Rebuilding to use
There are many reasons why a rebuild or restoration is started, but a house move has to be the oddest… Project 90 is on the go.
The time has come, the need is there, the realisation that wheeling a bike from shed to shed is a whole lot easier than carrying it in boxes.
In the 16 years or so I’ve been writing about motorcycles, a recurring theme for restorations has been “…took it apart years ago then moved house and it got forgotten…” Well, flip that around, as during a recent relocation, when I had to shift all the bits I’ve accumulated over 45 years of motorcycling, it was suggested that some of the bits might be easier to move if they were in one bit. I can’t fault the sentiment, as there have been several attempts to build these bits – all originating from various 350/500cc Triumphs – into a motorcycle and, each time, life has intervened.
The first attempt came during my editorship of Classic Bike Guide but a major incident with the 650 Triumph in regular use diverted the funds saved for a little unit project. Then it surfaced again in Old Bike Mart when a tech feature was needed and now this bike will also feature in our sister publication The Classic Motorcycle as a rebuild is needed in it too. Perhaps ‘rebuild’ is the wrong word, as the bike has never been in one bit and is just a collection of parts amassed over a number of years. You know how it goes, bits arrive in the shed somehow, bits turn up after other people have a clear-out and then the tipping point comes… that point where the line between ‘collection of parts on the shelf’ to ‘potential project’ becomes fuzzy and suddenly you’re the wrong side of it.
Okay, the plan is to produce a usable motorcycle from a collection of parts while working to a budget, the resultant machine will be road legal – all my bikes either are, or can be – and will be used for as many things as it can be. In the case of CDB the obvious route is to make the bike an enduro / isdt style, which can be scrambled, hill climbed and enduro’d, while in TCM the project will have more of a road base because that’s what is expected there.
It isn’t a cop-out to use a Triumph as a base and the only reason it’s being done is that the bits are available and well, Triumph is pretty much the best bike in the world next to Bultaco… feel free to agree or even disagree. The facts that a lot of parts are inter-changeable and Triumph used barely converted roadsters in competitions makes the project a lot more viable when you add in that Triumph parts are still easily available, even in 2018, and things look even better.
Like many of these projects there has to be a plan or it will falter and while it has been a while since bits started arriving – 1981 if memory serves me correctly – the plan was formulated around 1990 with a glance at an Osprey book entitled Triumph Twins and Triples, one of Roy Bacon’s works. Inside was a picture of an ISDT Triumph circa 1961 to be ridden by the late Roy Peplow and based on the unit 500 roadster. Once I twigged the majority of the parts were from the road range there dawned a focus for the project.
There was a slight sidetrack, well, several if I’m honest, but the main one came with pictures of the Adventurer-based 1973 ISDT machines, which were very nearly ridden to victory in that momentous American-based ISDT. These specials were inspired by the Triumph-engined BSA Victors used in the 1966 ISDT and featured in issue 45 of CDB. I
fell into the trap of thinking I’d find a cast-off Victor frame and bung one of the Triumph engines in it, stick some Betor forks in the front, add some comp wheels and away we’d go. As many others who have attempted such a project found, while the frame used on the BSA specials and the Adventurer was inspired by the Victor, it isn’t quite the same. The factory used the Victor’s dimensions and eased the bottom cradle so the weight distribution would be correct when the engine was in place. Not an impossible job to recreate, but not an easy one either.
A bit more research showed that while the BSA specials were supposed to be produced across the board for the Trophy and Vase teams, a bit of inter-factory rivalry meant what was produced were four of the specials and the previous year’s Triumphs refurbished. The Triumphs were also fitted with the Victor’s forks and yokes, as this isn’t a difficult job to do.
So, in order to progress the build I’ve settled on the 1966 Triumph, as used by Johnny Brittain and Roy Peplow, as the ideal to aim for, but using such parts as I have, accumulated over a number of years.
What have I got?
The bits I’ve acquired have all been because they were available without any conscious effort to get everything from a particular year. What I’ve got is a frame from 1959, a subframe from some other year, a swingarm from 1963… because that was a conscious purchase at the Stafford Show a few years ago and the vendor said it was a 1963 part. There’s a slack handful of fork yokes, including a rare competition top lug, as fitted to Bonnies and TR6S and the oh so sexy-looking TR5A/C for the US market.
I’ve a bunch of engines, some complete, some in bits, but all are the distributor-type, which doesn’t matter really, but it means that they’re the plain bush timing side main bearing type. Nor does this matter, as that style of main bearing worked well enough for long enough and as long as the oil is changed regularly, there’s not a major problem with it. As for wheels I’ve a couple
of options here and a purchase of some CanAm wheels a while ago suggests they could be fitted. I have a Triumph QD rear wheel available too, but it’s a tonne in weight and I’ve half a mind to see how light I can go with the bike and with the 3TA quoted as being 345lb, maybe an ounce or two can be shaved off without going stupid.
Another heavy lump is the three-gallon ‘sports’ petrol tank, which may or may not be used, but luckily former BSA works team member and SSDT winner Alan Lampkin was having a shed clearing when I dropped the C15 used by his brother Martin in the Sixties and had unearthed an alloy fuel tank – a bit of a homemade thing and he wondered if I knew anyone who wanted one…
Also in the build pot are some BSA 250 yokes and several sets of BSA forks. These will fit in well with the ideal bike image as will the six-inch Lucas headlamp I found tucked in a box. The bits still to acquire are relatively easily found, alloy mudguards, engine plates, seat, handlebars, controls and cables won’t present too much of a problem to source.
Assembling the lot
Though lots of parts are interchangeable on Triumphs and with the right equipment and skill and determination, almost anything can be fitted to almost anything else. We’re not going to lob everything together willy nilly – we’re going to check all the bits and see if what we’ve got is compatible with the idyll – trade off what we don’t need and use the best bits. This will involve quite a bit of poring over parts manuals to identify various components and already has shown slight differences between the 1959 crankcases and the 1961-type.
The later ones have a bearing retaining plate for the mains bush to stop the bearing sliding horizontally and rotating in the housing, which would cut off the oil feed, thus providing an interesting exercise entitled ‘how long can the big ends survive without oil?’
Though I’ve shifted the parts I’ve got enough times to know what’s in the boxes, I’ve not thoroughly inspected the bits, but a brief look while moving house showed some are T90 – the sports 3TA – and have been polished to improve performance. As I’ve no 3TA pistons, T90 ones will have to do. I’ve also got a number of barrels for the 350 model, but financial constraints prevented me accepting an offer of 500cc barrels. A shame – thanks for the first refusal Owen.
The forks will be assembled in BSA yokes as they’re stronger than Triumph ones for my needs. As with the factory bikes I want BSA forks in place and the stanchions on BSAS are 35mm, while Triumph ones are 32mm, I could bore out the bottom Triumph yoke or lug but opinion from those more ‘engineery’ than me suggest this might weaken them
too much. An option would be to have a light alloy bottom lug made up to Triumph dimensions and maybe in the fullness of time this will happen but at the moment £20 for a set of Beezer yokes was justifiable.
Work in progress
There has been a little work done on this project – the crank was stripped and measured before cleaning, the bearing journals were within tolerance and will only require new shells, the sludge tube and trap plug however… I quote “…undo the end plug and remove the tube with stout wire…” Yeah… right! After three weeks in a tub of parts-washer fluid, a thread was cut in the end of it with a tap and a bolt was screwed in until it rested on a bunch of washers and withdrew itself. How on earth this tube had passed oil to the big ends is a mystery.
There are a couple of stripped threads to deal with, one on the alternator mounting studs will require lining up and maybe some of the other threads might end up metricised… Probably the first task once the workshop is sorted will be to lay out the bits and see exactly what I have got, even if it means assembling all the bits into an engine as a slightly oily first build.
Frame and sub-frames pose nicely.
There are a lot of bits, but not all of them need replacing.
It was in one bit at one time.
A 1961 engine is to be used, the later ones have a bush locating plate.
Drill out the centre pop, unscrew the plug and remove the sludge tube...
Will it all go together? Dunno yet.
John Giles demonstrates tyre- changing for ISDT riders.
Will my project look as neat? No reason why not. The unit engine is a neat motor.
Three weeks soaking in the parts washer...
...and out came the sludge tube.