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New Norton California marks 50th anniversary

Published: 02 November 2017

It’s 50 years since the first Norton Commando was revealed to the world at the Earls Court Show, starting a 10-year run. It was such hot property that MCN readers voted it their bike of the year for five consecutive years from 1968 to 1972.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, Norton will release three special editions – including this completely new addition to the range, the Commando 961 California. Based on the existing 961 family, the bold paint, semi-Ape hanger bars and lashings of polished billet, chrome and carbon bring a dirty dose of Seventies Americana to the party.

What’s in a name?

“The idea came about between me and Simon Skinner [head of design],” says Norton boss Stuart Garner. “We looked at what was right for the brand from an image position, and from an engineering position. This just seemed right, and it will appeal to another type of Commando fan, too. We’ve already got a café racer and a more upright roadster– but this gives us something else again and it just looks perfect for the period. Riders have become less hell-bent on speed in recent years, and a bit more lifestyle focused, and this meets that desire head-on.”

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This is the first time Norton have offered a high bar on the modern Commando, and with a new distributor in California, this model is likely to bolster Norton’s already impressive overseas sales (80% are exported), as the Donington-based firm edges ever closer to building 1000 bikes per year.

The special ones

“We’re going to build 50 numbered editions of each Commando model for the anniversary,” says Garner. “The Café Racer, the Sport and the California will all be pimped-out with all our polished and carbon special parts, then we’ll discount them back to the price of the standard model as a bit of a thank you for all the support that’s enabled us to have a 50th anniversary. It’s just us giving a little something back. They’re available now, on a first-come firstsserved basis, and each limited edition bike will also have its unique build number etched onto the clock face.”

Kings of bling

In the metal the California anniversary editions look authentically irreverent, harking back to the sort of custom Commando specials you’d see cruising the Californian coast roads in the 1970s. From candy metal flake paint to lashings of polished and chromed parts, to the spindly impracticality of the thin-waisted tank, mid-mounted pegs and spindly high bars, that all transport you back four or five decades the moment you get on board.

The California is available to order now, along with the other two 50th Anniversary editions. The Cali will stay in the range with the Sport and Café Racer once the specials are all gone, but without all the upgrades or numbered exclusivity. Delivery will begin to flow around the New Year.

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