RACER ON THE ROAD
Simon Wilson thought he was buying a standard Bonnie, but it turned out to be a 1966 500-mile race winner. We visited him to have a go on it
Imagine buying a Bonnie, then discovering it was actually a significant race winner...
What a stroke of luck! Back in 1990 lifelong biker Simon Wilson saw a 1966 Triumph Bonneville T120 he liked the look of in a Bletchley dealer’s showroom. He took a test ride and bought it for less than the £2500 asking price, trading a Honda Revere. Simon later discovered that not only was GTR 51D one of only 15 Bonneville T120 Thruxton Production racers built at the Meriden factory in 1966, it was also the winner of that year’s 500-mile Brands Hatch Grand Prix d’endurance. As a result, he currently has it insured for close to £40,000.
As bought, the Triumph looked like a standard Bonnie, lacking the racing version’s fitments such as the tuned exhaust system and single seat.
“The first thing that caught my eye when I got it home were the letters CR (for Close Ratio) on the gearbox,” Simon explains. “Then I noticed nuts and bolts drilled for locking wire, which suggested racing.” A fortuitously-timed Thruxton Bonneville feature in CB encouraged him to delve further into the bike’s history, assisted by
DVLA, Meriden historian Harry Woolridge and the Bonneville Thruxton Register started by Hugh Dickson. Simon gathered evidence to establish that his Bonnie, numbered DU40865, was the first of a May 1966 Thruxton build, supplied to Southampton dealer Lawton & Wilson. Proprietor Syd Lawton had prepared every winner of the Southampton MCC’S annual 500-mile race for dealer-entered street bikes since 1962. It was traditionally held on the Thruxton circuit, but a deteriorating track surface forced a move to Castle Combe for 1965, when Dave Degens and Syd’s son Barry Lawton won on a first-year Bonneville Thruxton. On relocation to Brands Hatch in 1966 Degens, partnered by Rex Butcher (his co-rider when they won the Barcelona 24 Hour marathon on a Dresda Triton in 1965), took a fifth successive win for Lawton on GTR 51D.
Simon found video of the race clearly showing his bike’s rear number plate, eliminating a possibility that GTR 52D, an identical Thruxton supplied to Lawton & Wilson at the same time, was the winner. More proof was found in signs of damage to the underside of the
LEFT: Simon Wilson with GTR 51D – his 1966 Triumph Bonneville T120 Thruxton racer LEFT: Rex Butcher at the Brands Grand Prix d’endurance in 1966 – the team won by 10.4 seconds