Phil Dansby, aka Captain Commando
During the 2010 annual Capt. Commando Spring Hill Country Ride Invitational. The club officers nominated and the general membership unanimously approved Phil's induction to Honorary Member status.
The Motorcycle That Inspired My Life
By Phil Dansby
It was while growing up New Mexico in the early 60’s that my interest in motorcycles was first kindled. I don’t remember any specific event that inspired my lifelong involvement with motorized two-wheeled vehicles, but surely something did. In those days variety was limited: there were Allstates, sold by Sears and Roebuck, some Vespas, a Cushman scooter or two, and an occasional old BMW with an even older guy riding it. The police had only one motorcycle, an iron barrel Sportster, and the officer had to purchase it himself.
While serving in Uncle Sam’s Navy in the late 60’s I subscribed to the two important industry magazines of the time, Cycle and Cycle World. I feel pretty certain that it was the “Norton Girl” in the Commando ads that first caught my eye, but after that it was the beautiful lines of the motorcycle itself that held my attention. The superbike of its age, the Norton had at least 100 cc’s displacement advantage over the competition as well as a long and storied racing history. For the next four years I hungrily consumed any information that I could find regarding Nortons. However, even after my discharge in 1970, it would be a few more years before I actually got my hands on one.
It was late December 1973 and the 850cc models were almost sold out, but two remained on the showroom floor at Doc Storm’s dealership. I still didn’t have the money, but I was certain that I had waited long enough for the motorcycle of my dreams. Soon the deal was done, and I picked up my ‘73 MKII Roadster just before Christmas. Little did I know at the time what a significant role that motorcycle and my association with all things Norton, British and later Italian motorcycles would play in my life.
During the following two decades my job required that I relocate about every two years. No matter where I was sent it wasn’t long before I was able to connect with other Norton owners and British bike enthusiasts. I did everything on my Norton in those early years. I rode it to work, toured Colorado and many other states, all the while keeping it mostly stock. During this early period of Norton ownership I was making it a point to go to as many USNOA (what is now the INOA) national rallies as possible. I would eventually attend fourteen nationals spanning the country from California to the mountains of Virginia. Each time I met many memorable people, some of whom are my best friends today. It was while attending the nationals through the years that I began to think about starting a local club. I’d been impressed to find so many people from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area at these events, and I’d started collecting names and phone numbers. I petitioned the USNOA for a chapter membership and in early 1984 I started getting some of these guys together at my home in Irving. The next thing we knew we had a club. We realized that we didn’t have enough Nortons to maintain a purely Norton club so we decided to include all British and European marques as well. The NTNOA was born.
In 1990 I noticed the Norton was burning a little oil out the left cylinder. It was time for a top end job! Of course, as these things usually go, it wasn’t long before I was loading up a bare frame and heading to the powder coat shop. It was then that things began to happen. When it was time for the reassembly I started looking around at all the Norton parts I had collected over the previous 17 years of ownership. Lo and behold, I had accumulated some pretty neat parts. During the rebuild I used most of what I had hidden away and later that year finished the highly modified bike you see today. Two years later in 1992 I took it to the Norton National in Tennessee along with my freshly completed silver production racer. The Norton took First Place in the modified class as well as the “Jim Balliro” award for technical excellence, named after the author of the Commando Technical Digest. The production racer also took First Place in the café class. Interestingly enough, ten years later at the INOA rally in Utah the same bikes did a repeat, again winning best modified and best café exactly as they had ten years earlier.
Over the years this Norton has opened many doors and helped me make friends wherever I’ve gone. It has been featured in Cycle World and Classic Bike magazines, two of the most prominent publications in the field of motorcycles. In addition to my travels throughout the United States, my Norton has inspired me to make two visits to the National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, England, and a trip to the Isle of Man in 2007. All this is a direct result of having purchased the bike of my dreams so many years ago.
Time has passed and now my prized Norton is almost 36 years old. I’m that much older as well. Why is it that time passes so quickly, and why can’t I get a rebuild and some new parts? But there’s no question I am a much richer man for having owned my Norton! During our years together it has taken me down a road where I’ve made many friends, and it has enabled me to meet many famous racers, collectors, and enthusiasts who all share a love for Norton’s and all things British. Two wives, one daughter and one granddaughter all know about Dad’s Nortons. We have shared a lifetime together and because of it I am forever enriched.
Yesterday I went for a ride on my Norton, and the memories of so many good times and places came rushing through my mind. It has been a friend for the last 36 years of my life; a trusted companion as the years and miles roll by.
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