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
||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!