Triumph Tigress Short lived scooter
Surviving examples of the BSA/Triumph groups 1960s ‘super scooter’ are now extremely rare but Andy Moore is always on the lookout for unusual small wheelers and it was a lucky day for him when he spied a Triumph Tigress advertised in his Vintage Scooter c
There were a couple of parts missing but amazingly from the day it was first registered in Ayrshire in 1959 it had covered a mere 1,950 miles from new and although extremely rough after lying unloved in a shed for many years it was ripe for restoration. Its purchase triggered the start of twelve months of hard work for Andy who with restoration now completed invited me along to take his gleaming bike for a ride through the North Somerset lanes. There’s no doubt he’s done a superb job restoring the Tigress back to her original glory but perhaps we should reflect on the day in late 1958 when the model was first launched.
There was a great flurry of publicity from the BSA/Triumph group when the Tigress and its BSA Sunbeam stablemate were announced, and with an on-the-road price of £180 18s 9d the bike’s creator Edward Turner was confident they had a machine capable of taking on the best from Italy and Germany. Sadly as history records Turner’s optimism was not based on the reality of the market and scooter sales were about to go into a sudden and steep decline. The golden era had passed and although the Tigress and Sunbeam in both its twin cylinder four stroke and single cylinder two stroke versions survived until 1965, sales were poor and it was deemed a commercial failure. That is not to say it wasn’t a decent machine because with a top speed of over 70mph and 120mpg fuel economy from its frame-mounted engine the TW2 offered a level of performance superior to that usually associated with scooters. Something Motorcycle Mechanics tester Brian Smith discovered when he sampled the 250cc twin in March 1962; here’s an extract from his report. “The great flexibility of the machine was enhanced by the general comfort. There was very little noise from the engine and vibration only became distracting at high rpm – I had only ridden the machine a couple of miles when I realised here was a scooter which was definitely out of the ordinary. The steering, roadholding and general performance were equal to many motorcycles and better than most scooters.” It wasn’t all praise however and Smith went on to say... “The neutral selector was not always reliable and not only was the tank too small but the tap was under the seat making life difficult. And as there was no ignition key, just a switch, anyone could drive the machine away!” I’ve no idea whether the Tigress was a target for thieves back in the sixties but they were certainly a rare sight outside our local coffee bar. That of course was the domain of the LD Lambretta and the parkabedecked mod so who did the BSA group envisage as the typical buyer/rider of its 250cc twin? With a full line up of ‘Waverley’ accessories – which included a windscreen, spare wheel and touring panniers – the TW2 was in Edward Turner’s words ‘aimed at the better half of the middle of the scooter market. Perhaps in Turner’s eyes this customer was as depicted in Meriden’s period advertising brochure with a rather portly middle aged man and a female wearing a strange long bobble hat but whether this sector actually existed or it was just an ill-judged publicity statement is open to debate. The later TW2/S even had 12 volt electrics and an electric starter but the reality was the bike had been launched five years too late and as a result BSA/Triumph missed a great opportunity to gain a major footing in the lucrative scooter market.
Fifty years on there are now few Tigress or Sunbeams around in the UK – especially with less than 2,000 miles on the clock – and back home in his workshop Andy soon discovered the reason it had been laid up so early in its working life. “It was pretty rough but not too rusty and fortunately the only things missing were the back mudguard and the points cover. It was obviously in need of total restoration but before I started to strip it down I cleaned the carburettor and the points and managed to get it running. There was a lot of coughing and spluttering and on examining the carburettor I discovered that although it had the position in its body where the mixture screw should be, it had never been drilled out. It simply didn’t have a mixture screw so it was little wonder it had done so few miles, I assume the original owner couldn’t get it to run properly and gave up on it. Despite the roughness the engine actually sounded mechanically quite sweet which made me optimistic that I wasn’t going to find anything horrendously wrong when I delved inside. At that time I knew little or nothing about the TW2 but the chairman of the Motor scooter club was extremely helpful and thanks to him I managed to source a rear mudguard and a points cover.” It might not have been a commercial success but in its day the Triumph and the identical BSA
“I’ve no idea whether the Tigress was a target for thieves back in the sixties but they were certainly a rare sight outside our local coffee bar.”
Instrumentation, or rather, instrument.