"Britbike Bookends"
Phil Dansby's pair of Commando customs.

Phil and his two custom Commando's are featured in the December, 2000 issue of Cycle World magazine.  David Edwards wrote the article titled, "Britbike Bookends" which includes additional photos of these two gems.  The article is a tribute to Phil and his love and devotion to the Norton marque.  Photos by Daniel Peirce, TRICK Photography, www.trickphotog.com.


Phil's 1973 850 Commando Roadster he purchased new from Doc Storm, Ft. Worth, Texas.



Phil's ground up Commando Cafe Racer creation.


With permission from David Edwards, VP & Editor-in-Chief, Cycle World magazine,
here is Dave's editorial "Britbike Bookends" as published in the December, 2000 issue.

Some motorcycles are just meant to be kept together. Take these two Norton specials, for example.

Back in 1973, Phil Dansby, fresh out of the Navy, took delivery of a new 850 Roadster that would eventually morph into the high-pipe custom you see here. Jump ahead 13 years, and a friend offers up a salvage-yard Commando motor. After forking over $35, Dansby discovers to his great surprise that the engine serial numbers are sequential, one motor had followed the other down Norton's Andover assembly line! You just don't argue with weird juju like that. The junk 850 mill formed the basis for maybe the nicest Commando cafe-racer ever to wear a set of Tommaselli clip-ons.

The high-piper, dubbed "850 SS" by Dansby, served in near-stock form for 26,000 happy miles. When the top-end needed freshening after 16 years, out came the motor. While that rebuild was underway, Dansby decided the tatty frame could stand powdercoating, and in a scenario well known to restorers worldwide, every part that went back on the bike was either renewed, replaced or upgraded.

Besides the bazooka exhausts (Bub Conti-replicas with handmade headers and heatshields), highlights include a gas tank rescued from a Hi-Rider model, Norton's early, ill-fated attempt at building a cruiser-strangely enough, the tank resembles those fitted to the company's P-11 scramblers. Front fender is courtesy a John Player Special, Norton's bug-eyed endurance-race replica. That pizza-pan front rotor is from Brit speedhouse RGM, clamped down upon by a right proper Lockheed racing caliper.

The Queen Mum of all fork braces ties things together. Dansby's buns are cuddled by a seat of his own design, upholstered in the same material BMW uses for its cars' convertible tops. "Waterproof and absolutely indestructible," he says. Stainless-steel fasteners throughout, naturally. And check out the right sidepanel, its leading edge artfully carved away and screened over, so that cooling air gets a better shot at the oil tank underneath.

The Cafe Commando came about thanks to Dansby's skill at pack-ratting over a period of six years. The engine we already know about. Another friend donated the frame. A third pal had Norvil bodywork-breadloaf tank, half-fairing and racy rear cowl-meant for the limited-edition Production Racer model. Then he scored some really rare stuff made by Paul Dunstall, England's one-time king of cafe-racers. Up front is a twin-disc brake setup with each caliper and fork leg cast as one. Lightweight and good-looking, though not so swank for hard-charging racers back in the day, who found that overworked calipers heated fork oil 'til it had all the damping qualities of H20. Very cool here, though. The aft end wears a set of 2-into-4 Dunstall Decibel mufflers, meant to replicate the pipes on either a Honda CB750 Four or an MV Agusta, depending on your sensibilities. Also from Dunstall, the fiberglass front fender and alloy rearsets.

Dansby's duo, one a raucous American-style scrambler, the other a classic elbows-in pub racer, always draw an appreciative crowd. They copped Best Custom and Best Cafe honors at the Norton club's recent national rally.

"These Commandos are a lifetime worth of work, love, money and my interpretation of art," the 53-year-old says. I never get tired of looking at them or working on them-it seems there's always something that needs my attention."

Not a lot of outside build help, either, for Dansby, who runs Up-N-Smoke, a motorsports-theme BBQ in Keller, Texas, when he's not turning out Nortons, polishing his Benelli 900 Sei or racking up miles on a modem Beemer. "I do everything except paint and cylinder-honing," he says proudly.

Score one-er, make that two for the dedicated home hobbyist.

David Edwards, Editor-in-Chief, Cycle World Magazine


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Revised: March 25, 2015.