Buying a vintage Triumph is a return to my motorcycle roots and likely the ultimate expression of a mid-life crisis. Precipitated by a ride on my neighbor Peter Stifel’s ’58 BSA and enabled by the hot deals that mark the current economic downturn, the acquisition had its own momentum; I merely hung on for the ride.
My first bike was a 1967 Triumph Daytona café racer that I built up with the help of friends in the late 60’s – a café racer in the truest sense; with clip-ons, rearsets, flat track pipes with open meggas, Goldstar tank and seat and a bright white rattle can paint job.
While that machine could be marked as the first loudbike, the imprint came much earlier. I grew up in an urban canyon. Walkley Avenue between Somerled and Fielding (in Montreal) was lined with six storey apartment buildings spaced some 30 yards apart and butting up only 20-odd feet from the sidewalk. As a kid, I relished the sound of a loud British twin blatting down the brick canyon and there were enough in the neighborhood that I’d get my fix at least twice a night in the summer. The bikes and their riders were the stuff of urban legend and by the age of 13, I knew their names and the machines they rode by exhaust note. Early in the game, my loyalty to Triumph was firmly established. I learned to ride on a Triumph Cub.
In my mid to late-teens, I hung with a group that lived bikes. Mick had a ’56 rigid framed Triumph and a Thunderbird, Alan rode a 500 Tiger, and John owned a BSA Spitfire. Ron Sampson and Ron Voot were our mentors; both in their 20’s and real, honest to goodness racers – Sampson on pavement and Voot on the flat tracks of Western Ontario. Early in the game, I was exposed to Goldies, Thruxtons and Seeleys,
I rode my Daytona right through college and sold it in ’76 when I took a left turn into the realm of Japanese fours. It only took a few years to bail out of the Japanese phase and pick up a Triumph Silver Jubilee that ultimately made its way to Mick in exchange for one of his stunning egg tempera paintings and some cash. To my continued amazement he has it to this day (along with his early BSA Rocket 3 and the Thunderbird of his youth).
As I moved through my various phases of Ducati ownership, I completely lost touch with my affinity for Meriden’s finest and even though I encountered more than a few very cool examples at vintage races and DOCC events, they barely drew a second glance. It was a ride on Peter’s ’56 BSA that awakened the long dormant Triumph bug. The sound, the simplicity, the sense of lightness and the view of the cockpit firmly set the hook. Once I got over the initial shock and adapted to the complete lack of brakes and suspension, I had an absolute riot.
So, without even making a conscious effort, I began lurking in the BSA, Triumph and Royal Enfield Interceptor sections of e-Bay – watching the ebb and flow of machines for a month before hitting on a ’67 Interceptor and a ’57 Triumph TR6/A. Although I tell myself that the Triumph won out from an investment perspective, the truth is that the bike simply spoke to me in a really loud voice. Another driving factor in the selection was the fact that amazingly – the bike was local. Owner by a retired gentleman who found that his diabetes had sapped the strength required to manage the machine, it was all there; complete and remarkably unmolested. The TR6/A is also known as a Trophy Bird; a rare, expert only model that came in low, dual and high, Siamese piped configurations. Mine has the low pipes today…. When I brought it home last week, it took a few hours for the Hot-blooded Mexican to voice her opinion that it was the best looking bike in the garage. Go figure…
My first outing revealed a very loose front end, chain rattling on the chain guard, impossibly stiff clutch cable, poor carburetion and shot shocks. A few hours later, I had most of the issues sorted out and I continued to go over the bike and take longer exploratory runs through the neighborhood to get a feel for the overall fitness of the machine. The old fuel lines were replaced with sections of OEM Ducati lines left over from the Hyperstrada, a Brembo front brake micro switch now buts up against the industrial strength rear brake lever to send a feeble 6 volt current to the brake light, the chain is adjusted and lubed, chain guard remounted, front end tightened, shocks at the highest preload position, carb adjusted, cables lubed, and tire pressure adjusted. The bike got a bath in Varsol and then a full WD 40 spray, blown dry with compressed air and finally licked to a state of clean that it hadn’t likely seen in decades. By Wednesday morning, I had enough fettling (that’s what you do with British bikes, eh?) done to take it for a 45 minute run up my regular short route and came away from the experience a full convert. The triumph is a treat to ride with a comfortable riding position, lovely motor and surprisingly good handling. As riding around these immediate parts is best done in slow motion, the Triumph's just the ticket. It requires a more laid back approach to everything and rewards a deft touch with sweet action. There’s a lack of urgency to the whole experience that makes me feel good.
Still a few bugs to iron out before I start into fastener restoration, etc: The clutch is naff, the dynamo doesn’t, the forks have like 3” of sag and the primary chain case has a few serious leaks. But the swing arm is tight, the motor seems to be perfect and nothing is stripped, cracked or broken. To my delight, parts are cheap (by Ducati standards) and plentiful. A Siamese hi-pipe and slash-cut muffler are in the mail as is a complete gasket kit. Shocks and clutch bits will be here next week as will stainless fork caps, a correct tach and a few other bits. Seems the plan is to get it reliable and run it through the summer to see where I want to go with the machine… Hot-rod the old girl or make it into a cosmetically correct sleeper….
They tell me you can graft a T150 5-speed into the old pre-unit gearbox…
Hi Rez shots HERE