RISE OF THE PHOENIX

In­spired by mem­o­ries of his old Goldie, John Swanston cre­ated a mod­ern day café racer; a bike built from left­over bits and dis­carded com­po­nents…

Real Classic - - 1975 Triumph T160 Trident - Pho­tos by John Swanston

Sit­ting around at Christ­mas, di­gest­ing the turkey and spouts, I drifted into an en­joy­able day­dream re­mem­ber­ing a Christ­mas many years ago, BWC (Be­fore Wife and Chil­dren). I was out rid­ing with some mates on my old DBD Gold Star. Ah! The bikes we sold that we wish we’d kept. Any­how, it got me think­ing about build­ing a café racer. Could it be done on the prover­bial shoe­string bud­get? How many us­able bits were there lurk­ing be­neath the bench?

I’ve al­ways been an ad­mirer of Rob North’s Rocket 3 frames and re­alised that the Kawasaki ER-5 frame was very sim­i­lar. Would a Triumph unit twin engine fit into one, I won­dered? I hap­pened to have a pair of crankcases and a crank some­where. Surely there were enough bits left over from pre­vi­ous pro­jects to be able to make a start. The whole idea was all the more ap­peal­ing as I seemed to be spend­ing most of my re­tire­ment build­ing karts and re­build­ing their en­gines for grand­chil­dren.

Lady Luck blessed me straight away when an ER-5 frame com­plete with log­book turned up on eBay for £32. Then much en­joy­able search­ing through auto-jum­bles at Ne­wark and Ruf­forth re­sulted in the pur­chase of a good pair of forks from a Yamaha Vi­rago, com­plete with wheel, new Pirelli tyre, brakes, caliper, head­lamp, guard, speedo, bars and switchgear for £45. A Bon­neville front wheel was bought for £75 – isn’t it funny how names like ‘Bon­neville’ and ‘Day­tona’ make ££ signs light up in the eyes of the sell­ers? The Bonnie wheel was con­verted to be used at the rear with a madeup sprocket. The project was up and run­ning.

I cut off the sub­frame top rails and re­placed them with straight tub­ing like a Rob North frame, then del­uged the rest of the frame, re­mov­ing ev­ery­thing which wasn’t needed. I de­cided to make my own fi­bre­glass petrol tank, and left some ex­pand­ing foam in a rec­tan­gu­lar box overnight be­fore start­ing to carve it. Alas this model tank curled up like a ba­nana, so it was trimmed again but by the next morn­ing it had twisted even worse.

After much head-scratching I re­alised I had used two cans of dif­fer­ent makes of foam, so de­cided to fab­ri­cate the tank in steel and leave the foam to twist its way around the bot­tom of the bin…

For­tu­nately the Rob North tank has ‘hard edges’ so the task was eas­ier than if I’d had to roll the steel at the edges. The seat proved to be eas­ier to make in fi­bre­glass and a trip to Hud­der­s­field saw Tony Archer pro­duce a foam base and a won­der­ful cover while I waited.

My at­ten­tion now turned to mak­ing a suitable fair­ing. I’d pre­vi­ously re­paired a sports fair­ing from a BMW R100RS and still had the mould. So I used that as a starter and then made it into a Com­mando looka­like fair­ing. A real bar­gain at an au­to­jum­ble pro­vided the screen. I was stood look­ing at a se­ries of scratches right down the mid­dle of it, won­der­ing if it could be trimmed to fit, when the stall­holder said; ‘You can have that, mate.’ Now a York­shire­man never looks a gift horse in the mouth, so I thanked him and went home where, armed with some Solvol Au­tosol, I pol­ished out the scratches.

Back to the me­chan­i­cals. The gear lever and brake pedal were straight­for­ward to make. The rear disc was made up from a kart com­po­nent and the caliper and mas­ter cylin­der came from some­one’s abortive at­tempt to make an hy­draulic clutch con­ver­sion for a Triumph Speed Twin. It didn’t work and had been put back to stan­dard.

My 3TA crankcases cleaned up well and I changed the rods for a pair of Speed Twin al­loy ones, and laid out hard cash for 500cc bar­rels – ex­pen­sive, but nec­es­sary.

An­other au­to­jum­ble re­vealed a roughlook­ing cylin­der head with miss­ing lugs which, when cleaned, seemed to have big valves al­ready fit­ted. The Vernier gauge showed them to be Day­tona sizes and in­deed it turned out to be a gen­uine Day­tona head. A lo­cal en­gi­neer­ing works welded on some new lugs.

But then I came back to earth with a bump when I fit­ted the Speed Twin pis­tons and checked the com­pres­sion – it was very low. Day­tona pis­tons have a big­ger crown, so I needed a pair of ex­pen­sive pis­tons. As I mulled over this, a friend for whom I’d pre­vi­ously done some work wan­dered into the garage and ut­tered the magic words. ‘I’ve got a pair of +40 Day­tona pis­tons on the shelf.’ When I went to col­lect them he also had Day­tona cams – AND twin carb in­lets for a pair of Con­centrics! We were back in busi­ness. An­other trip to Ne­wark produced a matched pair of carbs. The cor­rect gear clus­ter was sourced from an­other friend. I al­ready had a clutch with a de­cent set of fric­tion plates, and bought new steel ones.

A charg­ing sys­tem emerged from be­neath the all-giv­ing work­bench, but the electrics caused a headache as I tried to adapt the Suzuki Ban­dit switches and con­trols to the wiring on this Bri­tish bike. Even­tu­ally, when it tran­spired that a sep­a­rate earth wire was needed for each com­po­nent, things started to work. I made up a pair of clip-ons to take the Ban­dit levers and fit­ted a Ban­dit head­lamp into the fair­ing.

The bike was start­ing to look right and ready for paint. I’d de­cided on a blue and sil­ver fin­ish, but after spray­ing the tank it some­how didn’t suit the ma­chine. Then my other half, Paulette, sug­gested ma­roon and sil­ver, and this trans­formed the bike.

In the same way that the phoenix rises from the ashes, so this bike has risen, re­ju­ve­nated, from the ashes of many other ma­chines. In my eyes it looks so much bet­ter than the sim­ple sum of all those parts – gath­ered from be­low the work­bench, au­to­jum­bles, eBay and friends’ garages. I now have my Rob North looka­like Triumph café racer, and will make the most of the sum­mer weather to get some rides on it.

Lin­ing up the empty cases with the base frame re­vealed that the two ma­jor com­po­nents could in­deed work to­gether

Look! A Rob North rac­ing frame! Well … ac­tu­ally it’s a Kawasaki, with some North-es­que rear sub­frame tub­ing, but the spirit is will­ing. And the crankcases cer­tainly fit

The Triumph engine is a rare as­sort­ment of parts, but in power terms it’s near-enough Day­tona trim

Left:L The com­plete front end was a jum­ble find, and came from a Yamaha Vi­rago Above: Cut­ting, shap­ing and weld­ing steel makes for a bet­ter fuel tank than carv­ing foam

Above: The first at­tempt at tank mak­ing in­volved mak­ing a for­mer from ex­pand­ing foam. It did not go well

Left: One an­gu­lar fuel tank, made to mea­sure

Even Triumph twin en­gines pre­fer to have a sup­ply of oil while they’re run­ning. Here’s the tank. Ob­serve also the neat hold­ing down strap The fair­ing is in­tended to re­sem­ble that fit­ted to pro­duc­tion racer Com­man­dos Front mud­guard is in. It’s a good idea to pro­tect the fork stan­chions when work­ing with resins above them Primer time! Tanks and fair­ing get ready for paint. The rear wheel is ac­tu­ally a Triumph part: a front wheel from a Bon­neville…

Rear disc brake came from kart com­po­nents, and looks the part Right: We have paint! The job’s done Far right: Ready to roll… Stripped right back, lithe and spare. The café racer’s credo

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