the Second World War that keeps us enthralled to this day. This sense of heritage and history can be found, for me, especially in the UK as I was naturally drawn to the early Brit bikes. These famous British marques like  Norton, Triumph, Vincent, Brough, Velocette, Royal Enfield and BSA to name a few, have carved their identities into what has been an extremely rich history of racing innovation and development in addition to racing successes. 


The purpose of this series of blog posts is to catalogue the evolution of this particular build as I have done so on previous builds on my website. It is my hope that my readership enjoys my publication of the step by step thought process and approach to this build as I do enjoy writing these posts. As a result, it cannot be stated enough how much I have been influenced by my decades of working on racer builds, restorations, and amateur racing of vintage and early 2000's "modern" Ducati's. As such, I am a huge fan of the Italian aesthetic with regard to design and to the use of colour in my builds. This Norton 850 JPN will be no exception to that rule. However, despite the common use of black on the Norton Featherbed frames and use of black on the Norton Commando frames that were made famous for their use of "isolastic" construction, I will be making a departure from the standard use of black paint. Instead, I will be using a deep, dark blue on this Norton 850 Commando frame to tie-in with the blue/red striping of the original John Player Norton decal kit and not to be confused with the JPS "special" decal kit. 

This bodywork will be repainted in the original colour format of a JPN motorcycle in white and sporting the blue and red striping of the JPN decal kit. There will be a great use of stainless steel to add some "bling" to this build. I was originally drawn to the purposeful design of these early John Player Norton racers and started racing these iconic British "monsters" until I discovered the Ducati 750 cc bevel drives that fit me better for racing due to my height. As an experienced vintage Ducati and Norton motorcycle restorer, it is never my intention to offend the purists. However, the feedback from social media of my photos of this build to date, has been very positive with regard to my choice of colour. It is my belief that this blue frame will be a nice accent to and compliment to the white of the JPN bodywork and decal kit. Shown below is my Italian version of the "Yellow Peril" racers with the ochre/yellow trellis frame with the ochre/yellow Imola bodywork of my Spaggiari Scuderia Ducati 750 Desmo bevel drive Corse racer. 


We have already rebuilt this Norton 850 Commando engine and gearbox so it is our hope to finish this build in a relatively short period of time with upgraded electrical components and dry clutch, for example, as we have 5 more Norton builds behind this one in addition to our next Ducati 1100 cc TT Racer build. However, due to the Covid, it is also nice to take my time on this build as well. Additionally, as a dealer for SmartCarb flat-slides manufactured here in the US by Technology Elevated, we will be using a single 36 mm SmartCarb. We will be working with the factory on the best set-up for "feeding" this big Norton Commando 850 engine with a stellar delivery of fuel mixture up and down the rev range. We expect to experience the same significant successes using the SC to improve the performance of this Norton 850 cc engine like we have had with our 2 and 3 valve Ducati twin cylinder engines. Currently, we will be using a single manifold for our single SmartCarb flat-slide carburetor application as shown below. Stay tuned!!


We just installed the power unit for this Norton 850 Commando JPN into our Commando frame after rebuilding the front and rear isolastic mounts with upgraded late Commando isolastic internals. Additionally, the swingarm has new bushes, seals, spindle and stainless end caps. Now it is really beginning to look like a Norton engine with the aggressive stance of the cylinder heads that I always thought was the ideal stance for a race inspired machine. It is certainly a personal preference as there are many who like the look of the vertical/perpendicular cylinder heads of a Triumph Bonneville or of a Norton Atlas or Norton Dominator. Regardless, due to the power plant, gearbox and frame components being installed with some nice stainless steel hardware, we can complete the torquing of all of the mounting bolts and then move forward with painting the bodywork, wiring with upgraded components and then getting this JPN 850 Commando up on new wheels and tires.

As a fan of racer and engineer, Peter Williams, I am simultaneously reading his book Designed to Race while working on this build. As the colour "blue" was used as one of the Norton race team colours, it is my hope to pay homage to the factory and to one of its most prolific riders through our efforts. As a result, we have ordered stainless steel rims and spokes. Then we can start rebuilding the "road holder" front forks with new tubes as we have already replaced the steering head bearings to take our newly vapor-blasted yokes/triple clamps. Having a new JPN decal kit, the bodywork kit will be off to the paint booth once we have properly fitted the full fairing, steel tank with JPN tank cover, race seat and front fiberglass mudguard/fender. This engine came with the black powder coated covers before rebuilding. However, I think that we will replace those black items with polished covers to keep the look of this JPN 850 Commando power plant more period. This change will be necessary as we will be using a black 2:1 race exhaust on this specialty build. 

In addition to our product portfolio for TT and other Ducati racers, we are also excited to support enthusiasts for Norton Manx and Norton Commando racers through Molnar Manx and BritIron Classics Norton. Please check out our inventory of Manx, Seeley, Vincent and Norton Commando, Atlas and Dominator spare parts in the BritIron and Molnar Manx sections of the website. The "Make An Offer" feature is available for use on all of our used and new OEM Ducati and Norton items. "Make An Offer" is not available on our aluminum Norton Commando fuel tank offerings or on Molnar Manx items.  As a result of our offerings, it is our hope to help you to become immersed in the history, the passion and the early technology of these amazing machines. Let us "Fuel Your Race Passions" to keep the sport of Vintage Motorcycle Racing alive and well!!

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  • Thank you Geam Audi A1` for your very kind words!! It is much appreciated.

    Cheers, Scot

    Scot Wilson on
  • It is actually a nice and useful piece of info. I am glad that
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    Geam Audi A1 Sportback 8Xa 2012 on

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