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P53 "Commander"

The P53 civilian version of the Commander was a motorcycle with a Janus face, which can easily be explained by its development history. Its main problem was that it was never planned- i.e. the P52 was developed as a pure Police bike. The limitations of public budgets were taken into account in the form of below-civilian-standart brakes and front forks from the Yamaha XJ900 parts bins. The front forks were just able to cope with the loads of a fully faired and fast motorcycle, the brakes were just about good enough, taking the policemans normally steady speed into account, and so were the Koni rear shocks coming from the Interpol II parts bin, fine on the Interpol II but prone to loose hydraulic damping in the heat under the rear fairing of the "Commander". For a civilian market Supertourer, to be sold internationally, Norton Motors should have employed better components, at best with some "overkill abilities". This does not mean the civilian Commander is a bad motorcycle, far from it; it just seems a pity that a bike, that had 90% of the ingredients to make the competition look somewhat grey in the face, was let down by pennypinching on one hand, and insufficient development on the other.
The civilian Commander had a very comfortable and long dualseat that was up to seating three grown ups with ease, but two panniers which were somewhat arkward to load and unload through an internal lip at the top. In 1989 a luggage rack was offered briefly, a desirable extra, replacing the grabrail (now available again, see "News" October 2005). Police heritage was shown in the two small lights above the headlamp, (blue on Police bikes); these had to be blackened for some markets. The engine with the "reverse flow" system for engine cooling, with the air entering the engine through the side plates and exiting through the centre housing, gave the main bearings a much easier life. This system was also later used on the P55 series engines.

After the P43 "Classic" the public demanded a follow-up on the civilian side, and in desperation the P52 "Commander" was also launched as the "P53" Commander for the civilian customer, making as few changes as possible for time and cost reasons. Customers, unfortunately, were seeing through this, and sales were far from sensational. In retrospect, the Commander had three major flaws apart from its stupid name that was to be constantly confused with the sucessful "Commando" of the 1970s.
Flaw No.1 was the fact a civilian buyer expects the best, especially from a Norton, for which a premium price had to be paid due to the limited production numbers anyway. Therefore, the specification of brakes and suspension, which most people will agree was the only disadvantage of the P53, should have been uprated from the P52. This, then, would have made the P53 much more desirable and had shown the bike as what it was- one of the best, if not the best, touring bikes of its era.
Flaw No.2 was later rectified- the fixed panniers. These were far from practical, in that they could not be removed from the bike at the end of the day, and be taken indoors. Instead, bags had to be dragged through the bottleneck top lip of the panniers and be taken inside individually, not a task finding great favour with the proud owner in a rainstorm after a tiring days ride! This was later put right with the "Krauser" Commander, this having detachable Krauser panniers.
Flaw No.3, and not a fault of the bike in any way, was the paradox of Norton, known for race wins and fire-breathing road bikes, re-entering the civilian market with a Tourer! Everybody was waiting for, and in many cases keen to buy, a road replica of the John Player bikes, so the Commander fell on somewhat stony ground. Unfair to the motorcycle, no doubt, but who would buy a Ferrari Microbus?
Commander on test with "Motorrad" Magazine in Germany, 1989, under tester and long-time Norton afficinado Stefan Knittel. He found the bike very much to his liking but critizised- brakes and suspension! However, even though the bike had some very good tests, the best one in "Tourenfahrer", that magazine having the best reputation in serious touring rider circles, sales were practically nonexistent and were a very frustrating experience to a very young and hopeful German importer!