A BRACE OF BATHTUBS
Triumph 350s with the enclosed rear end aren’t to everyone’s taste, but Ben Ludwell cut his restoration teeth on a 21 and a 3TA – and dished up a magnificent feast of classic commuter bike originality
Owner-restored Twenty One and 3TA
‘I KNOCKED MOTOCROSS ON THE HEAD AND LOOKED FOR AN OLD BRITISH BIKE TO RESTORE’
My mates took the mick when I bought a classic. They’re all sports bike guys, but once they saw the finished product they changed their tune,” says Ben Ludwell, whose pair of beautiful bathtub Triumph 350s are testament to his labours. At 35, Ben’s a relative youngster in the classic world, and a newcomer to old British bikes, too – his motorcycling interests having swung from working on bikes in a road racing paddock to racing motocross and now to restorations.
This car garage owner might have an aptitude for working on all things mechanical, but he’s had to learn a totally new set of skills by trial and error to build these two little Brit twins – though it helps having family and friends steeped in the world of shed dwelling! “I was brought up in the racing paddock with my dad, Robin, and a guy called Ian Williets,” he says. “The pair of them used to work for a racer called Mike Skidmore. My brother Jason and I would get out of school, jump in the race transporter and off we’d go. I loved it and always wanted to have a go at racing. It’s what got me into bikes. But when Mike had a serious accident in a sidecar race, dad and Ian drifted away from the sport.” When Ben’s mate Victor Cox took up racing, Ben was drawn back to the paddock and built a superstock R1 for Victor. Ben says: “I ended up spannering for him for three years until he got established and earned a ride with a top Kawasaki team. Then I did motocross for a while. I started quite late – I was in my late 20s by then, but enjoyed it. I needed some engine work doing and got back in contact with Ian, who I’d not seen since he and dad quit road racing. We got talking about ‘the good old days’ and that rekindled the friendship between Ian and my dad.”
Ian had just bought a Triumph to restore, which also rekindled Robin’s interest so he bought a Daytona to fettle. “That kicked off what we call ‘Tuesday bike night’ with Ian, my dad and my uncle Andy Burbidge who was also into restoring old classics (all three have previously had restored bikes featured in CB).
“I was inspired by what Ian did with his Triumph, so I decided to knock motocross on the head before I got hurt and started looking for an old British bike to restore. I didn’t particularly want
something to ride at that stage – just something that looked like it had the potential to be returned back to its former glory.”
Ben found his first Triumph, a 1958 Twenty One, on ebay. “I just liked the look of it,” he explains. “I wanted something that looked old – and it fitted the bill perfectly.” Triumph’s Model Twenty One was launched in 1957 as a bike for the commuter (hence the ‘bathtub’ rear end and deep, valanced front mudguard). It was rebranded 3TA in 1959 and continued until 1966.
The original, single-carb, four-speed Twenty One featured a bore and stroke of 58.25mm x 65.5mm to give a capacity of 349cc. Compression ratio was a mild 7.5:1 and the motor produced a claimed 18.5bhp at 6500rpm. It offered brisk acceleration and a top speed of 82mph. The carb was an Amal Type 375 and electrics were original 6-volt – being upgraded to 12-volt for 1966.
Handling was a little suspect as the original Twenty One’s frame was based on that of a 200cc Tiger Cub with a single downtube and bolted-on subframe. Brakes were cable-operated, 7in single-leading-shoe, front and rear. Tyres were 3.25 x 17in front and rear at first but, in 1963, the rear increased to a 3.50in section and, in 1966, the wheel diameter was increased to 18in front and rear.
“When I went to buy my Twenty One, I realised it wasn’t quite as nice in the flesh as it looked in the pics I’d seen,” Ben admits. “It had a bikini bath-tub, which was wrong for the model year and was really just a collection of old parts. But I bought it anyway and started out on my first restoration project. I had no idea what I was doing and certainly no plan. But then Andy, my uncle, got involved, firing loads of information at me.”
Andy is well known for his Triumph restorations – and for his incredible attention to detail, and Ocd-like tendencies towards polishing – he’s not known as ‘Mr Bling’ in west country classic circles for nothing. Ben says: “I got a bit carried away when I got the first bike home and into the workshop. I had the entire thing in bits in two hours. Then Andy turns up and says: ‘Did you make notes of where everything goes?’ Andy has a proper methodical plan for every build – parts books, lists of parts he needs, etc...
“He was firing question after question at me: ‘Did you know it should be this colour? Did you know it should have that bathtub? Do you realise they made this model from...’ Suddenly, what started as a bike to fettle became a full-on restoration project.
“Andy, Ian and even my dad were really good at letting me struggle along trying to work out how to do stuff, where to source parts and, through that struggling, I was learning. Stuff like working out how to get the damn nacelle to fit. It was only later we realised it wasn’t an original part – which is why it didn’t fit!”
The project took a full year, sandwiched between running his car garage. He scoured autojumbles and ebay for tinware because he wanted original components. And when he found them, he set to work on repairing them – with access to a good mate who owns a bodyshop to handle the preparation.
Ben continues: “I wanted the bikes as original as I could get them. I’ve even kept the casing screws and had old nuts and bolts replated.” He rebuilt the motor under Ian’s watchful eye. The overall condition wasn’t as bad as he first feared, but anything that was worn, was replaced. “I was really happy with how the finished bike came out,” says Ben. “Time to work on it was limited, so I had to plan things out – and that was when it became frustrating. I’d set to work and something would not come apart, or not fit, or not go back together. There were several times when I came close to giving up. You can spend four hours polishing rockers and I only had a couple of evenings spare each week.
“Dad offered to buy the project off me, and one night I so nearly gave in. But I’m glad I didn’t. The finished bike was well worth the hassle. It was a feeling of real pleasure when I finally had it all done. I love it. Having Andy and Ian working on their bikes alongside me helped. Andy was doing his T120 at the time and the way he goes about restoring a bike is an inspiration.”
Ben didn’t plan intend to restore another 350cc Triumph, but when a mate offered him a 1961 3TA, it was impossible to say no.
“He’d seen my other Triumph and gave me a call. I could see a lot of original stuff that I never had with the other bike, so I bought it. I had a plan in my head to do it even better than the first one – to concours condition. I’d learned a lot with the other bike and wanted this to be 100% period correct. We got there.”
It wasn’t easy. The bathtub, though original, was full of filler. After getting rid of the rust, there wasn’t a lot left, so it needed extensive fabrication to restore all the tinware. Ben had learned enough from the 3TA to rebuild the 21 engine himself.
The project took a year to complete, but the work was worthwhile. Ben scooped the runner-up prize in the Post War section of the Bristol Classic Show at Shepton Mallet. “I know the bathtub look is not for everyone, but I love it. The downside is that they cost the same to restore as a 500 or 650.”
Ben learned so much from his first two restorations. “I quickly realised how important it is to plan. I didn’t with the first bike and got into a right caddle. I planned the second resto and it came together much quicker. And you have to be prepared to spend time scouring jumbles for parts. I wanted to use original parts where possible and it took me a year to get everything together. I sourced most new parts from Supreme Motorcycles. Burton Bike Bits and Ace Classics are always helpful, too.”
Ben says it’s vital to make sure all the parts fit before you paint them. “We had a nacelle on the first build that didn’t fit. The second one was inch perfect. I’d advise anyone to do a dry build first. You only have to be 1mm out on one part and something else will not fit. Fettle first. It’s all about preparation,” he says.
“If you start with original parts, everything should go back together as it should be. A lot of guys buy repro ‘bathtub’ panels, but you can’t get metal ones – only glassfibre. You can get the ‘centurion’ type mudguards, but you can’t get nacelles. I’d love an original tool kit, but I’ve seen them change hands for £400.”
Ben is now looking at another project, one he can treat as a daily rider. “I’ve ridden both my Triumphs around the yard, but that’s it. I set out to treat them as restorations. But now I want to build a bike that I can ride. I’ve bought a Trophy Trail project and plan to get it finished this year.”
‘THERE WERE FRUSTRATING NIGHTS, BUT I’M HAPPY WITH HOW THE BIKES CAME OUT’
Ben’s obsession with originality meant old fixings were replated
The 3TA was in pieces within two hours. Putting it all back together again took rather longer
Autojumbles were scoured for rare parts like the Bluemels pump
The 350s originally came with a single carb and six-volt electrics