This T140v-based replica of Tri­umph’s Us-ex­port TT Spe­cial sounds like a hooli­gan and rides hard – but it’s also in touch with its fem­i­nine side


Think gutsy and use­able TT Spe­cial replica, only fin­ished with a truly per­sonal touch

At a glance, the side-panel let­ter­ing ap­pears to say ‘TT Spe­cial’, but it ac­tu­ally reads ‘JT Spe­cial’ and the am­bi­gu­ity is in­ten­tional. This stun­ning Tri­umph is the lat­est work of pro­fes­sional metal worker John Tarplee, whose 750cc Bon­neville T140-based spe­cials have been fea­tured be­fore in Clas­sic Bike. It is his part­ner Natalie’s bike, a 1978 Uk-mar­ket T140V bought seven years ago in near-stan­dard trim and run­ning badly. Now it has been re­built in the mould of Tri­umph’s iconic 650cc TT Spe­cial com­pe­ti­tion twin which was shipped to the North Amer­ica mar­ket from 1963 to 1967 – but with cos­met­ics and de­tails to suit Natalie.

“I didn’t want it changed too much. Just prettified and a lit­tle bit girlie,” says Natalie, a school physics lab tech­ni­cian. “I love my Bon­neville be­cause it’s quite low. I had a Suzuki DR400 that was far too tall, so I didn’t feel con­fi­dent stop­ping at junc­tions or on a steep cam­ber. I also had a Yamaha XS650, but I found that too heavy.”

The most ob­vi­ous fem­i­nine touch is the sparkling paint­work on the stock T140 fuel tank. The de­sign was ar­rived at by John rough­ing-out schemes with spray cans and lin­ing tapes in con­sul­ta­tion with Natalie. Once the scheme was de­cided, the tank was given to Dave May (07584 192562) to ap­ply paint and lac­quer pro­fes­sion­ally. Gold-edged pur­ple stripes swirl against a metal­lic black base colour and, un­usu­ally, the left and right sides of the tank are not to the same pat­tern. “As Nat liked two de­signs, we thought why not have them both?” John says.

While un­doubt­edly pretty, this Bon­nie also has raw func­tion­al­ity and sharp per­for­mance wor­thy of a TT Spe­cial. Mag­nif­i­cently grunty and burst­ing with torque, the en­gine is a five-speed, left-foot-change unit as­sem­bled by John us­ing his in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the T140. There’s phe­nom­e­nal arm-tug­ging pull from low rpm, with a crisp throt­tle re­sponse that makes tear­ing along twisty roads a joy. Gear se­lec­tion is slick and the ba­si­cally stan­dard brakes work well, with de­cent bite up front and a softer feel at the rear. The Avon Road­rider tyres make for con­fi­dence when pitch­ing into tight­en­ing bends or cross­ing patchy road sur­faces on ru­ral roads near the cou­ple’s Worces­ter­shire home. The T140 oil-bear­ing frame, evolved from the unloved P39 frame in­tro­duced by both Tri­umph and BSA in 1971, was one of the best han­dlers of its day. Be­ing around 20% lighter than the stock 1978 T140 at 163kg (359lb) at the kerb, this Bon­nie feels nice and ‘chuck­able’.

You wouldn’t know it from the rip-snort­ing ex­haust sound, but the el­e­gant swept-in TT track pipes do have baf­fles. They fit in­side slip-on tailpipes re­tained by ten­sion springs and an­gled to splay apart slightly, rather than point­ing at the rear tyre like the orig­i­nals. The down­pipes have re­dun­dant bosses where stays would at­tach them to the TT Spe­cial’s pre-1971 sin­gle-down-tube frame, but they are not ob­tru­sive. The high, rub­ber-mounted han­dle­bars are equipped with user-friendly mod­ern switch clus­ters and the TT’S trade­mark cen­trally-mounted rev counter is re­placed by a multi-func­tion Mo­to­gad­get in­stru­ment. Its ana­logue dial in­di­cates rpm, cal­i­brated up to 8000rpm, while road speed ap­pears in an LED win­dow that also shows oil pres­sure, via a plumbed-in sender unit, and bat­tery volt­age. Var­i­ous other func­tions are avail­able and pa­ram­e­ters are set us­ing the head­light flasher but­ton on the left-side switch con­sole.

The tidy look is helped by the ab­sence of an ig­ni­tion switch, thanks to Mo­to­gad­get’s con­tact­less sys­tem. The electrics are turned on by plac­ing a coin-sized transpon­der disc close to a com­puter-style on/off sym­bol sticker on the right-hand side-panel, be­hind which is the switch. Cus­tom stick­ers, in­clud­ing the JTS tank em­blems, were ob­tained from Ab­so­lute Con­trol Signs & Graph­ics (01386 553657).

In­di­ca­tors are al­most in­dis­pens­able for brisk rid­ing in to­day’s traf­fic, but can spoil the lines of a lean ma­chine like this, so John came up with a neat so­lu­tion. He glued strips of or­ange LED lights to rings cut from plas­tic tube that fit over the front fork tubes just above the bot­tom yoke and the tops of the Ikon Dial-a-ride rear shocks. Unob­tru­sively wired to a flasher unit un­der the seat, they op­er­ate from the left ’bar. A Cibié sealed­beam halo­gen unit is housed in the chromed head­lamp


shell and a Vin­cent-type rear light with ‘STOP’ let­ter­ing is fit­ted at Natalie’s re­quest. The han­dle­bar grips are the bar­relled cush­ion type seen on the stan­dard T140 and a rear-view mir­ror is mounted on the right ’bar.

“It’s all in the pads,” John says about the ef­fec­tive disc brakes. His choice is EBC’S HH grade with a gold­coloured fric­tion sur­face. The small han­dle­bar­mounted front mas­ter cylin­der and its lever are generic mod­ern items, while the hose from the rear cylin­der has been re-routed for tidi­ness; the orig­i­nal ar­range­ment was hid­den by the right-side si­lencer.

The wheels were built by the Devon Rim Com­pany with XS al­loy rims, 19in front and 18in rear, shod with 100/90 and 120/90-sec­tion tyres re­spec­tively. Pol­ished al­loy mud­guards fol­low TT Spe­cial style. The min­i­mal-look­ing seat is more comfy than it looks; John made the base for up­hol­ster­ing by P&P Seat­ing (0121 784 4001) whose one-off ser­vice is a spe­cial­ity. The moulded side­pan­els are af­ter­mar­ket items de­signed to give a slim 1960s look to post-1970 oil-in-frame Tri­umph twins.

The bike was bought ‘at the right price’, but had a stick­ing swingarm, ran roughly and rat­tled. “When

I stripped the en­gine, it looked as though it had been thrown to­gether from a shed-full of bits,” John says. “The pre­vi­ous owner had paid for a so-called pro­fes­sional restora­tion and was dis­ap­pointed.” The unit was re­built af­ter SRM (01970 627771) dy­nam­i­cally bal­anced the crank­shaft, with re­bored cylin­ders, 8.6:1 pis­tons and a Morgo plunger oil pump. The cams re­spon­si­ble for strong low-down and midrange urge are a half-race grind from Tri­umph parts spe­cial­ist KBH Mo­tor­cy­cles (01752 896477). The valves, valve seats and guides were fit­ted by Cylin­der Head Shop (01507 328590). This head is from the fi­nal year that Uk-mar­ket T140 en­gines had splayed in­let ports; a re­vised head with par­al­lel in­lets and non-spill Amal Con­cen­tric MKII car­bu­ret­tors adopted for the Us-mar­ket T140E in 1978 was used in other mar­kets from 1979. Natalie opted to keep non-stan­dard chrome plat­ing on the car­bu­ret­tor tops, float­bowls and in­let stubs, in place when the bike was bought. Pri­mary drive to the stock five-speed box is by a belt kit from Bur­ton Bike Bits (01530 564362).

A lithium-ion bat­tery, charged by a high-out­put 200-Watt al­ter­na­tor sup­plied by Paul Goff (01494 868218), pow­ers the Boyer Brans­den elec­tronic ig­ni­tion. The coil, also from Goff, has both HT leads emerg­ing at one end and is mounted un­der the front of the fuel tank along with an at­trac­tive finned al­loy heat sink milled from solid by John.

Rid­ing this taut, get-up-and-go twin, I’d never have guessed that two gas­kets are sand­wiched be­tween the head and bar­rel to soften the com­pres­sion ra­tio and make kick-start­ing eas­ier. I sus­pect this helps to make the en­gine so tractable – high com­pres­sion is not nec­es­sar­ily the best way to go. Natalie says she has no trou­ble kick­start­ing, un­less peo­ple are watch­ing. I know how she feels.


ABOVE: Natalie with her bike and the man who built it for her, part­ner John Tarplee

ABOVE: Light and nim­ble Bon­nie is just the job for chuck­ing round lo­cal B-roads BELOW: A cool and com­pact set of wheels any girl would be proud of

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