1974 John Player Norton Commando 850
Built to capitalize on Norton’s racing efforts of the 70’s the John Player Norton is an odd-looking beast, with twin, endurance-style headlamps in an aerodynamic fairing. While the styling is, to my eye, slightly ungainly, it’s interesting in that it seems to straddle two eras: it’s far more modern and angular than bikes like Ducati’s SS and not quite as origami as 80’s Japanese machines would become.
If you’re wondering who “John Player” was, he wasn’t: John Player was a British cigarette manufacturer that sponsored Norton’s racing efforts of the period. Basically, it’s a Commando, Isolastics and all, with radically different bodywork and taller gearing. Most featured Norton’s iconic 850 [828cc] engine, but they could also be had with the short-stroke 750 that was homolgated for Norton’s US racing efforts.
The eBay listing is very brief: 1974 John Player Norton 850 for Sale
An iconic bike at the peak of English Motorcycle dominance; 1 of 200 made – with far fewer still around; Matching serial numbers, lovingly restored and a gas to drive; Electronic ignition, Oil Cooler. The Norton 850 JPN is a unique and special motorcycle. Garaged for past 30 years. Rarely does one as nice as this comes to the market.
As the listing mentions, it’s believed that of the approximately 200 JPNs made, with 120 shipped to the U.S. All were made in 1974. At the time, the bike was the “answer to a question nobody asked” we see so often when looking at collector bikes: what sold poorly at the time often becomes desirable decades later, as innovation and forward-thinking design that were frightening at the time are finally recognized.