JET-AGE TRI­TON

The urge to cre­ate a Tri­ton with a unique style led Dave Wil­liams to ex­per­i­ment by adding bits of a ’60s Amer­i­can car. This crazy Jet­sons-style cre­ation is the re­sult

Classic Bike (UK) - - CONTENTS - WORDS ALAN CATH­CART. PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: PHIL HAWKINS (STU­DIO PHO­TOS BY DINO PETRO­CELLI)

How do you make your café racer stand out? With Buick car parts. See­ing is be­liev­ing...

You could say it’s a clas­sic Tri­ton – af­ter all it is, at heart, a Nor­ton Featherbed frame tot­ing a twin-cylin­der Tri­umph en­gine. But it’s ob­vi­ous from the very first glance that Amer­i­can Dave Wil­liams threw the rest of the for­mula for the clas­sic Bri­tish café racer in the bin when he built the per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion you see here.

Back in the Tri­ton’s hey­day, you ei­ther built your own or had the likes of Dave De­gens at Dresda (see page 32) screw one to­gether for you. They were al­ways unique – even Dres­das had their own de­tail dif­fer­ences – but it’s safe to say that Dave, from Syra­cuse in up­state New York, has built a Jet Age-style Brit that’s truly unique.

Wil­liams al­ready had form as a top-level re­storer, hav­ing brought a well-used 1968 Tri­umph T120R back to orig­i­nal con­di­tion and scored 99 out of 100 in an An­tique Mo­tor­cy­cle Club of Amer­ica con­cours com­pe­ti­tion. “I also pur­chased a ’73 Bon­neville and fixed it up, and then a 1970 Tiger I won a few awards with,” he says. “But I wanted to build some­thing in­di­vid­ual, where I could be creative. That’s why I built a Tri­ton – there seemed a cer­tain free­dom, where it didn’t have to be built a cer­tain way be­yond the Nor­ton frame, clip-on han­dle­bars and Tri­umph mo­tor. You have the free­dom to do what­ever you want, and no­body’s go­ing to tell you: ‘That’s not orig­i­nal’ or: ‘Your colour’s too dark’.”

The Wil­liams Tri­ton fea­tures a late-’50s wide­line Featherbed frame, which Dave says is a gen­uine pe­riod item rather than a replica, even though the chas­sis num­ber has been re­moved (pos­si­bly for reg­is­tra­tion rea­sons – it may even have crossed the Cana­dian bor­der). It ar­rived mi­nus a swingarm, so he sourced a T140 Tri­umph com­po­nent and fit­ted twin Hagon shocks. Up front there’s es­sen­tially the en­tire front end from a 1973 Benelli 650 Tor­nado, with 38mm Mar­zoc­chi forks and a hefty 230mm Grimeca twin-lead­ing-shoe drum brake. The rear sin­gle-lead­ing-shoe drum is Bsa/tri­umph from a T140. Ex­cel al­loy rims are 19in up front and 18in at the rear, shod with Avon Road­rider tyres. Wor­thy of note is the Featherbed frame? Check. Tri­umph twin mo­tor? Check. Buick Riviera light bezels? You’re jok­ing...

easy-to-use cen­tre­stand – a work of art which Dave per­son­ally de­signed and crafted him­self with a springloaded rod that pops out when you push a pedal down with your toe.

One of the last pre-unit 650cc mo­tors built be­fore the first unit-con­struc­tion mod­els came along in ’63, the T120R Bon­neville en­gine was in a sorry state. “It was ba­si­cally just a car­cass,” re­calls Dave. “The crank was out, the cylin­der block was off, and there were quite a few parts miss­ing.” Re­build­ing it him­self, Dave used an Amer­i­can 800cc big-bore cylin­der kit from Sonny Routt in Mary­land, which re­quired him to open out the re­con­di­tioned crankcases. There’s a stiffer one­piece crank from a later unit-con­struc­tion 750cc Tri­umph, and with its new bore and stroke of 79 x 82mm the mo­tor is a mus­cu­lar 804cc.

H-sec­tion al­loy con­rods carry forged pis­tons de­liv­er­ing a 9.5:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio, be­neath a nine-bolt Bon­neville cylin­der head with a mild flow job and 1060 Me­ga­cy­cle cams. Fuel comes from a pair of 930 Amal 30mm MKI Con­centrics and is ig­nited thanks to an elec­tronic mag­neto from SRM in Aberys­t­wyth, clev­erly housed in the shell of a pe­riod Lu­cas mag­neto. Dave says there’s around 50bhp at 7000rpm, trans­mit­ted via a Bob Newby belt pri­mary con­ver­sion and a gear­box that’s now home to five speeds.

The pair of grace­fully swept-back ex­hausts were made by Dave, and have a trick up their sleeves – lit­er­ally. Look in­side each re­verse-cone mega and you’ll see a fan, giv­ing a whole new mean­ing to the term ‘blow­ing off your ri­vals’. “I just thought it’d be some­thing nice to put there,” shrugs Wil­liams with a smile. “The only thing wrong is I can’t see them whizzing round when I’m rid­ing the bike...” So far, so Tri­ton. How­ever, now we come to the stand-out styling – the flam­boy­antly in­di­vid­ual look Dave has be­stowed on his café racer. Cur­rently em­ployed as a fine sur­face fin­isher for a wood com­pany, the 58-year-old was pre­vi­ously an auto body tech, re­pair­ing dam­age and help­ing with restora­tions. He learnt how to work metal and how to paint it – skills he had put to good use restor­ing his 1965 Buick Riviera saloon to mint con­di­tion.

“I had some front light bezels left over from my Buick, and just had an idea that it’d be neat to in­cor­po­rate them into the tank as part of its shape, as func­tion­ing sig­nal lights,” he re­veals. “So I took some wire and made a frame to see if there was space for the real tank and if ev­ery­thing would fit to­gether. It seemed like it would, so I made a three-gal­lon in­ner, rolled-out curved pan­els with an English wheel I’d made my­self, and welded them to cre­ate a shroud around the tank. I made it fit the frame, then in­stalled the chromed bezels with sig­nal lights be­hind them. I wanted to cre­ate an or­ganic shape, which looks like it could be swim­ming in the ocean – or fly­ing.” Dave’s blend of or­ganic and geo­met­ric com­po­nents ex­tends else­where. Check out the oil tank be­hind the car­bu­ret­tors’ long trum­pets, widened to al­low an­other Riviera bezel to be at­tached and folded into the frame’s rear loops. Side pan­els are fluted hor­i­zon­tally, and Dave also made the Tri­ton’s sin­gle seat – with an­other chromed Buick bezel for the in­di­ca­tors and tail light. The yel­low and black che­quers are in­spired by the F86 Sabre fighter jet that de­noted the ar­rival in the USA of the Jet Age, around the same time as the heady Tri­ton years in the UK. Very ap­pro­pri­ate.

Wil­liams’ fin­ished Tri­ton has a stretched-out stance that’s very ’60s café racer. You reach for­ward to the clip-on ’bars, mounted rea­son­ably

‘I JUST WANTED TO BUILD SOME­THING I’D BE PROUD OF. I RE­ALISE IT’S QUITE AN EYE CATCHER’

high thanks to swan’s neck mounts so as not to in­duce aches in arms or shoul­ders. There’s a com­mon­place pair of late-model Tri­umph clocks mounted on a curved plate, too. But what’s not at all usual is the broad, flat ex­panse of metal over which you drape your body, with in­dents for knees giv­ing the im­pres­sion that this Tri­ton is pretty slim. Which, in spite of the wide­line frame, it is. Warmed up and ready to rock, the Tri­ton has a lazy 800rpm idle with its twin swept-back ex­hausts de­liv­er­ing the flat-drone sig­na­ture tune of a 360° Tri­umph twin – only here with those fans whirring in­side the megas. Into gear with the right-foot change, out onto the road and the big 804cc en­gine has all the tra­di­tional ben­e­fits of a Bri­tish big twin in spades – loads of torque de­liv­ered in a strong, seem­ingly un­burstable fash­ion, yet with an ea­ger­ness and ap­petite for revs. The trade­mark twang from the chrome pipes adds to the thrill – you don’t need to be a born-again rocker to ap­pre­ci­ate the buzz of rid­ing this bike.

Even with the sportier Me­ga­cy­cle cams it’s a for­giv­ing mo­tor, pulling cleanly from 1500rpm with hardly any clutch – and with­out any spit­ting back through the carbs as ’60s-era café rac­ers were prone to. From 2000 to 4500 revs is the sweet spot, the ex­tra oomph of the over­size mo­tor de­liv­er­ing crisp ac­cel­er­a­tion from low down as well as good midrange roll-on in a high gear. Four grand on the tacho equates to 70mph cruis­ing in top gear.

Rather to my sur­prise, the Tri­ton is quite user­friendly in traf­fic, the re­spon­sive and for­giv­ing en­gine and its smooth, light-ac­tion clutch mean town work isn’t tir­ing. But it’s out on open roads where the Tri­ton truly ex­cels. Although Featherbed road­hold­ing is never in ques­tion, usu­ally a Tri­ton will have Road­holder forks and a Nor­ton rear end, with a wheel­base of around 55in. But the Ital­ian front end and Tri­umph swingarm on Dave’s bike put the wheels 60in apart – and it makes a huge dif­fer­ence. There’s greater sta­bil­ity in faster turns and it’s rock-steady round fast sweep­ers, yet this doesn’t im­pact too greatly on the Tri­ton’s agility in tighter turns thanks to the low-slung weight. There’s a trace of un­der­steer un­der power to re­mind you of the 19in front wheel, though this is eas­ily cor­rected thanks to light steer­ing with finger­tip pre­ci­sion. The Mar­zoc­chi forks shrug off bumps and rip­ples, matched by the com­pli­ant damp­ing of the Hagon shocks – they’re not over­sprung or over­damped, so you don’t get flicked out of the seat by ev­ery bump.

In fact, on twist­ing Alabama coun­try roads the Wil­liams Tri­ton ap­pears sur­pris­ingly mod­ern; not only be­cause of the un­ex­pect­edly com­pli­ant sus­pen­sion, but also due to the ex­cel­lent grip from the Avon rub­ber. The only down­side is find­ing out quite quickly that the cen­tre­stand lever is set too low when you em­brace the con­fi­dence given by this mod­ern-day café racer, and ride it the way it’s meant to be rid­den – hard and fast.

Dave Wil­liams has cre­ated an eye-catch­ing piece of two-wheeled art that goes and stops as well as it’s built. The en­tire bike gives off a sense of in­no­va­tive de­sign cou­pled with ex­cel­lence of ex­e­cu­tion, for which Dave must surely be proud. “I must ad­mit to be­ing sat­is­fied with it,” he says. “It took me pretty much four years to build and I worked on it al­most ev­ery day. I shut off the TV, re­ally got into it and fo­cused on get­ting it done. In­stead of lay­ing around wast­ing my time, I just wanted to build some­thing I’d be proud of.

“I re­alise it’s quite an eye catcher, and though the tank is the at­ten­tion-grab­ber that most peo­ple first look at, they then catch sight of some­thing else... then they’ll see an­other thing... and be­fore you know it they spend half an hour find­ing lit­tle de­tails that they like. It’s nice to have some­thing that I’ve put so much time into, be­ing so widely ad­mired.”

‘THE ITAL­IAN FRONT END AND TRI­UMPH SWINGARM ON DAVE’S BIKE MAKES A HUGE DIF­FER­ENCE’

ABOVE: Long 60in wheel­base makes for great sta­bil­ity on long, sweep­ing cor­ners

BE­LOW: Dave Wil­liams’ al­ter­na­tive vi­sion of what a Tri­ton could be in­spired him to build it

BE­LOW: De­spite the su­per-wide tank, the knee cut-outs make the Tri­ton feel slim when you’re rid­ing it

ABOVE: Forged pis­tons, nine-bolt Bon­nie head, mild flow job, 1060 Me­ga­cy­cle cams. That’s quite an en­gine...

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