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
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...